Celebrating 20 years of ministry, 310 Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma presented their final concert of the season at the Oklahoma City Civic Center May 11 to an audience of approximately 1,200.
Accompanied by the Oklahoma Baptist Symphony, the women, directed by Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma worship and music specialist Ken Gabrielse, presented a 90-minute concert of music they have sung through the years.
A surprise guest director, even to the women, was Betty Woodward, retired music professor at Oklahoma Baptist University and widow of James D. Woodward, OBU dean of fine arts and first director of the ChurchWomen, who was killed in a private plane crash in 1991.
Woodward directed the women in “Lord of All,” one of the songs led by her husband during the first year of the ChurchWomen’s performances. A video of Jim Woodward directing the song has been played at the ChurchWomen concerts all year. Also on the video is signing of the song by Jeri Graham Edmonds, at the time artist-in-residence at OBU, who was also present Tuesday night to do the signing.
The ChurcWomen was formed in 1989 with 187 women and has grown to more than 400. An auditioned group, the members include professional, vocational, volunteer and lay church musicians.
Barbara Bell, a member of Oklahoma City, Trinity International and a charter member of the ChurchWomen, recalled she was sitting in her office minding her own business, when Trinity’s minister of music approached her and told her he volunteered her to be on a committee to help form the Singing ChurchWomen.
“I was delighted because I had envisioned a group like this for some time,” said Bell.
She said Jim Woodward, who at the time was directing the Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, told the committee they could choose anyone they wanted to be the director of the new group, but “it will break my heart if you don’t choose me.”
Woodward directed the ChurchWomen for a year and a half before the plane crash, which also killed BGCO music department head Paul Magar and his wife, Judy, and longtime BGCO music assistant Mary June Tabor. The group was returning from a Singing ChurchWomen concert in Woodward.
“After Woodward’s death, God brought Bill Green to Oklahoma to direct us,” Bell told the music hall crowd. “He led us for 18 years, and we followed him wherever he wanted us to go.
“Now we are delighted to have Ken Gabrielse directing us,” she said. “He makes us work hard, but it is worth the effort. But, most of all, through our three directors, we have learned how godly men treat women.”
Earlier in the program, Mary Bauer, a member of Midwest City, First, also a charter member of the group, gave a testimony of how the group has affected her life.
“When I lost my husband to cancer, these ladies prayed for me and loved me in ways only singing sisters can,” Bauer said.
She said while singing from one end of the state to the other and ministering in the foreign mission fields of Brazil, Hungary, Romania and Texas, the women have laughed together at such incidents as rooming mix ups in Brazil, and cried together after losing their friends in the plane crash.
Gabrielse said this has been a special year in the heritage of Oklahoma Baptist music.
“I grew up in Enid, and I participated in music events put on by Oklahoma Baptists, and I want to see that move forward,” Gabrielse said. “Oklahoma Baptists are singing people, and I want to see that continue. Singing is still an important part of who Christians are.”
Gabrielse said more than 1,000 women have come through the group in the last 20 years, and there are few facilities that can accommodate the entire group for concerts.
“Each one of these women represents churches in our state,” he said. “These ladies love singing and praising the Lord. It is my goal that they go back and help their churches to sing better.”