Interview with Phil Mitchell [Caroline Fernandez]



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00:00:00 - Background and coming to First Baptist

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Partial Transcript: CAROLINE FERNANDEZ: Yeah, so, I guess just to start, could you just, like, give me a background about, like, your music background and why you decided to come to First Baptist, um, what you’re doing there?

PHIL MITCHELL: Sure. Well I…uh, I’ll go all the way back. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Um, I played in the band in high school and, uh, played the trumpet a lot. And so then I entered the Blair Academy of Music, which is kind of a…it’s kind of a conservatory but was affiliated with Vanderbilt. Uh, they were gobbled up by Vanderbilt later. And so I did that in high school, and then when I went off to college uh my parents convinced me that I should really go into computer science. So I did that for a week and I missed music so badly that I went back for music. But by then, that time, um, you know, things had – I got within the ten-day deadline. So anyway, I switched over. And I was at Middle Tennessee State University at that point.

So then, um, I sensed a tugging about going into church music. Always’d been involved in church, really wanted to be involved in church music – [cut as Mitchell gets coffee.]

So I, uh, transferred to Belmont University, Nashville. And, uh, was a church music major there. And was there for four years, and then I went off to graduate school in Louisville. Did a masters in choral conducting there Then – from that point on, I’ve really been in churches all the time. I was in, uh, North Carolina and then went to Kentucky, and then I went to Alabama…I was in Birmingham and then came here.

Came here in 2001 and, uh, kind of – the Baptist world is kind of a friend of a friend, so that’s kind of – I got introduced. So I’ve been here, you know, almost eighteen years. And I came here principally because I think my skillset – choral conducting was something that the church has a historic interest in and strength in. So I…that was an attraction for me.

And because I had the background, they were interested. And so it just really seemed to mesh well. And then my interest also in, um, instrumental music…. Because we use a lot of orchestra, particularly at the seasonal times. So, um, had quite a bit of background that. So it was really just a great match, I mean, it’s just turned out to be a great thing.

Um…my kids were at interesting places in their – one was in elementary school and one was a senior in high school, so it was a tough move. But, overall it’s been a great thing; the church is wonderful, my family’s grown up here and…uh, it’s been a super [inaudible].

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about his music education as a child and in early adulthood and about how he came to find himself at First Baptist.

Keywords: baptist; belmont university; blair academy of music; middle tennessee state university; nashville

Subjects: church music; music education

GPS: First Baptist Church Richmond, where Phil Mitchell works.
Map Coordinates: 37.560261, -77.470862
00:03:01 - A week at First Baptist

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: Okay, and then just to kind of get a background of how you guys operate at First Baptist, can you walk me through, like, a week with music selection and then in rehearsal and then what happens Sunday morning, that sort of thing…?

MITCHELL: Oh, sure, absolutely. Um, well, a little bit bigger picture than that. Principally in the summer we’re looking at – we use the Revised Common Lectionary. So we have the scripture passages for the whole year; we pretty much know what’s going on. So, uh – and the pastor preaches from those, so it’s not guess work. We pretty much know what the themes are going in. So we spend the bulk of the summer looking at the year in terms of big pieces. And so, you know, at Christmas we’re gonna do…you know, this large work, or whatever; in the spring, we’re thinking about doing something on creation, or whatever; we’re doing a concert based around that theme.

So that informs a little bit about what the smaller week by week stuff is, because we can pick and choose, you know, you get double usage out of that. But week to week, uh, we have fourteen choirs. And I have a full-time associate, and so she – many of those are children’s groups, and they’re almost by grade. It’s like we have preschool and then two elementary school groups, and two youth choirs, and four hand-bell choirs and…. I do most of the adults. I did youth choir until last year; I gave it over to her.

And so, a week looks like all of those groups either rehearsing on Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. And, um, the youth and the hand-bell group and the adult group and the oldest children’s choir all participate in worship leadership regularly. So, once a month, typically, those are gonna be working towards they’re gonna do something on one Sunday morning of the month. So those are kind of laying overtop of each other.

And in terms of, uh, the music staff getting together, we meet on Mondays at 1:30. And so, we talk about, um, you know, this week and following. Um, on staff there’s an organist that’s part-time, pianist that’s part-time, and I have a full-time admin person. So we all get together, and then we talk about the music aspect. And then the worship team, which is the pastor and myself, organist and the associate pastor – we meet on Tuesdays to talk about the actual content on Sunday morning. Not only this week, but a couple of weeks out. And that’s where the nitty-gritty happens.

