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Simpsonwood United Methodist Defines ‘Joyful Noise’ Through Many Genres

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David Francis, Simpsonwood UMC
David Francis, Simpsonwood UMC (Photography by Tracey Rice)

The church’s new director of music blends gospel, classical, jazz, show tunes and even “Baby Shark” into its worship experience

 A combination of passion, serendipity and an appreciation for the power of music to uplift the spirit brought David Francis to Simpsonwood United Methodist Church (UMC). The church had been without a Director of Music since the pandemic’s early days. Francis assumed the role in November 2021 with a key goal of revitalizing the choir.

With a star-struck, half-century career encompassing producing, composing, recording and performing, along with his vast network of musical contacts (he is artistic producer of the Roswell Music Club and Alpharetta Music Club), he is steadily uplifting the entire music program at Simpsonwood and aiming toward a whole new realm of artistry.

Interestingly, Francis’ career has come full circle. He last brought music to a church while in his twenties. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, he accompanied services for a very conservative, working-class Baptist church, but he wasn’t positively accepted as an openly gay person. His experience at Simpsonwood is totally different.

“Our young co-pastors, husband and wife Rev. David and Rev. Susan Allen Grady, are kind, thoughtful and very progressive and open-minded people. I have great respect and admiration for them. This church also has a strong history of being mission-based and supporting worthy causes, and I like it when good intentions become good works,” Francis said.

Choir Members (Photography by Tracey Rice)

Opening the boundaries of music

Good works — in terms of music — are now materializing at Simpsonwood in abundance. Francis intends to broaden musical boundaries by exposing congregants to selections that come from religious, classical, theatrical, gospel and other genres. And he encourages participation by both amateur and professional musicians of all ages from the broader community.

At the Easter morning service, worshipers will be treated to eight string players, an oboist and percussionists — two from the Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners — accompanying the choir performing “Gabriel’s Oboe” and “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” from the film “The Mission,” as well as “And The Glory of the Lord” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Plans are in the works for a late summer theatrical production of “Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saens. It will feature instrumentalists and actors from the church, the Atlanta Youth Symphony and the community. Kids will enjoy renditions of songs from Disney film favorites to the ever-popular “Baby Shark.”

Simpsonwood UMC is already gaining ground as a center for musical performance. On March 5, Simpsonwood hosted a piano competition for approximately 250 piano students. Taking advantage of its fine audio system and three quality grand pianos, the church hosted a two piano/four hand piano recital and will soon host a recital of young clarinet students.

Bird’s eye view of Francis playing the piano in the sanctuary, photographed using a drone.

Bringing joy through music

The excitement and energy that Francis is infusing into SImpsonwood’s music program says as much about his musical prowess as it does about his effervescent personality. And it is not going unnoticed.

Lindsey and John Evans are two of the choir’s newest members. They both sang in their high school choruses but had no interest in participating in the choir, although they joined Simpsonwood in 2011. Lindsey’s musical affinity (she dreamed of being a star on Broadway) resonated with Francis’ own musical fervor.

“I’ve listened to a couple of his CDs, and it blows my mind that I even know this person. Yet, his strong purpose in building the choir here is not to have some sort of accolade; he just wants to bring joy to people through music,” said Lindsey.

“And there is no condemnation if you don’t hit the right note. It’s all very positive,” she continued. “It goes back to his whole basis for doing what he does, to bring joy and to have fun. Even if you only sang a little 30 years ago, you are welcome to give the choir a shot.”

Lindsey Evans appreciates the positive impact of Simpsonwood’s musical focus. “The congregation is becoming more invested in the music program, even if they don’t sing,” she said. “People are staying after the service to hear David play before they leave. They just stand around in the sanctuary listening. It’s mesmerizing to watch him play. He plays the piano like no one I’ve ever seen. It’s intense. You just see and feel all of his emotions when he plays.”

Drawing in the community

Prior to the start of Sunday worship, Francis has instituted something he refers to as euphonious (pleasing to the ear) contemplation. It involves 15 minutes of music that differs week to week and is designed to appeal to a variety of tastes. Invited to perform so far have been several piano students, a flute player and an opera singer.

