Tuesday, June 26, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 11 - Final Reflections

We began the day by gathering for breakfast at our host church - they prepared enough for all of us! We had biscuit sandwiches from Bojangles with fresh in-season tomatoes on the side, fruit, donuts and plenty of coffee and juice!

We said goodbye to our lovely hosts and the Worrell boys as we boarded the bus for home. Joseph and Robert headed for home in Ohio, and we had a 6-hour Drive to Maryland.

A word needs to be said about our bus driver Paul Lopez, who has driven us for the last several years. He is faithful and accommodating in every way - he is a lovely travel companion and does all that he can to facilitate the plans we have made, even when there are last minute changes. He comes to our concerts every night after driving all day and has become part of the fiber of our tour experience. We are most thankful!

The bus rides over the last two days have included movie watching, thanks to Annie Elliott who brought a case full of DVDs. We had just the right number of greeters for the whole trip, and the last greeting of tour featured Charlie Bratburd and Conor Shiflett. 

It was been an amazing and wonderful 11 day adventure. 

In their own words, here are a few reflections from the group:

Troy Moskowitz: Enjoyed hanging out with friends and talking about favorite parts of tour 

Phil Hulcher: Smelling NC moonshine for real in our host family's garage!

Anne Elliott: it’s all pretty good!

Stephanie Greer: Hanging out with my friends on the pier at the retreat center.

Nick Works: My favorite moment was sitting in the lovely Lane chapel on st simons island listening to what the youth have learned from this tour!

Jonathan Works: Swimming at 2 am in the morning 😂😂😂

Jonathan Colborn: Spontaneous Friendships

Taylor Cappeluti: Singing come unity at the church in ft Lauderdale

Bryce Taylor: Singing Come, Unity in the acoustic cylinder at Coral Ridge. It was really beautiful. 

Helena Colborn: Beth Taylor bringing me a vanilla milkshake, and enjoying it and some pizza with Torie, Sydney, and Lydia in our hotel room

Lucas Martinho: the Harry Potter ride at Orlando

Katie Elliott: I enjoyed spending a lot of time with my friends and talking to people after the concerts

Derek Johnson: Being unexpectedly surrounded by nuns during our singing of Omnia Sol in beautiful Bethesda By The Sea sanctuary.

Angela Nardone: Singing come unity in every church and just hearing everybody’s voice surround you in comfort and hearing the host homes or the audience just talk of being filled with love and joy when we sang it and being able to say we felt the same way.

Kae Johnson: Singing at the retirement community (Village on the Isle) and then walking around downtown Venice with some other chaperones

Emma Dube: The best part of tour was getting to know people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. 

Emma Baldridge: hanging out with everyone at Universal 

Liz Elliott: Texting a few photos each day of tour to a super-appreciative host mom. Spontaneous hugs.

Scott Hembrough: My favorite memory is sitting on the bus next to amber feeling the pus of my sunburn drip down my chest

Noah Lenker: I enjoyed being able to get to know people that I didn’t already know and strengthening my relationship with those I already know

From Don Hillerich, our host at Village on the Isle: ‘All I can say is: WOW, WHAT AN AWESOME CONCERT! The residents have all been raving about your concert last Friday night, June 22nd. Speaking on their behalf and mine too, it was an inspiration. The music selections, “One in Christ Jesus”, lifted the hearts and spirits of everyone. Visiting with the members following the concert was just great too!’

Click Here for Photos of Day 11

2018 Tour - Day 10

Sleeping was pretty good in the cabins at Epworth by the Sea, and some rose early for exercise and yoga by the shore side. It was beautiful and almost cool in the morning. 

Breakfast began at 7 am, and we ate in the cafeteria again. Grits were a breakfast feature, being in Georgia, and there was a lovey spread of breakfast choices. It was John Hoffpauir’s 16th birthday, so we greeted him. Later in the day we had and cake and singing of Happy Birthday.

Before departing, we gathered by the waterfront for a group photo. Our van riding folks picked up the box lunches provided by Epworth by the Sea, and we got on our way by about 8:30 am toward Wilkesboro, NC. Lucas Martinho has been tracking our route, making sure to see the signs to welcome us into each state. We stopped to eat our lunches in South Carolina at a rest stop. 

While on the bus, we had more greetings and Lindsey Whitmeyer and Sam Johnson gave out several tour awards (everyone eventually gets one) - it is a way to highlight the unique personalities and funny or notable things that happen for folks on our trip. 

There was a palpable sense of being ready to get back home for many, and also an awareness that things are wrapping up. 

We arrived at Wilkesboro UMC about 4 pm, which turned out to be a magnificent final night on our tour. Lydia and Isaac Turner-Little’s grandparents live in Willesboro and attend the Baptist Church, and Linda Little (grandmom) worked tirelessly to find a location for us to sing and to secure overnight hosts. The United Methodist Church and Baptist Church of Wilkesboro are right across the street from each other, and they collaborated to host us - it turned into a very ecumenical experience. 

We unloaded the bus and settled in - during rehearsal in the sanctuary a huge thunderstorm hit and rain could be heard pounding the roof and some lights flickered. We all took a secret passageway through the church from sanctuary to the fellowship hall to avoid going outside and getting rained on. 

