Perspective: An Organ Performance Too Contentious for Adventist Review

Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, his first since becoming pope, provided an opportunity of a lifetime for one Seventh-day Adventist musician, but the story proved too contentious for official Adventist media coverage.

Joy-Leilani Garbutt has loved the organ and wanted to play it as far back as she can remember.

“I began organ lessons when I was about 10 years old, and shortly after that started playing hymns for church,” Joy told me in email correspondence.

She got her start at the Clovis Seventh-day Adventist church in Central California where she grew up, and then branched out to other churches. By the time she was 14, Joy had her first official job as a church organist for St. Luke’s United Methodist church in Fresno, California.

At age 18 Joy moved to Takoma Park, Maryland to be the organ and harpsichord soloist with the New England Youth Ensemble, and continued her organ studies at what was then Columbia Union College.

Following that, she pursued a master’s degree in organ performance at Northwestern University where she was the organ scholar at the school’s Alice Millar Chapel.

After Northwestern, Joy moved to Geneva, Switzerland to study with an organist there and found a temporary job as organ assistant at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

She returned stateside in 2005 and began work as the director of music at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran church, and organist at the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park. Four years later when a position opened at the Takoma Park Adventist Church five minutes away from Sligo, Joy became that congregation’s organist and choral accompanist.

Joy continues working with both Takoma Park and St. John’s today, and described the differences between the congregations this way:

At Takoma Park I am part of a team of musicians who work with the director of music to create a service that encompasses a variety of musical genres. I play for weekly choir rehearsals and provide all of the organ-related service music for two services each Saturday.

St. John’s is a much smaller church (just under 100 members) and as director of music I am the only staff musician. I direct an adult choir, a K-12 youth and children’s chorus, a children’s hand chime program, and lead Sunday School music for the younger children. And of course play for the weekly services. St. John’s was the first Lutheran church that I worked for and I remember being impressed that such a small church would employ a salaried musician.”

Joy noted that in contrast to most Adventist congregations, Lutheran churches tend to highly prioritize music and professional musicians. “They treat it as a real profession, like that of pastor,” she said, “and from what I’ve seen, even a small Lutheran church will hire a musician before they hire a second pastor.”

Additionally, whereas most Adventist congregations will ensure that their musicians, paid and volunteer, are Adventist Church members, “St. John’s never asked if I was Lutheran, only if I could play,” Joy said.

She hastened to add that that both Takoma Park and Sligo have treated her very professionally.

In 2013 Joy went back to school to work on a Ph.D. in musicology with a minor in sacred music and organ studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. She didn’t know it at the time, but her doctoral work there would open the opportunity to showcase her musical talent in front of a massive audience—including Pope Francis—just over a week ago.

As a part of her sacred music minor at The Catholic University of America, Joy plays the organ for the school’s chamber choir. Generally, that includes concerts in the fall and spring of each year. However on the first day of this school year Catholic University’s choir director Dr. Leo Nestor asked if Joy would accompany the choir for the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. during Pope Francis’ visit.

“I felt it was a huge honor to be asked to represent the school,” Joy said.

In total four organists played during the mass on September 23—two from the Basilica of the National Shrine, one from a large Catholic church in Washington D.C., and Joy. Each of the four played for different portions of the mass.

Joy remarked that not having been raised Catholic, she has taken no particular interest in popes before Francis. She suggested that part of her interest in this pope might be her paying more attention to what is going on in the world as an adult, but she had more to say about the significance of Francis’ visit and of her participation in the papal mass:

“I feel as though he is a great role model and leader, not just for the Catholic church, but for the larger Christian community, and even the secular population. (Perhaps this is what makes him such a frightening figure to some within the Adventist Church)."

She made no attempt to hide the excitement she felt on the day of the mass.

Of course on one level, it can be an adrenaline rush to be near any global celebrity. It provides an immediate cultural reference point and can help you feel connected to humanity. But this was different than attending, for example, Obama’s inauguration or a U2 concert because Pope Francis stands for something that is bigger than politics or pop culture. It was an unforgettable experience, made even more meaningful by that fact that I was able to participate in it, not just attend.”

