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My world is a little less bright today after learning of my dear friend, Earl Jacobs, passing on Wednesday night.

(Photo borrowed from his Facebook page)

Brother Earl (as everyone at First Baptist Hartselle called him) and I go WAY back. He had just been called to First Baptist as Minister of Music when I was in the hospital after giving birth to my first child -- who will turn 50 on November 1. Coming to see me was his first "official" hospital visit as a Hartselle minister. We hit it off immediately because of our love for music, specifically church music. The next time I had a baby, he showed up at the hospital with some "Babe" perfume, and we chuckled about that for years.

A few months after we met, the long-time pianist at First Baptist, Evelyn Howell, got very sick, so Brother Earl asked me to fill in for her. Sadly, Evelyn died, but I got the privilege of becoming the full-time pianist, and that's when Earl and I became a true team.

Mrs. Lurline Minor was the organist in those days, and we loved practicing offertory duets to play for the worship services. We also played for quite a few weddings and funerals. When she decided to retire, Patsy Wright stepped in. Patsy and I shared a bond, because her dad, Rev. Kermit Gore, was the one who baptized me when I was eight years old. We played together for several years until her family moved away from Hartselle. That's when Mrs. Vondale Merritt played the organ. Through it all, Brother Earl kept directing us, and I kept playing the piano. The years were from early 1974 to 1988, and they were some of the most musically and spiritually fulfilling years of my life.

Brother Earl did not rule choir practices with a stern attitude or an inflated ego. He had a servant's heart. Of course, he wanted us to sound as good as we could in order to enhance the worship experience and not hinder it, but he was also totally inclusive (before that word got a negative connotation). In other words, even if you weren't a great singer, you were welcome in Earl's choir.

I received one of my most memorable "scoldings directly from God" one night during a Wednesday choir rehearsal. Earl was teaching the choir a new piece of music, and he slightly messed up the rhythm in one section. I was doing some inner grumbling about it (silently, of course, but I bet my face gave me away) when God zapped me, and I totally missed the next notes that I played. My mistake was far more noticeable than Earl's had been. It was a clear case of "God looking on the heart." God wanted me to keep my criticisms self-directed, rather than others-directed. It was a lesson I have always remembered.

When I think about those years, I wish I had kept a journal of all the Sunday morning and Sunday evening services, choir rehearsals, choir festivals, Christmas cantatas, Easter cantatas, funerals, weddings, quartets, and ensemble groups. I wonder just how many of the hymns in the Baptist hymnal we sang. I can still hear Brother Earl singing "Ring the Bells" and "It's Beginning to Rain" and numerous duets with his daughter Erlene.

Earl's brothers were extremely musical, too. His brother Kenneth was Minister of Music at First Baptist in Athens during the years Earl was in Hartselle, so many of my family members experienced the "Jacobs influence" too.

I remember when Brother Earl started a handbell choir with young, stay-at-home mothers in mind. We met at the church on a weekday morning. He had nursery workers for our kids and donuts and orange juice for refreshments. We laughed and rang bells, pretty much in that order. It was a true ministry to us. One year he convinced us to ring those bells while riding on a float in the Christmas parade. It was freezing cold. I'm amazed we didn't fall off the float, but we had a hysterically fun time.

Earl persuaded me to lead the children's choir for a couple of years, which proved to be great preparation for later teaching elementary music in the schools. Brother Earl's affectionate, nickname for Steve was "Hog Doctor." :) Meant in a jokingly, respectful way. He was always kind and interested in our children. He was a big Alabama fan and loved to tease me about my Auburn Tigers.

I enjoyed knowing his two daughters, Patricia and Erlene, and had the honor of playing for their weddings. Earl was completely devoted to his wife Irone until her death, exemplifying true love and dedication during her final years when her care was all-consuming.

In 2017, shortly after Steve and I moved back to Hartselle after being away for a number of years, Earl called me one day and said, "I need you to do me a favor. I want you to play for a one-day revival." Of course, I was curious about where, when, etc. and started asking questions. When I told him I was available for the day he mentioned, he started laughing and said, "Actually, I want you to play for my wedding. I'm marrying a lady named Margaret Tatum, and I want you to play lots of romantic songs." :) I told him I'd be happy to do that, and it was a fun and beautiful occasion. He and Margaret enjoyed almost six years together, traveling, spending time with friends and family, and generally enjoying life. I'm so very glad Earl got to have those years.

Earl, now in his 90's, had a bad fall about a month ago resulting in a brain bleed, then he contracted Covid which contributed to complications that he simply couldn't overcome. The news of his death this week wasn't surprising, but it was very sad for all those who loved him.

Erlene told me that he requested that I play for his memorial service, and I am extremely honored to do that. Brother Earl meant the world to me. I KNOW he's enjoying heaven today.

Psalm 166:15 - "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

Ephesians 5:19 - "speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,"

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