The other component there is we’re on television. So there – the, the communications people, the TV people are in that meeting too. So it’s not just about, you know, who reads this passage but it’s about, like, who walks where and having it there. All the logistical stuff, it’s gross, but – It’s important, but you can really get tied up in all that. But no, no, I’m just making fun of it, but it’s, uh….

But one of the things that I think is unique is that we try to find not only a style – we have a, we do everything – it’s more traditional, chorally based, but we, we do, you know, world music; we do spirituals; we do chant; we do choruses. I mean, we do [inaudible]. And all of it is based around its function, larger role. Rather than just, “Oh, well let’s do something because everybody will like it,” or some of my colleagues say “something to offend everyone” (laughter). It’s not really, that but – so, there’s that side. But really, it’s like, when we think of someone who’s gonna read. Uh, who’s gonna sing a solo. Who is the perfect person to do that? You know, and what is that piece?

And all that happens pretty much, um, you know, big picture six months, small picture 90 days, then a month or a week at a time. And so all of us who are doing these various groups have a, you know, an excel sheet we’re working off of, and we know – funneling down to the time we do….

And that’s kind of the way it all fits together. It’s not perfect, but, uh, there are adjustments that have to be made from time to time, but.

FERNANDEZ: Longer term.

MITCHELL: Yeah, yeah.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about a typical week at First Baptist and some of the considerations he and his team have to take into account when planning music.

Keywords: chang; revised common lectionary; spirituals; television; world music

Subjects: baptist music; church music

00:07:16 - Congregation participation

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: And then, I guess, since you have so many choirs – I didn’t know you had fourteen – but, like, all the ensembles and musicians…do you, like, recruit from the congregation? How open is it to people just coming in?

MITCHELL: It’s very open. Uh, we only have one real auditioned group. And that group comes out of the larger church choir. Church choir’s about 100 people. And really the criteria there is, you know, can you match pitch, uh, basic tone qualities. I don’t…it, it’s pretty broad. [inaudible] need to be able to learn something quickly and simulate it. Or sit near somebody that can simulate it real quickly. But as long as you can – and you’re eager to participate regularly, then that’s kind of the criteria.

And so, uh, we have a lot of professional folks; it’s a little transient. I mean, people, you know, they have work, trips, and all that. So it can be a little frustrating at times from a leadership standpoint. ‘Cause it’s like a potluck; when you come in Wednesday night it’s like, "Yeah, who’s gonna be here tonight?”

And so…um, but the auditioned group comes out of that. There’s 21 people in that group, uh, they do much more challenging music, uh, travel a little more. Round the world; we went lots of different places. Most recently, we were in Romania two years ago. And, uh, so we established a partnership; or we meet someone who says, “I’m doing this work in Romania.” Or, I have some conductor friends that say, you know, we did Italy one year, and this is, “We’ve got this thing going on in Rome and we’d really love for you all to participate,” so we – we leap in. So that’s kind of how that works.

It’s pretty open membership, particularly in the children’s areas. And it’s so diverse, it’s just amazing.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about how much the congregation participates in the music programs at First Baptist.

Keywords: auditioned group; church choir; romania

Subjects: church music

00:09:06 - Selecting music

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: When it comes to picking music, I know you said you try to get something from, like, multiple different genres and that sort of thing. You’re typically more traditional, right? Okay, is there anything you look for, like – are you considering lyrics? Or, like, what’s a main consideration for you?

MITCHELL: That’s a great question. Um, the principal consideration is the lyrics. Because again, we’re making it function in a role that ties in to whatever the lection is for the day. [Inaudible] the gospel passage in, whatever, uh, Mark 12 or whatever. So I’m looking for a text that interfaces with that. And that’s not always possible; I mean, some obscure passage…. But there are four lections. So there’s a psalm, and there’s a…. So I can make it, generally, fit somewhere. Um…coming with experience comes with what publishers you trust. And so I’ve got three or four publishers that I look at regularly – and now pretty much all of that’s online. And I can say, “Oh, I see so-and-so’s name,” and I think, “Oh, well, I need to check that out, because we have a history with that person.”

