More than 18 years ago, the face of church music in Oklahoma was forever changed. The Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, conducted by Jim Woodward of Oklahoma Baptist University, had finished a concert at Elk City, First. Woodward, who was an excellent pilot, was accompanied on the return flight that night by Paul and Judy Magar and Mary June Tabor. Paul was the head of BGCO’s church music department and Mary June was the longtime secretary for church music.
Something terrible happened as they lined up to land in Oklahoma City. The plane crashed, and in one disastrous moment, family and friends lost loved ones and Oklahoma Baptists lost their beloved church music leaders.
Into that tragic vacuum stepped a tall, lean Elk City native who had sojourned in the foreign land of Texas for many years. He had led the development and explosion of the music ministry at Richardson, First, and taught at Southwestern Seminary. His qualifications to lead Oklahoma Baptists in church music were unparalleled. I was a member of the board of directors at that time, and I remember well my first meeting with Billy Earl Green. His love for Jesus and his passion to lead people to worship Him through music were very clear.
As part of his leadership of church music, he became the director of the Singing Churchmen, Singing ChurchWomen and the Oklahoma Baptist Symphony. During these 18 years, he has led all three organizations to incomparable growth and impact. Their combined numbers now top 700.
These groups perform concerts nine months of the year across Oklahoma. Thousands upon thousands have watched Green conduct these talented musicians, who present some of the most glorious music this side of Heaven. In addition, the choirs have sung at the Southern Baptist and Oklahoma Baptist conventions and taken mission trips to Russia, China, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Romania, Armenia and Israel.
To rehearse with Green is to experience an intense musical and spiritual training session with emphasis on music technique, interpretation and fundamentals of worship. Spiritual truth is an integral part of rehearsals and concerts. Development of the performing groups has been prolific in both numbers and quality during Green’s tenure. This has impacted Oklahoma churches as the level of excellence in music has advanced. He deserves accolades as well as appreciation from Oklahoma Baptists for his great leadership.
On May 12, Green conducted the Singing Churchmen in their homecoming concert from a mission trip to Armenia and Israel. Thousands were touched by the powerful music and uplifting testimonies. At the conclusion of the concert, Green announced to the Churchmen that he was stepping aside as conductor of the groups. After 18 years of effective and excellent leadership, he will join them as a participant.
The end of one era is the beginning of another. He hands the baton to Ken Gabrielse, who now leads the convention’s work in music and worship. A native of Enid, Gabrielse came to this position from the deanship of the Church Music Department of New Orleans Seminary. He is a gifted musician with impeccable credentials and tremendous expertise—a godly man who is held in high regard as a conductor of choirs.
We give thanks to God for Green and his long and successful tenure, and we welcome Gabrielse as he takes up the mantle of leadership. We rejoice in the ministry of these musical groups, and look forward to their continued impact for the cause of Christ.