During the practice, Polly overheard the music director Jim Brooks comment in awe that he “never heard those sounds coming out of this organ.” Steve has a unique way of showing what is possible when he plays an organ, and we actually feel that’s a pretty important part of what we do on tour. Some might not believe that a group of 65 youth and adults could hang in for 11 days together and manage to cooperate and transcend personal challenges and differences of opinion to share the good news of Christ through music with great consistency, power and efficacy, but we’re here to tell you: it’s possible! We are pushing limits and demanding more of ourselves because that is what God asks of us, and God strengthens us for the work we must do. We keenly feel the Holy Spirit empowering our tired voices and bodies and focusing our varied thoughts every time we stand up to share a concert. God’s power pours right on through us - we are vessels, and it is a blessing.

All that good work does make you hungry and thirsty, though! For dinner we were served homemade spaghetti with salad, garlic bread and dessert. Our meals provided by hosts have had such great variety this year and have nourished us in body and spirit. Knowing the effort and care others have taken on our behalf is a gift in itself.

The concert was very well attended with lots
of family and community connections. Some drove long distances to be there, including Karalee Turner-Little (Isaac and Lydia’s mom) from Damascus, Mrs. Turner (their grandmother from TN), and Joy Black (Anna Mae and Caleb’s mom) from Asheville. The concert was a great time of growing close with our hosts, and so many commented about how meaningful the songs were and how special it was to hear a youth choir again. As worship and music traditions have changed in the last 25+ years, many churches have allowed their youth choirs to dissolve or they never had one. Again, we are blessed to show what is possible and celebrate God’s provision in the Charles Wesley Singers 30-year history. We realized that the group’s first tour was in 1988, so this marks 30 years. Kind of a big deal!

Everyone had a host family, which is a large endeavor for 65 people. We enjoyed traveling to host families with roommates that were coordinated by Beth Taylor. She has been taking care of rooming requests and assignments all during the trip so that folks have chances to stay with different people. It’s a big job, and we appreciate her work very much. 

Another shout out goes to the tour chaperones, many of whom take time off work, to be part of this mission endeavor. It’s definitely not a vacation, but those who come will tell you that it’s worth every sacrifice. 

Click Here for Photos of Day 10

Monday, June 25, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 9

Some early risers departed the hotel before 6 am to take Jordan Anderson to the airport in Jacksonville - Taylor Cappeluti, Troy Moskowitz, Robert Worrell and Tom Baldridge made the trip and celebrated Jordan’s time on tour before he flew home early for a family event.

Most of the group came down for breakfast about 7 am, and the meal was a bit fancier than our other hotel breakfasts. We were seated by a hostess and they took drink orders and the breakfast buffet included real eggs. We’re thankful for any sustenance, but it’s a treat when things are special.

We sang our standard Come, Unity at breakfast - it’s a way of greeting and acknowledging those who are serving us and sharing a meal, and it’s also a time of centering and connection - a little reminder first thing in the morning of who we are and what we are endeavoring to live out.

The vans went on ahead to reach Penney Memorial Church in Penney Farms, FL, and we had a greeting and Fork stories during the 1-hour drive. Matthew Baldridge (who was celebrating his 15th birthday along with his brother William) told about having to switch hotel rooms because when his group opened the room they discovered it had not been cleaned. Oops. Hotel management changed their room and offered them cookies. We get impressed again and again by the graciousness of our group in responding to inconveniences. 

Penney Farms, FL, is where former DUMC pastor Jim Archibald retired, and he helped line up the chance for us to lead the worship service at Penney Memorial Church. Nick Works shared a message based on the Gospel story of Jesus calming the waters when the disciples (who were all experienced fisherman) panicked on the boat in the extreme weather. We sang The Storm is Passing Over and several other anthems throughout the service, and Steve’s playing of hymns and other service music was greatly appreciated by our hosts. It was a very special time!

We haven’t had many food repeats, and for lunch there were Subway sandwiches for all, plus vegetables platters, chips, and plentiful desserts. We also celebrated Matthew and William’s birthday with cake and more singing. Yvette Peloquin, DUMC member who moved to Florida, came to see us there, as did other family members and friends of our group. Seems like lots of us have Florida Connections.

We changed clothes and boarded the bus for Epworth by the Sea - a United Methodist retreat center in St Simons Island, Ga. We’re moving back in the direction of Maryland. Epworth is the name of John and Charles Wesley’s childhood home in England, and both Wesley’s came to the Georgia coast as Christian missionaries, so the Methodist history is very rich. 

We arrived at Epworth by the Sea around 2:30 pm and had time to unpack into our 4 cabins and have free time before dinner at 5:30 pm. There was a pool, covered basketball court, and lots of beautiful waterfront to explore. It was good for the soul to be in a tranquil setting with Spanish moss draped from mature trees, historic buildings, and a lovely prayer/chime tower. 

