Celebrating 60 Years!

October 26, 2015

Pastor Alison Hendley began her welcome by describing the number 40 as Bible speak simply meaning a long, long time (think 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness, 40 years wandering, looking for the Promised Land). “Imagine,” she said, “the long, long, long, long time that Sterling has been the music director at First!” San Rafael First UMC recently held a special worship service to celebrate Sterling Rainey’s 60 years of continuous service as music director, organist, choir director and all thing musical at this one church. Sterling has shared his gifts over the generations, serving with seventeen pastors, and seeing the ebbs and flow of congregational life. His deep faith has continued to grow, and his outreach stretches way beyond the musical life of the congregation. Over the years he has been the master chef for many fundraisers, a strong advocate for the homeless and precariously housed, and was instrumental in working with the congregation to bring it to be a reconciling congregation over 21 years ago. He also worked hard to keep two families housed using the notion of ‘Jubilee’ to get a landlord to take just a percentage of a debt owed in back rent by the families (one of whom is a terminally ill mother of three) so they could stay in the community where they were. Today, and 87 years young, Sterling still is the first one at church most Sundays, playing the organ, piano and leading the choir through their paces. Pastor Alison says, “I’ve heard stories about battles between pastors and church musicians, and when I hear such tales I thank God again for you, Sterling! You are flexible, always willing to try one of my new, sometimes way out of the box schemes for worship, willing to give constructive feedback, and often the first to introduce new music to the congregation and choir. You are a delight to work with, and I thank you for all the ways you share God’s love so freely with the world.” The congregation celebrated with a dedicated joint worship service with both the Fijian Ministry congregation and Aldersgate UMC. The choir sang the anthem commissioned for his 50th anniversary; I Will Lift My Eyes Unto The Hills. The anthem is based on his favorite Psalm, one that he returns to often for comfort and strength. After the worship a lunch was provided, and Sterling was blessed by a traditional dance from the Pacific Islands performed by Epeli Rakai Tuibequ, a professional dancer from Fiji. We pray that Sterling may continue blessing the church and the world for a long, long time!