After the event, Adventist Review contacted Joy, interested in publishing an article about her experience. News editor Andrew McChesney wrote an article that was published exclusively on the Review website entitled “Adventist Organist Plays for Pope During U.S. Visit.”

Then comments began coming in. The article’s comment section was overrun with negative responses to the story.

Throughout Francis’ visit to the United States, the Review posted a series of articles on the papacy. Among them, McChesney wrote about filmmaker and self-styled Adventist pastor Christopher Hudson’s 1 ½ hour YouTube docudrama entitled Leopard Vision, in which Hudson ties the Catholic Church to the negative imagery of the Bible’s apocalyptic literature. Hudson became notorious for helping to convert “Two And a Half Men” star Angus T. Jones to Adventism. When that story blew up in 2012, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists clarified that Hudson was not in fact an Adventist pastor.

At the bottom of McChesney’s article on Hudson’s “Leopard Vision,” the video was embedded with the disclaimer: “This film has not been officially endorsed by the General Conference or the Adventist Review.”

Though the Review’s publishing a story on an Adventist musician playing for a papal mass may seem uncharacteristic given the journal’s tendency to prioritize stories critical of the papacy and of Pope Francis, the article featuring Joy fit within the Review’s broader capitalization on Adventist interest in the pope’s visit. Nevertheless, she was caught off guard.

“I was genuinely surprised that the Review contacted me for an interview in the first place,” Joy said. “It was not a story I expected the general Adventist community to be interested in (besides family and friends).” Neither did she (or apparently the editors of the Review) expect the backlash that followed the article’s publication. Within a short time of the article’s publication and after a volley of condemnatory comments, the article disappeared off the website.

“It took me a little while to realize that the article had in fact been pulled. At first I thought that the link I had been sent just wasn’t working. The next day I was told it was not personal, and that it was related to ‘an internal office matter.’"

The Review did not respond to my request for comment on the article’s removal from the website. However, it’s not the first time that “internal office matters” have resulted in the disappearance of content created under the auspices of the Adventist Church.

In January 2014, the Adventist News Network first published, then removed an article suggesting that 10 of the 13 divisions in the Adventist Church were open to the possibility of ordaining women. Perhaps most famously, in April 2014 the General Conference halted the release of million-dollar-plus film project The Record Keeper, which it funded. An official statement said that while Record Keeper would not be released, the Church was open to the possibility of other similar creative ventures in the future.

Does the removal of Joy’s story from the Adventist Review speak to Adventism’s dogged adherence to an anti-papist narrative at the expense of real people’s lived experiences?

From one standpoint, the story is a great human interest story about a musician given an opportunity of a lifetime. In highlighting that, the Review got it right, prioritizing humanity over ideology. However, from the standpoint of many Adventists, the story was seemingly one bridge too far.

I asked Joy for her response to Adventists' negative preoccupation with the Pope in particular and the Catholic Church generally.

I find it all highly disappointing and I think preoccupation is a good word for it. In some ways it is an excuse for not listening, not considering that we might learn from others. Joy said that she told the Adventist Review that the mass in which she participated was about sharing the joy of the gospel and the love of Christ.

“I’m not sure what Adventists find offensive about that. I went back and reread the whole sermon that Pope Francis delivered that day and I think it could be delivered just about word for word from any Adventist pastor in any Adventist church. But I doubt most Adventists would be interested in reading what Francis said because the messenger distracts them from hearing the message.”

Despite Adventists’ historic theological differences with Catholicism, Joy maintains that the Adventist Church stands to gain a great deal from inter-faith partnerships, including with Catholics.

“I don’t mean to be judgmental about this,” she says. “My work as a church musician has given me a wonderful opportunity to be involved with a variety of denominations. That’s not an experience that many people get to have, and it has made me quite ecumenical.”

Joy notes, without incredulity, that she has been welcomed by people of other faiths, and wonders whether Adventists might be as gracious to, say, a Catholic organist. She also wonders what narrative might have been less offensive.

“If I had refused to play for the mass, lost my scholarship (did I mention that playing for the Chamber Choir is stipulated in my scholarship agreement?), and had to drop out of school, would that have been a more interesting story for the Adventist community? Is the headline 'Adventist Organist Refuses to Play for Pope' more palatable? Is separatism and persecution more comfortable than collaboration and partnership?”