Dinner was served in the cafeteria, and afterward we went by foot to the Lovely Lane Chapel for a time of reflection about tour. We talked about highlights and a theme that kept coming up was how we treat each other like family, showing great care and acceptance in every situation. We also laughed about arriving at fast food restaurants with 60 of your closest friends and unique things that happen just by traveling with a group. People commented how tour can rejuvenate our faith life and said thank you to each other for providing wellness care, direction, friendship, sunscreen and aloe, counsel, musical expertise, encouragement, gentle teasing, love and memories. Angela Nardone led us in a concluding prayer. 

As we left the chapel, there were outdoor games happening around the Strickland auditorium where youth from all over that area were gathering for something called The Main Event. Many of our youth joined in, and some elected to stay for the music and featured speaker. Every Sunday night during the summer, about 700-800 youth meet for this event at Epworth by the Sea. Kae and Sam Johnson both shared that the speaker’s main point was that broken crayons still color! 

Others in our group elected to remain outside and take in the sunset, which was beautiful. Photos abounded, and a round of ultimate frisbee was entertainment for many.

We all were in cabins, nicely air conditioned, by about 10 pm, getting showers and preparing for bed. It felt a little like summer camp with bunk beds and about 20 people per cabin. As usual, after a tiring day, sleeping came quickly and easily. 

Click Here for Pictures from Day 9

2018 Tour - Day 8

Breakfast came early, but everyone arrived in the lobby wearing their tour t-shirts in preparation for a morning concert in casual attire. Some of us sang Come, Unity during breakfast, which always brings a smile to hotel employees and guests and starts conversation. Scott Fulton, a former member of Damascus UMC, wrote the song Come, Unity and used to sing it with a group called The Companions. He has a heart for justice, and we are so pleased to share his song in concerts and hotel lobbies and other random spots on our trip. 

We sang Happy Birthday to Shane Johnson on the am bus ride to Sarasota, and he got to be a morning greeter with Stephanie Greer. Our ride to First UMC was short and we arrived about 9:30 am. Everyone entered the sanctuary and had some time to sit in calmness while music and instruments were set up. Our host Michael Stuart was very welcoming and gracious, eager to engage us in conversation. 

We had an 11 am concert - our audience was a combination of church members, folks from Damascus UMC who traveled to see us, and family members/friends of our group. It seems that Carol Worrell has a friend in almost every place we’ve visited, and they all took her invitation seriously and came to our concerts. We were also surprised and delighted to meet some siblings of Julia Beall. The Hulcher’s also had a connection in Sarasota.

The church was a very fun place to sing, and we all seemed especially focused and engaged for 11 am in the morning. Matthew Baldridge felt he played the percussion the best he ever had for the Chichester Psalms, and Steve Kalnoske continues to enjoy playing different organs (his “office for the day”) in the sanctuaries we visit. 

We learned after the concert that First UMC is starting a youth choir and their first rehearsal is this coming Wednesday. We invited director Michael Stuart to come see us WHEN (not if) his new group is ready to tour. 

We ate pizza provided by the church for lunch and enjoyed a little ping pong in the youth lounge, had birthday festivities for Shane, and then changed into bathing suits. 

A crew had checked the beach at Siesta Key to ensure we would not be affected by the Red Tide, so we arrived about 1:30 pm and started our beach experience with a group sunscreen application in the parking lot. We all stayed in the same vicinity, but a group went right to the sand volleyball courts while others dropped their stuff in the sand and went into the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. Many commented about the fine white sand and the gentleness of the water. We secured a couple beach umbrellas and some sat in the shade to nap or read. It was HOT. Others stayed in an outdoor park/cafe area to reserve picnic areas for dinner time. 

There were some mild sunburns, but Liz and other chaperones were vigilant about enforcing sunscreen reapplication. By dinner at 5 pm, everyone seemed ready to wrap up the beach visit. Jonathan Colborn and Phil Hulcher with Carol Worrell cooked up some great burgers and hotdogs - our food committee did an awesome job purchasing and preparing dinner. 

We ate and drank our fill and then began the arduous task of changing out of sandy bathing suits. By 6 pm, all of us had changed, personal items left in the sand were reunited with their owners, dinner was cleaned up, and air conditioned vehicles were beginning to cool us down. We departed for overnight accommodations in Gainesville.

The bus ride was about 3 hours, and there was energetic socializing throughout the ride. We arrived at our hotel, and at least half of our very patient and flexible group had to come back downstairs to get their room keys reprogrammed because the ones we were given weren’t working. So proud of our group for handling this graciously. We all got to bed pretty quickly - no arguments after a long day.

Click Here for Pictures from Day 8

Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 7 Evening Report

We stopped for lunch after visiting the Swamp - Five Guys, Subway - the usual. Everyone gets $10 when we stop for lunch. Some find cheap eats and pocket the change for later snacks and souvenirs.

We had a couple hour ride to Venice and took time to check into our hotel before an evening concert at Village on the Isle Retirement Community. It was great to get off the bus and have some time to freshen up. One room of our folks had some early excitement when the toilet overflowed. There’s always one for the story books, but things usually go pretty smoothly when we travel and check in. 

We were also greeted by Kelly Bratburd who joined the tour in Venice and by the Shiflett and Vlasic parents who came from Maryland to spend the weekend with us. They let us know that a Red Tide algae was settled on the coast right around Venice, killing fish and affecting air quality, so we decided to forgo our evening plans to watch the sunset on the beach. 

