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100-plus-member senior adult choir provides fellowship, travel, ministry

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–After hearing a performance of the senior adult choir at Oklahoma City’s Village Baptist Church, a listener walked up to director Gary Hook and pointed out a man in the choir.
“I’ve never seen a man sing with so much enthusiasm,” the listener said. “Does he ever sing solos?”
Hook told the inquirer that not only does the man not sing solos, he doesn’t sing at all.
Stanley Sevier was a loyal and active member of the senior choir when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus a couple of years ago.
“He was not given a lot of hope,” Hook said, “and in a subsequent surgery, his voice box was removed.”
As a result, Sevier cannot speak a word, but he opens his mouth wide and lip syncs the words.
Hook said after Sevier’s surgery, he wrote Hook a note which said, “Will you still let me come to choir?”
“He has been an inspiration to the whole group,” Hook said.
In addition to Sevier, the choir, whose 100-plus members may make it the largest senior adult choir in the Southern Baptist Convention, also has a member who is blind and one who is in a wheelchair.
Oneida Jackson wheels herself into place among the group and Hook makes a recording of the music for Herman Muehleisen, who memorizes it.
Hook, who has been at Village for 13 years, started the senior adult choir eight years ago. The enrollment is 190 with an average attendance of 120. Average age of the choir is 77.
“About 80 percent of the group is composed of couples,” Hook noted. “In fact, we have a large group of couples who recently retired.”
He said the economic status of members ranges from those who are exclusively on Social Security to those who have some money.
Every year Hook puts the seniors on three buses and takes them on a weeklong trip where they sing and do mission work.
The group recently returned from a senior adult conference at Pigeon Forge, Tenn. During one day, members used 100 gallons of paint to spruce up Camp Smokey.
Last year, during a trip to San Antonio, they painted a church and built a baptistry. The year before, they refinished pews and built a room on a parsonage in Cripple Creek, Colo.
“Senior adults are not interested in rolling over and doing nothing,” Hook said. “They want to be involved, feel they belong. They want to minister.”
Hook said choir members are so effervescent they brighten up any place they go.
He told of taking the group to his hometown of Lake City, Ark., a community of about 2,500.
“My parents have been refurbishing an old house I wanted them to see,” Hook recounted. “When we pulled up in three buses, it caught the attention of a lot of people in that small town.”
The choir ended up giving an impromptu concert on Hook’s parents’ front porch, attracting a large audience. The event made the front page of the local newspaper.
In addition to the weeklong mission trip each year, the choir frequently takes shorter trips to sing at such places as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel in Texas and for other senior adult groups in Oklahoma.
The group was the largest single choir at the National Senior Adult Conference in Nashville, Tenn., last year. Some other choirs had more than 100 members, but they were groups combined with other choirs.
Hook said choir members enjoy the trips, but he tries to go places that are one-day’s driving distance. The group checks in one place and uses that as a hub to travel to and from.
“It becomes a problem with luggage handling if we try to stay in more than one place,” Hook explained. “They like to get to one place and stay there.”
Hook noted the choir members all came out of the Depression and want to get their money’s worth on trips.
He said he believes his choir is unique in that it doesn’t sound like a senior adult choir.
“We do music that you would hear from a sanctuary choir on Sunday morning,” he said. The choir sings at Village once a month on Sunday evenings.
Hook acknowledged 80 percent never sang in a choir before and can’t read music.
“But they want to learn,” he emphasized.
Hook noted the choir is an outreach tool for the church.
“We’ve had people come to this group before they join the church,” he said. “But we are not reaching the surface of retirement communities. We hope to start a ministry and pick up people who don’t drive and bring them to church.”
Hook said one reason for the strength of the choir at Village is the strong leadership of the senior adult Sunday school departments, which are operating at 125 percent capacity.
“Senior adults are the fastest-growing segment of the church community,” Hook said. “People are living longer, and by 2020, senior adults will be the largest segment, outpacing young adults.”
Like any group, seniors need to be loved, Hook said. “They give out love, but they also need to receive it. They need a lot of attention.”
The one drawback to a senior adult ministry is “you lose a lot of friends,” noted Hook, who said he sings at a lot of funerals.
“But the best thing that ever happened to me is the senior adult choir,” he said. “They are the backbone of the givers. I never have trouble getting the music budget approved.”

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  • Dana Williamson