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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, June 5, 2008

Rocking with Jesus: Two Hymnal Tilt to launch open worship

By Tyler Schuling

GALLUPVILLE — There’s something happening here.  But no one seems to know how it happened, how it keeps moving forward, or where it will go. 

Pastor Jim Bowen, who retired as a Methodist pastor about five years ago, now leads the Gallupville United Methodist Church.  He is a proponent of bringing churches into the 21th Century.

“It’s happening, but it’s a very slow change,” Bowen said.

A big part of that change is music. 

On Monday, he sat in the sanctuary of the old Methodist church on Factory Street with the members of Two Hymnal Tilt, a contemporary Christian band that plays at the church each Sunday.  Bowen said he keeps shaking his head and asking, “God, what are you doing?”

For many years, Bowen, who is in his 70s, was a schoolteacher in Altamont and was later a principal in Niskayuna.  When he retired, he said, he got bored and became discouraged with his former church.  He then got a job with the Guilderland schools driving a bus. 

“As I told my wife, ‘I’m sitting here turning into an old man.’  And I didn’t like it,” said Bowen.  

He said of his former church, “People go there because they’ve always gone there, and it’s very comfortable, and the job that God gave me doesn’t allow me to be a part of that discipline.” 

At Guilderland, Bowen met Russ Underwood, who invited him to lead services at the church in Gallupville, which ministers to between 25 and 30 people on Sunday mornings.  Underwood, a diesel truck mechanic who plays drums and percussion in the band, said the church went through a transition with ministers.

Pastor Bowen, Underwood said, had always had a vision of having a musical group play in church.  Underwood said he recruited Dan Wellman, who plays the bass guitar in the band. 

“It’s pretty amazing because there wasn’t really this time where we were hunting for anybody,” said Matt Rowe, who sings, plays guitar, and writes songs.  Underwood knew Wellman and what he played, and Underwood’s daughter, Maggie, played the keyboard. 

Rowe said all of the members of the band just kind of showed up, and said casually, “Let’s just get together and play.” 

They did not create the band; rather, the band found them, he said.

“All of a sudden, it was just there, and we kind of clicked pretty well,” Rowe said. 

Pastor Bowen also recalled the beginnings.

“I got here on one Sunday,” he said.  “Two Sundays later, Matt showed up.” 

Rowe, who works in a print shop in Albany, had moved from Atlanta to New York, where his family lives.

“And I’m saying things to myself, ‘Praise God,’ ‘Oh, Good,’ ‘Oh, God, you’re so good,’” Bowen said.  “Matt came in the next week with his guitar after being invited to [play].  Before long, all this talent that had already been here coalesced into something that has become a very unique sound.”

“God’s blessed this congregation, not by me being here, but because it’s God’s idea.  It’s scaring the dickens out of us all the time,” Bowen said. 

“The worst part about being my age is I won’t be here for the next 20 years.  But something’s going to happen here.  Mark my words.  Something is starting here,” he said. 

Wide Open Worship

Since forming a year-and-a-half ago, Two Hymnal Tilt has played at the Lutheran church in Gallupville and in Rutland, Vt. at a four-day fellowship workshop.  The musicians will soon be playing at the Fonda-Fultonville United Methodist Church and at a Christian motorcycle rally in Cobleskill.

Each Sunday, they perform during the morning worship service.  On June 16, the church will launch Wide Open Worship — a series of upbeat contemporary services led by the band — on Monday nights.

“We’re pretty excited about the whole format because, I guess the phrase ‘wide open’ says a lot,” said Rowe. 

Wide Open Worship got started by asking: What could we do that has really blessed and refreshed people?

“A lot of people are really up to their necks in ministries, volunteering with Sunday school, and stuff like that,” said Rowe.  “Sometimes, Sunday morning can feel like a service that you’re doing.  What’s going to be neat about this is there’s not going to be a whole lot that’s going to be planned.  There won’t be readings, per say.  But what we’re hoping is that people will come with things to share,” he said. 

“If they have a poem or a scripture or something that they want to share, there will be a time for them to do that,” said Rowe.  “Really what we’re trying to do is create an environment where people can come and just spend time with God in their own way.”

Bowen said, “I think that what they’re doing on Monday nights is going to be the way to introduce what’s happening here — what God is doing here to people — and maybe provide the foundation for some kind of thing that God’s got planned where I haven’t even got the slightest idea of what it is yet.”

Two worlds

In churches such as the Gallupville Methodist Church, with rich history and traditions, sometimes it’s very difficult to make any kind of change, said Rowe.

“We’ve been pretty amazed by how everybody in the church, from old to young, has been very, very, very supportive.  That’s really the only thing that’s made this possible,” he said. 

Rowe said he thinks a lot of churches struggle with the difference between the people in the younger generation wanting contemporary music and people who have such a love for the hymns.

“Everyone’s just been very, very open,” said Rowe. 

“We still have an organist and a pianist,” Russ Underwood said.  “The band aspect has really sparked a renewal of people’s spirit in the church.  When we first started bringing the band into the focus of the service, we always played that balance.”

To date, the band has written numerous songs.  While Rowe is the most experienced songwriter, all of the band members have contributed. 

Where do they find inspiration?

“Something that we talk about a lot is the word ‘relationship,’” said Rowe.  “I think Christianity boils down to a relationship with God and a relationship with each other.”

He used to be more academic about his writing, he said, and tried to say something profound.  Now, he said, he just sings and puts songs together. 

And influences?

“It’s very hard to explain that,” said Russ Underwood, “because of the fact that, as Matt says, we all got together and started playing, and it’s all just happened.  It’s been pretty amazing.  It’s a nice variety and we’re enjoying it a lot.”

Maggie Underwood, his daughter, said, “We’re not all into the same styles of music.  Dan and I are into more heavy-metal, hardcore stuff.  Dad listens to the oldies and country.”

“I still listen to my rock,” said Russ Underwood, the eldest member of the band. 

“Yeah, but your ‘rock’ is considered ‘oldies’ now,” said Wellman. 


The Gallupville United Methodist Church is located at 121 Factory St. in Gallupville.  Wide Open Worship will begin on Monday, June 16, at 7 p.m.  For more information, visit the band’s site on MySpace or at www.christianmus.meetup.com/135.

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