“God’s people ought to be a singing people.” This was the conviction of Pastor Carl Guiney. My first introduction to him was when I first walked into First Assembly of God in Woonsocket, RI, on a cold winter morning back in 1990. As I took my seat, some dear singing soul behind me handed me a hymn book opened and awaiting my participation. Embarrassed to say, I didn’t sing a note. I can’t even remember the song, but I know it was joyful.
A Musician’s Musician
The singing was led by Pastor Raymond Shepherd while his wife, Edna, played the organ. On the piano was Pastor Guiney, a man small in stature, but full of joy, wisdom, and meekness. I didn’t know he was the pastor until he took his post at the pulpit when the singing concluded. As a musician, I was very impressed by his musicianship. He had full command of that piano. He could play every hymn in the book and many more from memory. Not only did he play what was on the page, but he also had the ability to improvise and create beautiful bridges into other songs all the while admonishing the people with words of encouragement. He had excellent technique, full of power and finesse. His style was lively, tasteful, and reverent. Not only could he sight-read with ease, he could also transpose the song on the fly if it were in a key too high for us to sing. He would then call out the key to Edna on the organ with hand signals like a baseball catcher calling pitches to the mound. He really was a musician’s musician.
A Singing People
The music at First Assembly was a combination of hymns and praise songs. During those years, I was completely oblivious to the so-called worship wars. Under Pastor Guiney’s leadership, I developed a real appreciation for hymns mostly and other styles of music as well. I will resist a long discussion on the old debate of “traditional vs. contemporary,” except to say that as a young bass player in a heavy metal band during those years, I had no hang-ups about singing those “old-fashioned” songs. It was in that church where I first sung “What a Day That Will Be,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” and “Sing Oh Sing of My Redeemer.” And our praise songs were usually taken directly from Scripture, “Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord” (Isa 51:11), and “As the Deer” (Ps 42:1). We sang every Lord’s Day morning and evening, as well as Thursday night Bible study — before and after. In fact, every time we were together, we sang. We were a singing people.
Pastor Guiney had a great team to lead us. Pastor Shepherd, who was Pastor Guiney’s father-in-law, chose many of the songs for worship and led us in singing with a powerful voice that really did not need amplification. Pastor Shepherd’s wife, Edna, faithfully played the organ. We were also graced by Pastor’s wife, Faith, as she offered songs of encouragement and praise, many times in duet with her mother, Edna. It was a family affair, of which we were all welcomed to join.
Pastor Guiney truly was inspirational and encouraged everyone to use their musical gifts. One day Pastor Guiney asked me to consider playing my bass in service. I was honored and terrified. I did not sight-read very well, and even when I was able to decipher the music, I had to figure out how to take piano bass clef and play it in a way that made sense on a bass guitar. So I set up my amp next to the piano and followed Pastor Guiney’s left pinky when I got lost, which was often.
‘Singing and Making Melody from Your Heart to the Lord’
I appreciate Pastor’s graciousness toward others like me who wanted to participate in the music. Because of that, we were blessed by a lot of great singing. All of us came with different skill levels, and we all played and sang a lot of bad notes. Now of course Pastor Guiney knew that the Bible teaches us that singers and musicians ought to perform skillfully, but he also knew that God did not require perfection to be pleased. So we sang and played at our varying skill levels with hearts to the Lord offering our sacrifices of praise.
I have heard people express the belief that it is not proper for the pastor to be a musician during Sunday worship. Somehow, as the reasoning goes, the people will not be able to transition in their minds from the musician to the pastor, therefore the pastor will lose his authority and respect among the people. I can’t say this emphatically enough: If you believe that, you simply didn’t know Pastors Carl Guiney and Raymond Shepherd or the congregation they served. Their love of song and praise only added to our respect and admiration for our leaders. If anything, they set the bar too high for other pastors, but I speak in jest.
I have been in churches that excel in musicianship. I have heard great choirs and ensembles. I have heard the giant pipe organs bellowing out heavenly and thunderous sounds that move the soul (O, how I wish Edna could have had one!). But for all that it is worth, I still hold those early years with Pastor Guiney at First Assembly most precious. It was there I joined the singing people of God and learned to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
Pastor Guiney was brought up in church and did not remember a day when he was not singing. Now ‘with no less days to sing God’s praise,’ he is singing with the heavenly choir in the Church Triumphant. I thank the Lord for his life, his deep love for music, and his ability to shepherd his people with ‘hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs’ (Eph 5:19).
You may read Part 1 of A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney here.