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Union Chapel to host Children’s Sunday

Storyteller, songwriter and banjoist Bill Gordh returns to Union Chapel in the Grove on Sunday, June 27, at 10:30 a.m. for the Children’s Service. His theme is “Taking Care,” and will be outdoors in the shady grove. The program is a perennial favorite, especially for the young children who participate by reading.

“The marvelous thing is the opportunity to design the whole service,” he said. “Songs are chosen to support the theme and it offers me the challenge and opportunity to create a new song that will bring the program together. Finding the theme and making lists of possible folktales and Bible stories, reading books of proverbs to find the ones that speak most eloquently, and then considering songs and poems [to add]…the right ones seem to rise to the surface. It’s a joy.”

The journey begins with a passage from Genesis, in which God calls us to take care of the world. Bill selects short proverbs that speak to the theme of taking care. This year’s proverbs are Swedish, Cheyenne, East African, Indian, Ecuadorean, and Mexican, all accompanied by his banjo.

The children will also hold candles and sing the African-American traditional song, “This Little Light of Mine,” as they sit with their families, scattered throughout the Grove, like stars lighting the sky.

The program encourages taking care: of the environment, of each other, and most importantly, of ourselves. The song he wrote for this service says it best:

“So nice you’re thinking of others

Treating everyone like sisters and brothers

Making sure we’re feeling good as good can be

But sometimes I think you forget to see

You gotta take care of yourself

Before you take care of everyone else.”

Performing at Union Chapel is especially meaningful for Bill, in a bittersweet way. His wife, Jennifer Lewis, a ceramics artist, who died in September 2018, loved accompanying him to Shelter Island, especially for Children’s Sunday at the Chapel. “It was one of Jenny’s favorite events, so continuing the service is special in yet another way.”

Bill holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Duke University and an MFA in Theater Directing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He is the Director of Expressive Arts and Director of Chapel at the Episcopal School, NYC. He is the author of “Building a Children’s Chapel: One Story at a Time” (2007) and the follow-up volume, “Making Room for Everyone: More Stories for Building a Children’s Chapel” (2020). The new book includes a chapter called “The Shelter Island Songs: Outlines for Family Services” that features the songs Bill composed for Union Chapel.

His stories and banjo playing are on audible.com, and his YouTube channel is home for over 200 stories. He was also the featured storyteller at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

At his debut for the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert in Avery Hall in 2005, Bill remembered, “Before the program started, I placed my banjo on its stand on the stage. Knowing that the strings would sound in response to the orchestra’s playing, I put one of my daughter’s baby socks around the strings. The hall was full and I was quite nervous when I walked onstage after the orchestra was seated. I sat through the overture. When it was completed, I stood, picked up my banjo and moved downstage towards the audience. I started to play.”

But his banjo just thumped. “I looked down and saw that I had forgotten to remove the sock. I considered running away. Luckily I didn’t. I just laughed and threw the sock over my shoulder. The banjo sounded fine and the story began. Some kids said later that was one of their favorite parts.”

Please join us, with or without children, for “Taking Care,” Children’s Sunday with Bill Gordh. Bring a blanket or chair. In case of inclement weather, the service will move indoors.

And don’t forget, take care of yourself.