Music has always been a big part of John Day’s life.
He grew up with it.
His mother made sure he went to his piano lessons. His father’s love of song is an indelible influence in his life.
Ask him about it and he is liable to sing his blessings.
“Music is a different language,” said Day, pastor of the Longbranch Community Church. “It is a language of the soul and the heart.”
Song allows us to express our emotions beyond simple words, he said.
In that spirit, Day is hosting and performing at the Longbranch Bluegrass Festival Saturday at the Longbranch Improvement Club house for the third year.
The fundraiser will feature Coyote Hill Bluegrass, the lads from Vinita, Okla., who were a huge hit in Longbranch last year. Also performing are the Day Brothers — John, Daniel and David — and the Key Peninsula group “Bluegrass Minstrels”.
“If you like music, if you like bluegrass, you will have a great time,” he said.
Last year, the event attracted roughly 300 people to the century-old club house for the music and barbecue.
This Saturday, strings will be picked and voices harmonized from 2-6 p.m. Pulled pork and chicken sandwiches will be served, according to Day.
But the music will certainly be the star attraction.
As it had been in Day’s home as a child.
Day grew up in Stanwood, a tiny Scandinavian hamlet about an hour drive north of Seattle.
His father Ken and mother Margaret kept the children – three boys and three girls – tuned in to music.
“My dad gave us the love of music,” Day said. “My mother couldn’t carry a tune but she was the one who made us all take piano lessons.”
Bluegrass came much later in his life, said Day — a short, energetic man with a salt and pepper beard.
A parishioner at one of his churches — a corporate lawyer in Seattle who once played in a bluegrass band in Tennessee — showed him the power of music as an outreach ministry.
“I had never touched the mandolin before in my life,” Day said. “But he placed an instrument in my hands and he said ‘John, if you can play this, you can keep it.’”
That was roughly a decade ago.
He still plays with the mandolin the man gave him.
‘THIS IS COUNTRY’
Asked what it was like to be a pastor in Longbranch, he laughed.
“Longbranch is a whole different world, but it is a world I love,” he said.
The contrast becomes stark, Day said, because he came from a church in the urban heart of Bellevue. Rich, trendy, elite.
“This is country,” he said. “I see bears. There is a whole different mindset, a whole different attitude.”
Bellevue was a denominational church. The Longbranch Community Church serves everyone in the southern tip of the Key Peninsula.
“We have people from every conceivable Christian stripe that come and worship under the same roof,” he said.
“I like it,” he is quick to add.
It is a wonderful expression of what it is to be children of God, he said, learning to love each other and learning to follow the Lord.
There is always the challenge of every day, and how to stay focused on the needs of his flock. He is constantly helping people, leading them.
Serving in this context is new to Day.
He said he had to ask the pastoral search committee specifically what they expected of him when he first applied for the job three years ago.
He wondered if he would be given the freedom to preach the Word of God as “I prayerfully understand it. Knowing that I would be stepping on toes every Sunday.”
“Would I be free?” he asked.
“Given the fact that there will be many things that we will disagree on,” he said.
He was told he would have the freedom to preach his conscience and “that I was not expected to toe a certain line, unless that line is the Word of God,” he said.
“That to me is very freeing.”
So what is his assessment of his congregation today?
“We’re all growing in that,” he said.
Day and his second wife Ngozi (pronounced Neen-gas-zee or blessing in Nigerian) live on Rouse Road with their brood of six children – three from his previous marriage, two from her and a lovely boy from their union.
But why Longbranch?
“Country is no stretch to me,” he said. “I was raised in a small town.”
It did not take long for Day to point out one of his pet-peeves about city life.
“I hate traffic and I was doing that for a long time. I was ready,” he said.
It was also a difficult time in his life.
After his divorce three years ago, he lost some of his confidence and, more importantly, the church he had served for almost a decade.
In searching his soul, he asked: “God, are you finished with me?”
From the sounds of it, He is not.
John Day holds a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is the author of two books: Crying for Justice on the Psalms and Truth Standing on Its Head on the Sermon on the Mount.
Also in Longbranch Chronicles: Last year’s festival featuring Coyote Hill Bluegrass. https://dmontesino.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/longbranch-fundraiser-brings-out-the-mandolins-and-tap-shoes/