By Aaron Wilson
CONWAY, S.C. — For the past 15 years, Wynness Thomas has been homebound, battling daily pain from arthritis of the spine and Parkinson’s disease. But this former church pianist and choir member at Tilly Swamp Baptist Church hasn’t let her age or ailments rob her of her love of music.
Lifeway Christian Resources recently published Thomas’ hymn, “Praise to Thee, Blessed Trinity” on its digital hymnbook resource, LifeWayWorship.com. The song lyric follows the classic tune of the Doxology and features lines declaring praise to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Thomas is now the oldest-living composer featured on LifeWayWorship.com,” said Mike Harland, director of Lifeway Worship. “She’s a special lady. I’m glad we were able to publish her beautiful lyric.”
Thomas’ love for music and writing harkens back to her childhood. She was born in 1931 in Dillon County, South Carolina. As a child growing up with four adult siblings and no other children in the home, Thomas began playing piano and writing stories to help pass the time and fight loneliness.
Friends say Thomas’ early years were also shaped by her involvement at Piney Grove Baptist Church near Lake View, South Carolina, and in the Woman’s Missionary Union.
“Going to church was the high point of my week,” Thomas wrote in an entry on her church’s website. “[It] helped me become the person who loves Jesus that I am today.”
Thomas later went on to become a pianist for First Baptist Church, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she also taught Sunday School, directed the junior choir and sang in the adult choir. In 1984, she and her husband, Fred—who is now 94 and acts as her primary caregiver—moved to Conway, South Carolina, where they joined Tilly Swamp Baptist Church. They’ve remained members there to this day.
“Mrs. Wynness has a passion for the lost in her family, her community, and the world,” said Scott Altman, pastor of Tilly Swamp Baptist Church. “She’s also a woman of prayer and praise. She desires for people to be submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit without hesitation.”
Throughout the years, Thomas never gave up on her desire to write and publish. She authored The Grand Strand Coloring Book to teach children about South Carolina beaches and wrote Fruits of the Circuit Riding Missionaries, a publication that traces the history of 60 churches of the Waccamaw Baptist Association.
She also contributed to Lifeway publications including Mature Living, Open Windows and The Church Musician. But she never forgot about her dream of one day seeing her name attached to a published hymn.
At the age of 84, Thomas wrote to Lifeway, discussing her long history of involvement with church music, and included a submission of an original hymn she had composed.
Harland wrote back to Thomas and mailed her a signed copy of the Baptist Hymnal. A year later, Thomas sent another letter, this time attaching a new hymn she’d written with the request to have it published by Lifeway.
“I read the lyric and realized it was really good,” Harland said. “I thought, ‘There’s no reason not to include it on LifewayWorship.com and let people be blessed by it.’”
Harland called Thomas with the announcement she’d waited many decades to hear—she was going to be a published hymn writer. Thomas was delighted and made one request—that Lifeway handle any fan mail the song might attract.
“We’re thrilled to honor this 87-year-old church musician—not because we’re doing her a favor but because it’s a good song,” Harland said. “It’s such a wonderful thing to give her the special experience of having something published.”
Although Thomas’ ailments have stripped her of the ability to play piano at her church, the partnership with Lifeway Worship now gives her the opportunity to bless even more churches and future generations with her creative gifts.
I think that was a part of her desire to be published,” Harland said. “To have something Christians can use in worship that would live on beyond her.”
Thomas’ motivation for writing, as revealed through one of her church website entries, doesn’t come from a desire for public recognition, but from a love of the Lord and the local church.
“I hope you will find time to pray for Tilly Swamp Church,” she writes, “that we will acknowledge our sins and be bold witnesses for Him in our neighborhood.”
Thomas ends her request for prayer with a line that characterizes a life dedicated to blessing others through music:
“I have written a song about that. Perhaps I can get a copy of it for you.”
Aaron Wilson is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.