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A man who was born to sing
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About a dozen years ago, I was very honored to meet Bill Coen, minister of music at First Baptist, and it was like finding an old friend I hadn't seen for years. Over time, Bill has become a Statesboro fixture and proven that he is a man of integrity, hard work and gifted in a very special way. He even puts up with old Presbyterians, and I've been told that's not an easy task.

Last Sunday evening, Julie and I, along with good friends, sat with the congregation of First Baptist to enjoy a remarkable moment with Bill as he shared his love of Jesus, his musical talent and an insight into his life's work.

I know I have said something like this before, but I have always believed that the universe God made for folks like us is filled with music. There seems to be a need for every family, tribe, clan or culture to have a history of vocal and instrumental music that is both unexplainable and yet absolutely necessary to identify their existence.

Every now and then God takes an individual and gives him or her a genetic alteration that creates a musical genius. I have asked Julie more than once, "What was it that caused some humanoid to create a drum, flute or stringed instrument? And who first said that it takes certain notes in a particular pattern for a song, a harmony, a tune or even a symphony? Why is there a bagpipe, sitar or piano, and what in the world caused a Bach, Handel or Psalmist? While we're at it, why do we have such a need for music in our lives?"

Julie just looks at me strangely and goes back to reading her book.

I digress. Old Bill Coen is, without question, a trained vocalist who is very much at home with his particular gift. I suspect that he has a touch of perfect pitch and a sotto voce that I think I had a tad of once when I was much younger. I was trained by a pretty good professor to relax my throat, concentrate on my diaphragm and focus. What that means is that Bill can sing with an absolutely soft melodic voice that can be heard in the largest sanctuary because he never loses his God-given vocal intensity.

When he sang about Jesus, it was like a lullaby, and then when he sang about God's blessings, his voice filled that sanctuary like thunder. Never once did I feel that Bill sang to entertain or did he appear to perform. His moment in time with us was almost like an old time testimony put to music.

What impressed me most was that he recognized — at a very young age — that he was born to sing. He would not accept the fact that he could have graced the stage of worldly entertainment with his extraordinary gift. The only possible direction he had was to sing about Jesus and God's love for a lost humanity.

The world may have lost a performer, but the church gained a singing evangelist.

Let me back up just a bit and reflect on the close of his evening with us. His gift of the song "Beulah Land" could not have been more perfect. And then he invited us to sing with him the "Doxology," which just about every churchgoer knows and sings. It is at its core a musical praise to God. We sang together and we filled that sanctuary with the music of the universe. Some of us wept.

Where will Bill Coen go from here? I'm pretty positive that he won't go into retirement. I just can't envision him sitting in a rocking chair on some front porch humming a hymn while watching the cars go by. My guess is that he'll find the perfect location to continue to share his life's work with another community who needs him.

As the old country song goes, "Where'd you come from and where'd you go."

God knows.

Thanks, God!


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