Um, and lyric – but principally, I would say it’s more…if I had to break it down, 60 percent, uh, weighted effect on lyrics, 40 on musical style. Um, sometimes we’ve done some really bizarre musical things, just because of [inaudible] work. And then the other side is, well, you know, if you’re doing something from the Brahms requiem, it might be just a general psalm that works that day. So it doesn’t really technically interface with a passage that day, but it’s a great work and you can’t really argue that it’s worthy to do.

So, yeah, I think that’s how it works. Uh, we have a few lyricists; I’m a composer, so I’ve written a number of things. Uh, but I don’t…most of the things that I’ve done are hymnic, so we may use a text of mine, or I’ll write a hymn for some special occasion or whatever. And, uh, I have some publishers that I work with. See, but I don’t do a lot of writing anymore. Because the program is so big that I just…I don’t have a…I really need to focus on, you know, making sure the moving parts happen.

So, one thing that’s been interesting, ‘cause I’ve interviewed a couple people from different denominations…. Um, how much would you say your denominational affiliation impacts the music that you choose? Does it at all? Or, how you present the music in service?

Very little. The main reason is, well….you know, in general, I think Baptists have gotten more and more I would say conservative. Generally. Um, we have gotten – we haven’t really changed; if anything, we’ve gotten a little more progressive. So that chasm that was there…we still embrace, we still have --. Uh, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is – I don’t know how much you know about Baptists –

FERNANDEZ: Little bit (laughs).

MITCHELL: Which is the more traditional, staid, uh, group that really doesn’t, uh, hasn’t changed their position in probably 60 years. Then there’s another group that’s opened up called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is a more progressive – and they’re more, um…supportive of women in ministry, um, just all kind of things that are a lot more open. So, biblical interpretation’s a little more open. And so it attracts people that are a little more academically oriented. The other one is just more trad – you know, my family’s been this way for so long.

And they both have their place! We try to embrace both of those, and we still do, um, but we’re more on the progressive side. And so because of that, I find a lot of my resources coming from Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans.

So on one side, it’s great; I can go wherever I want. It’s kind of a potpourri. But on the other side, I can’t really look to my denomination to count on, um, something –. It would be easy if they would just say, you know, “This is great for this emphasis.” It’s just not…it’s more challenging.

FERNANDEZ: Not as many guidelines.

MITCHELL: Yeah, so it’s a little more, um, a little more inclusive. And, um, frankly it’s exciting; I mean, it’s really more fun to me, as a planner, to be able to look at different things. But (sighs), you know, I don’t know that we’re – I mean, we call ourselves a Baptist church. And we are; and we do support missionaries through the organization and all those things. But as far as how we do things…not that [inaudible].

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about how he chooses music, emphasizing publishers, lyrics, and denominational outlines.

Keywords: baptist; cooperative baptist fellowship; lyrics; southern baptist convention

Subjects: baptist; church music; lyrics; traditional church music

00:13:51 - Diversity in Richmond reflected at First Baptist

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: Okay, interesting. Um…and then another thing that I’ve noticed really tends to change how music is interpreted in church is demographic. So, um, just of the congregation – especially ‘cause we’re in Richmond, where there’s a very diverse community, um – would you say your church demographic has a big influence on your music or vice versa? How’s the balance there?

MITCHELL: That’s a really [inaudible] question. Uh, I think the demographics inform what we do a lot. And it’s changed. In the last ten years, we probably have people from 15 different countries, maybe? Which, twenty years ago that would’ve been five, maybe? And I think it’s reflective of the community, um. So in the choir, we have, you know, people from…gosh, what, different parts of Africa, Sri Lanka, um, France, Spain…uh, at least one German. So anyway, there’s a lot of Europeans there, but we also have a lot of – and this is increasingly so – a lot more Asians. And our pianist has been there for 20 years, she’s from South Korea.

And so, all of that – it’s not so overt, but it’s really almost implied. That we, you know, we’re gonna embrace all of the cultures. And they have an informing presence in what we do. I mean, and some of that is not obvious, but, uh, like for example, there’ll be times like Pentacost; we’ll read the scripture in various languages. And have those people read a passage in that language. And, uh, we’ll also do that at other times to.

But, uh, it does influence musical choice as well. Because, uh, I have some people that can play some percussion instruments that I had never seen before (laughs), you know, ten years ago. “Really, are you sure?”

