Hello, MQT readers. Today I’m introducing a brand new recurring feature- The MQT Spotlight! Every faith community is full of wonderfully giving people and I want to recognize those people who, in their own communities, contribute their time and talent in meaningful ways to spread the Good News and strengthen the bonds of faith within their parish or neighborhood. For the inaugural MQT Spotlight I am proud to present Bill and Steffie Hemingson.
Bill and Steffie lead the 9:30 AM Contemporary Choir at Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) Catholic Church in Vienna, VA. Lisa Helene and I have been delighted to be members of this choir since February of this year. Bill and Steffie have been active members since 1993 and have been leading the choir since 2005. Bill plays lead guitar while Steffie expertly conducts and cantors. Amazingly, they have had little formal music training and virtually no formal choral training. Nevertheless, they’ve been musicians their whole lives. Steffie played the clarinet in school until the eighth grade when she decided it was not a “cool” instrument. But it taught her to read music and she discovered she had a gift for sight-reading. Bill experimented with several different instruments growing up before settling on the guitar at the age of sixteen. While a college student at Virginia Tech, he joined a group and plunged headlong into music ministry. This was the late nineteen-seventies when a lot of songs that millennial Catholics consider staples of the repertoire were just being introduced. “They were coming out and saying ‘Hey, we’ve got this brand new song One Bread, One Body. Let’s see if we can learn it! I’ll teach you the chords!”, says Bill.
Bill and Steffie began their musical collaboration in 1983 when they met at an Encounter with Christ weekend for Virginia college students. Bill saw that Steffie could sing and invited her to join him in singing with him and the choir at St. James Parish in Falls Church, VA. Twenty-two years and five kids later in August of 2005 they took over the leadership of the OLGC Contemporary Choir on the recommendation of the outgoing leader who was moving to Ohio. “I think it is somewhat unusual, though, for the leaders to sort of rise out of the group, but we were in many ways already doing the roles that we have now.” says Steffie, “Bill was kind of the lead guitar player at the time… and I was doing a lot of cantoring… So it wasn’t too bad of a transition.”
When asked what they like most about leading the choir they give very similar responses. “Part of my faith journey has been tied to music.”, says Bill, “It’s how I pray to God. I think sometimes in the lyrics of a song, God talks to me.”
Steffie concurs. “That’s definitely true for me too that the lyrics really enhance my worship. I don’t have a very good memory for passages from the Bible, but listening during Mass prompts me to think about a song, ‘Oh, now I’m getting the deeper meaning of it!’ That kind of thing.”
The best part, though, is when they know they have affected the congregation. “It makes me happy when someone feels comfortable enough to come up and say ‘something that you sang today really touched me.'”, says Bill. Steffie feels that “That’s the biggest compliment we can ever get as a group.”
When do two people as busy as Bill and Steffie find quiet time with God? The answer may not surprise you: In the car. “I say the rosary when I’m driving.” says Steffie. “I know that’s not the quietest time, but if I’m in the car by myself and I turn the radio off and I pick up the rosary, oftentimes it’s a really great experience.” Bill takes advantage of his longer commute to work. “Sometimes that’s when I listen to Christian radio, but other times I’ll just have the car quiet and sort of reflect a little bit. Also on Saturday mornings I carve a little time out for myself to read and reflect.” Sometimes, though adjustments have to be made. “Yesterday was a little compacted because I had to get my son to baseball.”
Devoted parents and dedicated music ministers Bill and Steffie Hemmingson are certainly a gift and an asset to the OLGC community.
Whom do you feel is an asset in your community? Leave a comment below or post on the wall of the MQT Facebook page!
Have a blessed week!