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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My wife was a church organist. she played, of course, for the Augusta Adventist Church. she also accompanied a soloist at the christian Science assembly. she also played for the St James Baptist Church, and for several mortuaries on call. Except for Christsin Science she was quite comfortable in these various settings.
with failing eye sight she no longer plays for anyone but me. I love it. Tom Z


Let’s assume for a minute that you run a convenience store. One day, a guy walks in with a clerical collar and brings a bottle of water and a package of crackers to the cash register. Would you sell it to him?

Suppose you were a roofing contractor, and the local priest asked you for a quote on re-roofing the parsonage. Would you do it?

The organist plays the organ, it’s a job. You don’t turn down a good job. She wasn’t going to make or break the Pope’s appearance. I’m glad she got the gig.


it’s amazing how many of us have had something to do with the new england youth ensemble, directed by virginia-gene rittenhouse…actually, joy looks young enough to have been in neye since it’s been directed by preston hawes…


It has happened again.

My comment has been taken down for the second time. Why? Protestants have always regarded the Catholic mass as blasphemy against God.

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney declined to meet Pope Paul VI when Papa Paulus VI was visiting in 1967.

Several months ago I sat in St Martin in the Fields church in London on the Sabbath morning. I was involved in a Family Commemorative Service, to honour our ancestors who worshipped at that church 240 years ago. I heard beautiful luturgical music .Some of it was written by a distant cousin, Gabriel Jackson, one of Britains’s foremost contemporary choral composers.

I appreciate good music in the right setting!!

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Like Joy, I am surprised that the Review would have been interested in the story in the first place, given our history of institutional discomfort in showing Roman Catholicism in a positive light, even peripherally. As a musicologist working on Catholic liturgical music, I understand the (at best) awkward ambivalence and (at worst) open hostility that comes from working with, as some put it, “the other team.” Also like Joy, I worked as a music minister at a Lutheran congregation, and they similarly did not care a bit that I was not a Lutheran, just that I could direct the choir, hire good musicians, and be a decent cantor.

I wish Joy the best in her doctoral studies in musicology. I am very familiar with the work of her dean at CUA, who has done great work on Spain and colonial Mexico. We need more good SDA musicologists; our current state of worship art often suffers from extreme poverty. We might take a cue from the St. John’s and Immanuel’s and St. Catherine’s and other small churches that, despite the lack of a large congregation, place real value on excellence in music for worship. This could be done in SDA congregations of all sizes.

A brief comment to Peter. Protestants have not always regarded the Catholic mass as blasphemy. You will need to state which Protestants, when, and where.


David Kendall
Assistant Professor of Music
La Sierra University


Congratulations to Joy-Leilani Garbutt!

Adventists world wide should be bursting with pride when one of us excels in an impressive achievement. A gold medal in the olympics, a Ph D from an Ivy League institution, or the stunning rise of an esteemed neurosurgeon to the top of a political race!

Adventists have achieved all of these, and we as family members should be justifiably filled with vicarious heartwarming satisfaction, as if one of our own offspring had been the valedictorian!

A pipe organ is the most fiendishly difficult instrument to play. Both feet pummeling the pedals, while two hands move from manual (keyboard) to manual in a flurry of virtuosity. Furthermore each pipe organ is unique.
The multi-million dollar instrument at the National Basilica, no doubt has a myriad of stop settings allowing a multiplicity of tonal combinations, all of which would require learning from scratch. More power to you Joy-Leilani!

Regrettably, just as the three million member National Rifle Association, has a disproportional detrimental influence on our politicians, a TOXIC minority of fanatical fundamentalists holds sway over Adventist leaders.

Our college presidents, bless their hearts, walk a veritable tight rope, between running an accredited academic institution, requiring academic freedom, and a few vociferous donors who hold them hostage to rigid right wing intransigent demands.

When our leaders backtrack due to a backlash from a babble of blowhards they appear bancrupt.

Regrettably, when a miserable minority “rules the roost” the affluent and affirming majority are tempted to move themselves to greener pastures!


