It's a rainy Sunday afternoon in mid-December, and Chris Flohr, a defense attorney with the small firm of Blackford & Flohr, LLC, sits in an empty pew at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church (www.ourshepherd.com) in Severna Park, tuning his guitar. Nearby, at the front of the church, fellow members of Our Shepherd's Praise Band are likewise warming up as the PA system broadcasts JoséFeliciano's bilingual Christmas hit "Feliz Navidad".
"MUSIC IS ONE
of those things that kind of takes you to a place that nothing else can"
"The tunes you hear in the background are the stuff that we're going to play today," notes Flohr, who for the last "five or six years" has performed with Praise Band in various capacities. A lifelong musician, he sat behind the band's drums until just a few months ago, when he yielded them to a young girl who expressed interest in learning how to play, and he's been on guitar ever since.
"The line-up usually averages three or four singers, and then keyboards, bass, electric guitar, drums and acoustic guitar," says Flohr. "I've played electric at times, but a lot of this music lends itself to acoustic sound."
Though Flohr regularly practices and performs with Praise Band, this night – the second Sunday of the month – is always something particularly special, as the group provides the aural backdrop for Rejoicing Spirits (www.rejoicingspirits.org), a monthly service that, according its informational brochure, "welcomes, embraces, values and celebrates the gifts of our brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities."
"We invite folks with all sorts of intellectual and developmental disabilities to come to this service," explains Flohr, noting that many disabled members who are unable to remain quiet for periods of time often find themselves "excluded" from traditional services. "However, this service welcomes all with open arms."
More than 20 churches from Maine to Texas have adopted Rejoicing Spirits since St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Lionville, Pennsylvania, founded the program in 2003. Our Shepherd, which began hosting Rejoicing Spirits in 2009, is currently the only church in Maryland to offer the service.
"That first service, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up," admits Flohr. "I mean, people were so into it – there was so much energy in the room."
During the Rejoicing Spirits service, congregants are given the opportunity to read inspirational messages or Biblical passages and are encouraged to sing along or even play small instruments, such as the tambourine or maracas. There are also opportunities to socialize before and after each service.
"This is the 14th time we've had this service," notes Sandy Bishop, who chairs the church's Rejoicing Spirits committee. "Some people come pretty regularly, some we've only seen maybe four or five times. But I'm starting to see relationships. There are certain individuals from within the congregation that are making connections with others who only come for this service." According to Bishop, the number of attendees fluctuates between roughly 40 and 90 people, including a steady average of "25 to 30 people from our regular services."
"I NEVER THOUGHT
I would listen to Frank Sinatra. Never thought I'd be wearing reading glasses, but I just got those, too."
Though his own musical interests extend beyond the congregation, Flohr admits that the time constraints of family life and a busy law practice limit his options. "I was asked to play in a cover band, and I reluctantly turned it down," he says. "I would definitely love it, but between my commitment to work and trying to be a decent father, husband…it's a challenge. It's just not the right time."
"[But] my kids are getting older," he continues, "and I definitely want to play with a group. You know, just fun stuff – I'm not looking to get a record contract or anything like that. I love playing classical guitar, blues, jazz and heavy metal. I can get expressive by playing solos . . . [but] this doesn't really lend itself to doing that."
For now, Flohr enjoys the sometimes unexpected turns in his musical tastes. "I never thought I would listen to Frank Sinatra," he laughs. "Never thought I'd be wearing reading glasses, but I just got those, too." But such intangibles are the very thing about music that Flohr finds so appealing.
"Music is one of those things that kind of takes you to a place that nothing else can," he notes. "I'm blessed with a great relationship – 20 years married, 20 years practicing, two beautiful kids – but music is something [in which] you just get to go somewhere that you can't go otherwise."