Paul Lopez, our bus driver, heroically maneuvered the bus to our destination thought narrow streets, and we were greeted by the chaplain Don Hillerich. We ate a meal provided by Village on the Isle and then prepared for the concert. We broke the news to everyone about the Red Tide, and they took it well. 

Village on the Isle is a retirement/continuing care facility operated by the Lutheran Church. Some of the audience members arrived a good 40 minutes early to get a seat, causing some of our folks to wonder if we had goofed on the concert start time. The place was packed, and we ran out of programs. 

Our concert featured lots of anthems instead of our full concert format. The audience was most attentive, and several
could be seen mouthing along with familiar words and tapping toes and hands. A funny moment was when Deborah Bowe had to act as a music stand for Cole Taylor as he played his violin. The audience was most appreciative, and they gave us a standing ovation. 

We greeted our audience members and visited for a while. Many residents told about their singing experiences from
high school, church or college and were excited to shake hands and talk with our group. 

Majority of our group returned to the hotel, but a very small contingency went into downtown Venice for ice cream and a short walk. Lots of people chose to swim at the hotel. Several chaperones followed Red Tide reports to create contingency plans for our beach day - lots of excitement building about the beach!!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 7 - Morning Report

We arrived back at Coral Ridge Presbyterian at 8 am and got ourselves loaded. We’re getting our departures and arrivals down to a science by this point in the tour. 

We have only had a couple host night stays so far, and last night was one of them. We all enjoyed fellowship with the friendly folks at Coral Ridge. 

There were 5 Fork Stories today, three of them dealing with wildlife - frog in car, cockroach in bed, bee sting on foot. Sasha won his second Fork award for his tale of finding a mostly naked man asleep on the bathroom floor in his host home. We gave him a Fork decorated with a fig leaf. 

We drove along Alligator Alley (I-75) to cross the state from east to west. Near Naples, we visited the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, am ancient cypress forest under the care of the Audubon Society. It was Friday Funday, so all those 18 and under got in free! There was a discovery room with some animals to visit, and several people met Candy Corn the snake. Many traversed the 2 mile boardwalk that wound its way through the swamp, searching for alligators, birds, and other wildlife.

Highlights from a couple people included: 

David Hembrough/Noah Lenker: we spotted a good old baby snake 🐍 and it was his feasting time. We also saw a couple raccoons. 

Taylor Cappeluti: the alligator was hiding in a mess of plants, it made a big splash and then swam a few feet and disappeared; It was really long (approximately 9 feet) and it didn’t look amused. 

Many commented that some time in the natural world provided a rest for the soul and awakening of the senses.

Click here for photos of Day 7

Click here for photos of Day 6

Thursday, June 21, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 6

From Calista Kibak...

We traveled to Bethesda by the Sea Episcopal Church, slowing down to see the oceanfront littered with yachts. There were countless palm trees, some that were supported by wooden planks. We were informed that Trump and Melania were married in this church, at which everyone was visibly less excited. The church itself was beautiful, and had a delicate layout complete with a courtyard, koi pond, a separate outside area, and a ceremonial area. The stained glass in the sanctuary was mostly blue, but included every color imaginable. We sang a few songs in the sanctuary before Nick gave a short sermon about unity, the tour theme, relating the culture uniting marines to the culture that connects all Christians. After that, we walked around to appreciate the beauty and many of us saw tiny lizards (which I personally thought was the most exciting part). 

From Polly

After visiting Bethesda by the Sea, we drove a short distance to City Place - an outdoor mall area where youth flocked to H&M and we all had good choices for buying lunch. 

We drove south to Fort Lauderdale and arrived about an hour later at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The building is very striking inside and out. Our host John Wilson met us and shared how he knew Polly’s parents early in his career and remembered her as a little girl. It is this connection that brought us to Coral Ridge, but many others had childhood memories of watching telecasts from Coral Ridge with pastor/evangelist D James Kennedy. Steve Kalnoske had playing the organ at Coral Ridge on his lifetime bucket list, so it was a special visit all the way around.

During our dress rehearsal time, we passed out folders and then decided to sing our first song in the narthex of the sanctuary at the recommendation of their music staff. We were all a little tired from the bus ride, but the effect of singing in this beautiful resonance chamber was instant energy and even electricity for the group. Faces lit up with joy. 

For dinner we had Chick-fil-A sandwiches, and the stack of containers with pickles for the sandwiches was huge. After dinner we took turns changing (girls then guys) in the fellowship hall and then gathered for a small chat about knowing and claiming that we are children of God and living into that knowledge by acknowledging that others are God’s children and must be treated as such. We each were asked to think about someone who gives us the most frustration and remember that person is God’s child, too. The song Child of God has gotten to be a favorite since Carol Worrell introduced us to it about 10 days before we left for tour. It gets stronger every night, and the audience sings with us, so it’s especially moving! 

