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Accolades given to retiring ‘Minister of Music’

By Staff | May 8, 2014

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary The choir with retiring 'Minister of Music' at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hughesville are (l-r): Ann Bulkley, Nancy Hodge, Barry Hodge, Ann Hess, Jeff Bower, Lois Rider, Mary Megan Wolfe, Diane Bubb and the retiring James R. Ritter. Absent from photo: Katha Elser, Nan Ryder and Rod Miller.

HUGHESVILLE – On Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, James R. Ritter retired as ‘Minister of Music’ after forty plus years with Hughesville’s Trinity Lutheran Church.

In welcoming the congregation, Pastor Cinda Brucker declared it a bitter-sweet day, the sweet being the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and the bitter being Ritter’s retirement.

Of the retiree the pastor said, ” We wish him well and look forward to what the future holds in his personal life and in his continuing participation with Trinity activities.”

One example of the many activities over the years was voiced by Ashley Papson who decalred that in addition to being a member of the Fiester/Elser families, she is also a ‘Child of the Church.’ “My mom says it takes a church to raise a child,” a twist on a familiar expression.

Papson cited Ritter as having a positive influence on her life, recalling how he came to her pre-school Sunday School class carrying posters he’d drawn illustrating songs such as ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Mr. James R. Ritter (seated) with gifts presented during retirement festivities April 27 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hughesville. Holding a photo and certificate of appreciation are the musician's children, Mary Megan Wolfe and the Rev. James Ritter.  

Later at age 12, Ritter taught Papson’s Sunday School class. “He called us ‘The Sixth Grade Girls’ and still does. During high school we thought it was weird, in our twenties it was funny, now that we’re in our thirties, we think it’s sweet,” Papson said. The ‘WE’ includes Amber Babcock Hildebrand, also in attendance.

At the conclusion of each class, Ritter had them repeat the 23rd Psalm. “I wasn’t getting it, all I could think of was a sheep, a creek, and a creepy valley,” Papson said.

A few years later while vacationing in England without family or friends, Papson became lonely. Passing time browsing in a gift shop, she noted a rack filled with wallet-sized cards, one printed with the 23rd Psalm. “As I picked it up and looked, I realized the passage was actually etched on my heart. That’s what good Sunday School teachers do; plant something that may take a while to grow, but once rooted, becomes a part of you forever,” she said.

Among the tangible gifts the retiree received was a Certificate of Appreciation presented by Church Council president Scott Appleman. A large photo of Ritter at the organ was presented by the pastor, as was a framed print of the 23rd Psalm.

A hymnal in large print was gifted by the choir. As parishioners applauded, Ritter gave a sweeping gesture toward them and complimenting the choir, said, “They’ve always made me look good.”

On behalf of the congregation, council president Scott Appleman presents a Certificate of Appreciation to Mr. Ritter as he retires as Minister of Music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hughesville.  

Easter Sunday was one of those occasions when humor broke through Ritter’s usual dignified demeanor. When a reference was made about him, instead of a vocal response, the musician used the keyboard and let his fingers do the talking. The seven note bleep used to announce the beginning of a horse race, Ritter refers to it as ‘The call to order.’

At a celebratory brunch following the April 27 service, music themed decorations included balloons and paper products. The theme was echoed on flower decked tables where cards with printed sayings included, ‘Music is the great uniter. It is an incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything, can have in commom.”

Larry Sheats of Loganton, was an out-of-town attendee. “I just have to come to his last official service,” said Ritter’s fellow member with the Tet-Te-Que Band.

Later when questioning Ritter about his years with the church, he said,” I started filling in for the organist and good friend, Mrs Helen Scoot. The first time I struggled through the Lutheran liturgy, which can be difficult. The next Sunday when I substituted again, Carrie Hess, a longtime member was asked, ‘Who is the young kid playing the organ?’ to which she replied, ‘I don’t know, but he’s a lot better than that kid we had last Sunday.” Apparently, I’d improved much within a week.”

After the new Molar Organ was installed in 1971, his first wedding was for Katha and Rod Elser. Over the years he’d directed serveral vocal groups including The Junior Choir, The God Squad, Sunday School Choir and Senior Choir. There has also been a men’s choir which he dubbed “The Sons of Thunder,” a Biblical name he’d heard for the men’s choir while visiting the Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida. Bringing the name back and using it here, Ritter took the Trinity group on the road to many places using their vocal ministry in places such as the campgrounds at Patterson Grove.

In recalling the choice for his life leading to music, Ritter quoted Yogi Bear who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The retiree also quoted Martin Luther who said, “Next to theology, I give music the highest place of honor.”

Wrapping up his comments, Ritter said of his years at the church, ” The support from the church has been overwhelming. It’s been a joy overall.”