NORTH WILDWOOD ─ Faith matters, regardless of race or creed. Across Cape May County, thousands go about their daily lives with this hope and assurance. These individuals share their stories of perseverance and struggle, of triumph and questions. How can faith be lived out in a chaotic world?
Carol Amundsen, 60, has dedicated her life to "keeping the music flowing" both personally and at the First Baptist Church of Wildwood.
Serving as organist and pianist since 2013, Amundsen's work is more than selecting hymns, anthems, and choir pieces: she brings music as worship.
"What can I do to help the church?" Amundsen asked Feb. 15, referring not only to her church but to the kingdom of God across the globe. Music is her offering, an expression of creative worship.
"Without God, I am nothing," Amundsen said.
Born and raised in Cape May County, she attended the First Baptist Church of Anglesea (North Wildwood) as a child.
Amundsen attended Wesley College, in Delaware, where she was classically trained in music. Later, she attended High Point, in North Carolina, focusing on Christian Education, and then attended Willington College (now University) for graduate work.
"Music is my love," Amundsen said.
For a time, Amundsen worked in college admissions and student activities before returning to Cape May County in 1995. She then took a position in banking, where she succeeded.
Yet, Amundsen faced personal hardship when her position was terminated in November 2012.
"The bank was downsizing," Amundsen explained. "I went into work one day and was told 'you no longer have a position here'."
"It's a bad time of year to be told you no longer have a job," Amundsen confessed.
"I had to regroup," Amundsen said.
Despite experience in higher education, Amundsen did not have a New Jersey teacher's certificate and finances did not allow her to return to college. Both of her parents passed away, and she had purchased her mother's home.
However, she was able to renew her substitute teacher's license and found a position in the Wildwood school system. She later applied as a teacher's aide at Middle Township High School and has remained there.
While teaching filled the gaps, Amundsen's love of music served churches. She played the organ for Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches.
"I kind of made a name for myself," Amundsen said, smiling.
Then, the pastor at Wildwood Baptist called, offered her a "one-shot deal" to fill in for the sitting organist. According to Amundsen, this occurred before losing her job at the bank. Amundsen called the pastor and inquired if the congregation enjoyed her playing. He answered in the affirmative and promised to call her if and when the organist, Roxie Sprigs, was unable to play.
"He (pastor) prayed with me over the phone," Amundsen said, "which really spoke to me."
"A lot of people will say 'I'll pray for you,' but he prayed with me over the phone, and that meant a lot to me," she added, with emotion in her voice.
On Jan. 1, 2013, Amundsen received a call she never imagined. The First Baptist of Wildwood wanted her to serve as its interim music director, due to the organists' failing health. She began in February 2013, and the position led to full-time employment.
"The Lord has helped me a great deal," Amundsen said.
Life as a church musician requires patience and a good dose of creativity.
As congregations dwindle, Amundsen seeks out those who are willing to help with special music and has hosted special events, i.e. Christmas sing-alongs and cantatas. Adapting to changing times and circumstances, she perseveres with her six-member choir, blending traditional hymns with newer standards.
Whenever another church invites her to play, Amundsen's first question is "how do you feel about Jesus?"
"That's a truth I have for myself," she said. Even in music, principles matter.
Amundsen added that if a Jewish temple ever invited her, she would accept because "they (Jews) are God's chosen people."
Amundsen works a total of four jobs to keep herself going, along with caring for five cats and one Pekingese dog named Dallas.
"That (animals) seems to be my community service," Amundsen said.
Those with a story of faith to share for this ongoing series should contact the writer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.