Mark Bowdidge, DMA

Mark A. Bowdidge is a native Missourian. Born to Christian parents and an extended Christian family, he first encountered the worship of God in the Calvary Baptist Church of Kansas City, Missouri.  Under the leadership of pastor Dr. Norman O. Shands, Minister of Music Edger L. Nolte, and organist Mrs. Frederick “Mimi” Shaw, he experienced a rich and varied tapestry of music and acts of worship that set his understanding and expectations of effective, faithful worship.  He began singing in children’s choirs here at the age of 3–the first and only year of the “Chirper Choir.”

He attended public schools in Springfield, Missouri and was engaged in all aspects of the music education curriculum.  He and his family were active members and participants in the varied ministries of the First Baptist Church of Springfield.  Under the leadership of pastor Dr. T. T. Crabtree, Minister of Music Gerald Jones, and organist Rosanne Bass and numerous volunteers his spiritual formation continued. In May of 1975 during an evening worship service at First Baptist led by a ministry team from the Baptist Student Union from Missouri State University, the Sprit of God moved in his life and after the service, with his family gather in the pastor’s study, he kneeled in prayer, head on his father’s knee, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  During his years at First Baptist his understanding of worship expanded.  The music ministry was diverse.  A fully-graded choir program gave him singing experience from kindergarten through high school. The Chancel Choir sang a repertoire that spanned the musical breadth from then contemporary evangelical composer John W. Peterson (conducting his cantata King of Kings in person) to multiple performances George Frederick Handel’s oratorio Messiah.  The music ministry also twice presented Theodor Dubois’ cantata The Seven Last Words of Christ as an opera.  The understanding of worship heritage and relevance expanded during these years.

Upon graduation from high school he returned to Kansas City, Missouri first as a student at the University of Missouri – Kansas City.  While studying there he returned to Calvary Baptist Church and was heavily involved in all aspects of the ministry of that church.  Under the leadership of pastor H. Fred Fishel and minister of Music Bill J. Littleton he began to see the shift in the culture of worship in the church at large.  Guided by the worship leaders at that time, the church continued to embrace the rich heritage inherited from those gone before and begin to carefully explorer new ways of engaging the faithful in worship and ministry.  He was greatly involved in the church’s annual dramatic Christmas pageant, Festival of Light, held first in the 100 year-old sanctuary of the church and quickly moved to the Music Hall in the Municipal Auditorium complex in downtown Kansas City.  During this time he began to feel that the career trajectory he had set for himself wasn’t the direction God had planned for him.

He enrolled as a music major at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.  Here he began to develop the wisdom and knowledge that supported his experience and understanding of music.  He accepted a position as organist and choir director at Roanoke Baptist Church in Kansas City and held that position through his years at William Jewell.  His first encounter with a wide variety of worship came through his time singing in the William Jewell Chapel Choir, directed by Dr. Donald Brown and the William Jewell Concert Choir, directed by Dr. Arnold Epley.  As these choirs toured and sang in churches large and small, in a variety of denominations, the understanding of how others experienced and expressed worship expanded.  On an international tour to England, the Concert Choir sang a mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi at St. Mary’s Church, Paddington in London.  This Anglo-Catholic parish of the Church of England introduced him to the wider heritage of liturgical worship.  The music, the acts of worship, the sensory engagement, and the awe of the place and moment expanded the understanding of worship and the greatness of God.  Before completing his studies at William Jewell College he was encouraged by Dr. Don Brown to consider graduate work in music.  And upon Dr. Brown’s recommendation he applied for and was accepted as a Master of Music candidate at the School of Church Music of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

For a semester between completing his studies at William Jewell and beginning his studies at Southwestern he served as church music intern at the Columbia Baptist Church of Falls Church, Virginia.  Under the leadership of pastor Neal T. Jones, minister of music William H. Orton, and organist Elaine Payne, he experienced an even more vibrant and diverse congregation and ministry of music.  During this brief period, he performed in a dramatized version of David Danner’s cantata Our Joy Comes In the Morning with the Single Adult Choir of the church while at the same time leading the Chancel Choir in rehearsal and worship and for a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation.  This thriving congregation and music ministry continued to help him understand what was possible and practical in worship.

