Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations responding to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s call to "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide." The call to grow in evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and diversity was adopted by the 2008 General Assembly and renewed by the 2010 General Assembly. — Jerry L. Van Marter
Kids are kids, the old saw goes, but while the concept is simple, it is a very important lesson that not only children, but adults as well should learn. Greg McPherson and the children of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala. — pastored by the Rev. Gregory J. Bentley — are hoping to spread the message around the world.
It started with Janice Barry and the Healthy Thinking Kids program. The aim of the program is to teach kids basic life saving skills like CPR and also about healthy life habits, dealing with issues such as obesity and basic hygiene.
"It's about awareness needs," says Barry. "These are life saving and life skills for kids from six to 16 to engage in a crisis."
Barry has already completed an audio book but was looking for more ways to spread her initiative forward. She has been working on an animated teaching DVD for the initiative complete with a group of characters she has developed to illustrate her various lessons.
"They are diverse friend characters," she says. "They all have distinct personalities and they all face different issues. One kid might have braces or another glasses or if we are dealing with obesity, one might be overweight."
“This is an initiative to help supplement what we as parents teach our children. The characters will come across a situation a child may encounter in real life when their parents aren’t there and we encourage them to keep their heads up. We remind them that we are all God’s children.”
Barry turned to her colleague, McPherson, who is a professor of music at Stillman College and a renowned composer, arranger, performer, conductor and producer, for help with music for her project. McPherson wrote a song called "All God's Children" to help convey Barry's message. Listen to a snippet of the song.
"The focus is on the needs of kids. All kids matter," says McPherson. "We are all God's children."
McPherson had also recently taken a position as director of music ministries at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church — a congregation of Sheppards and Lapsley Presbytery — and was quite pleased to find that he'd gained a very talented children's choir. An idea began to take shape.
"Our initial focus walks along beside the outgoing [General Assembly] moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow's critical stance and declaration addressing the multiple needs of our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” says McPherson. We realized then that we were right on target with our project."
As the idea formed, the concept of Healthy Thinking Kids grew and became more global with a realization that children all over the world have the same basic needs. The ideas that Barry wanted to teach to children locally apply to children not just in Haiti but in Africa or Asia too. It's not only about addressing needs, but about addressing diversity and the idea that all kids have the same needs and all kids matter equally in God's eyes, no matter what they look like or where they are from.
McPherson says they wanted to be very specific about what they wanted to do, so they consulted the pastor and session of Brown Memorial for guidance. The Seed for Food program was targeted for benefit as well as housing needs in Haiti.
"We have very talented children at Brown. These kids can change the world," McPherson says.
Twelve children as well as two of McPherson’s students from the music production and engineering program at Stillman traveled to Doppler Studios in Atlanta to record the song.
"The kids had a blast at the studio," McPherson says.
Lead vocals were done by Taylor Wilson, the twelve year old daughter of a Stillman colleague, backed by the children of BMPC. McPherson notes that many of the instruments were also played by the children. Eleven-year-old Justice Michael is featured on the drum solo. All of the post-recording engineering and mixing was done by McPherson’s student assistant from Stillman, Elonte Chandler.
"This was done by kids for kids," says McPherson. "They did a commendable job. You'd never know they had no pro music experience."
Even the youngest children were involved, doing the intro for the song.
The song has since been made available through ReverbNation Digital Music Services and is linked to popular digital music stores like iTunes and Amazon Music. It can be found by searching for "BMPC Kids." It's already gotten some media attention from local radio and as a feature on a show produced by Clear Channel Communications which has a nationwide syndicated network.
"We're aiming for a platinum record, which is a million copies sold," McPherson says. "HTK (Healthy Thinking Kids) Media Group has partnered with Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church to meet the challenges and needs of children and families globally impacted by various catastrophic events."
A video to accompany the song is currently in the works. The video, according to Barry and McPherson, will illustrate the diversity them and the idea that we are "All God's Children," with video footage of children from all over the world as the focus.
"Although black children performed the song, we want it to reflect all children all over the world," McPherson says.
Toni Montgomery is a free-lance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as church secretary for First Presbyterian Church of Statesville.