Here and Gone

 I was in my office busily working on a September day when a gentleman I did not recognize came to my door and asked, “Where’s the printer?”  He had some papers in his hand.  His light Hispanic accent was somehow engaging, but no more so than his winsome personality.  As often happens, Charlotte overheard the question and jumped up to the rescue.  Off they went to the end of the hall where the printer/copier for our side of the floor is located.  I assumed the man to be a guest in the building, perhaps working with others in the language ministries department.  Before he headed back across the hall I introduced myself and shook his hand.  He told me his name, but it would take me two more times running into him to find out that he was new to our staff, a specialist in Hispanic missions and church planting.  I was glad to hear it as he seemed full of life, and had that fun twinkle in his eye.
Jess Fairbanks was formally introduced as a new member of our state convention staff following one of our weekly chapel services.  After that chapel I went to him to express my embarrassment for the previous misunderstanding about who he was.  Not only was he dismissive about my self shame, but he really wanted to talk more about the songs I choose for chapel services.  He said the hymns were like welcome friends to him.  We entered a meaningful discussion about worship through repeated meaningful expressions, many of which are familiar.  His face lit up as he named a long list of familiar songs that he loved.  He even asked if we could sing, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” a lively gospel hymn with a robust chorus that features men singing the melody.  A couple of weeks later we sang it in chapel and he seemed elated.  It was not just a “favorites” thing with Jess.  Following the chapel we talked a few moments about the gift of grace given by our Savior.  Later that day I called Jess to ask if he would speak at a weekly chapel about his life and ministry.  He took that assignment quite seriously and we scheduled a date, October 19.
On Thursday, October 13, I was attending one of our worship pastor roundtables in Chattanooga.  My phone buzzed a few times (not unusual) and as soon as we broke for lunch I started to return calls but saw I had a text message from the office: 
“Jess Fairbanks died suddenly a few hours ago.  No more info.  He was at while at an SBC meeting.” 
I was stunned.  To my knowledge none of the worship pastors knew Jess, and with his short tenure at TBC I was unsure what to say.  I asked for prayer and we completed our luncheon before friend, worship pastor, and songwriter Jeff Bourque and I packed the car and headed homeward.  When I had returned I checked my calendar knowing there would be a service to attend.  When I opened it, three words jumped out at me.  They were located in the box marked Wednesday, October 19, 2011, “Jess Fairbanks – chapel.”  Those three words hit me like a ton of bricks.  It caused a rapid flashback of the conversations with Jess about hymns, worship, the Lord’s guidance in bringing him to the TBC.  Wednesday’s chapel is going to be a time of reflection on Jess’s life. Though his memorial service is today (Tuesday), it seems appropriate to share prayer, remembrances, scripture,and a hymn or two to in honor of his life and as worship of the One Who holds life in His hand.  Jess’s time with us was so short, though rich.  At 59, he seemed young in spirit and full of life.  I would like to have known him longer, but thank God for the brief encounter of life’s journey.  One impact he had on me was to refresh my commitment to sing familiar songs that help the family of faith express their worship and praise and to be reminded of the path the Lord has allowed us to travel.  Most importantly, to give voice to our voicing the Gospel that we might worship and proclaim the “Wonderful Grace of Jesus! Praise His Name!  Thank you, Jess.
            Blessed are those who die in the Lord.  Let them rest from their labors for their works follow them.
                                                                                                                        -Rev 14:13
O that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall!
Explore posts in the same categories: Congregational Singing, Hymnals, Music Ministry, Shared Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing

2 Comments on “Here and Gone”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Thank you for these words.
    I randomly found it when I “googled” Jess Fairbanks.
    I deeply shared in my dad’s love for the old hymns, and I know exactly how he felt when it came to music. Music had a way with him. He FELT music.
    I am getting married in 3 months, and Jess was supposed to marry us.
    Please don’t forget him. I won’t.

    Sarah Fairbanks

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