And, uh, we did a recent concert called Jubilate Deo. And each movement, uh, was in a different language. And, uh, so my base ensemble [inaudible]. And there was a, um, an instrument in there that you play…uh, it’s kind of like a violin but it’s a Chinese instrument. Gosh, I can’t remember the – anyway, it’s very unusual, it sounds like a…sounds like a saw, almost, but it’s got a very…I’ll email you the name.

But I had to look everywhere to find somebody to play it. It’s actually in the score. It’s by this guy, it’s a good friend of mine who’s very creative. And, um, so I finally found someone through a friend of a friend at, um, William and Mary. And she’s a concert whateverist, you know, so…. But the whole movement featured her. And people loved it. Some of her friends came; she had friends in Richmond and they came. So, all those kind of quilting of, you know, relationships and things just happened because of the diversity of the music.

And I think it comes from the congregation; but I think it does benefit the congregation. And we have a huge international presence with our minister of invitation. He, um…what would’ve been thought of in the old days as an “outreach person.” He does international ministry. And we have…I mean, you’ll have…last night he had a thing; he told me he had 50-something people over at his house representing about a dozen countries. Iran, Iraq, everywhere. And, so that, the vitality of that is just really amazing.

Um, every year at Thanksgiving we do international choir. So we have a Tuesday night thanksgiving service. And I’ll have 25 or say. They’ve never met each other , they come in before the service, rehearse for an hour, and we’ll pick something that is from one of those countries to, you know…. And it’s really, it’s just a way of connecting with the community and there’s no…you know, pressure about, uh you know – I may never see them again. But to be hospitable and to say, you know, “You have something to offer, and hopefully we do too.” Yeah, so that’s kind of how all that interfaces, I think.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about how he has seen increasing ethnic diversity at First Baptist, which is then reflected in the music of the church.

Keywords: demographic; diversity; jubilate deo; william and mary

Subjects: church music; outreach; world music

00:18:16 - Traditional music vs. contemporary music

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: It’s cool to see the diversity connections. Um, also, for I guess another aspect of demographics that I’ve seen, like, variations upon is also the age layout of churches. And I know that typically people think, “Oh, young people are attracted to contemporary music and older folks to more traditional styles.” Do you ever, um, think about that or think about how to appeal to a younger crowd?

MITCHELL: It’s a huge argument. Well, I wouldn’t say it’s an argument; I would say it’s an ongoing discussion.

FERNANDEZ: Lots of different opinions.

MITCHELL: Yes, absolutely. And we’ve pushed back against that because I don’t believe that’s true. I do think that there are young people that really like what you might call contemporary – although contemporary is kind of a misnomer; most of what they’re singing was written in the ‘80s (laughs). Yeah, just because it has rhythm that’s…

But, uh, so we tried this. I mean, when I came, they had a contemporary service on Sunday evenings. And it just fizzled out. I mean…we began to realize that if you think contextually, I mean. People don’t typically come back downtown for something on Sunday night, a lot of times. Unless it’s something special. They’re not gonna come every week; probably not. So, uh, we have found that, um, using more a contemplative style or something that uses, uh, a small choral group – uh, we do a service of, um…well, I don’t know if we’d call it contemplative – it’s like music, scripture, silence, music, scripture, silence, music, scripture, silence. Like that. It’s not really Celtic but it’s just kind of a contemplative style where it’s – and you know, it’s three minutes of silence in segments and it seems like forever, you know (laughs). ‘Cause we’re not accustomed to just sitting in silence.

But it’s very meaningful. And we have one in Advent, we do it [inaudible]. So we start Advent with it; it’s on a Wednesday night and I’ll use a cello or something. And we’ll use some world music as part of that because the ethos of that is very beckoning and, you know. So we do that.

And, you know, we use choruses from time to time if they have a role to play, if the text has a role to play on Sunday morning. We don’t do it very often but, um, you know, my daughter’s 30. So, my son-in-law’s 30. And, you know, they have found – and they moved to Nashville – and they found that’s about all the can find is contemporary services. They’re having a hard time finding what they’re accustomed to. Now, if it’s done well, I think they like it. And they’re in Nashville, so there’s a lot of really good musicians there.

