NEW PORT RICHEY — Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, the Bible advises.
And the congregation at First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey did just that on May 18 to express their gratitude to Henry Fletcher.
Music director at the church since January 1973, Fletcher decided to step down after 41 years, although he still plans to play with Richey Concert Band and other local groups.
Fletcher even wrote the words and music for a song for the occasion, “Christ is Counting on You.”
The lyrics in part read: “We come to church, we sit in the pew. And then go home when the hour is through. Is that all that the church is about or have we left a few things out? Christ is counting on you! Will you let your talents shine through?”
Discovering his gifts for playing piano and trumpet by ear at a young age, Fletcher himself played one last trumpet solo on the church stage.
Many friends and worshippers at the church sang Fletcher’s praises as well.
Among them was Katie Nelson, a protégé of Fletcher since she was in kindergarten. By the third grade, she heeded his advice to let her light shine by joining an elite singing group.
All grown up, Nelson and husband Ryan brought 8-month-old daughter Ella to the special service for Fletcher. Nelson took to the church stage to sing a special tune for her mentor.
“If I didn’t hold him in enough esteem, I married a trumpet player,” Nelson joked.
Dozens of people also signed a keepsake banner in the lobby to give to Fletcher.
Quite the avid photographer and photo collector, Fletcher narrated a slideshow of photos from the past four decades.
“Oh my goodness,” Fletcher joked looking at his smiling face from a 1973 photo when he was 27. He figured he weighed about 60 pounds less at the time, Fletcher cracked.
Fletcher realized he had served eight different ministers over the years and led more than 12,600 hymns.
He was touched how former members of the church youth choir had traveled hours from the Jacksonville vicinity to attend the celebratory service for their mentor.
“All those people are so dear to me still,” Fletcher remarked as the slides whizzed past. One photo showed legendary Pasco educator Mittye P. Locke playing the piano. Fletcher taught music at Locke Elementary for 28 years, arriving in 1972 when the school was still named Elfers Elementary.
Other shots showed him leading concerts or holiday performances at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey.
Photos showed selfless church volunteers who labored in the background as “angels,” Fletcher observed.
The large Babcock family lined a long staircase in another photo.
Fletcher recalled how prankster friends brought an antique coffin to his 50th birthday.
Fletcher has fond memories of some 42 years leading Richey Concert Band.
He also formed, directed and wrote all the music for a semi-professional Silver Cornet Band that performed all around the Pasco County in the 1980s, according to a church bio. He played lead trumpet in the pit orchestra at the Richey Suncoast Theatre for more than 20 years. He also directed and arranged music for an all-men’s chorus, “The Jubilee Singers” from 1999 to 2010, and the Thursday Musicale from 2002 to 2010. He played for Broadway shows at Performing Arts Center in Tampa and the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, when time permitted.
Fletcher was named Jaycees’ Outstanding Educator of the Year in 1980, and the USF Alumni’s educator of the year in 1982. He was also named Teacher of the Year at Locke Elementary in 1992. He received the key to the city of New Port Richey in 1993 and a Community Service Award by the DAR on March 30, 2014.
After the service, the celebration continued with scored of people in the banquet hall for a brunch for Fletcher.