Luther’s fight was a fight with the Vatican. There is no doubt that he was right in accusing church leadership of having betrayed Christianity and that Rome was worthy of whatever scriptural opprobrium he could hurl at it. But the Vatican was merely the General Conference of the 16th century, and as “western” Adventists have discovered, it is possible to rebuke a wayward leadership clique without placing an entire church under interdict.

Subsequent to this break with Rome (which he did not initiate), Luther had the freedom of reassessing 1500 years of Christian thought and practice, and, not surprisingly, his views began to diverge from those of Rome in some areas:

  1. He rejected the “healing” metaphor of salvation in favor of an instantaneous and lasting forensic declaration of “righteous.” This positive verdict could be obtained without the intercession of priests and the administration of sacraments.

  2. He rejected the idea that believers could ever reach God’s standard of righteousness, let alone supersede it (as in the case of those worthy of canonization).

  3. He dismissed 1500 years of tradition as non-authoritative in order to make sure that his interpretation of the Bible remained unchallenged.

The rest belongs in the section for theological footnotes. Once the Vatican was purged of its corruption (subsequent to the Catholic counter-reformation), Reformers and Catholics probably agreed on 90 percent of what remained, from the NT canon to the doctrine of the Trinity. All the classic creeds remained unchanged. And yet, the two sides hated each other and each side reached for the foulest Biblical imagery to characterize the other. (As today’s Adventists can attest to, it doesn’t take much to be demonized by church leaders you disagree publicly with.) But why should theological disagreement qualify for such eternal hatred? How can you explain that a quarrel over theological issues in the 16th century was elevated to a doctrine that forever doomed the Vatican-led branch of the universal Catholic church to be labeled Satanic?

After all, neither the Vatican nor the Reformers did complete justice to the New Testament when it came to exegesis. The New Testament is just like Augustin, it can be cited on both sides of the 16th century conflict. Few NT theologians today would say that Luther read Galatians correctly. At best, the NT does not contradict Luther, but it certainly does not contain the Augsburg confession. And the accusation that Catholics believed in salvation by works, is a stretch. Catholics believe that God’s grace, like a celestial, healing liquid, is free to all, but that you can only access it through the sacraments of the church. In principle, this is no different from Luther’s demand that you must sign on the dotted dogmatic line of Lutheran orthodoxy in order to enjoy the same free saving grace. That is why Luther had anabaptists killed (drowned) for refusing to accept infant baptism. That is why SdA ministers are not permitted to assure anybody of salvation, no matter how free, unless they go through the “work” of indoctrination.
The idea that the Bible speaks with one, unambiguous voice, that all sincere people would arrive at the same conclusions from studying the scriptures is neither true nor born out by 2000 years of contending with the Biblical texts. It is flatly wrong.

Isn’t it about time that the 16th century be left alone to bury its dead so that we all can move on?


Congratulations, Joy. So proud of you, your scholarship, your accomplishments. You represent Adventism well. Many Adventists place a high appreciation for trained and educated musicians. At our universities, the music department is the football team. But Adventists don’t seem to appreciate organists like other denominations.

I’ve played for nearly every denomination as a paid organist. As a member of the Executive Board in my city’s local chapter of The American Guild of Organists, I and other organists know that playing for another congregation is a “job.” The AGO has standards and recommendations for employment practices, salaries, and ethics. Few Adventist congregations pay their organist; offering their gift to the congregation seems an expectation.

However, in playing fine organs for congregations that appreciate fine organists, we also know that our congregations accept us as a valued and integral part of their music ministry. At one Methodist Congregation I was also dedicated, set apart, and prayed over along with the rest of the leadership team every year. They didn’t ask my religious affiliation.

As for playing for the mass, congratulations. It was an honor for you and one you should never forget. I listened to several of the services just to hear the organs, choirs, soloists, and organists. And the sacred praise music.

The Adventist Review story? The insane obsession that the pope’s visit was somehow fulfilling prophecy is driving the massive outcry of negative commenters. I’m sorry the censorship occurred about your amazing story. I’m delighted to know and to read about you and wish you well in your doctoral studies. God has given you a wonderful gift.

@blc Could you provide sources for and expand on your statement that Protestants have abandoned being Protestants?


Musicians have a long history of getting the religious to finance their art.

