Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. Hebrews 13:15
Our beloved Mary McKay has been leading worship at University for the better part of 30 years, and during that time, she has learned much about what it means to worship the living God, both with her voice and with her life. To hear Mary sing, to watch her direct the orchestra and choir, to listen to her in a worship-planning meeting, to do these things is to see Mary at her God-gifted best. Mary has the voice of an angel, and while she doesn’t often sing solo from the chancel, it is her voice that leads us in congregational hymns, her voice that I hear when I close my eyes during the hymn of invitation. But many folk have a beautiful voice. What sets Mary apart is her ability to help others find their voices and lift them in praise to God.
Like with many of us, though, God’s provision was not Mary’s plan—at least in the beginning. When Mary found herself divorced not long after the birth of her older daughter, Christina, her plan to be a stay-at-home-mom became a decision to provide for her daughter by being both a middle school music teacher and a part-time music director, first at Trinity United Methodist Church and then at University. After remarrying and having a second daughter, Catherine, Mary resigned her position at the church due to the intense nighttime commitments that accompanied her new position as a high school music teacher. During this time, she also earned her Master’s Degree while raising her young girls. Even when then-pastor Steve Wende began to plead with Mary to come back and serve as full-time Music Director, Mary declined for three years.
It was with the hope of healing her family as they struggled with her husband’s alcoholism that Mary finally said, ‘yes,’ to Steve and came back on staff. In order to make ends meet, Mary also worked as adjunct faculty in the music department at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). When alcohol became too much of a demon in their home, Mary made the difficult decision to separate from her husband, and it was her church family that supported her through this tough time.
But still, extenuating circumstances dictated she continue to work, and truth be told, she loved it.
When Mary married George, she found in him a devoted husband who helped raise her girls and championed her role at church. But still, extenuating circumstances dictated she continue to work, and truth be told, she loved it. As the church grew, Mary was able to lead her choir members toward greater challenges, both musically and spiritually. She devoured the scripture and ancillary reading that each sermon series was based on so as to have a deeper understanding of the message to be shared each week, her greatest desire to select music that would speak to the congregation in unison with the words spoken from the pulpit.
Mary clung to the people of the church through these transitions and trying times.
Not long after Mary’s mother passed away and Catherine left for her first year of college, George was diagnosed with lung cancer and was gone 12 weeks later. A month after that, Mary learned that she would be a grandmother to Christina’s daughter, Riley. And while there is great rejoicing with new birth, it was one more new role and all of it was happening so fast. Mary clung to the people of the church through these transitions and trying times. And while things were not always easy at church—it is still a job after all, complete with the stress and complications of working with a wide variety of personalities—this was her home.
Looking back, Mary can see that God provided through all of the struggles, and because she always needed to work, she never thought about leaving: “I now understand that God has me in this place. He has anointed me in this place specifically. I’m not sure that would be the case anywhere else.” It is in this place, where our congregants worship best to big orchestral and choral pieces, where she is able to build upon a legacy of music and Word in harmony together, that she can use her gifts of leadership and music to glorify God.
Mary brings these gifts and lays them at the altar of worship each week, and as the congregation and choir lift their voices in one accord, singing words both ancient and true, Mary leads us in the exchange that happens each Sunday. We bring a sacrifice of praise because God is so worthy; we leave knowing that His sacrifice makes us worthy.