Our concert was in a large space with a smaller audience, but they were most receptive and encouraging. We had a wonderful AV person named Kevin who was so helpful to us and later said how much he enjoyed the concert. We sang Come, Unity from the narthex and then at offering the small men’s group sang How Great Thou Art there also. Each place we sing in is so different, but it is a joy to see and hear everyone adapt to the space. Charlie Bratburd played percussion for God Has Chosen Me, and it was especially effective in that space. The solo ensemble in the Chichester Psalms is sounding really good. People commented about the great variety of music we shared. 

Mary Nieter from Damascus UMC traveled to see us and brought a good friend with her. A few folks from a Baptist conference being held nearby came also. We enjoyed an overnight in host homes greatly. The gardens, landscaping, and vegetation are so different from Maryland, and it was neat to see people’s homes, which have no basements. The people were very hospitable and friendly and made us feel most welcome in their homes. Our group often gets better sleep in host homes, so that was a good thing at this point in the tour.

Click Here for a video clip from Sea Episcopal

2018 Tour - Day 5 - Evening Report

The bus ride after the Florida UM Children’s Home to Palm Beach Gardens was about 2 hours. On the bus, stories of microwave misadventures were shared. Jonathan Works and Jordan Anderson were greeters. 

Sasha Kuznetsov and his crew won the Fork story award for a story about scoping out an attractive woman at Universal. His group of six guys were all in line for a ride (Noah, Scott, Connor D, Cole T, Jonathan W) - staring at this young woman, and the woman turned and looked at them, and then they argued about which one of them she was staring at for the rest of the day and low-key stalked her. It was hysterical the way Sasha told the story. Second place was the group of guys who removed their shirts for all the rollercoaster ride photos.

We arrived at St Marks Episcopal Church around 4:00 pm and enjoyed walking around their lovely campus. They have a new church building and a private school with enrollment of 500, so it’s a big place. Our host Daniel Bayless, the church’s music director, went on choir tours as a young person and anticipated our needs. 

DUMC member Lora Maynard has a sister, Susan Wood, who is a member at St Mark’s and made the connection for our visit. They are two peas in a pod, and it was fun to see them together. 

We had a rehearsal in the sanctuary and ate a lovely meal of sandwich wraps, pasta salad, chips, and fruit platters. By this time in the tour, the simplicity and freshness of fruit platters are a beautiful thing. 

We got dressed for the concert - the gals dressing room had a tv and Family Feud was watched by many. Some folks had a moment to play basketball on the outdoor court and others played frisbee. Downtime is a good thing!

We gathered in the courtyard in a circle before the concert, and the breeze was lovely. We’ve had great weather so far! I (polly) reminded the group that perfection is not our goal but that the imperfections are what create character and ultimately beauty. Jonathan Colborn reminded us all to be caring for each other and to be aware of what others might be experiencing before leading our pre-concert prayer. 

The concert went really well, and a new feature was a setting of How Great Thou Art shared by a men’s chamber ensemble. We sang Omnia Sol, which always speaks volumes to our souls and the audience.

It was a host home night, so most of us got matched up with families. Stephanie Greer got to spend the night with her grandparents and Kelly Bratburd came to the concert - she is officially joining up with the tour in Venice but came early to listen and see a friend. 

A group of us stayed in the church gymnasium. Jim (the pastor) and Karen Cook greeted us and provided pizza and drinks. We (Kae, Derek, Polly and Tom) shared stories of youth ministry while our group of mostly boys with Phil Hulcher played basketball and ultimate frisbee inside, and we got to interact with a mission team from Georgia that is working on houses while staying at the church. They also were staying overnight in the church facility. Making fast friends in Christ is an amazing thing. So is sleep after a long day of living in relationship and mission with the world around us!

~ Polly

Click Here for Photos from Day 5

2018 Tour - Day 5 - Morning Report

I woke up to a light headache and wasn't feeling all that chipper, in fact feeling pretty foggy and subdued after a long day at Universal Amusement Park. Waking up with a headache isn't the best way to start your morning but I knew I needed to get some food so I went downstairs to join the group having their breakfast. I sat down with Taylor Cappeluti and talked about beach memories, and I started to eat a nice big bowl of oatmeal with raisins and good stuff. Out of nowhere our group started singing "Come Unity Come.” It's a great simple song written by Scott Fulton that has five verses. I started to look at the people who were not in our group (yes I'm a people watcher) just to see how they were reacting. By the time we had finished the song, I could see strangers smiling, the kitchen work staff were applauding and excited at what had happened. Here's the thing - we never know exactly when we're going to just start to sing spontaneously, but the end result is always strangers becoming friends, happy reactions and exchanges, meaningful new conversation, and shared testimonies. These are the moments that we live for, these are the moments that we strive for. And they become examples of what it means to live out our faith, Even if it can seem awkward at first. Oh and by the way my headache was nowhere to be found.

~ Jonathan Colburn

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 4 - Universal Theme Park, Orlando FL.

We ate breakfast at the hotel and Polly went ahead to Universal to get all the tickets. Group arrived at Universal at about 8:30 am, we distributed tickets, and then the fun began. We had texting check-ins throughout our 12 hour visit - 9 am to 9 pm.

These are short impressions from members of our group:

Shane Johnson: Eating dinner and sharing memories from past tours with Lindsey, Bryce, Autumn, and Jack at the leaky cauldron in Harry Potter World

Stephanie Greer: My favorite part of universal was when troy thought he had great directional skills but got us lost twice.

