Mrs. Faye Ellis took our youth choir on quite a trip
I learned so much as a teenager from many of the adult members of the First Baptist Church in Fordyce, Arkansas, where I spent my high school years. One person in particular was Mrs. Faye Ellis, who periodically served as our youth choir director when the church was in-between official choir directors. Mrs. Ellis was the wife of the long-term pastor of the church, Rev. Cline Ellis, and they lived in the parsonage behind the church. I knew Mrs. Ellis probably better than many other people because she took a strong interest in me, since I came from a single mom home (which was extremely uncommon in Fordyce in those days) and our family was extremely poor. Mrs. Ellis had attended the seminary and had earned a Master of Arts in Music, but as a Southern Baptist minister's wife, her jobs were only interim and shamefully low paid. During the six years of my high schools days, she was probably the interim music director for half that time, on and off again. Yet the church paid her only a mere $100 per month penance for her dedication and work, I guess first of all because she was the minister's wife and supposedly working for the church anyway. But also I think, and she thought as well, because she was a woman. The official music directors, whenever we had one, were paid much more. But Mrs. Ellis was a wonderful musician. Strict but good. Not only did she know music very well, she planned and took us on a choir tour during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. That's the sort of thing I would do if I were a choir director. First of all, we had to be a member of the choir and attend rehearsals faithfully in order to get to go. Well, that's motivation, and it worked. Second of all, the itinerary she planned took us places that most of us would never have had the opportunity to see were it not for her. And thirdly, the performance agenda made us think we were masterful singers and sought after across the southern states. We sang at various churches in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. We met many other young people along the way and most of the time, slept in homes of the members of the church we visited. We also sang at Six Flags over Texas, which to us was a huge deal. We visited Six Flags in Arlington, AstroWorld in Houston, attended a Houston Astros baseball game, and roamed the 1968 Worlds Fair in San Antonio, Texas, called The HemisFair '68 for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. And she taught us sound music and how to mix fun with Christian values.
The last time I visited with Mrs. Ellis was in the early 1990s, when I ran into her in the grocery store in Fordyce, Arkansas, during one of my occasional visits with extended family. We were excited to see each other, and right there in the middle of the grocery aisle, had a hearty discussion/disagreement about current politics and what it means to be a Christian. I just couldn't believe she was a Republican right-wing Christian. How could that be, I asked her. You are the one who taught me/us to give all that we have to the poor and needy, to take care of those in need, to embrace those who are cast away and out, just as Jesus did. You are the one who said we should live modestly and not buy into the ways of the world and big business.
Mrs. Ellis smiled and I knew we would not agree. I do not know when or how that great divide happened. When the Southern Baptists for the most part joined ranks with Corporate America and somehow save Conservatism as a Christ-like endeavor. I do not know when those who embrace socialism and community became labelled Liberals because they wanted higher taxes to support programs that helped the poor and disenfranchised.
The last time I heard, Mrs. Ellis was in very poor health and living with her daughter in another state. I know I will not see her again, but her influence on my life remains still. She probably never knew that I really loved her. Oftentimes, she made me very angry because she had a tendency to stick her nose into my business for many years, even after I was married. But today I know that is because she loved me, too. If anyone sees her, tell her Sheila Witherington said hello and that I love her.
My thoughts for today.