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Bringing ministry to your home

The COVID-19 pandemic created an abundance of obstacles for many, but Paul and Marguerite Leathers, who had a local ministry of singing at nursing homes, found an impactful way to continue sharing the message of God’s grace remotely.

“We got the idea that we could use the cellphone and record a video of ourselves singing a hymn every day, and then we could send it out in an email,” Marguerite said. “Some of the people that we send to share that with other people, friends and family members, and so we don’t really know how many (hear us) altogether.”

But Marguerite mentioned she has a mailing list of nearly 100 people. Some are family scattered about and some are local people in Southampton County, but their songs reach people across the country.

“We do send to all of the activities directors in the nursing homes, and at times they have been able to share those with the residents, even one-on-one,” Marguerite said. “We had really gotten to know and love a lot of the residents and knew which hymns they liked the best, and so we were able to provide hymns that we knew were special to certain people.” 

The Leathers, who have adopted the nickname Team Leathers, began recording songs on April 26, 2020.

“And we haven’t missed a day since we started,” Marguerite said.

Paul noted they have done some secular folk music but stick primarily to hymns and spiritual songs in their daily emails. Marguerite said they do not know 300-plus songs, so there have been some they have done more than once, but they do have about 175 to 180 songs in their repertoire.

“And we’re steadily trying to learn new ones, and if anyone ever requests a certain hymn or song, we’ll do our best to learn it and sing it for that person,” she said.

The primary accompaniment for each song is the guitar, and the kazoo will occasionally make a cameo for an instrumental.

“My husband and I both sing, and I play the guitar,” Marguerite said. “And we sometimes will put in a little interlude with our kazoos, and people either love it or hate it.”

She said she and Paul always try to sing in harmony.

“We can switch around,” she said. “Sometimes I do the melody, he does harmony, sometimes the other way around — depends on the song and how we think it sounds better.”

Paul said, “Since she plays the guitar, she can pitch it wherever she wants to, so she’ll pitch it a little lower than it’s written, so that she can sing soprano and I sing alto. You have closer harmony if you have the soprano and the alto combination.”

Every day, the Leathers, who are both retired, spend about an hour-and-a-half on their music, generally recording that day’s song and preparing for future songs.

“We get some pretty good feedback from people that seem to enjoy it, and that’s what keeps us doing it,” Marguerite said.

While Team Leathers has not sought any publicity, the people enjoying their music have not been able to keep from spreading the word, including Eunice Vick.

“The Leathers took it upon themselves to minister to others even during the pandemic by sending meaningful videos of themselves singing hymns,” Vick said. “As a receiver of these musical tidbits, it makes a great way to start the day.”

She noted the Leathers also take flowers, particularly daffodils, to people who are shut in.

“I’m sure that means so much to the people who receive them,” Vick said.

Denise Wlodyka knows the Leathers through the tight-knit Southampton community and as a fellow member of the Southampton Agriculture and Forestry Museum, and she said she is the self-appointed president of the Team Leathers fan club.

“I’m their biggest cheerleader, I think,” she said. “I just love getting their songs.”

Wlodyka said she has always worked from home and spends a lot of time on her computer.

“So I’m always in front of my email, and their little email pops up every day, and it always just brightens up my afternoon with some little song, and they do a lot of hymns, and then they throw in some fun stuff, and they’re always coordinating their outfits and having little props,” she said. “My favorite ones are when they add the kazoos in, and they add a little piece at the end of the song with the kazoo. So they always get a comment back from me if the song of the day has a kazoo part.”

Despite the distance between people that COVID-19 has created, Wlodyka said her friendship with the Leathers has really been strengthened, in part, through their songs.

Marguerite said there are some members of their audience that they hear from every day. They have heard that some use the music as part of their daily devotions.

“Our pastor at our church, which is Newsoms United Methodist, has put in a big screen in the sanctuary, and since they’re not able to do any congregational singing and all that, she will play one of our songs,” Marguerite said.

She said she and her husband have not been going to church because they have been trying to be very careful with regard to the pandemic.

“We just stay at home, mostly, but this is something that we feel like is kind of like our ministry that’s something that we can do from home and share with people so we can sort of stay connected on some kind of level with the people that we send our songs to,” Marguerite said.

Among Team Leathers’ fans is the Rev. Darwin Edwards, who is pastor of Grace Memorial United Methodist Church in Sedley.

“The ministry of Team Leathers has been a blessing to their church and many others, plus retirement homes, nursing homes, rehab centers, various senior groups and many of us who happen to know Paul and Marguerite,” he said. “The offering of their time and talent gives glory to God and brightens the spirits of all who are blessed to hear their voices.

“I enjoy their hymns as part of my devotional time each day,” he continued. “Their videos are an example of the creativity many of us have had to imagine and implement during the restrictions of the pandemic. The message of the Gospel in song cannot be allowed to die by reason of the virus. It must continue as an antidote. 

“Paul and Marguerite are feeding the cravings of those of us who want to hear the Word put to music and sung.”