Julia Beall: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Katie Eilliott: My favorite part was when the food was late, so when we saw them we all cheered as Bryce held the chips above his head and ran.

Sam Johnson: “¡ONLY 8 PIECES OF CHICKEN!” - I almost passed out on hulk

Editor’s note: Family friends of the Worrell’s who live in Orlando worked with Carol to deliver huge trays of Chick-fil-a nuggets, fruit, chips and drinks so everyone got lunch in the park. We gathered for about 40 minutes to eat, reapply sunscreen, get vouchers for dinner in the park, and compare stories of what we’d done so far. 

Taylor Cappeluti: Optimus prime

Lydia Turner-Little: Feeling like I was really walking through Diagon Alley

Liz Elliott: Adam Lenker was super excited to spend time with characters. We spent time with Betty Boop, Popeye and the Simpsons.

Angela Nardone: Having trouble finding our way to the exit

Troy Moskowitz: Me and my crew of Taylor Katie Stephanie Angela and Dee had a ton of fun at the horror make up show

Dee Robertson: The horror make up show was really funny! Rock the red...sunburn

Jonathan Colborn: I lost weight. Thanks be to God. (Lots of walking and sweating)

Carol Worrell: One favorite memories from Universal and Islands of Adventure was riding the Hogwarts Express and thinking about all the fun that Brian was going to have riding The Hogwarts Express. I also loved getting to ride the rides with my boys and getting completely soaked on the log ride with Joseph and putting my hands in the air and screaming like crazy on the hippogriff roller coaster. The Hulk was my favorite roller coaster. 

Phil Hulcher: gratitude for my brother’s recovery and Rose’s purse being found (it was stollen in France where she is studying for the summer) - Editor’s note: Phil got lots of good news yesterday while we were at the park!

Bryce Taylor: “mommmmm! buy me more butter beer!”

David Hembrough: Getting chafed

Sasha Kuznetsov: The funnest part about going to Univ Stud was that my group (who are almost all adults) had more fun than most children

Emma Dube: The whole Harry Potter experience was so cool, and the butterbeer was delicious. 

Kae Johnson: Hanging out with all the youth while at Universal (especially Calista, John, and our three boys)

Editor’s note: we left the park at 9 pm and headed back to our hotel - same place as last night. On the bus, there was a time of comparing total steps taken in our Health apps/fitbits. Bryce Taylor was pretty sure he came out with the most steps (25,831) until Cole Vlasic discovered how to access his phone app and had about 80 more than Bryce. Maybe because he had to walk around and search for his misplaced backpack?! Good news that Cole found his backpack with help of cell phone finder and Universal security. Annie Elliott had about 22,000 steps when we left the park but she topped 30,000 by the time she finished running around the hotel lot. That’s a lot of steps for our whole group, and God ordered them all. (That’s a reference to one of our songs - wink)

Some folks went swimming in outdoor pool, others visited in lobby and had cookies/hot beverages provided by hotel, some went next door to do laundry at neighboring hotel. We think everyone slept well - physical exhaustion makes for good resting.

~ Polly

Click Here for Photos from Day 4

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 3 - Evening Report

After lunching in historic and scenic St Augustine, we boarded the bus and headed through Ocala National Forest to our host church in The Villages. Normal bus falderal ensued - greetings, lunch reports, Tom Baldridge reporting historic facts commingled with fake news to hone our skills of discernment.

We understand there are 900 holes of golf to be played in The Villages - you may guess it’s a retirement area. Hope Lutheran Church, where we sang, had a section of their parking lot designated for golf carts. 
We unloaded just our concert attire and instruments since we weren’t spending the night there. Everybody always explores the churches when we arrive, and there were many places to check out in this large facility. In the sanctuary, some met Jimmy the AV person, who offered to let Adam Lenker use their three video cameras and audio system to record the concert. We’ll see how it turned out, but Adam delighted with all the state of the art equipment. You should have seen him!

A small group of guys has also been practicing a song on their own, which they did for 15 minutes during free time before the dress rehearsal. 

Our group was showing signs of fatigue when we gathered for the dress rehearsal, so we stretched and breathed and tried to awaken our bodies. It worked, mostly. We had time to practice Order My Steps and Child of God with Carol Worrell doing some conducting. It was like a little conducting workshop for her with an awesome choral group, so it was a time of learning for all. 

Dinner was cheeseburgers, fries, coleslaw and brownies and ice cream for dessert. They served Arnold Palmers (tea and lemonade mix) because that’s just what you do when you live in a retirement and golfing capital. 

The concert went well and was well attended. The choir adjusted well to singing in a space that is designed more for speakers and microphones. Steve played piano all night - not organ. We think they appreciated the Chichester Psalms, but some may have been in shock. The Chichester Psalms treble soloists and solo ensemble are owning it! Troy Moskowitz and Brian LaRosa shared the solos at beginning of Child of God, and Lucas Martinho and Jonathan Works are leading prayers and reading as part of the concert. The audience really settled in and warmed up as we shared What a friend we have in Jesus and some other favorites - Bryce Taylor really worked the crowd in his solo, and Torie Brooks soloed as well.

