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Worley celebrates 35 years of using a God-given talent

Rebecca Worley's final Sunday as organist at Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria is this Sunday, May 26. Her former student, Matt Anderson, will join her to perform organ/piano duets. Services are at 8 and 9:15 a.m.

Rebecca Worley's long and fruitful career actually began at age 6, when she begged her parents to let her take piano lessons.

"My parents bought a piano, which was no easy task on a pastor's salary in those days," she recalled.

As the oldest of six children, her persistence paid off for all of her siblings, who also got to take lessons.

By 5th grade, Becky was playing piano at the church and nursing homes in Boston where her father was leading services.

In 7th grade, she found her passion when she began playing the organ. She served as the organist at her family's church during her last two years of high school, an opportunity she says she was given through the generosity of the existing organist.

The organist/choir director suggested they split the duties and the salary - Becky would play the organ and the director would continue to direct the choir.

"It was so selfless of her to do something like," Becky said. "I put that money aside for college."

Following graduation, Becky left Boston to major in music and French at Concordia College in Moorhead. She was familiar with the area, as she had spent her first seven years in neighboring North Dakota and still visited her grandparents there.

During college, she took half a year off to serve as the accompanist for a Youth Encounter trip to Finland.

"That was a fantastic experience," she recalled. "I had the opportunity to play on some splendid organs throughout Finland."

Becky's plan was to be a church organist following her college graduation, and her professor's hope was that she would continue her education at Oklahoma State University to earn her master's degree.

"I got engaged and moved to London instead!" she said with a smile.

Her husband-to-be, Chris Worley, had stayed at Becky's family home in Boston while working in the city at age 20. Becky, age 16 at the time, really didn't get to know him, as she was away at camp during most of his stay.

"My mother kept in touch with him for several years via letters, and when I was in Finland, she encouraged me to visit him. We hit it off and I ended up staying four days!"

The relationship grew, and after her college graduation, they were married and moved to London. There, Becky worked at a bank while taking lessons at the Royal Music Academy.

"That was where I prepared for teaching piano," she explained. "When I went to college, they didn't teach piano pedagogy."

Sharing her love of music by giving lessons has been an important part of her career.

"Music is for absolutely everybody," she said. "It helps in the development of the brain, and plays such an important part in emotions, which are at the core of one's human experience. Life is so enriched by music...for everybody!"

The couple's first three children - Rachel, Dan and Ben - were born in London.

Eventually, the couple made the decision to move their family back to the U.S. and spent a year in Boston. A visit to friends in Alexandria in 1978 set the course for their future.

"We loved the area and decided to stay here," Becky said. "We had already decided on Calvary as our new church home when I was called and asked to consider the job as organist. I took it!"

What she didn't know at the time was how long she would hold that job.

She and Chris initially viewed the move as temporary, thinking they would eventually move back to London where they still owned a home. In 1980, they returned to England with the plan of moving back permanently.

"We were driving through the crowded streets and we said, 'what are we doing here?' So, we came back to Alexandria, bought a house, and stayed," she said. "This was a friendly community and we made a lot of good friends.

The Worleys' fourth child, Beth, was born that year, and they settled in to raise their children in Alexandria and at Calvary.

"The kids were here with me a lot," Becky said. "They'd be lined up in the pew during choir practices, and Beth would sit in her car seat while I practiced."

For 35 years, Becky filled the church with music, playing the organ and piano for worship services, accompanying the various choirs, solo and ensemble musicians and helping to create a sacred worship experience for all who attended.

She admits that retirement comes with mixed emotions.

"It will be hard, but its time," she said. "And it's right. It's exactly right. And I'll be very happy to come to church to hear Amy play." She is referring to Calvary's new organist, Amy Engel, who was actually a student of Becky's for five years.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think she'd be back here playing," Becky said. "That is so exciting to me."

After her retirement, Becky and Chris plan to spend time with their children and their seven grandchildren (two of which are due to arrive later this year.) The families currently live in Minnesota, Iowa and Arkansas.

When looking back at her musical career, Becky said it was the right choice for her.

"I think when God gives us a gift, it's important to use it," she said. "This was sort of an exposed job; it was fun and a challenge. But my primary reason for doing it was always to bring praise to God, and to help other people do that as well.

"You just need to find what feels good, where Christ is at the center, and go with it."

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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