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Tuning up your farewell toasts

POSTED: March 9, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Mark Green and I have an agreement about reaching the finish line of life. The one of us who gets there first will fulfill the other’s last wishes.

We didn’t sign any kind of formal agreement. We were just talking one day about good funerals and what we liked at them.

Mark wants me to do what I do best — tell stories. He wants me to kick off a time of telling remembrances about him. I’ve got a bunch of them, but I also promised him I wouldn’t take an incredible amount of time.

For me, it involves Mark leading the congregation in the first verses of 25 hymns at my farewell event. If you are a Baptist, you can probably sing most of them without a hymnal. If you are a Methodist, you’ll know about half of them. If you are a Catholic or an Episcopalian, something will sound familiar.

Mark Elam Green, a proud native son of Oneonta, Ala., has been minister of music at First Baptist Church for 15 years. I have said many times he is the best thing to come out of Alabama since Interstate 20.

He holds a degree in piano performance from the University of Alabama. He winces when I ask him if that was upright piano (it is Alabama).

He is a devoted follower of Jesus and the Crimson Tide. His wife, Joy, is a graduate of Auburn University. This makes for an interesting time when the two schools mix it up in their annual football skirmish.

Mark grew up in a rural church that didn’t do much fancy singing, just good four-part songs that you can sing from your heart.

His family gets together every Thanksgiving. From his description, they get together for a singing and a family reunion with lots of covered dishes. Some folks come for the food, but most come for the singing. This is a crowd that is serious about singing.

But college and seminary exposed young Mark to a world of beautiful music and he loves everything from Bach to sacred harp. He finds new arrangements of classic hymns that challenge his choirs to greatness.

He is a stickler for details. He wants his singers to enunciate words so they can be sung understandably and on key. He uses nice terms to tell people they can do better. He uses the term “under-pitch” rather than “flat.”

Mark also writes his own arrangements for a multitude of instruments. He can add a flute, an oboe or a violin on a song and make it a work of musical art.

Last year, he and I wrote an official song for the Georgia State Patrol. It is called, “We Stand For Georgia.” I was quite honored to have my name credited with his. As is the tradition, I wrote the words, he wrote the music.

Not long after he came to Gainesville, I joined First Baptist and within a week, I was a member of the choir. That year, we had our first Living Christmas Tree presentation. He entrusted me to write and perform the narration and has continued to trust me every year since.

I hope neither one of us reach the pearly gates anytime soon. I hope that 15 years is just the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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