Pastor Mark announced the offering to benefit UMCOR, and $550+ was collected. We greeted audience members after the concert and discovered that the Snell’s (as in the people who started DR Snell’s Nursery in Mt Airy) were at the concert. Several other neat connections were made.

We loaded back on the bus and headed to Orlando for a two-night stay at the Hampton Inn. An “after hours,” in the dark greeting featured seasoned greeted Annie Elliott and Scott Hembrough, because these extreme circumstances require people with experience!

We overwhelmed the hotel lobby a bit with our numbers and late night arrival, but everyone made it to their rooms and got to bed with visions of Islands of Adventure and Hogwarts Express dancing in their heads. Universal Studios on 6/19!

~ Polly Baldridge - reporting on morning of June 19 from the Starbucks (just finished my coffee) in front of Universal Studios before making the plunge into the park. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 3 - Morning Report

After a much needed sleep at The Ponce St. Augustine Hotel, the Charles Wesley singers relaxed, ate breakfast, and packed for a late morning departure at 930 for the St Augustine historic area. Mrs. Elliott encouraged and enforced the application of sunscreen on every child, adult, and organism in the greater St Augustine area before getting on the bus. After a short trip, the DUMC crew arrived safely, thanks to the amazing bus driver Paul (Thanks Paul!!!), at the Castillo de San Marco. Shout out to (Director of Youth Ministries extraordinaire) Nick Works for leading everyone is a wonderful and enlightening devotional time in front of the port side wall, and a quick singing of And Can It Be, led by are very own friendly, neighborhood Polly Edmonds Baldridge. What a beautiful place for passerby’s to listen to and experience the word of God! Once dispersed, the youth and adults grouped up with walking buddies and made their way into the historic town. Some of our friends bought fun, silly, and wacky souvenirs and gifts; Helena Colborn got a fantastic smelling candle, Emma Baldridge purchased a beautiful necklace with her birthday on it, and Dee Robertson gifted to herself a very stylish St. Augustine maroon hat! At 1pm the DUMC Charles Wesley Singers collected and departed successfully for The Hope Lutheran Church in The Villages, Florida.
This has been St. Augustine’s beachside local Chanel 7 news blogger, Troy Moskowitz.

2018 Tour - Day 2 - Evening Report

Our basic itinerary for the rest of the day was to travel all the way to St. Augustine, FL. Another 8-hour bus ride started with a greeting by Emma Dube and Isaac Turner- Little. 

Fork stories, a DUMC tour tradition during bus rides, were explained by Bryce Taylor - these are tales of overnight fun, adventures and sometimes mishaps with host families. Coincidentally (wink wink) Bryce had one of the only Fork stories to tell and was awarded the first Fork of the tour with great pomp and circumstance.

Next followed a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday for Katie Elliott, and our sunshine committee had everyone on the bus sign a card for her. We also sang Happy Birthday to Brad Turner-Little over Lydia’s speaker phone. Our policy is no singing on the bus so we don’t wear out our voices, but we’ll make an exception for birthdays.

Nick Works is working (no pun intended) on his doctoral degree and asked our group to fill out surveys on Christian travel and pilgrimage for his culminating project. Many youth and adults took time to respond and think about our hopes and expectations for choir tour. 

Other greeters were needed to break up the trip. They included Cole Vlasic with Todd Johnson, Lindsey Whitmeyer with Cole Taylor, and Charlotte Bowe with William Baldridge. 

We stopped for dinner just outside of Savannah, GA, after a lovely detour around I-95 traffic through the Savannah Wildlife Refuge. No alligator sitings yet, but we’ll keep you posted. Chipotle and Five Guys were the top choices. Sad to miss opportunity for a milkshake, so lots of people indulged! Makes the drive a little more bearable. One of the satellite vans made necessary coffee stop, too. 

A time of prayer happened on the bus after Phil Hulcher shared that his brother had a stroke this morning and has been hospitalized. Nick Works offered prayer, and we encourage all who read this to uphold him in prayer as well.

We crossed into Florida as the sky was getting dark and arrived at The Ponce Hotel in St. Augustine, FL, at about 9:15 pm. The hotel staff agreed to keep the pool open a little longer, so many took a dip to refresh after long travel day. Newsflash: it is hard to prevent middle and high school boys from playing loud games in the pool. 

After swimming, we sang Happy Birthday to Katie Elliott again, with cake this time. The sunshine committee has also provided a birthday hat, which Katie christened with wet pool hair. Happy Birthday may end up being our most popular song this year.

Everyone turned in around 11 pm after breathing in a little moist Florida air. Sunshine tomorrow. Bring on the sunscreen.

Happy Father’s Day to all those who have fathered us. Peace out.

