From the churches: FBC Cumming's Shirley Brown has been singing the Scriptures for over 50 years


CUMMING, Ga. — When Shirley Brown was a little girl growing up in small-town Georgia, her mama only allowed her to spend social time at the church. With a song in her heart and a thirst for fellowship, Shirley joined the choir. Now her three-year-old granddaughter attends church with her and her daughters, singing beloved favorites like “Jesus Loves Me” which brought Shirley so much joy as a little girl.

First Baptist Cumming has recently celebrated Shirley’s 50th anniversary singing in their 115-member choir. They’ve become family to her and a vital part of Shirley’s life each week. “Our practice before service gets my heart going, just hearing the music come together .”

“Music is the personality of a church. And our choir has a composite personality that is captivating,” shares FBC ’s Classic Worship Director and Executive Pastor, Dr. Rick Forbus. “Our numbers have hit a tipping point.” FBC’s choir and orchestra continue to grow season after season. Forbus shares that vocalists of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. “That’s something I learned from my dad. Get anyone up there who has a song in their heart. It revolutionizes a whole worship service — and really a church.”

Shirley readily agrees, “I think so, too. That’s why so many people keep coming here... because they enjoy the choir. And the ones who can sing and have these beautiful voices, this is where they can come to share them.” Shirley brings a notable energy to the choir and the FBC church family. She is always delighted to offer rides in her sparkling red Mustang convertible, an anniversary gift from her late husband. And her stories are punctuated with the song of her laughter.

Shirley treasures hymns that have been a part of her faith journey since she was a child. “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” and “Because He Lives” are some of the first hymns she notes as impacting her spiritually. “Think about it. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. See that’s what we’ve got to live by. We’ve got to live every day we’re here and not worry about what’s happening tomorrow.”

“That’s the beauty of hymns to me,” adds Forbus.“They are not only totally doctrinally sound and full of meat, but they bring us back. They take us back in time and that’s the beauty of worship. A song hooks you to something.

”While music has a unique ability to reconnect us to our past experiences deeply, it also opens us to new spiritual growth.“When you are memorizing music, it makes you younger because it refires your brain in places it wouldn’t typically be used. That’s true to feeling vibrant. Your brain rewires itself as it learns new things. Shirley is an example of that.”

That’s easy to see. Her eyes dance as she talks about singing.“I think it helps your heart. It helps your mind. And it makes you see the Scriptures. We sing the Scriptures a lot. To me it just makes a different person out of you.”

Forbus nods, “Memorizing scripture is very easy with music. We’re going to do one of my old favorites in a few weeks. It really came out the first generation of praise music in the late 60’sand early70’s as Scripture songs gained in popularity.” As Forbus begins to sing, “I will call upon the Lord...” Shirley joins him, “Who is worthy to be praised.”

“There has always been a song in my mom’s heart,” Shirley’s daughter, Dawn Martin, reminisces. “Throughout my childhood, I can remember her singing us a song as she put us to bed and even when she would wake us up in the morning. As a family, we would also sing as we traveled down the road on vacation or other long destinations.”

Shirley’s faith in God and the legacy she has shaped of her life as a wife, a mother, a church and choir member, speaks even more deeply than lyrics. “I come because I want to be here and because God brought me here. I never miss a day without praying for my family. I start with my immediate family and then pray all the way through. That’s very important.”

Devoted, involved, longstanding members like Shirley are vital to the health of a church. “I have experienced multigenerational worship my whole life,” explains Forbus. My father was a pioneer in bringing music into the church which drew children and students into the church. This approach created a legacy for children to grow in church music and continue into adulthood. That’s what I hope for FBC Cumming as a community and beyond through the involvement of church musicians that spread across the world.”

As Shirley shares stories about the music directors she’s enjoyed through the years, fellow choir members, and her cherished family, the fruit of the Spirit shines in her speech and the radiance of her smile.

“Shirley is a legacy member bridging five decades of choir directors and pastors,” Forbus expresses with gratitude.“ She has not only been faithful as the town of Cumming has grown and changed over fifty years, she has remained steadfast as music has changed. She is a shining example to children and students of the joy and commitment to God’s work and message of hope to the world. She is ALWAYS in her chair in the choir loft on Sundays. Shirley is a legacy.”

When asked what wisdom she would like to share with others, Shirley keeps it simple—and profound. “Life is kind of what you make out of it. It’s just good to be happy.”