SWONEKY Epiphany Concert: A Bright Idea

by Colonel Richard Munn

It was a chance encounter on Facebook in the cold and snowy first week of January—we scrolled across a post about a Salvation Army Epiphany Concert at Camp SWONEKY in Ohio. Performers and audience members were unapologetically dressed in bright and lively Christmas sweaters. Now that got our attention! It all looked like so much fun.

Question: Who schedules divisional gatherings at a summer camp in the first week of January, a time notorious for dodgy weather and much needed recuperation after lengthy Christmas efforts? 

Answer: None other than the Divisional Music Director Kelley Bowin and the redoubtable staff and musicians of the Southwest Ohio & Northeast Kentucky Division. 

Make no mistake, this is bold programming. Epiphany is not a much-celebrated Christmas festivity in The Salvation Army. So, for you, our Good News readers, we contacted Kelley for the story behind the story. 

You serve as the divisional music director (DMD) for the SWONEKY Division. What is your personal musical journey and when did you commence this respected and significant role? 

I’ve been the DMD in SWONEKY since July 2022. My musical journey started as a child in southern New England with music camp at Camp Connri and junior band at Manchester Citadel, as well as a very good school band program. As a teenager I started to lead music groups at camp, and that encouraged me to attain a music education degree. Before moving to Ohio, I spent five years as a regional music director in Pendel. 

The recent SWONEKY Epiphany Concert has captured our imagination, maybe a first for the territory. How did it all come about? 

SWONEKY used to hold a Christmas concert, but because it was in the middle of kettle season it was not fully appreciated by those who went. Just after I started as the DMD, we had a brainstorming session about what we could do instead, and Captain Willow Houseton suggested an Epiphany concert, as it was falling on a Friday in 2024. Every officer we mentioned it to before announcing it to the people liked the idea of having something outside of kettle time. 

What were you hoping to accomplish, motivating and recruiting a whole range of people during the notorious first week of January?  

The main goal for the Epiphany concert was to bring together as many people from the division as possible. For both 2023 and 2024 I worked with the youth department to develop a program that is interesting for people of all ages and walks of life. We want it to be something that people look forward to every year, and for it to outgrow the space we’ve held it in. It’s also a great way to say goodbye to the Christmas season. Many of us, especially officers and Army employees, do not have the time and energy to truly appreciate the Advent season, so the Epiphany concert offers a stress-free time to celebrate. 

What were your personal highlights and memorable moments? It sure looked like a lot of fun and energy.

My favorite parts were the congregational songs because everybody in the room participated in them. We had several young people participate, including the beginner brass players of the division and Riley Weigner of Van Wert, a beginner clarinetist who regularly played carols at the Christmas kettle. Captain Darell Houseton gave a devotional about the seasons of waiting we find ourselves in, and what we can learn from Simeon and Anna waiting for the Messiah. 

Any final insights or encouragement for our readers? 

The SWONEKY Division is filled with the most encouraging and kind people in the territory. Everybody in the SWONEKY Brass and Timbrels was fully prepared, despite the concert happening two months after our last rehearsal. We hope you’ll grab your favorite Christmas sweater and join us next year! 

Thank you, Kelley, what a great initiative. You can count on this—the SAconnects team is cheering you on.