My son is the opposite. He lives in D.C., and he says, “I’m having trouble finding a church, but I don’t want screens” (laughs). And it’s hard. And I said, “Well, it may not be a Baptist church.” He said, “I don’t care. I’m just looking for something with a little more content and that’s not so personality-based.” And so, um, we haven’t intentionally pushed back to say that’s wrong. It’s just, because of our context, we have to be aware that this is our context.

And people don’t respond – it’s not a neighborhood church. Not a lot of people in the Fan come. But people drive in from all over. So it’s an amalgamation of people, an amalgamation of tastes. And so, to try to, I would say, impose a cultural, uh, phenomenon on that…it’s been hard.

We tried it? Um, and it hasn’t gone…so.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell addresses the traditional vs. contemporary music debate and explains how First Baptist experimented with contemporary music.

Keywords: advent; contemporary music

Subjects: contemporary church music; traditional church music

00:22:00 - First Baptist in the city of Richmond

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: To, I guess, talk a bit more, like a zoomed out…. Um, in terms of the city of Richmond. So, um, in my class we’ve been talking a lot about how Richmond can influence, kind of in subtle ways, um, like, businesses here and whatnot. Do you think, like – what would you say is an impact that Richmond has had? So, for example, if this church was not in Richmond, and it was in some other city, what would be different?

MITCHELL: Oh, wow, that’s good. Yeah, well, I… [inaudible] so we’re very [inaudible]. We have a, um…when our pastor came ten years ago, he brought in this, kind of, “reason for being statement.” Uh, bringing the kingdom of heaven to Richmond, Virginia. That was his thing. And it sounds, well, it’s a little – sounded hokey, I don’t know, you know – it’s not. I mean, he really means it. And what he means is – now, what is it that – it’s, it’s a justice thing, really. It’s more like, what seems wrong, and what can we do to make it right?

And so, uh, we have a shower ministry, we give out food; and there’s very few places in town that someone can go take a shower. Uh, we do that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and we have, I don’t know, maybe 80 to 100 people that do that? Uh, they are homeless and they’re looking for a place. And then we have it on Thursday nights, we have a hot meal; have about 100 people that come to that.

That’s a very contextual thing. And part of it is ‘cause we’re in here. It’s not really inner-city but it is in the city, it is in the city. And so, uh, in another city, if we were placed in another city we might do that as well. Similar things.

Um, but it’s a strange juxtaposition of that – like we were the home for the symphony when they were out, when they were renovating. Or, they were preparing Carpenter Center. Uh, we became, for a year, we were the home for all the symphony concerts. And so we had to adapt a little bit because it’s – our space is, it seats 1500, but… [Cut because of dog barking outside.] Uh, so that juxtaposition between these, this kind of world and that kind of world doesn’t happen everywhere. It wouldn’t happen everywhere. And it – it’s just because we happen to be in a place where that was needed, and we did it, and, um, so we have a lot of –

We have a full-time person that does nothing but what we call “Ministry of Compassion.” And that’s all he does, you know. It’s food, it’s, uh, mothers; we have a single mothers group, it’s about 80 women that come on Thursday nights and support for them and for their kids. Uh, uh, we have AA, we have a drug group, an opioid group. Um, so all that to say it’s not necessarily unique to Richmond, but it is unique, perhaps, to a larger urban setting.

And, um, I’ve even had a homeless choir sing. Uh, which is, it’s hard to get them to rehearse regularly, so it has to be a little bit more spontaneous, you know, “They’re here,” uh, and they – like, over Thanksgiving we would host homeless for a week. And so, one night, we would just say, “Tonight we’re gonna have a choir and we’re gonna read the –” And they loved it! And one of them was an excellent pianist, just unbelievable.

And so…it’s just taking advantage of opportunities presented at the time, having your ears open and notice those kinds of things. Um, I don’t know that there’s anything unique about what we do compared to other urban settings, but probably to other churches in Richmond wouldn’t be as exposed to some of the urban issues that we are.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about some of the outreach initiatives First Baptist has developed to connect with the Richmond community.

Keywords: Richmond; carpenter center; homeless choir; richmond symphony

Subjects: church music; richmond virginia

00:26:07 - Cross-church communication

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: Because there are so many churches in Richmond – many, many churches – um, how much – or, do you feel at all that there’s some sort of community in between the churches? Especially with music, I guess, like, do you keep connections with other, like, worship directors? Do you ever collaborate or anything like that?

