FORT IRWIN, Calif. — When Ed and his wife, Amanda Will, took on Fort Irwin’s Center Chapel ministry nearly four years ago, one of their goals was simply to try to help people start their week off right.
“We just hope that we lead people on Sundays spiritually to lift them up because I know their weeks can get really hard with what their jobs are and the bosses that they have to serve and things that fall to them,” Ed said.
Amanda sings and Ed plays the piano and sings during the Chapel’s Sunday Protestant services. Now that the world is in the middle of a pandemic, church services look different but this couple’s focus hasn’t changed.
“Sometimes life can feel overwhelming and just to be able to come to church and just praise God and relax and enjoy the hour and the music that we can offer them is good,” Ed said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) restrictions forced services to go digital on Mar. 22 due to COVID-19. Then on June 7, in-person services were permitted to reconvene with a limit of 60 people. On July 14, a rise in COVID-19 cases in San Bernardino county pushed services back to digital only. Ed and Amanda have quickly adjusted to all of the changes.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve chosen to take on some sanitizing when we realized we share our microphones with the Catholic service and they also use the piano, we all share here,” Amanda said. “So I’ve taken on Lysoling mics before and after, as well as the (piano) keys before and after use and just making sure that we’re keeping ourselves six feet apart, as much as possible— that’s probably the biggest thing is trying to keep that distance.”
Ed said not having a live audience definitely feels different.
“The difference is feeding off the congregation,” he said. “If they are really singing along with a song and it catches my ear, then we’ll go back and repeat a section and do the chorus a couple of more times, so the music is always fluid. When I don’t hear them, we just play the song straight and it’s hard to gauge when there’s no congregation at all, whether we should repeat or not or just play the songs and hope for the best.”
Chaplain (Capt.) Daniel Kim has been at NTC for two years and worked closely with the Wills since COVID-19 hit. He’s asked them to lead worship from three, different styles to accommodate everything from modern to gospel to hymn lovers and Kim said their faith and flexibility have been instrumental in allowing the Chapel community to thrive.
“Their ability, their generous humility and genuine love for God has fostered a comforting and engaging music ministry to flourish in the Fort Irwin Protestant Chapel community,” Kim said. “Our community is blessed to have this amazing couple as part of our community!”
Ed and Amanda’s love for music started early.
“I started piano lessons in the second grade and my love for music was really started by my aunt, my great aunt Lois, who had her degree in piano performance,” Ed said. His aunt was also a Fine Arts Coordinator and paid for he and his sisters’ piano lessons.
Ed was then a drummer through high school and a percussion major at San Diego State, playing the piano and drums through college.
Ed went on to serve as the minister of music at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat center in 29 Palms for 21 years. He also had the opportunity to serve soldiers in Fort Irwin years before his wife got the current ministry contract.
“I really enjoyed my time at the Marine Corps, the soldiers, the military are very special to me, to my heart,” Ed said.
After retiring as minister of music in Twenty-nine Palms, he worked at a Methodist church where he met Amanda. She later got a job as a teacher in the Barstow Unified School District, so the couple moved there where Ed also got a job as the Performing Art Center manager. Ed’s career includes working as a band director and for a nonprofit organization.
Rock Star Life
Ed plays the piano and the drums but he does have a favorite.
“I really enjoy the piano,” he said. “When you’re on drums, you have to be able to play with someone else but I taught drums privately for many years.”
One of his most favorite students was Travis Barker with the rock band, Blink-182. Ed was Barker’s first teacher, giving him lessons back in the early 80s from the time he was seven years old until he was ten.
Ed still follows Barker’s career and said, “I’ve seen him in concert several times.”
Why Fort Irwin?
The Wills have been involved in several, different projects with musical art but they say Fort Irwin feels like home.
“It’s all for the glory of God and that’s the focus,” Ed said. “It’s not a performance, we are just leading the congregation in collective praise to God and when we get a song that they are really singing with, it really lifts our spirit and we all hope that what we do is pleasing to God and that we serve as mirrors, I guess, that they can see God through what we do.”
Amanda said hearing chapel attendees sing along with her helps brighten her spirit and added, “I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m singing. So there’s times when I’m singing and it feels like it’s just me singing to Him (God), but then I hear the voices of the congregation and it just really lifts me up and I hope that people out there have the same experience, so that’s why I do this.”
Ed quoted the fifth-century bishop of North Africa, St. Augustine of Hippo, who said, “Those who sing, pray twice,” saying it’s one of his favorite quotes.
Ed and Amanda have been married nearly four years. Overall, Ed said he also likes getting to work for his wife, who secured the contract for them to head the music ministry on post in November of 2016.
COVID-19 Chapel Services
The Wills say preparing for ministry services during a pandemic is not much different than before. Besides the additional cleaning and lack of an audience, their rehearsal schedules are the same.
“We come out here on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. and we rehearse for about an hour,” Amanda said. “Ed preps the music beforehand, chooses the songs, if we have a theme, we try to match that and then bring that out on Monday evenings and then we rehearse and then we come together on Sunday mornings and rehearse for about half an hour before for sound checks, double checking that we know everything.”
Ed said that due to the rotational training, they don’t always know who will joining them for rehearsals or are Sundays for the music ministry but they always have the support needed.
“There’s been Sundays when it’s only been Amanda and I and then there’s been Sundays when there’s 10 of us,” he said.
Amanda said although we’re living in unchartered times, everyone has to do their part to get back to a new normal.
“I just feel like if we follow what CDC says, what the scientists say and we take a break, that the sooner we take a full, complete break, the sooner we can come back and do what we’ve got to do,” she said. “So, it’s weird…partial opening was weird, everything about this is weird, but if we listen and we do what we’ve got to do then hopefully we’ll be back to normal sooner.”