created by member Brian Carlson for our celebration of Rev. Jason Shelton’s contributions to our community over the last 19 years.
Video of the 11 am service and tribute to Jason is on our YouTube channel.
Click on the picture below to enjoy this video:
A tribute by member Gail Sphar:
Trying to highlight Jason’s contributions to this congregation and to our faith is like trying to get all the side effects into a 30-second drug commercial.
It’s hard to imagine now, but when he was hired 19 years ago, Jason was fairly new to Unitarian Universalism. He had a music degree [actually he didn’t], but next to no experience with a choir. Would that degree translate? The search committee saw in him someone who had great spiritual maturity but a lot to learn… about directing a choral group, about working with people, and about rebuilding a music program.
The choir had just been through a rough year. Keith Arnold had left the year before after he built a successful program and in the intervening year, the choir had lost its confidence and dwindled down to less than 20 people.
Fortunately, Jason was up to the task. Not only was he able to build on what Keith had created, but he added so much more. Our music program has grown to include the adult choir, chamber choir and children’s choir. We sing challenging music that enhances the worship experience.
And Jason nurtured relationships with musicians inside and outside First UU. We almost take for granted that we’ll have exceptional musicians whenever the occasion calls for it. Thanks to Jason, we’ve been privileged to have the likes of Peter Mayer, Jim Scott, Isaye Barnwell, Jeff Coffin, Nashville Symphony members, Connye Florance, and Lari White–among many others–bring their gifts to our worship services.
It didn’t take Jason long to start composing music that aligned with our UU values. I remember the rehearsal early in his tenure when Jason brought in one of his first “UU” compositions for us to learn; and I remember the emotion in his voice as he talked about having gotten back his inspiration for composition since becoming our music director. Thank goodness for that! Two weeks ago we had a music Sunday program that included only pieces that Jason had either composed or arranged. That service only lasted an hour and 15 minutes. If we’d done all his pieces, we’d probably still be singing right now. The music we sing for water communions, Music Sundays, and Christmas eve services have all born unmistakable marks of Jason’s creative hand. Think about it–Fire of Commitment, Standing on the Side of Love (Answering the Call of Love), Morning Has Come, Each Night a Child is Born, the Sources Cantata…the list goes on and on.
And it’s not just our choir singing his songs. They’ve become part of the standard UU repertoire.
The Fire of Commitment and Journey Songs CDs that Jason produced give individuals and congregations access to music that speaks to who we are as Unitarian Universalists.
Clearly Jason’s musical gifts have gone beyond these walls and helped our larger faith in many ways. Through his many workshops with choirs, worship committees, or at districts meetings, he has shown others how to integrate music and worship, and how to work collaboratively in setting the theme and tone of worship. And he’s led music at the UUMinistersAssociation Institute, modeling worship and music leadership to fellow ministers.
He has led music at General Assembly and helped UUs discover how it is possible to do new and different things with our music. Now we just take that for granted, but Jason was part of the first wave of this.
Jason served as a member of the committee that selected the pieces that are now part of Singing the Journey, our turquoise hymnal. (That’s one thing Jason had to learn–the hymnal is turquoise, not teal.) But he did more than just serve on that committee. If you look in the back, you will see that of the 75 hymns in that book, Jason composed six of them and arranged another five.
Then there’s the ministry side of his contribution. In response to an incident at the Ft. Worth GA when youth of color were being marginalized, Jason served on a committee that did important work leading to the GA Right Relationship team, work on cultural misappropriation, and more.
Jason strove to build and maintain the relationship with Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church, including organizing the memorable bus ride the two choirs took together to Selma for the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.
Jason continually expanded his understanding of shared ministry. He worked with the youth group annually and one year helped them write the blessing we sing each Sunday as the children leave.
When Jason became music minister he became a second pastoral presence here at FUUN. That presence, in addition to being a much-needed resource for us, has helped many learn to trust a male minster once again. Jason’s ministerial presence (with or without the Reverend title) has also been essential in helping train intern ministers here–just ask Meaghan Robern, Sian Wiltshire and Susan Frederick Gray.
And Gail will tell you his help was critical in developing the worship associate program.
That’s a partial list of what Jason has meant to this congregation and to Unitarian Universalism.
Jason, please know you go with our deep gratitude for all you’ve done and wish you well as you continue on this amazing journey that we’ve been blessed to be one part of.