MITCHELL: Oh, yeah. We…just a short while ago we did Elijah together. Three Baptist churches got together and did Elijah. We’re now getting ready to start a thing where we’re gonna do something with the churches that are within roughly a mile radius. So that’s any denomination, doesn’t matter; we’re gonna invite every church that’s within a mile of us. And we’re gonna start doing, um, just gatherings, events, not necessarily music.

Um, we have gone to other churches. We went to St. Paul’s and did a joint thing with them one time, that my audition group went down there. Uh, happened to be, though, that the concert was on the day that VCU was playing in the Final Four (laughs), and it was on a Sunday afternoon, and it was horrible. I mean, I think we outnumbered the people that were there. But the idea was great (laughs). Yeah, but it was a few years ago, and I don’t think they’ve been back since then, but it was just odd.

Ironically, there are about five guys – well, they all happen to be guys – but there are five people around town that are about my age that all have similar tastes and, uh, skills, and we – Bon-air, uh…Second Baptist, Third Presbyterian – those are all people that –. In fact, two of those three I actually went to graduate school with. So we’re all here – in Louisville. At the same time! I graduated in ’82.

So anyway, we’ve kept this kind of similar interest thing, so it’s not hard to come on common ground to do something. And, we all benefit from – and it requires love-giving together. And we can supplement, you know: I’ll have sixteen tenors, and he might have four; but I might have seven basses and he might have twenty-one. And so, it really has been a really great thing.

And most of that’s evolved around large works with orchestra. Yeah. And I think the next project would be to do that kind of thing but do it even on a larger scale, perhaps, at something downtown in some facility downtown.

Uh, we’re getting ready to do a racial reconciliation thing – in February. And I think that kind of thing would go really well in an off-site location. I mean, it’s, uh, neutral ground. And people don’t feel as threatened. Not everybody will walk into a church, no matter what it’s got in it.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell talks about the relationships the First Baptist music program has cultivated with other churches in Richmond, VA.

Keywords: VCU; bon-air; elijah; racial reconciliation; richmond; second baptist; st. paul's; third presbyterian

Subjects: church cooperation; church music; richmond virginia

00:29:14 - Reaching out to the non-religious

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: Small side note, because you said not everyone will walk into a church, um – one worship leader that I interviewed how much of an emphasis her church has on bringing in people who haven’t been to a church before, and making it comfortable for them. Is that something you guys consider when you’re doing, like, um, planning the worship, or planning how the stage is set up or anything like that?

MITCHELL: Well, it influences in about two, three ways. One is language. Because I think there’s a lot of insider language. And it’s just, like, you really assume that they know what the WMU is? Which is the Women’s Missionary Union. Uh, we all know that and we talk about, “This is our WMU offering week,” and, like, “What is that?”

So I – particularly the last four to five years, we’ve really had an emphasis about, we can’t just assume that people know what [inaudible]. And even things like at the end of communion service, the first Sunday of the month, we sing [inaudible] Lord’s Prayer at the end of service. That’s a congregational…. And I’m looking out and I’m thinking, “Not everybody knows this.” Not everybody knows the tune, first of all, and second of all the words! Or even the doxology, which is two lines. You know, they may not know that. So that’s one thing.

One is just language, being sensitive to the fact that they may not have the background to do that. And it can be – it’s not shaming, but it’s a little embarrassing. It’s intimidating; yeah, that’s the better word.

Um, I think secondly is that, uh…trying to use we, they…. We, they setting up of the sanctuary, the space. So, if it looks like everything’s going on up there, and it’s those guys, it’s a show and we’re doing everything…. So we try to integrate that into the congregation and get them really involved. So that means we have to come out into their space sometimes.

And that’s hard to do on television, because, you know, the TV guy will say, “That’s a great idea, but we’re not gonna hear what they say.” So we have to do that – we can do it! But it’s just we have to do it further in advance, you know. Your creativity has to be far-looking. And you can’t come up with a good idea on Wednesday and expect it to be, you know – his, his best line is, “That would have been a great idea in May.” (laughs).

So, but nonetheless, the principle is still there. It’s just, can we – I mean, one of the other ways to be hospitable is to not be on stage and just [inaudible] of them and us kind of thing. So we’re intentional about that; we’ll do a call to worship out in the aisles. Every Sunday morning, we have some type of greeting time where we go around, where we’re asked to greet somebody we don’t know. Greet somebody we absolutely don’t know.