“It’s easy to get caught up into just the people who are already here, the church’s mission projects, and forget about the community,” Lindsey said. “David wants to draw people in from the community and let them experience Simpsonwood in some way, even if they don’t join the church.”

Simpsonwood offers two distinctly different Sunday worship services. The main sanctuary features the talented choir focusing on more traditional hymns, while in the gym, a modern service takes a contemporary approach supported by a five-piece band.

Simpsonwood’s co-pastors, the Gradys, are thrilled to have Francis as a “teammate.”

“The number of people participating in our sanctuary service is more than double what it was prior to Francis’ arrival. He has brought such energy and joy and enthusiasm to our worshipers,” said the Rev. Dave Grady. “He’s taking his long experience and has begun to weave in everything from 20th-century music to classical music, and a little bit of Broadway.

“In my 20 years of ministry I’ve never had a choir director who will help out someone who wants to sing a song by writing a new arrangement to accentuate their individual voice,” Rev. Dave Grady added. “Anyone who wants to offer musical gifts can bring something to the table for the glory of God.”

Plans include initiating a youth choir and expanding the adult choir to 50 participants.

“It’s always good to find opportunities for people working in artistic endeavors. And churches can pick up the slack when schools reduce music and arts programs,” said Francis.

Offering a welcoming space

He aims to connect with music directors in local schools to see if they have ensembles that would like to perform in a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment, potentially transforming Simpsonwood into a safe and welcoming space for young people to nurture their skill and appreciation for music.

Relevance is another focus of Simpsonwood’s musical program. A recent Sunday service featured a piece for two pianos/four hands with Maurice Ravel’s “The Fairy Garden,” dedicated to the people and children of Ukraine.

“It’s very calming and impressionistic and ends with a glissando (sliding up and down on all the notes on the keyboard), which is so celebratory,” Francis said. “It’s like walking the path of the Ukrainians with the hope that they will reach that glissando without more pain and loss.”

Choir member Lori Perozzi has been in and out of the choir for the past 30 years. She grew up in a gospel singing family and has sung professionally. Locals may know her from gigs with the Mark Tucker Trio, a jazz ensemble at 45 South Café in Norcross. Tucker also plays in the contemporary service’s band.

“David has brought an excitement and music to our church that I haven’t experienced since I joined in 1988. He’s not afraid of doing anything music-wise and he is a blast to work with and so much fun,” Perozzi said. “He’s a very inspiring person both musically and personally. Plus, he’s a good recruiter.”

As in many churches, the high-quality music program at Simpsonwood is essential in binding worshipers together.

“Whether you can sing or not, when you have the congregation stand up and sing together there is unity. And for me, it’s a personal thing because my faith is expressed through music,” said Perozzi.

Francis concurs. “To me, music is the foundation of any religious service and always has been,” he said. “I feel it must be diverse, and come from different genres, and must be performed to the best of anyone’s ability. And it’s always better when it’s also entertaining.”


Sunday services info

Table Service at 8:45 a.m. in the Sanctuary is a short service with full communion.
Traditional Worship is at 10:55 a.m. in the Sanctuary.

Contemporary Worship with Kids Church is at 11:10 a.m. in the Family Life Center gym.
The church also streams its Sunday worship service at 11:10 a.m. on the SUMC YouTube channel: simpsonwoodumc.org/sunday-worship-livestream
Simpsonwood United Methodist Church is at 4500 Jones Bridge Circle in Peachtree Corners.

Ellen Berman is a professional content writer and long-time, broadly published journalist. She is an Atlanta, Georgia native currently living in Peachtree Corners and enjoying freelance writing from home.

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Faith

Christ the King Craft Fair Returns for Its 35th Year

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Images from previous years courtesy of Christ the King Lutheran Church. Some of the photos are by Stephanie Walters Logue.

Christ the King Lutheran Craft Fair is a nonprofit fundraising craft fair that takes place annually in Peachtree Corners and is sponsored by Christ the King Church Women’s League. It sells a host of handmade crafts and baked goods.