Mathematicians have had much less success.

It took me a long time to understand why religious people love music and dislike logic.


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It’s odd that people post things that they know are pushing the bounds of good taste, even saying “…And this comment will probably be removed…” as if daring a moderator to remove it, and then complain that they are being discriminated against when their comments are removed.



I just happened to have some time to watch and listen to your music performance along with the other musicians. It was very good and I enjoyed it.
As I watched Barry Black sitting in the audience while the Pope spoke to Congress I thought it might “excite” some folks but I haven’t heard any “backlash” on that event.
As a physician I work with folks from all faiths. One of my favorite EGW quotes reminds us that the greatest number of God’s people remain outside the SDA church and “let there be no more rude thrusts towards the Catholics”.
Good advice to remember today!!
All the best to you!


I congratulate you, Joy. What an honor; what an opportunity. I’m (righteously!) envious for my brother Fred, who for many years has played variously at the Sligo, Takoma Park, Spencerville, Frederick, Capitol Memorial and other Adventist churches in the greater Washington area. For 20 years he has been organist at the Franciscan Monastery just “down the road” from the National Shrine where you played (he plays for four masses each weekend). I’ve been with Fred when a friend let him practice some music on the powerful organ at the National Shrine. And so I wish Fred had been at the keyboard to have that memorable experience of yours. True to form, he never expressed any disappointment. But I’m happy for you. And I’m proud of him as I am of you for stepping out and mingling with those of other faiths where they worship as you both make use of a tremendous skill God has given you. What if the rest of us Adventists could be as open to mix in some way with the many sincere followers of Christ who are “not of this fold”!


The organist profiled in this article is my sister, Joy-Leilani Garbutt. I remember with pride and gladness, being the one who often drove her to her various organ performances and also to her jobs as organist for various churches (some even Adventist) I remember being the proud “big brother” as I watched her play so effortlessly what I know to be a very complex and challenging instrument!
I am so very glad that she was afforded the opportunity and honor to play for the papal mass! The pride in my heart has been legitimized before a global audience, and that is something no one- not even the Review can ever take away from me!
Brava-Joy! Keep playing and praising! God is listening…


Amen! Wonderful that she could share her God-given talent.

I’d love to listen to it if someone can provide a link…


I just watched a video where Jon Paulien says the Adventist church doesn’t believe in conditional prophecy in only two areas. The identity of Remnant church being the Adventist church and the identity the Catholic church being babylon.


Apart from the human interest story (nice one!), and even apart from the issue of what position the Adventist church should take towards the RCC today (certainly something to be discussed) … I hear yet another story about AR confirming worst nightmares about our church.

How much longer does Bill Knott intend to play along with these dirty journalistic games, unworthy of a church?

Thanks, @JaredWright, for listing a few examples - though I think it would be worthwhile to make a more compelete list and make it a story of its own. With such “tricks” and “strategies” AR is quickly losing all credibility - another Adventist “institution” going.


Thank you Joel, for posting on this story. You certainly have every right to be proud of your sister! Those of us here in the Takoma Park-Sligo area have enjoyed the experience of seeing Joy’s rise in developing her musical talents and cheer her on in her accomplishments as well as a most mature attitude toward spiritual matters. There are always nay-sayers and those who try to tear down but I’m glad there are more voices cheering on our talented artists. My older sister and her husband (Elizabeth Ann and Donald Vaughn) are still organists-choir directors for churches up in the Allentown, PA area and continue to bless their congregations with their musicianship and dedication to what matters. So I understand your family pride a bit. I will continue to encourage as much as I can the developing of talents and the dedication it takes to do that at the high level that Joy has achieved and is still striving to improve. Those of us who know her can only respect and encourage if we are honest.
I pray that those who criticize and attack will grow up and understand that bad behavior is never acceptable in a Christian.


What/who comprises the “Adventist church” ? The 18 million members, the majority of scholars, the GC admin? Yesterday, in church, I heard a new definition or meaning for Babylon. What will be the result of revisionist Adventism? --Increased cynicism, apathy and discord.
" I’m of Paulien, I’m of Wilson, I’m of Batchelor, I’m of White, I’m of Ford, I’m of Maxwell. I’m of Jackson.