In 2018 our theme is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with….

The Life of a Folk Singer


Rev. Ben Brown is the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Va. Ben is a native of Virginia and has degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and BTSR. He is married to Courtney, and they enjoy running, hiking, laughing, and spending time with family and friends. Ben is obsessed with VCU basketball and dreams of their return run to the Final Four.

In a seminary New Testament class we learned about the ‘loyal companion’ in Philippians.

Yes, and I ask you also, my “loyal companion,” help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the book of life. Philippians 4:3

The translations vary for this strange title, and the Greek suggests something like- a ‘local yokefellow.’ This is someone who lives in the present context and is invested or related to the specific group. The local yokefellow is likely a church member who knows Euodia and Syntyche.
This is when the idea hit.
Folk music was very much a part of my music zeitgeist at the time. Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons, and Bon Iver all had new albums that had dropped within the past year. Indie folk was in. I had played in a folk band in college, and I had been craving a new expression of creativity. The idea was to be a masked vigilante, folk singer named, “The Local Yokefellow.” Think Zorro with an acoustic guitar performing at local coffeeshops and open mic nights.
The attraction is that the folk singer gets to tell the truth about society. The Local Yokefellow could be my avenue to vent and share honest truth about life and spirituality. I could gripe about the church and relish in the simple joys of ministry through the medium of music in simply strummed chords. The best part was, it would all be anonymous. My name isn’t attached to it, and no one would ever know. I could have a place to channel frustration and grief.
However, as I continued to research the ‘local yokefellow’ in Philippians I found a different truth than a fearless, folk-superhero. Paul calls for the ‘loyal companion’ to help these women of the church in Philippi. How much help is a nameless singer? How honest or just could this be if I was unwilling to attach my name to it?
This ‘loyal companion’ is supposed to rejoice in the Lord, and let his or her gentleness be known. Instead of writing songs of angst and frustration, the Local Yokefellow should think of things that are honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable.
We’re each called to be a Local Yokefellow. I don’t mean the folk singer or anonymous minstrel. Instead, we’re each called to be supportive to the others in our context. The folk singer can tell the truth, and we can use this skill to build up others or gripe about present circumstances. It doesn’t take much courage to be the anonymous truth-teller. It’s not easy to be the Local Yokefellow, but it is the call of the church to live authentically with one another.
I think about this image when I have a tough day in the church. Would I trade it all to be a folk singer? There are days when it seems glamorous. If I were a folk singer, I would want to write a song like “Murder in the City” by the Avett Brothers.

If I get murdered in the city

Go read the letter in my desk

Don’t bother with all my belongings

Pay attention to the list

Make sure my sister knows I love her

Make sure my mother knows the same

Always remember there was nothing worth sharing

Like the love that let us share our name

The Local Yokefellow gets to be family and share a name with many of God’s children. A good folk singer is honest and tells the truth, and part of telling the truth is being willing and brave enough to show your face.