This year, the fair will be celebrating 35 years of crafting for the community on Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Nov. 6 from 9 p.m. to 1 p.m. at Christ the King Lutheran Church.

Christ the King Lutheran Craft Fair grows every year but remains a constant, fun opportunity to support local, charitable, faith-based causes including Norcross Co-op (which provides emergency assistance to families in Southwest Gwinnett), The Next Stop (creating community for adults with developmental disabilities), Interfaith Outreach Home (working to connect houseless families with housing resources) and Inspiritus (helping people from various disruptive life paths move towards healing and security).

Crafting for others

The fair is possible due to the dedication of the Crafty Ladies, made up of mostly Christ the King Lutheran Church members who gather twice a week to brainstorm and craft together throughout the year in preparation for the annual craft fair.

Group members are not required to be churchgoers or to craft exclusively with the Crafty Ladies; they must only be willing to donate their skills and time to the fair.

The fair is also supported by another craft group that meets bimonthly at the Christ the King Lutheran Church called Knitting for the Needs of Others, known as KNOTS. KNOTS members knit and teach knitting, but crocheting is also welcome.

They primarily knot for the Norcross Co-op and make baby blankets for children baptized at Christ the King Lutheran Church. They also make hats, scarves and gloves for the Christ the King Craft Fair and donate anything that doesn’t sell.

Shop for yourself or for holiday gifts

The products available at the fair are as plentiful and diverse as the organizations that your purchases support. Dozens of vendors will be selling home and kitchen goods and decor as well as clothing for children and adults, beauty products, jewelry, accessories and plushies.

Many of the vendors’ wares will be Christmas and fall-themed, with wreaths, ornaments and table and mantle decorations lining the booth tables.

You can also expect to smell — and taste! — deliciousness in the form of brownies, cookies and pies at the Bake Sale. There will be food and drink available in addition to pastries, so you can lunch while you shop.

Though there won’t be a silent auction or online component to this year’s fair, attendees can enjoy a used book sale, free kids crafts and a quilt raffle.

Crafty Lady Lisa Bergstresser started contributing to the craft fair when she moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago, and she spoke to its value to herself and the community.

“It is for the community and for charity,” Bergstresser said. “It creates growth within our church and community as we get to know each other and satisfaction knowing we are helping organizations who help those in need.”

Plan to get started on your Christmas shopping at Christ the King Craft Fair. While you shop for your loved ones, you’ll be helping critical community organizations that experience heavier pressure during the holiday seasons.

For further details, contact fair chairman Marlaine Hysell at 678-852-8679 or follow the event’s Facebook page.

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Entertainment

A Musical Delight! Carnival of the Animals at Simpsonwood United Methodist

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Saturday, August 27. 7-8:30 p.m.

Family Life Center, Simpsonwood UMC

4500 Jones Bridge Circle, Peachtree Corners 30092

Reservations and info, eventcreate.com/e/carnivaloftheanimals

Donate at carnivaloftheanimalsdonate.com.

Admission is free; donations are welcome.

This family-friendly concert is divided into musical sections, each representing an animal or group of animals. The narration is based on poems by Ogden Nash. The orchestra is made up of extraordinarily gifted young instrumentalists and, in Act II, songs from various Broadway and film productions will be performed by talented vocalists. Reservations are required.  

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Faith

Blended and Blessed, at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church

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Photo from pcbchurch.org

Wednesdays, August 10 through October 5. 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Peachtree Corners Baptist Church

4480 Peachtree Corners Circle, Classroom D-302, Peachtree Corners 30092 

770-448-1313, pcbchurch.org/events/blended

Admission is free. Registration is requested.

This group is for anyone leading a blended family. Using a curriculum created by stepfamily expert Ron L. Deal, participants will learn to apply the seven fundamental steps to blended family success and share practical, realistic solutions to the issues you face as a blended or stepfamily.

Join at any time. Each meeting covers a specific topic and is self-contained. Childcare is provided. Email the Children’s Minister, Susan Rutledge, at susan.rutledge@pcbchurch.org to register for childcare.

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