For many years, there had been discussion about OSLC adding an alternative, more contemporary style of worship service. The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of OSLC, and, during that year, this was brought up at a Council meeting. The feeling was that it might help our church to grow. Maggie Flint was Council secretary and a member of the Music & Worship Committee at the time. She was asked to head up the Progressive Worship Task Force (PWTF), a committee formed to explore alternative worship. Zoe Lynda Pine was church president at this time, and she supported the idea.
In June, Maggie and Jim Flint heard a band called GraceFlock at the 2007 Synod Assembly. GraceFlock was then playing each week at a contemporary worship service in a Lutheran church just south of Atlanta. Pastor Nipper was also there, and they decided to contact GraceFlock.
The PWTF met a few times during the summer of 2007. Then, in September 2007, Associate Pastor Joseph Bolick began his ministry at OSLC, and assumed the leadership of the task force. At one meeting, it was suggested by Shirley Boyle that the name for this new service be “Heartsong.”
In early December, GraceFlock came to OSLC and conducted a worship service on a Saturday. This band was well received, and many questions were asked of them about their service and music.
At a congregational meeting on Sunday, February 24, 2008, John Paul Neas made a motion for OSLC to offer a third worship service (the “Early” service and the “Traditional” service being the other two), beginning in June or July. It passed, unanimously.
A get-together was arranged at the church for all people interested in being part of the band which would play for the new service. John Paul was to help with the leadership of this band, along with Pastor Joseph. Members of this first band included: keyboard: Patti Hembre; guitarists/drummers: Terry Ottinger, David Nipper, Cole Akin, Michael Hembre, John Paul Neas; singers: Shirley Boyle, Chris Epperson, Chloie Ottinger, Jacob Ottinger, and Jim Flint.
John Paul Neas donated most of the equipment used by the band, including the power system, sound system, microphones, monitors, drums, and several other instruments.
The planning for the first service was done by Pastor Joseph, with help from Debbie Moody and Faith Akin. These three developed the PowerPoint format and presentation, which included Bible readings and related art work. These two women also designed and sewed a beautiful banner with a cross that hung behind the altar. For the first services, a rugged cross was brought in from the outdoors, and, later, the banner was made and hung. A folding table was used for the altar with a white cloth over the top. A wooden altar was built later by Bill Pine, and a wooden baptismal font was made by Zoe Lynda Pine.
Pastor Joseph and Bob Hembre worked together to design a Heartsong t-shirt. Many shirts were made and sold to show support, and also to raise the money needed for licenses and printing costs. Zoe Lynda designed a banner to publicize the service, and also a bulletin cover which was used at the first services.
Many people were involved in the numerous preparations needed to create this new worship experience. All showed the desire for this new type of service to be offered at OSLC. Gary Shealy guided the set-up of the computer and a large screen to show the PowerPoint content.
On June 22, 2008, Heartsong held its first worship service, in the Fellowship Hall. The band played, and there were 75 in attendance. The worship songs for the service were: “Here I Am to Worship;” “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant;” “Amazing Grace;” “O Lord Hear My Prayer;” and “Shout to the Lord.”
Heartsong had begun. And in subsequent years, the service grew- in the enthusiasm and commitment of those who assisted in the worship, and those who attended.
Pastor Bolick continued to work with John Paul Neas in the leadership of the band. But, in February 2011, he accepted a call to another congregation. Patti Hembre volunteered to become the band leader at that point, in addition to continuing her roles as keyboardist and vocalist. Under her leadership over the following four years, the band grew in its musical ability, versatility, and cohesion.
In mid-2015, Patti asked to be relieved of the band leader portion of her duties. A search committee was formed under the leadership of Associate Pastor Ed Myers, in order to find a new leader. After an extensive search, the group offered the position to Tony Mowell, and he accepted it. The search committee had found Tony to possess exceptional vocal and instrumental skills, and subsequent months showed that he had similarly impressive skills as a band leader and songwriter. He’d previously toured with bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley. Tony joined OSLC as Heartsong Worship Leader in October 2015.
Pastor Myers suggested that Tony and the band consider migrating the style of Heartsong’s music toward Americana, and they agreed. The Americana style is defined as roots-based, often with an emphasis on acoustic instruments, and with stylistic elements taken from folk, early country, bluegrass, gospel, and other genres. Pivotal events in its origins occurred near-by, in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Americana has proven to be an effective musical style in Heartsong, both for modern worship songs and for older hymns. It’s intended to appeal to worshippers of all ages, who seek a more exuberant worship experience, yet have no interest in the concert atmosphere of certain contemporary services. Online searches verify the uniqueness of this concept: Only a handful of churches nationwide are using it. The subsequent growth in Heartsong attendance has been encouraging.
There has come to be a genuine fervor within Heartsong to serve God on behalf of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, through outreach into the community. In May 2018, for example, the band worked with the OSLC Outreach Ministry, to provide music at a “Loaves and Fishes” meal for 125 people of the downtown Johnson City area. More such occasions are anticipated.