Beginning his studies at Southwestern he accepted a position as a music associate of the Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.  The music associate positions, a generous ministry to seminary music students, provided both employment for students and gave the congregation degreed musicians to lead in various capacities in the fully graded vocal and instrumental ensembles.  Under the direction of minister of music Thomas M. Stoker and organist Dr. Albert L. Travis he began to fill out the understanding of the breadth of tradition and its ability to move the hearts and minds of the worshiper.  The church was blessed with a beautiful facility, a generous benefactor who underwrote dynamic musical opportunities, and a congregation who knew quality, taught worship beginning in the elementary grades, and came each week expecting to meet God in worship.  The church benefited from its close relationship with the Seminary, with a large percentage of the faculty and administrators among its members, who helped shape and guide the church in matters both theological and musical.  Here he learned how all music could speak truth to the present day and could be used to offer praise and adoration to the risen Christ. Having completed both the Master of Music and the Doctor of Musical Arts in Church Music with a concentration in choral conducting, he left Fort Worth prepared to teach, but more importantly, prepared to plan and to lead worship.

In preparation of the goal to teach in the field of music education, he taught high school vocal music in a suburb of Dallas, Texas for three years. While there, he was a paid section leader in the Chancel and Parish choirs of the Church of the Incarnation–a vibrant, faithful, growing Episcopal church.  The regular discipline of worshiping through the historic liturgy of the church gave him a thorough understanding of that tradition.  It was an “ah ha” moment.   He finally understood the appeal of liturgy and its rhythm that kept the worshiper focused on God.

Accepting a position at a college in Georgia he became immediately involved in a new church plant.  This congregation, The Oaks: A Traditional Baptist Church, began specifically to offer its community an alternative to the then dominant secular-driven worship styles of the other evangelical churches in the area.  Upon completing the first unit of their building the first major purchase of the congregation was an organ.  Mark served this congregation for 7 years as organist.  It was a unique congregation for in spite of its average size he was one of four worship leaders who earned graduate degrees in church music from seminaries.  The chairmanship of the worship committee rotated between these four who each led with a common goal of transformative traditional worship but each with their own flavor.  Starting a new church gave the worship committee the freedom to develop a worship order that was not tethered to any ineffective habits but was free to pull from the biblical models and the heritage of the wider church all within a Baptist identity.  Creativity within structure was the norm and this gave him further opportunity to hone his craft of worship leadership.

Moving on to serve in an interim capacity at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, he was able to expand his work in size and scope.  A college of the Lutheran Church, Bethany had an over 100 year tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah every Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, as well as the St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach every Good Friday evening.  The “Messiah Choir” of Bethany College numbered well over 200 voices accompanied by a 60 piece orchestra.  The town of Lindsborg was a small community having a population around 3,000.  The members of the Messiah Choir were area farmers, workers, “city folk” and students.  Generations of families sang in the chorus together.  These volunteers knew this music and they sang it annually as an act of piety, vibrantly singing their faith.  During this season he attended Bethany Lutheran Church for worship, learning its liturgy, and sang in their Men’s choir.

Upon completing his interim assignment at Bethany College he returned to his family home in Springfield, Missouri to become the full-time caregiver for his father.  He joined the congregation of University Heights Baptist Church where his father was a member.  He became actively involved in the music ministry of the church in a variety of capacities.  Eventually the congregation of Central Christian Church called him to serve as their Director of Music with primary responsibilities for the Chancel Choir and worship leadership.  In this capacity he began expanding the music ministry starting with a handbell choir, instrumental ensembles, and a children’s choir, encouraging and participating in a full renovation of the sanctuary and organ, developing a concert series, but most importantly, helping guide the worship committee in refining and strengthening the congregation’s understanding of and experience with biblical worship.  It was during this season that he began to see a new ministry to which God had prepared him and was calling him to lead.  A ministry to help churches find their “sacred song” and offer their praise and adoration to God using faithful, rich, transformative traditional worship.  He continues serving Central Christian as well as serving as an adjunct faculty member of Evangel University.

I could no longer think “someone ought to be doing something about this.”  I had to respond to the call God was placing on my life, to use my experience and education to help others find the fullness of God in worship.  And Sacred Song was born.