When Irish Eyes are Singing: A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney, part 2

Carl Guiney“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.

Teamwork

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.

Sour Notes

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.

Forever Singing

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Irish Eyes are Smiling: A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney, part 1

Carl Guiney

Cold Morning
I remember walking into a church voluntarily for the first time when I was twenty years old. It was a very snowy February morning in New England. At that time I was anxiously searching for significance as a bass player in a heavy metal band. My life was a wreck in every direction. After reading the Bible for about a week or so, I decided that I should go to church. So I put on my best Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and black skinny jeans and headed off to church in my girlfriend’s car. The snow came down fast and hard. Unable get up the long steep driveway, I just slid backwards off to the side, put the car in park, and trudged up the hill on foot.

Warm Welcome
Already late, I was cheerfully met by a man who eagerly introduced himself with a smile and handshake. “Hi, I’m Marc,” he said, “Welcome.” The congregation was already singing as Marc found me a seat. The music was robust, beautiful, and joyful. As I was getting my bearings in this foreign environment, I looked over to the man playing the piano singing with all his heart. He glanced over my way and give me a warm welcoming smile. He seemed to know what the wind just blew in.

When the singing concluded, the man at the piano made his way to the pulpit. To my surprise, he was the preacher, too. There was one very impressed bass player in the congregation that morning. This was my first introduction to Rev. Carl Guiney. I later would call him pastor.

Mission: Woonsocket, RI
I could write pages and pages on Pastor Guiney’s impact on my life, which I intend to do, but for now, I want to highlight his influence on me regarding missions. Pastor Guiney had a heart for missions and it was contagious. He planted that church where he wholly gave himself to until the day the Lord took him home. That was no small task in a small New England city chock full of Catholic churches. Fresh out of Bible college, he drove from Indiana and went to Woonsocket, RI. He took different jobs to support himself and held Bible studies until a nucleus was developed and a church was born. He didn’t apply and wait for a job as a pastor; he simply planted a church where one was desperately needed. He tied himself to the mast and committed himself to serving the people of Woonsocket.

Mission: Native America
At our church we didn’t have to wait for an annual missions conference to meet missionaries. Pastor Guiney had them coming through the church all the time. I was always excited to hear what the Lord was doing throughout the world. He had them speak either Sunday morning or evening services or Thursday night Bible study. One particular missionary really got my attention as he talked about life on an Indian reservation. His name was Joe – “Injun Joe” as his Native friends dubbed him. He was actually Italian, but his heart was for Native America. He awakened me to the need in Native America. I would love to be able to say that it was that night I decided to become a missionary to Native America – that would make a really great story – but that is not what happened. I can tell you that it was because of that particular missionary and Pastor Guiney’s passion for missions that I am a missionary today.

Sacrifice
During those years, First Assembly of God in Woonsocket struggled to pay the mortgage, and sometimes even the pastor. Yet Pastor Guiney was committed to missions. Some churches would never think of giving only $25 a month to a missionary. How would that look? Always willing to give more, First Assembly was not too proud to give a little. Pastor Guiney was not concerned with appearances in that regard. He simply wanted the name of Jesus exalted among the nations.

A Reflection
To my Reformed brothers and sisters, yes, I ultimately left Assemblies of God to pursue my studies in Reformed theology. Leaving that church was one of the most painful decisions I ever made. I am a confessional Calvinist just as much as the the next guy, but I must confess that I am starting to feel a chill, only this time it is not coming from outside. Yet my heart is warmed when I think of the day when I was welcomed by Pastor Guiney’s smiling eyes (yes, he was Irish). I am grateful to the Lord for his life example of sacrifice and faithfulness. He taught me to endure and wait upon the Lord – a lesson I need to learn again and again.

Until next time…

You may further read about Pastor Carl Guiney here:
http://104067.agchurches.org/?TargetPage=4DBBF6F3-D87F-49C0-887A-86F02AAC7DA8
http://www.woonsocketcall.com/node/2436