A musical celebration takes place at Newport Harbor Lutheran Church & School (NHLCS) at 9:15 a.m. every Sunday thanks to the Rev. William Wells. He marked his 25th anniversary as its minister of music and organist during a ceremony Sunday.
"For me, every Sunday is a celebration," says Wells, whose boyish good looks surprise many who hear he turned 50 this year. "That's the way it's always been here at NHLCS. Since 1945, this congregation has always had a strong, musical choir. The music here is healing, and our members know how it can make a difference in people's lives."
Wells feels his crowning achievement was on Sept. 11, 2011, when an over-capacity crowd of 350 people filled NHLCS' sanctuary to hear 70 singers and a full orchestra play Mozart's "Requiem." Addressing the audience were speakers from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. The "Requiem" text was for all of those who perished in the terrorist attacks on this country on 9/11.
According to Karen Parker, a NHLCS member and former assistant to the bishop of the Pacifica Synod, who has heard hundreds of church choirs, "With its 15 members, the Chancel Choir under Bill's direction is one of the best small congregational choirs I have ever heard."
Celebration through music is meaningful to Well because, among other reasons, it has helped him cope with acute lymphocytic leukemia since his diagnosis at age 8. Thanks to experimental treatment at the time, Wells was one of the first children at Children's Hospital of Orange County to survive blood cancer.
Another accomplishment for Wells this year was his installation as an associate pastor at NHLCS. The Biola University graduate, who majored in music, earned a master of divinity degree from the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont and the Claremont School of Theology.
When he's not playing music, Wells is a chaplain at Orange Coast and Saddleback memorial medical centers.
His supervisor, the Rev. Sheryl Faulk, director of spiritual care, says, "Whenever there's a crisis, Bill's our 'go-to guy.' His experience as a child with cancer has helped him create a sacred space to those reflecting on life-threatening illness."
At age 4, Wells learned to play the piano by ear. His mother, Nancy, remembers him coming home after church and going directly to the family piano to play a simple version of the music he had just heard during service.
Among his many achievements, Wells played one of the world's largest organs at the Crystal Cathedral for more than 200 of its "The Glory of Christmas" shows, and a few hundred weddings, while serving as a staff member, recitalist and guest organist.
A member of the American Guild of Organists, Wells has also performed with the Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale and the William Hall Master Chorale, as well as in the recital series at the Washington National Cathedral and as service organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. In addition, he has served for 13 years as adjunct professor of music at Chapman University.
During the past quarter of a century at NHLCS, all of those who have been fortunate enough to know Wells, and hear his music, revere the talents of this remarkable man. When he's leading the Chancel Choir, playing the organ or grand piano, he fills hearts with music — a feast for the soul, reminding members that every Sunday is cause for celebration.
Newport Harbor Lutheran Church & School, organized in 1945, is located at 798 Dover Drive in Newport Beach. The office phone number is (949) 548-3631 and the website is http://www.nhlcs.org.
TERESA MINKE is a member of Newport Harbor Lutheran Church & School.