To God Alone be the Glory

September 6, 2011

Dear Church Family,

In the spring of 1987, while serving Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Virginia, the Cokers were approached by a dedicated and enthusiastic search committee regarding the position of Minister of Music at South Main Baptist Church. Following some agonizing days of pondering and praying about what God would have us to do; we ultimately felt the call to lead this music ministry. We believed in and committed ourselves to building and maintaining a music ministry at South Main that could help the church inspire people, lead them in worship,develop fellowship, and help people find their ministry.

By early fall of 2012, I will have served actively as a Minister of Music for 50 years. I will also have served South Main for half of those 50 years. I am extremely blessed to have been able to spend a large part of my life doing what I felt God has called me to do.  Now it is time for me to pass on the baton to the next generation. Therefore, I will be retiring from the position of Minister of Music at South Main Baptist Church on June 3, 2012.

In these past 25 years with you, we have tried to honor the traditions of the past while strengthening church music for the future. We inherited a music ministry program that had been carefully and lovingly developed by those who had gone before us. That ministry had been built on the concepts of teaching children, youth, and adults how to sing, play, and lead music–using the musical varieties of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in worship and ministry. We believed in this ministry and focused our efforts on building and maintaining a music ministry that could help the church continue to inspire people, lead them in worship, develop fellowship, and help people find their ministry.

In more recent days here at South Main we have rightly called these: Worship, Discover, and Share. I am firmly convinced that these three ingredients must be the foundation of the music ministry as well as a part of each individual involved in the ministry.

In order to celebrate our musical past, present and future together, the ministerial staff, Music Council and I are working on a plan for the music ministry for this year. We anticipate the music year as follows:

October 30, 2011, 6:00 p.m.

The Sanctuary Choir will combine with the Houston Children’s Chorus to present John Rutter’s Mass of the Children.

December 11, 2011

Unwrapping Christmas is our theme for Advent. Unwrapping Christmas/Unwrapping Glorias: A Christmas Concert, will feature the Gloria of John Rutter (with brass, percussion and organ) and the Jazz Gloria of Houston composer Rob Landes as well as other glorious Christmas music.

Ash Wednesday Evening – February 22, 2012

A possible presentation of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor (an a cappella double choir work of great beauty and historic text; it will beautifully set up the Lenten Season).

Glorious Easter –  April 8, 2012


June 2-3, 2012

A Joyous Musical Festival celebrating the vibrant music which is one of the hallmarks of South Main’s ongoing ministry.

Youth and children’s choirs will have significant plans for this year, with a terrific mini-tour and a full musical scheduled for youth and Bach to Broadway Jr. for children.  Let me invite you all to join with us in the music ministry to celebrate Christ through the gift of music at South Main. I hope to see many of you active in choirs, handbells, orchestra and congregational singing.

I firmly believe the years ahead are to be years of growth and vibrancy. It is my prayer that South Main continues to teach and reflect the work of Christ through the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs learned by children and adults at South Main and that the beauty and majesty of our Creator will shine through these our gifts in the indigenous worship style of South Main.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, here with you at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, and I look forward to this special year as your Minister of Music.

Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be glory),

Thomas Coker, South Main Minister of Music



Y’All Come Hear Kate Campbell, OK?

May 9, 2011

Kate Campbell in Concert at South Main

By David and Mary Corban – David serves as the chair of deacons and Mary has prepared thousands of meals for our youth and church family. They are parents to Andrew and Ethan and members of the Graceland Sunday School Community.

You need to come hear Kate Campbell when she performs at South Main’s Youth Center on Saturday evening, May 14. Previous notices of this event have touted Kate’s gifts as a musician and songwriter, and folks in the music business obviously regard Kate as a thoughtful (sometimes even side-slapping) lyricist – else she would not have had guest artists on her most recent CD such as John Prine, Nanci Griffith, and Spooner Oldham. Her music is rooted in traditional Southern hymns, the blues, soul, R&B, country, and folk music, and she tours extensively across America and overseas in support of her CDs, including an upcoming tour to Ireland.

We would add that Kate conveys a real sense of time and place in her music. If you were a child in the South during the 1960’s, her songs will speak to you. When she sings the humorous “Funeral Food” or “Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon,” she captures the scene so well because you’ve been there — you’ve eaten the food, shared the laughter, and stopped at the roadside produce stands with hand-lettered signs. Other songs tell stories that touch the heart in a more serious vein, like “Visions of Plenty,” which vividly portrays a family’s desire to overcome poverty in the rural South.

But more importantly, we need to point out that Kate is the grand-daughter of Kathryn Henry (Kathryn and David’s mother were life-long best friends, and yes, that’s Kathryn on the cover of Kate’s CD, Moon Pie Dreams); the daughter of a Baptist minister, Jimmy Henry, who grew up with David’s brother, Bruce; and the wife of another fine fellow, Stan Campbell, who formerly pastored the Corban family’s church in Orlinda, Tennessee. Now if you can follow all those relational connections, then you must be a Southerner, either by birth or inclination; well acquainted with fried chicken and garden-grown tomatoes; and generally gifted with a sense of humor and an appreciation of music, history, literature, and the storytelling arts.

