(from the National United Methodist Reporter)
Band of pastors connects with audience
Katie Shockley, Jan 29, 2009
By Katie Shockley
DALLAS, Texas—What do you get when you combine United
Methodist clergy, the music of the ‘70s and fundraising for
relief work? You get a surprisingly good evening of
entertainment, music and family fun. You get Connections.
Connections, a band that includes up to a dozen or so
United Methodist clergy members performing at a time, began
several years ago as a jam session of Dan Fogelberg songs
during a clergy retreat in the North Texas Conference. A
few of the clergy floated the idea that maybe they should
play a concert, but they wondered who would come. As it
turns out, hundreds of people would.
Connections performed its first concert—a tribute to
Fogelberg—in March 2006 at Spring Valley United Methodist
Church in Dallas. The event raised $2,300 for United
Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the denomination’s
Connections has gone on to perform 17 area shows and two
clergy retreats, and has raised nearly $48,000 for UMCOR
and Nothing But Nets, an anti-malaria campaign supported by
the people of the United Methodist Church.
Clergy musicians representing 15 Dallas-area United
Methodist churches join the six founding members of the
band for performances.
The founding clergy members are the Revs. Eric Folkerth of
Northaven UMC, co-band leader, guitar and vocals; Rusty
King of Spring Valley UMC, co-band leader, guitar, keyboard
and vocals; Ann Willet of Royse City UMC, vocals and
keyboard; Frank Rahm of First UMC Rockwall, keyboard; John
Fleming of Buckingham UMC in Garland, guitar and vocals;
and Paul Escamilla of Perkins School of Theology, guitar
The band’s repertoire includes tributes to James Taylor,
Carole King, The Eagles, Chicago, Elton John and The Doobie
Brothers. Band members say it’s not much of a sacrifice to
give up their time to play secular music for charity
because they pick music they like. Most of their music is
“power hits” from the ‘70s that audience members will
remember and be able to sing along to.
Ms. Willet says the music is “consistent with the Christian
message.” The band avoids lyrics that have a negative,
agnostic view of the world.
Mr. Rahm joined the band because he is “a big fan of
fellowship.” The band’s name reflects that members are
connected to each other as a community. Members at churches
where the band performs also connect to one another and to
the music at the concerts.
What’s more, those who donate to the group’s causes are
connected to people around the world, through UMCOR and
Nothing But Nets.
Ms. Willet said being in the band offers a way to
contribute to missions: “It’s my mission trip.”
Participating in Connections is also a way for the pastors
to model for United Methodists how to reach out to others
through denominational causes such as UMCOR and Nothing But
Mr. Fleming sees the band as a way to minister to those
outside the church. “We are representing church to people
who otherwise would have no interest in church,” he said.
In December, for instance, a woman joined Spring Valley UMC
because the church supports Connections.
Mr. Fleming said he frequently hears comments such as “I
didn’t know a pastor could do that” and “I didn’t know it
was OK to like that kind of music.”
“Connections is a place where we have learned to be
authentic to people outside the church,” he said.
Through Connections, Mr. Fleming extends that vision to his
own congregation. Members of Buckingham who follow the band
have been dubbed “Buckheads,” a take-off on
singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s “Parrotheads.” What
started as a show of support for their new pastor has
become a loyal and vocal group of fans.
And it shows that church members can have fun, too.
Following the band’s recent debut of its Elton John tribute
show in which Mr. Fleming wore large sunglasses, about 30
Buckheads showed up for Sunday morning worship wearing
Connections has been successful, Mr. Folkerth said, because
they “seriously benefit from low expectations.” People will
come to their shows as a courtesy to someone they know in
the band, for instance, and then are surprised at how good
the band is.
Another reason the band has become so popular in the region
is that audience members are seeking family-safe
entertainment. Band member Mr. King says the group members
recognize that they “have to stand apart from culture,” and
while audience members never know what they will get with
secular entertainment, a Connections concert provides a
smoke-free, alcohol-free, clean-language and otherwise safe
The band’s members said other United Methodist clergy could
also use their imaginations to do something in a secular
vein that will bring people into the church.
“Anywhere clergy get together to enjoy each other,
something like this can be born,” said Ms. Willet.
For information about Connections, visit
Ms. Shockley is a member of First UMC in Rockwall, Texas,
and a student at Perkins School of Theology.