When Bill and Donna Humphreys stepped into the sanctuary of Langley United Methodist Church for the first time, they were welcomed by an unexpectedly familiar sight.
The sole stained glass window was one which had previously been located in a chapel at the University of Washington, the Humphreys’ alma mater.
The couple had recently relocated with their family from the mainland and were considering having an “island year” residing on Whidbey while Humphreys searched for a college job.
The sight of the familiar window was one of a series of fortuitous coincidences the Humphreys experienced over the decades, as their island year expanded into nearly four decades.
As Bill Humphreys reflected upon that day before a recent choir practice, the setting sun shone through the bright tints of the window panes.
“It just blew us away that it was now in here,” he said with a chuckle.
The Humphreys became involved in various aspects of the South End community, including Bill Humphreys’ 35-year tenure as the music director of Langley United Methodist Church. Over the years, he’s remained one of the consistent and driving forces of the congregation. He’s worked with eight pastors and numerous choral and orchestral musicians, including his steadfast partner in music and in life, Donna.
On Sunday, the Humphreys will bid farewell to the congregation of Langley United Methodist Church.
It’s a bittersweet process for the Humphreys, who are leaving for Santa Fe, N.M. to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.
Though Sunday will mark his last day of employment as the music director for the church and Donna Humphreys’ last day as a choir member, Bill Humphreys said they don’t plan to leave music any time soon. They’ll also be returning to the church as parishioners for about half of the year and intend to keep a rental home in Langley.
On July 26, the church will host “Humphreys Hurrah!,” an all-community celebration of the ministries and contributions of the couple.
During a recent rehearsal, choir members expressed their appreciation for Humphreys’ directorial style and choice of challenging and eclectic musical selections.
“When you sing with Bill in a concert, your soul expands,” Shelley Hartle said.
Others noted that, rather than considering Humphreys a music director, they consider him a “music priest,” adding that his kindness and masterful programming abilities have been a draw for both musicians and audience members throughout the years.
From the beginning, Humphreys said his objective has been to create a “community out of music.”
“For many of us… the main emphasis of my ministry, if you will, is about community,” Humphreys said. “Obviously there is church stuff that we do every Sunday, but the main interest has always been in building community and creating something through the arts that will bring people together.”
Prior to becoming the Langley United Methodist Church, the chapel was known simply as Langley Community Church, a source of inspiration for Humphreys’ community-building dreams.
“When Langley was a little tiny Village by the Sea, this was the church,” Humphreys said. “I like that idea — it wasn’t designated to any particular denomination.”
He and other members of the church have continued that legacy of inclusion and acceptance, he said.
“I’ve always felt like this is still the downtown community church,” Humphreys said.
During his tenure, Bill Humphreys brought the church into the community with on-stage performances from the high school to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. He also directed community groups.
Collaborators ranged from Michael Nutt and Claudia Walker to the Grammy winning duo Tingstad and Rumbel, who have played an annual fundraiser for the church since 1985.
In addition to inviting a diverse group of individuals to join in their music, both Donna and Bill Humphreys have consistently incorporated broader social issues into their musical performance selections. Donna Humphreys also emphasized this during her time as the Chair of Christian Education, bringing international events to the church with lessons in cultural and social consciousness with performances such as “Cool in the Furnace.”
Together, the couple has also joined fellow church performers in taking on musical conquests such as the Brahms Requiem and “The Passion Mime,” a dramatic music production depicting Christ’s crucifixion.
The choir has recorded approximately 22 tapes and CDs throughout the years and performs regular special events in addition to the weekly Sunday services.
“As I approach my 75th birthday, I am certainly fortunate to have served the Langley United Methodist Church as the director of music for so long,” Humphreys wrote in his letter of departure, which he read to the congregation during a recent service. “Few church musicians are blessed with such a long and happy tenure.”
A previous version of this story provided an incorrect date for the Humphreys Hurrah! event. It will take place July 26.