In other words, you are a Kate Campbell fan just waiting to blossom.

So come join the Corbans and the rest of the South Main family when Kate Campbell performs in the Youth Center on Saturday, May 14 at 7 pm. Tickets are available here. (Alternatively, David says to just give him some money and he’ll see what we can do.) Oh, and bring your friends, too!

South Main Baptist Church – The Inner Loop Church

What I learned about church at the U2 concert

November 5, 2009

u2bestWednesday night Bible study may be my favorite time of the week, so something very unusual has to happen for me to miss it. A few Wednesdays ago, I was in town, but not at South Main. Instead, my wife, Missy and I joined 80,000 or so other people at Reliant Stadium for the U2 concert. It was an amazing night and an incredible concert. It was also a religious experience. If you don’t know, allow me to let you in on the worst kept secret in the music industry: U2 is a Christian band. It is not just that the members of the band are open about their Christian faith, their music is deeply informed by that faith. Many of their songs directly quote Scripture; others offer mature reflection on the Gospel. The concert in Houston began with a song about the Holy Spirit, moved through a song about Judas Iscariot, and closed with a song called “moment of surrender.”

I was at turns enthralled by the depth of the music, wowed by the technology employed for the show, and fascinated by the crowd in the stadium. I am told that many to most of U2’s fans do not know that their music is so deeply rooted in Christian faith; but the crowd clearly connected deeply to the Gospel message being offered. It says something important about the Gospel that so many people, many of who have their guard up against “Christians” and “the church,” respond to the message of Jesus when it gets past their defenses. The church has something to learn from the success of U2 in sharing the Gospel. I have been thinking about what that might be this week and here are three preliminary thoughts:

Presentation matters.

U2 puts on an incredible show. We are not going to compete with them either in razzle dazzle electronics or in musical style. But part of the band’s appeal is that they have worked to prepare a place for you. Bo Prosser at CBF says, “people go where they know they have been prepared for and are cared for;” and he is right about that. It is clear from the moment U2’s show starts to the moment it is over that a place has been prepared for the fan. They are dedicated to innovation and excellence in all that they do: the show in Houston was different because it was in Houston. They had been to NASA, they knew things about us that became a part of the experience. They were enthusiastic about Houston; they cared about us. Excellence and passion attract. They know that connecting to the fan is a part of the delivery of the message. They know that communicating that they care is part of earning the opportunity to speak. South Main has long had some of the most beautiful worship space in town – our sacred space was built on the belief that architecture and design, when done well and right, evoke worship (or hinder it when done poorly). The present renovations of our campus will bring our discipleship space into the same kind of thoughtful, functional beauty as our worship space. Our building committee is struggling over details of paint and carpet color, technology choices, and furniture selection as part of our commitment as a church to prepare a place for our guests. We are setting the table with architecture and design throughout our campus. Of course architecture and design are only the first steps, we have to continue to plan meaningful, thoughtful, and engaging worship and Bible study. And we have to demonstrate to people – new and tenured alike – that we care. All of that is to say I believe our plans to date will show themselves to be wise and strategic in the near future.

Authenticity matters.

U2 is a rock band. Their fans expect a concert, and the band delivers. More than that, their music recognizes, explores, and mines the tension between the desperation, disappointment, and confusion we experience in the world around us with the joy, grace, and love we know has been planted within us through King Jesus. We intuitively know both that the world is a mess and that it ought not e this way. They Gospel points us to the redemption of creation. The church we are called to be, like U2, attracts people with excellence and helps us to live in the tension between what is and what should be by meaningfully offering ways to fix our eyes on what is unseen and to touch for ourselves the One who was from the beginning. People in our community are looking for a church like South Main, but do not yet know what to make of us, or do not yet know we are here. We have an opportunity to honestly shape people’s expectation about us in advance of their coming. Our Outreach and Publicity committees have worked hard with our staff to succinctly and honestly capture the essence of our church so that we can intentionally communicate with the surrounding community. Our marketing campaign “Fresh Faith. Vintage church.” is our effort to do so. We want people to come expecting both a place rooted in traditions older than we are and a place of grace and truth where honest questions meet thoughtful struggle, a place where we worship God, grow in our faith, and share all we have.

A call to service matters.

U2 invites people to join the ONE campaign, a secular effort to effect political pressure in favor of the poor of the earth. U2 fans know there will be a call to action. In the same way, people coming to the church want to know not only what we believe but how we behave: what are you doing with the faith you proclaim? South Main’s long commitment to the social gospel rings true to the culture around us. A rich heritage of lay-initiated ministries bears ongoing witness to the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in this place and our faithfulness in responding to the call.

I believe the combination of beautiful space, well-prepared time, gracious hospitality, and commitment to doing real good in the world is not only authentic to the call of Christ, but also the very thing many people in our culture are seeking. As I have reflected on the concert, I realized South Main has a long and rich tradition of doing the things that are attractive for the Gospel to the community around us today. Last month I went to a concert and came home encouraged about the church.

Grace and Peace,