Get to know Thomas Alexander, the new organist at St. Francis, Rutherfordton
By Virginia Taylor, Officer of Communications
If you had told a young Thomas Alexander he'd one day be an organist, he probably wouldn't have believed you.
"Growing up, we went to the early church service at my parish. It was essentially a Bob Dylan praise band--there was no organ! They would take these traditional hymns and service music and turn it into this southern, folk-esque style service. I'm not sure I would have had patience for organ music back then, and definitely not choral music!"
Growing up at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, for Alexander, being an Episcopalian was part of day-to-day life. Raised in an Episcopalian family attending St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Alexander always felt a connection to the church, seeking out as many ways as possible to get involved.
"I grew up in a very into-being-Episcopalian kind of household, it was almost a culture," Alexander said. "So I grew up in the Episcopal Church in Little Rock. We had an amazing priest, her name was Peggy Bosmeyer, and she was an incredibly informative and impactful person. So with all of these important leaders in my life, it was an amazing upbringing."
Peggy Bosmeyer is a notable name in the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Dr. Peggy S. Bosmeyer was the first woman in Arkansas to be ordained to full priesthood in the Episcopal Church, as well as the very first woman ordained south of the Mason-Dixon line. Bosmeyer's historic ordination paved the way for many other women of faith to pursue their call. For Alexander, Peggy was an influential figure in his life, her faith solidifying his own and her acceptance giving him permission to explore his own growing role in the church. Drawn to liturgy from a young age, Alexander always found himself seeking new ways to serve and be a part of community, with the ultimate goal of becoming a priest himself one day.
"My family and church community were always really fostering of my draw to liturgy," Alexander said. "So acolyting was a way to get more involved, getting closer to all the things that were drawing me in to begin with. Organ was the same way. In high school, my piano teacher was a methodist organist, so it was kind of a natural switch to go to organ. However, it was never as much the musical ambition as it was a way to get more involved with what was happening at church, drawing closer and closer to the alter."
Leaving for college at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Alexander became involved in a new parish, Christ Church in Little Rock. Before long, he had become involved in the community, and was approached about playing the organ.
"The organist there told me, 'You really have to sing in the choir, you can't play unless you sing, it's part of the deal!'" Alexander said. "So I did, and that just opened up a series of relationships with that church. In fact, there was a point in college where I thought potentially this organ thing has been what this calling has been all along, there's a lot of pastoring in choir. So one summer at Christ Church I did an internship with them. It was a mixture of directing choir and playing half of the service with the organist there, it was an amazing opportunity. My supervisor and the choir, they loved young people and encouraged their talents. So there was something in that that really started to confirm my call."
For Alexander, music was always about more than just making a beautiful sound, but pastoring relationships as well. Both in his professional career as an organist and choir director and his personal relationships at home and school, Alexander found himself constantly drawn to fostering relationships with others. As a sophomore in college, Alexander helped begin a weekly Sunday compline. Every Sunday at 9PM, a group would gather in the Hendrix College chapel to participate.
"The compline we did was very traditional, almost monk-like choral anthems," Alexander said. "The group that participated wasn't even all Christians. I was the only Episcopalian, but there were Methodists, Evangelicals, Agnostics. For me, not only was it a personal prayer, but kind of engaging the word of the people, specifically around liturgy. That has always been my biggest draw in living out faith."
After moving to Greenville, South Carolina to be closer to his fiancé, Alexander knew he wanted to continue seeking relationships through music and ministry. When he first visited St. Francis in Rutherfordton, he felt at home right away.
"In talking with them it just felt perfect," Alexander said. "Music is a big goal of theirs, wanting to clarify their identity when it comes to music. So in working with Bruce Walker, their interim, who has his own list of projects when it comes to clarifying identity it's just really exciting to take on that project and work on music and liturgy alongside them."
Going forward, Alexander is in the process of discernment, pursing priesthood as a way to continue fostering relationships and forming connections. Music, for him, is at the core of it all. At twenty-four, he credits the support of the loved ones he has found in the church for trusting in him and creating space for growth regardless of age.
"I think there's something abut figuring out what individuals need at different points in their lives, each person's unique circumstances," Alexander said. "The church never in any way prevented me from doing what I was called to. So for me, doing the organ, going to staff meetings, all of this stuff that maybe didn't fit inside this age bracket, it was perfect for me. The church always encouraged that, and that is how I think we can connect people."