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No choir during COVID-19, no problem


Choir director finds creative outlet as a children’s author

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

Choir director Kathie Mades channeled her creativity in writing and illustrating children’s books during the pandemic. Last year’s Vacation Bible School was based on her book, “Making a Difference: A Starfish Parable.” Kim Makowski

For three decades, Katherine “Kathie” Mades has been “shaping a note” and “blending voices” at First Presbyterian Church of Southampton, New York. The choir director, who grew up as a preacher’s kid and whose roots run deep in the soil — and sand — of Long Island Sound, never gave her penchant for using what she calls “painting terms” while choir directing much thought. That was until COVID-19 brought church music to a halt in March 2020.

Suddenly finding herself without an outlet for her creativity, and seeking a sense of purpose in a time of pandemic uncertainty, Mades kept pondering how she could still contribute to the ministry at First Presbyterian. “I was dismayed not to have the choir,” she admitted.

Dismay gave way to inspiration as she thought about how the arts, such as music and painting, really do intertwine. While she didn’t have a choir to direct in the telling of the Good News, Mades could still shape and blend “voices” by telling the stories of faith through characters she would create in children’s books. This revelation was not earth-shattering to Mades. She had always thought about writing children’s books. Now was her opportunity.

Her first story, “Making a Difference: A Starfish Parable,” is the retelling of an old favorite where Mades brings to life a little girl who was steadfast in her commitment to put starfish that had washed up on shore back into the ocean. When questioned by an old fisherman walking along the beach what good her seemingly insignificant act was doing, the little girl replied, pointing to the starfish she held, “It’s making a difference to this one.” Mades then ended her story with, “If you don’t think one person can make a difference, let us remember Jesus. His teachings and acts of caring have made an impact on millions of lives.”

Mades, who says she writes stories to teach children empathy and compassion, was touched when First Presbyterian of Southampton’s pastor, the Rev. Sarah Bigwood, saw the outreach potential with the choir-director-turned-children’s-author’s stories. “Making a Difference: A Starfish Parable” became the focus of the church’s Vacation Bible School last summer. Bigwood also invited Mades to do an audio narration of the tale. The pastor, in what Mades describes as “her magical way,” then put a presentation of Mades’ words and drawings together and posted it on YouTube. “Sarah has been so instrumental in leading our congregation in new ways of ministry online,” said Mades.

The online stories became popular not only with the church’s children, but also with children of all ages, said Mades. The starfish parable was soon followed by an endearing tale of a goose with a withered foot that wobbled around searching for love and acceptance. The tale of the goose, aptly named “Wobbly,” was based on a real bird with an injured foot that had shown up on the family’s ancestral farm on the Long Island Sound that Mades’ cousin had told her about. And when it was definite that there would be no “back to the sanctuary” for Christmas Eve, Mades, working with Bigwood, began bringing to life the 12th-century French carol, “The Friendly Beasts.”

The project was challenging, Mades said, with several illustrations needed for each of the six stanzas. In the end, though, the project came together beautifully, not only with Mades’ adorable drawings of the animals, but the children of the church were also recorded singing the carol. Bigwood once again edited the story into an online presentation for all in the community to view. With pandemic restrictions slowly lifting now, and with the possibility of a church choir resuming sometime later this year, Mades will once again find herself back in her beloved role as choir director. But she has no plans of packing away her paintbrushes. Mades has embraced her newfound calling as an author and illustrator of children’s books, with her most recent story addressing gender identity. Titled, “A Rooster’s Tale,” the key character is a loveable rooster with a message about what it means to be accepted and loved just as God created you to be.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.

Listen to Kathie Mades’
“A Rooster’s Tale” at



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