~ Polly

Click Here for Pictures from Day 2

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 2 - Morning Report

This morning, I (Julia Beall) was one of a group of people that stayed at First UMC overnight, and as such I had to get up at about 7:00 to take a shower before the church's "Muffin Ministry", when they serve breakfast (with lots of muffins, but also cereal, other pastries, and stuff to make sandwiches) and let members of the community use their showers. This breakfast/community gathering starts at 8:00 and lasts for at least an hour, and at about 8:40 we sang Amazing Grace and Come, Unity, accompanied by a member of the church on piano. Afterwards, those of us who stayed at the church and those that stayed at host homes went to the 9:00 Connect service, an informal, smaller service with music much like the songs we play in the Youth Chapel on Sunday mornings. At that service, we sang Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy as well as God Has Chosen Me. After the service, we were joined by the people that stayed at the hotel, and went to the sanctuary to practice for the 11:00 traditional service. During this service, we sang Come Ye Sinners, Child of God, God Has Chosen Me, Marchin' On Up, and Praise His Holy Name (which we hadn't planned on singing, but they asked us to sing another song at the end of the service, so of course we did). Following that, we headed to the church's gym room to gather and eat lunch before our 7-hour bus ride to St. Augustine.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

2018 Tour - Day 1

Today begins the pilgrimage through North Carolina/Florida for the Charles Wesley Singers. Our theme is One in Christ Jesus and our T-shirts and water bottles will remind us daily because they’ve got the logo on them. We gathered for checking in at 7:30 am and everyone was prompt! And the weather was terrific - so things are off to a great start. 

Tour 2018 got underway with a preliminary section check and blessing from retiring pastor David Cooney in the sanctuary. He reminded us all that we may not know the impact we will have but that God will use us to reach others while we travel together, singing and sharing. We gave David a standing ovation for his pastorship at DUMC and then headed for the bus. Our fleet of 3 vehicles got on the road about 8:20 am. 

Paul Lopez is our driver again this year, and we are so thankful for him. Thanks to the Tregoning family for use of their Terp Van, and the Baldridge’s minivan is making the trip and will hence be known as the Duck Van because of the lovely duct tape that graces the left rear fender. Very special.

We always share a greeting when we first board the bus, and this year’s first greeters were Connor Dennie and Angela Nardone, as determined by a spin of the famous greeting wheel. 

Tom Baldridge opened his comedy act on the bus microphone today - material ranged from lessons from previous tours to septic system discussions to the time value of money. Lots of good material. 

New bus entertainment this year will be Fruit Facts by Sydney Fennington and Torie Brooks. Today we learned that strawberries have about 200 seeds and also were believed to have healing properties by the ancient Greeks. They suggested, however, that all medicine issues on our trip be handled by Liz Elliott and our team. The report was deemed “berry informative” by Steve Kalnoske.

Brian LaRosa, our resident train expert, told us about the logo of a sleeping cat on the Chessie System trains and encouraged all to “have a good little nap, my little Chessie kittens.”

Many did nap on the bus - many played cards and video games, ate lunch, listened to music. We stopped at the Virginia Rest-stop on I 85 for a few minutes. Some folks played a minute of football, and Arthur Hulcher stood bravely atop the water cooler to sweep a broom across the top of the bus and dislodge the football that got stuck. 

Back on the bus, Katie Elliott and David Hembrough greeted us all, spreading goodwill from the front to back of the bus. We also sang happy birthday to Reid Taylor who turns 15 today.

We arrived safely in Charlotte, NC, at about 4 pm. First UMC is a tremendous structure, in size and scale - someone told us the entire place is the size of two Walmart stores put together. The church’s four floors are like a maze filled with countless unique spaces for ministry are a wonderful tapestry of welcoming messages. 

Lots of personal connections were made in a Charlotte, too. Many tour members were united with family and friends who live in Charlotte, and Caleb and Anna Mae Black joined up with us at First UMC. Our number is now 63 people! 

We had some free time to investigate the building and then gathered at 5 pm for rehearsal in the sanctuary. Our three treble soloists for the Chichester Psalms were together for the first time and sang so well, as did the whole choir as we figured out where to stand and configure ourselves. Dinner was at 6 pm - Our hosts are very lovely and welcoming and prepared a wonderful meal. We had lasagna, salad, and brownies and pound cake for dessert. Also we sang happy birthday to Reid Taylor again and he blew out all 15 candles in one breath. This is the benefit of singing of course - increased lung capacity!!

Everyone looked dapper in formal concert attire, and we began singing at 7:30 pm. We had never sung start to finish through the whole program, so it was a special night, and the audience was most responsive. Highlights (from Polly’s perspective) were the Chichester Psalms coming together well, John Hoffpauir’s saxophone solo that we all heard for the first time tonight, choir members smiling broadly when a wrong note or two sounded, soloists getting the whole group excited, and the way that sound just pours out of the choir when they get excited. Miraculous really!

We will sing at First UMC again in the morning so I had to smile when our folder cleanup crew was so efficient that the music was all cleaned up and packed up by the van before I had a chance to remind them we need the folders in the morning. But people are taking their roles seriously, and for that we are grateful. 

Pastor Val Rosenquist and other church staff have bent over backwards to accommodate us, and some of our group are staying overnight on mattresses at the church and will awaken in time to serve at a community breakfast. Others of us are in a hotel tonight, and still others went with host families. Hopefully all are asleep as I sign off! 

Good night - until tomorrow.

~ Polly

Click Here for Photos from Day 1

 Click Here for Video from the Day 1 Concert