Happy New Year: 2017 in the Rear View

Kendrick Lake, near our house in Lakewood, Colorado.

This morning, my Facebook memories reminded me that just three years ago, Deb and I welcomed the new year from our new home in Colorado. At the dawn of 2018, we’re anticipating the new year from our new home in Kentucky.

The past few years have been, in some ways, chaotic. Since 2012, Deb and I have moved three times. Interim regional ministry in the Disciples of Christ took us first to Oklahoma for two years, then on to Colorado, where I served the denomination’s Central Rocky Mountain Region. Then in January through March of this year, Deb and I made the transition to Versailles, Ky.


Back in my home state of Kentucky, my information systems and ministry experiences merged into work for Suran Systems, a company that produces database software for churches and non-profits. Returning home has generated a lot of opportunities to renew friendships and to play music. I have been blessed to play regularly at some Lexington area venues.

Deb found an extension of her ministry calling in 2017 as she accepted the call to serve as pastor of New Union Christian Church. New Union is a community of Disciples who meet to worship and serve in a pastoral setting in northern Woodford County, about a ten minute drive from our house.


Monte, second from left, with the Denver fingerstyle guitar group.

While we were in Colorado, I met Monte Edwardson. The first time I met Monte, we were at La Dolce Vita in Arvada. When I heard him strum an E chord with his thumbpick, I knew I’d found a brother from another mother. Monte was an encouragement to a number of musicians in the Denver area. I remember texting a picture of Monte from that evening at La Dolce Vita to Deb with the message, “What I want to be when I grow up.”

One sad event of 2017 was the return trip to Denver to conduct Monte’s memorial service. More than 100 friends and family gathered in Monte and Kathy’s backyard garden to celebrate a life well lived. In the midst of grateful memory, it was a thrill for me when one of Monte’s granddaughters said, “They told me you sounded like Grandpa; they didn’t tell me you sounded exactly like Grandpa.” I can think of no higher compliment.


Dale L. Phelps

When my brother Dale and sister Sue visited us in Colorado, he didn’t show any sign that anything was wrong. He helped me put up a section of fence that we were rebuilding. However, just a few months later, he had lost lot of weight, and we learned that emphysema and COPD had taken their toll. He died on June 23.

We gathered with friends and family in Maysville to celebrate his life. Deb, along with our niece Katherine, did an excellent job leading the service. We buried his cremains at the Olivet Methodist Church cemetery, on the same plot as our mother, father, and sister.

Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee.
Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to Thee.


In 2012, as I was releasing Picking the Faith, I appeared on Red Barn Radio, a program produced in Lexington that celebrates acoustic music. As we were coming back to Kentucky, I appeared on two more Red Barn programs: the eighth edition of An Appalachian Christmas, and on a regular broadcast that aired on April 1.

Out of those two appearances, working with Red Barn’s executive producer, Ed Commons, I was able to release my first live album, Smiles: Live from Red Barn Radio. Smiles contains nine songs compiled from those two programs, including live versions of My Dog Jesus and Simple Gifts.

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

As 2017 wound down, I traveled over to Mt. Sterling and Somerset Christian Church. Carl Wagoner, a dear friend since our days together at the University of Kentucky, serves as the pastor there. He invited me to participate in their Appalachian lessons and carols. We swept the dust off this bluegrass Christmas standard, and I offer it here with best wishes for peace and joy in 2018.

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