Laurel Jean Presents...'

Laurel Jean Presents...'
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Highlights from my Life of Music and Ministry

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Camp

summer day campers visiting with guide dog Jessie

It is always a fulfilling experience for me to join with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users and assist with this organization's "Paws 2 Educate Initiative." Here, children attending the Charleston, SC ASPCA Summer Bark Camp are enjoying a little out-of-harness time with Jessie, the guide dog of my friend and sister in Christ, Dixie Land GDU President Audrey Gunter.

Whether spending time at Bark Camp, or at the City of Charleston's Summer Day Camp held at the St. Julian Devine Center (another of this summer's highlights), there is never a dull moment. It probably goes without saying that God's kids of all ages enjoy learning about guide dogs and having the opportunity to speak personally with Jessie. The young people also ask a lot of well-thought-out questions about blindness, Braille, the technology that we use and how we who are blind experience life. I find that, as we  take the time to answer such questions, the barriers which seem to divide the sighted and blindness communities decrease significantly. I believe that with every presentation for one of these summer day camps, we grow just a little closer to living as one community at large.  As always, thanks for your ongoing prayers and support.

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart!

© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden

Illinois Notes.

One of the bells in the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, Springfield, IL

Pictured here is one of the sixty-seven bells which make up the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Springfield, IL. Among my summer's highlights was a visit to the carillon with Gabriel, then a rising seventh-grader from Southern Illinois, and his family. Of course, any time spent with Gabriel and his family is a joy. I am told that I mentor him, but as with all of the young people in my life, I find Gabriel to be a blessing and an inspiration to me.

Carillonneur Patrick Knox designed a VIP hands-on tour of the carillon. He showed both Gabriel and me a variety of bells that are part of the bell collection kept inside the building. We were able to touch printed scores of carillon music and could feel aspects of some of the music notation which seemed to be engraved into the pages.

Laurel and Gabriel standing under a large bell.

After learning a little carillon history, we stepped into the elevator and were lifted into the carillon's bell tower. We stood under two of the large bass bells, a G and a B flat. We were able to strike the side of the bell manually with the clapper as we stood beneath it and could feel the vibration of the bell as it rang.

Gabriel and Patrick at keyboard of carillon.

Then, it was back onto the elevator and up to the level which houses the carillon's keyboard.

Laurel and Patrick at Carillon keyboard.

We learned the proper way to strike the keys and touched the keyboard mechanisms which control the playing of the bells

Patrick playing the Carillon.

After Gabriel and I experienced the keyboard, Patrick played a small concert for us. We enjoyed walking out onto different balconies and listening to the music from different points in the bell tower. The music was absolutely beautiful and it was quite a sensation to be up there among the bells as they were being played.

If you (or someone you know) are blind or visually impaired and if you are in the Central IL area, I highly recommend a private VIP tour of the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon. Visit the Carillon's Web site to learn more about it.

My thanks to Gabriel's mom, and his  Aunt Karen for meeting me in Springfield so that I could surprise Gabriel in the sharing of this memorable experience.

On the subject of mentors, before flying out of Illinois, I was blessed to also spend a little time with the lady who served as my own  mentor when we were much younger. I would like to thank my "big sister in Christ" Vivian and her entire family for helping to make that possible.

My Thanks also to Imboden Creek, Decatur, IL, Zion Hill United Methodist Church, Mattoon, IL, and Locust Grove Church, Assumption, IL for making Music By Laurel Jean part of the schedule during my time in the area. The ongoing prayers and support of people like you make it possible for me to continue to reach out on behalf of God's kids of all ages and especially my brothers and sisters in the blindness community.

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.

© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden

On Inclusion Ministry...

Laurel Jean with United Methodist Women of Latta at Mission u.

Here I am at Spartanburg Methodist College with Ruthann, Debbie and Laura, United Methodist Women from Latta, SC as we brought to a close the 2015 South Carolina "Mission u" (formerly the School of Christian Missions." For the past couple of years, I have served as Music Director for this event, and as a study leader for the UMW course, "The Church and People With Disabilities."

Every two years, the United Methodist Women feature a new class on the subject of social justice. The study of "The Church and People With Disabilities" was offered as part of the 2014 and 2015 Mission u events. I had no idea what I was getting into when I was contacted in 2013 by the Dean of the South Carolina Conference. It has always been a dream of mine to teach clergy and those in  lay leadership on this topic. In my twenty-seven-plus years of music ministry, I have witnessed firsthand those congregations whose inclusion practices empower all of God's people. I have also experienced congregations at the opposite end of the spectrum. So, when the call came in, I enthusiastically accepted the role of Study Leader for this course.

The certification process was both frustrating and fulfilling. Many of us gathered regionally from throughout the United States to be certified as study leaders.  Many of us have lived our entire lives with some sort of disability. We were often led by people considered to be more "typical" and we were often faced with the task of teaching our leaders that they themselves still had a lot to learn on the subject of inclusion. We laughed, we cried, we became angry, we forgave, and we left our national/regional training session knowing that the circle of inclusion is far from being complete. Yes, there were times when the "safe haven" of being amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ felt more like a battlefield, but hey, it's job security!

Back on the state level, in our own classrooms, we witnessed God at work. Clergy and laity came to learn more about how they could adopt more inclusive practices. People shared their firsthand experiences with a variety of their own disabilities. Others talked openly about what it was like to walk alongside a loved one or family member having some form of disability. We saw with our hearts the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our classrooms as all of us grew in the knowledge of the differently able Body of Christ.

In my work as a study leader, I witnessed those in leadership positions become more aware. Those who talked about us during the 2014 event actually talked with us in 2015. That was a huge transformation. Yes, in spite of the frustration and sometimes even humiliation, I am grateful to have been part of Mission u as a representative of "The Church and People With Disabilities." My thanks to the United Methodist Women for growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God on this topic, to my sister in Christ, Audrey for graciously joining with me on this journey when I volunteered her for another study leader position and to those precious Latta ladies in the above picture whose friendship I will always treasure. God is truly good, all of the time!

Stay tuned for more posts like this one. Until next time, God bless you and keep His Song in your heart.

© 2015 by Laurel Jean Walden

About Me

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God has blessed me with a Music Ministry that is still ongoing and growing after twenty-plus years. This includes my outreach promoting Braille Literacy in the Christian venue, and my recently-founded Children's Chaplaincy for blind youth. To make things a bit more interesting, I have also been blind since birth. I consider my blindness to be a unique gift from God, an opportunity to serve as an ambassador among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my work, from South Carolina to Central Illinois and beyond, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!