Accessibility and sophistication, memorability and creativity – these ideals are rarely balanced by composers and arrangers of music, but thirty-nine years ago the Lord gifted Grace Church with a rare musician who accomplishes all these and more, in our beloved pianist, Mark Rice. Today, on the eve of his retirement and return to his home state, we celebrate the blessing that Mark Rice and his family have been to Grace Church for nearly four decades.
The story begins in Eugene, Oregon when Mark Rice was a high school student and Clayton Erb had just arrived in town as Dr. Jack MacArthur's minister of music at First Baptist Church of Eugene. Mark's parents heard of Clayton's renown as a pianist and set up lessons for Mark. He began studying with Clayton, along with several other teachers in multiple disciplines. Soon, he was playing electric bass or piano regularly at First Baptist Church. Mark learned about arranging and orchestration from Clayton, and before graduating high school, his work made a public debut in a medley of carols for orchestra, which was performed at First Baptist Church’s noteworthy Christmas Concerts. Life and ministry then took Mark and Clayton in different directions over the next decade, but one thing remained a constant: Mark desired to use his musical giftedness in service to the Lord.
In 1984, Clayton’s fifth year of ministry here at Grace, Mark and Clayton were reunited, as Mark joined Clayton on our music ministry team. Since then, thousands of adaptations, accompaniments, compilations, full orchestrations, and more have flowed from his creative mind. His pen touches every element of a Sunday morning worship service—choral calls to worship, hymns, choruses, medleys, instrumentals, responses, choir anthems, solos, and vocal ensembles. As an incredibly versatile musician, he regularly arranges music for both voice and instrument—from vocal parts to full orchestration, to charts for the rhythm section and even jazz quartet. In countless ways, Mark’s musical genius has left an indelible mark on our worship services.
His impact stretches beyond our Sunday mornings. Mark’s collaborations include world-class arrangements and orchestrations for Jubilant Sykes, some of which have been heard in the concert halls of major symphony orchestras, and voluminous contributions to Hymns of Grace and its ancillary resources. His gift of perfect pitch and his masterful command of harmony, voicing, and counterpoint have been crucial to these tasks. But these qualities would mean little without his remarkable abilities to write with clarity, playability, and memorability alongside sophistication and taste—a truly rare gift. All these, combined with Mark’s faithful artistry at the piano, have made his years of ministry with us a true and God-glorifying treasure.
During the past month, most of the music in our morning services has come from Mark’s pen, been prepared or adapted by him, or is a personal favorite. This morning is no exception—the call to worship and anthem are both collaborations with Clayton Erb, and Philip Webb’s solo is a premiere of a new, original hymn setting accompanied by choir, orchestra, and organ.
Words are inadequate to express what it means for such a faithful and gifted servant to have given a biblically minded voice to our praises for so long. Yet, we offer our genuine words of thanks to Mark Rice and his family.
To Mark and Jennie, Grace Church and all of God's people who hear the music of our church will continue to be the richer because of your artistry, but our ministry family will never be the same without you both here with us. We wish you the Lord's richest blessings as you enter this new season of life.