To those in the Brazos Valley who have had the joy of attending or belonging to First United Methodist Church in Bryan since 1992, they’ve been fortunate to share the grace and hear the talents of a dynamic, talented and effervescent musician, Mrs. Gerry Selden-Janik. A celebration of her music ministry brought crowds downtown to 28th and Houston Streets on April 27, 2014 for both services.
The music of a church is often the first (and last) impression of that church, to visitors and members alike, and for 22 years, one important ambassador of Holy worship has been the church organist, known lovingly as just “Gerry.” The music that she has played has included from great hymns of faith for which no one needs a hymnal: “How Great Thou Art,” The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Hymn of Promise” (or, simply ‘707’ to longtime members). Each one sounds wonderful when Gerry plays them.
It’s hard to describe the spirit and feeling that swells inside you when you hear the majestic sound of the outstanding 54-rank pipe organ, built by Dan Garland of Ft. Worth. Since 2007 when that organ was installed and for many years prior, Gerry Selden-Janik has held the position of Church Organist, and played beloved music, old and new, with great skill, grand talent, and a twinkle in her eye as she manages to maneuver deftly around the console and bless all who hear her. She’s served several churches during the course of raising her family, and each has been fortunate to have her presence there, but FUMC claims her as “theirs” as though she was always there.
In fact, it took every bit of strength for the Sanctuary Choir of First United Methodist Church to make it through their music without tears this morning, because of their devotion to and love for Gerry. In her final two worship services as full-time church organist today, there was a good reason to be strong, for it was the the debut of the tribute song, “I Will Lift Mine Eyes.”
The work is a most magnificent choir anthem, composed by FUMC Minister of Music, Rev. David Paul Henry, “in honor of the 60 years of music ministry of Gerry Selden-Janik, Organist, Accompanist, First United Methodist Church, Bryan.”
Henry’s work was completed in March, so the choir could rehearse it for today’s tribute.
Based on Psalm 121, “I Will Lift Mine Eyes” is simply one of the most elegant, moving works of Henry’s vast portfolio of compositions and creative projects. Whether it is a choral masterpiece or a rousing old Methodist hymn from the beloved Cokesbury hymnal, or one of David Henry’s original works for Creative Arts Camp, Gerry has played them all.
It was especially memorable for Gerry to be able to accompany the choir on “her” anthem because not only was she playing “her song.” Three special guest choir members made the men’s section resound extra effectively as a wonderful gift to the congregation as well as their mother.
Joining the FUMC were Gerry’s three sons—Eddie, Rush and Kevin—well known to church members as they’ve worshiped in their mom’s church whenever they’ve been in town over the years. In fact, Eddie has played the bagpipes for FUMC on several special occasions, to the delight of all. Gerry’s own “My Three Sons” and their families beamed with great pride.
After the first worship service had concluded, Gerry’s husband, Gil Janik, beamed with pride as he saw the crowds proceeding into the Heritage Room to honor her between services.
The Men’s Bible Class of FUMC, for whom Gerry had been their weekly accompanist, gifted her with a special piece of jewelry by which to remember them, the cross and flame symbol of Methodism in gold; the Sanctuary Choir gifted her with one in silver. Lots of love in the church for Gerry. Local television journalist (and choir member) Clay Falls had a video camera in one hand and a still camera in the other as he captured highlights of the morning’s reception.
Choir President Becky Hall and her team prepared the most marvelous reception, filled with surprises, for Gerry and her family between the worship services. Framed certificates and honors were bestowed on her this morning, despite her specific instructions to all to “not make a fuss or else she wouldn’t attend,” but that was not the only gift she received. A phenomenal sheet cake featured the opening page of sheet music for “Gerry’s Song” as the featured cake decoration, which delighted her greatly.
Another special gift was the attendance of four congregational ministers from previous years of service, including Rev. Morris House, Rev. Carroll Fancher, Rev. Harral Dunnam, and Rev. Lee Lamb, in addition to Associate Pastor, David Porterfield (who preached “Life Flows” this morning) and Senior Pastor Rick Sitton, whose late sister was a dear, dear friend of Gerry’s from when she and her family had lived in Rockdale. Children’s Ministries Director Jeff Hobbs paid tribute to Gerry during the Children’s Time during worship.
It’s never been “just about the music” for Gerry. She’s been a minister with her own loving, caring ways to her friends in the congregation. Many an hour she spent talking to congregation members in behalf of the music they would want played at their loved one’s funerals. She offered comfort, hope, and excellent suggestions for music that honors lives. She knew of loss and brought faith to those grieving in ways that resonated with the congregant whose heart was broken from loss. Those are whirlwind times and Gerry played whatever you wanted to hear for your special commemorative service.
At the most important of joyous occasions, when everything simply must be right for young couples, Gerry could be counted on to perform the most intricate and demanding music for weddings. This assured that brides, and mothers of the brides, could rejoice that “everything” would be perfect for that special day. Gerry, the wonderful mother, always knew how to keep other mothers calm and reassured that “everything will be beautiful.” And it always was.
As all choir members, current and former, know well, Gerry’s service preludes were welcoming. Especially memorable are her many duets with choir member and internationally renowned flutist, Penny Zent, over the past 22 years. Together, many Sunday mornings were more special (than usual) because of their combined talents. When church services were over, a group of choir members regularly hung around the choir loft or sat back down in the pews to hear Gerry’s phenomenal postludes.
Even when the church had the old organ with variable reliability on certain stops and notes, she found ways and means of “making do.” When the new Garland organ was installed, she made it come to life. Today it is established as a definite favorite of the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, of which Gerry has long been a member, and their treasurer.
The arts are precious in every town, and talents come in more than one standard fashion. Gerry’s gift of listening to others is a prize. Her ability to intuitively know what to say and do, to make things better, to show love, to exhibit faith, and to minister to the congregants are gifts that each member of the choir will keep always, close to their hearts.
Rev. David Henry had the most wonderful words to share regarding Gerry’s musicality and their friendship since 1999. That both of them were able to avoid tears throughout the morning showed great control. David also read aloud the message of Gerry’s first choir director Noralyn Gray Carpenter, whose regard and devotion to Gerry was (almost) unparalleled. Gerry revealed that Rev. Henry had also written special music to honor two of her grandchildren (so far). But she never imagined that she’d have her own song as well. But that’s “just what David does” to speak when words are not sufficient.
Gerry Selden-Janik’s presence on Sunday mornings will be missed, but her family is delighted to have her able to travel to see them on weekends and “stay a while” at last. If you love someone the way the choir and the congregation at FUMC love Gerry, it’s the best gift they can give her to allow that to happen. “No one can ever forget that special Sunday morning that Gerry....” and anyone there can fill in their own special memory there.
It took collective gifts of song, works of art, wrapped gifts and framed certificates to say “goodbye” today, but everyone noted they couldn’t wait until she returned as a substitute organist at some point in the future. Gerry Selden-Janik’s ministry of music has given immeasurable joy to FUMC and its members for the past 22 years. Love reigned and music ruled the air this morning, as a gentle country congregation in a downtown city church showed their love for their very own Gerry Selden-Janik.