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Smaller-membership church choir sings with big sound, enthusiasm

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (BP)–The temperature outside in late August was 106 degrees, so passersby at Mountain View Southern Baptist Church in Lake Isabella, Calif., may have been startled to hear “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” in the oppressive summer air.
For members of the small-church choir inside, however, the warmth was from the joy of singing together with enthusiasm and confidence. On this particular Wednesday evening, 11 persons had gathered to begin the new choir year.
Utilizing Southern Baptists’ newest magazine for smaller-membership churches, volunteer and part-time music directors, the Mountain View choir members responded to the direction of their volunteer leader, Cheryl Borthick.
“Go ahead and make your mistakes now, so we can get them over with,” Borthick laughed, leading with encouragement. From Christmas medleys to an anthem called “Spread the News,” the choir sang from the Fall 1999 issue of “You Can!” with the musical and morale support of an accompaniment CD.
Describing the music as “easy to catch on to,” Deena Siddle said she liked the songs that are “staples, given a little ‘kick.’ We have gotten the big publications, but so much of what they offer is beyond what we can do.”
Jay Cartwright, who does not read music, agreed, “It’s fairly easy to sing with, easy to follow. When we’re all here and singing, it sounds good. I think [You Can!] would be a good publication to have.”
Borthick said from a director’s perspective the publication of unison and two-part music “is put together very well … . [I]n this issue you have Christmas, solos, hymns, but in a different structure than you’d ever think of putting them together.”
Borthick is no newcomer to the music world. An experienced vocalist, director and keyboard accompanist, she blends two things dear to the hearts of many Southern Baptists: homemade pies and music.
Borthick owns “Cheryl’s Diner,” a landmark in neighboring Kernville, Calif. Her husband, Lanny, a builder who also sings in the choir, constructed the restaurant in 1984. Cheryl recalled “our deal was I wouldn’t tell him how to build it, and he wouldn’t tell me how to run it. So far that’s worked out pretty good.”
“Running” is an apt word to use for Cheryl Borthick’s work, both at the diner and in her volunteer roles.
“Music is ‘IT,'” she reflected during an interview at the diner. When the previous choir director retired, Cheryl said she was willing to accept the leadership role “because I wanted to serve, and I knew it was where I could serve, even though it meant taking time away from my business.”
After hearing Borthick’s schedule, one may be left wondering exactly which of her activities is her main business. In addition to the diner and the adult choir at church, she directs the church’s youth choir and volunteers to accompany and direct music in the local schools — four school choirs in all. She also directs a local “Sweet Adelines” chorus.
Tuesday night is Sweet Adelines, Wednesday night is youth choir rehearsal and Sunday afternoon is adult choir rehearsal. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays she donates five hours total, plus driving time, each week to school choirs. Add to that school concerts and church choir programs, Borthick’s schedule would be challenging to many, without the responsibility of a diner.
As for her volunteer work at school, she is compelled to be involved because “kids need music,” she reflected. “It makes a much more well-rounded person.”
She cites the reward that came from working on a school play that included both drama and music.
“I saw kids, who had nothing at home, blossom,” she declared with tear-filled eyes. “That’s what makes it worth it.”
Borthick laughs that people think running a diner involves only the creative side of cooking. In reality, much of her workday involves accounting and purchasing, along with personnel management and scheduling.
But Borthick runs both her diner and her music ministry with laughter and upbeat banter.
“If you aren’t cheerleading all the time, you’re losing,” she said. “You have to keep praising people. It’s the same in music and in business. All music should be fun, whether you are singing to the Lord or whatever you are doing.
“You have to have a heart for it,” she continued. “Anyone who feels God is calling them to music ministry ought to try it.”
The music ministries department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention publishes “You Can!” Quarterly issues may be obtained by annual subscription. A “You Can! Kit” also offers 10 copies of the magazine, a rehearsal CD and related resources. LifeWay’s toll-free order number is 1-800-458-2772.

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  • Charles Willis