Nudges from God
November 2019 Issue
By Meredith M. Deal
Photography by Mike Force Photography
Mary Monroe is the perfect example of a woman with strong faith, a positive attitude and serendipitous good sense. Since moving south from Lake Orion, Michigan, 17 years ago, her life path has led her to the best places at the right time.
Raised in a musical family, Mary attended Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, minoring in music (piano) and majoring in psychology. Soon she was a mother of four— Benjamin (23), Mary Kate (21), Grace (19) and Jack (14).
Mary said she came here with nothing: “I made my way down here with my four kids and a prayer. I’ve prayed so long for clarity and direction, and I am starting to see it. I found myself here after a divorce. The kids were young, and it was not easy to leave, but it was a good time for me to reevaluate and make the move. We arrived and stayed with family—all four went through school here. Three are in college now and Jack is in ninth grade; they are all doing well.
“Life has had its struggles for me as a single parent, but I’ve had lots of blessings. When I think about my own life and perspective, through the skillset God gave and blessed me with, I’ve been very happy to be able to serve others with those gifts. For me, that’s my blessing, our church congregation, my jobs and now the seniors I work with.”
Mary’s skillset is music, and she thrives in performance. “When I got here in 2002, I got a nudge from God. I think he puts people together for His purpose and plan.” She ran into a Methodist pastor and mentioned her recent move to the area and that she was seeking a music director position. “He said they needed one, and I got the job! A couple of years later, I was invited to St. Simons Island’s Lord of Life Lutheran Church. I walked through the doors and fell in love with the people.”
Mary is learning and enjoying what it means to be a Lutheran. “I’m the Music Director and also work with youth and Christian education.” Mary directs the adult and youth choirs and handbell choir. “At a typical service, we are in our robes, leading hymn singing and performing a choir anthem. Sometimes the bell choir plays; they have invigorated the congregation! Imagine middle-schoolers and 75-year-olds all playing hand bells together, just wonderful!”
Mary relayed some favorite words from Martin Luther, “Next to the word of God, music is the most powerful thing there is in a church service. I get to sit at the organ console and play while we all sing in joy! One of my favorite parts is when a hymn’s words and music all come together and everyone just loves to sing.”
Mary’s plays the organ a bit differently from other organists. “I cannot play with shoes on, so I am known as the barefoot organist! You play with both hands and both feet at the same time— four things at once, so, no shoes. My mentor, James Freeman, is my dear friend and my teacher for the organ. He constructed and built our pipe organ in 2009. I was told back then I was going to get to play the organ donated by one of our congregates who was passionate about pipe organ music—another nudge from God.”
You’d think a pianist, who has played all her life, could learn the organ quickly. “How hard could it be?” On the final day of construction, two weeks out from Easter Sunday, with her debut looming, “I sat on the bench to play my favorite easiest hymn— “Jesus Loves Me” (in the key of C) with all hands and feet ready to go.” Organists read and play the treble clef with one hand, the top notes of the bass clef with the other hand, while separate feet play the bottom notes of the bass clef. “My feet became a keyboard! Somehow, I learned and ended up playing a full set of Easter Sunday hymns. My hands were so sweaty, and the congregation was all so happy!”
“It took me about six months not to be so intimidated, and now I am helping James with organ tuning and participating in the organ rebuild project at St. Simons United Methodist. I’m proud of my developed ear in pipe tuning; it’s joyful to hear the perfection of organ pipes.”
Mary has also become a Seminary student. “A former pastor, Paul Elbert, a wonderful theologian in God’s Word, knew I was feeling a theological pull. He advised me to take a few seminary classes: ‘Just see what happens. See if you like it.’ I am now a distant learning student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota! I plan to become an ordained pastor in the Lutheran Church. I’ll be called Pastor Mary, but my kids call me that already,” she laughed, grinning with pride.
Raising kids, Mary admitted, definitely takes a village. ‘My church community has been an incredible support to me. Through my seminary journey, financially they have backed me, and my children are always looked after when I go to seminary classes in St. Paul. They’ve got my back in every way and that has been such a gift.”
“God has blessed me to use what I’ve been given to help provide for my family.” For the last seven years, Mary has been the contracted musical director for Glynn Academy Drama Department, working with Drama Director, Josh Sinyard. “I love it because its Broadway! And for Island Players summer productions, I am a contractor, too!” Mary is also sharing her gifts in a new side-career at Magnolia Manor Skilled Nursing Facility as director of Social Services. “ Working with so many of the residents and their families has quickly become another ministry for me.”
Mary is looking forward to becoming ordained in two short years. She will finish clinical pastoral education units and then intern. “When I look back at my time at Lord of Life Lutheran and my work in all aspects of the ministry there, this is the calling that brings me peace. I get to minister to people of all ages every day. This is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I say thank you, God. It feels right, and I love it all.”
Besties: “Bebe Bonati is a dear friend of mine. We have sung together throughout the community, at hymn festivals and at church together. It’s always fun!”
Music and Lyrics: Mary writes contemporary style Christian piano music. “My favorite influences are Chris Rice and Ginny Owens, both faith-based contemporary Christian artists. Music brings me real joy and peace.”
A perfect day in November: “I’d get up and take a long walk on the beach. Then there would be music writing, and if calories were no object, there would be a nice steak and mac-n-cheese! Then I’d go on a long bike ride; I love to be outdoors.”
Best Thanksgiving customs: “I make it all from Scratch—the kids insist we always have the same meal. We are all fans of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Using ingredients from that story, we make popcorn, toast, pretzel sticks and jellybeans for our mid-morning meal and watch the entire show. My dessert favorites are the Michigan-style apple pies I make.”