Uh, it’s harder and harder to do because people, uh, some want to be incognito, and we want to respect that. We’ll also have homeless people that will walk in during the middle of the service and, you know, it’s, like, to not be threatened by that. And so we have ushers who are very sensitive about how to deal with this kind of things. To not let people just wander in, but to accompany them in, help them feel comfortable, not to say, “You’re not welcome here.”

But, uh, some people, you know, they might –. In the day of mass killings and things, we have a police presence, too. Because again, it’s an urban setting; we’ll have an officer who just keeps his eye out, uh, around. And that, you know, that’s not great for image in some ways; you have to be kind of careful. But I do think…I don’t think it’s off-putting as much as comforting, particularly for those who bring their kids. So, I don’t know if that gets at what you’re asking…it’s tangential (laughs).

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell discusses how First Baptist tries to accommodate non-congregants and make church accessible.

Keywords: television; women's missionary union

Subjects: church music; church outreach

00:32:57 - Future plans and aspirations

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Partial Transcript: FERNANDEZ: My last question, you kind of alluded to it, would be any, like, long-term…like, where do you see the church worship ministry going? Like, are there things that you guys are actively working towards? Or, just stewing in the back of your brain that might come to fruition?

MITCHELL: Yeah, actually there are a couple of things. One is, we’re looking at the idea of doing kind of a worship laboratory. Now this is a brainchild of mine where the arts and music and literature intersect in informing ways, but not to serve themselves. But again, if we can coalesce around a scripture or something and say, “We’re gonna be looking at Psalm…whatever, 24, and do you have any creative inclinations toward that? We’re gonna meet on Sunday afternoon at four and if you have art, if you have poetry; if you want to write something, if you’re a writer, write something --.” I’ve often asked people to write their own personal psalm that would be based on a psalm but their own personal expression of that.

So, and then having soloists and all those kinds of things, and then saying, “Well, next month we’re gonna take this and we’re gonna worship around this. Because you have made –” It’s truly the work of the people, where liturgy has become the work of the people. And they actually did it.

So that’s gonna require a lot of work, and a part of me just swallows really hard thinking [inaudible]. It’s just absolutely insane. But the other side of it is, we do have a lot of, kind of, people that are kind of behind the curtain. They’re doing some really creative things. And we just don’t know about it. We’ve got two thousand people in the congregation. So trying to figure out what those people are doing and to – uh, part of the challenge now is just finding out who they are. Most of it’s second and third hand, you know, friend of a friend, that kind of thing? I think that’s very much on the horizon.

And the other thing is, uh, drama. And more in-house drama, running pre-fab drama, uh. We have a very active youth group, good size, and a new student minister who’s fabulous. And getting them to actually – in fact, last night the children did a musical called Heroes of the Faith. And they actually wrote the, um, the dialogue. So there’s a group that wrote the dialogue, and then the lady who directs the choirs, my associate, uh, she got the music to come make a sandwich out of all that stuff. Here’s Jonah, here’s Noah, here’s so on. And they wrote the dialogue.

So that’s the kind of thing, collaborative, it’s…it’s more like, we’re trying to help you engage what we’re doing, not just provide a service for you so that you just passively come. And that requires a lot of energy. And sometimes you gotta be up for some failure, I mean, it’s not gonna work every time. And if you’re not up for failure…you know, I guess I’m old enough now that if I fail a few times then at least I tried.

But sometimes it just moves the ball a little, and then you say, “Well, that worked. But let’s make some adjustments and try again.” It’s been a very healthy thing to do, I think. So those two things, I think, particularly drama – right now, we just seem to have a lot of people who are interested in drama. And the guy who directs the, uh, Henrico Arts Center, Todd Ritter, who’s been there at least 20 years – but he’s really young, he’s about, maybe, 48 or so – um, he’s a really active member of the congregation, and a great director. So he wrote our Christmas pageant last year and it was, it was marvelous.

So that’s kind of what’s on the [horizon].

FERNANDEZ: Well, yeah! I covered all my questions.

MITCHELL: I hope I didn’t ramble too much.

FERNANDEZ: No, that was very informative.

Segment Synopsis: Mitchell discusses future plans and ideas he has for the music and arts programs at First Baptist.

Keywords: drama; henrico arts center; todd ritter; worship laboratory

Subjects: church music; church theatre