Church Programs


Jon Sundell has always looked on storytelling and folk music as tools with a social purpose: to foster love and respect for all of God's creation. As a consummate edu-tainer with skills and repertoire developed over 45 years of international experience, he accomplishes this with warmth, gusto and good humor.  All the material, as well as Jon’s manner of presentation, is engaging and dynamic – not didactic.  He underpins the common core of religious faiths in a way that is fresh and alive, while mixing in other material just for plain fun.

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There is plenty of chance for participation – through singing, movement, playing rhythm instruments, and responding verbally in different ways. Everyone gets involved in this celebration of unity and diversity. If the group is not too large, Jon can include a "twist-and-tell" story, then after the program make personal balloon figures for the children. Mentioning balloons in the promotion helps draw more families, as well as spicing up the program and adding a reward. Jon can provide photos and flyer.

"Thank you so much for sharing your talents at our Vacation Church School picnic. Your awareness of the wide age range and varied attention spans was remarkable! Watching the children ease forward so they could be a part of the group was wonderful. I look forward to other opportunities when you can share your storytelling and singing magic with us." 

–Ida K McCaskill, Director of Christian Education, Highland Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem, NC.

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Sample Songs:

  • We’re All A Family Under One Sky
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • Love Grows One By One
  • If We Could Consider Each Other
  • Uh, Oh, Accident!
  • Ninety-Nine and Ninety
  • Somos el barco
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Sample tales:

Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance -  Anansi burns all his hair off trying to hide the hot beans under his hat!!

Story/song version of Stone Soup – Two travelers trick the stingy townspeople (the audience) into adding ingredients to their magical soup "made from a stone."

The Long Chopsticks - A student learns the secret to happiness when he sees people use their 3 foot long chopsticks to feed each other.

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11 minute sampler of stories & songs, all appropriate for children & families & many suitable for adults as well. 01 - Introductory slides to Jon's studio recording of "My Daddy Rides That Ship In the Sky," by Woody Guthrie - with banjo; 00:35 - Making balloon dog, singing mountain song, "I Had a Dog and His Name Was Blue;" telling tall tale of "The Split Dog" using balloon dog; 3:18 - call & response song - "We're All A Family Under One Sky," by Ruth Pelham - with guitar; 4:02 - African trickster tale - "Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance;" 6:35 - Story-song with banjo - "Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase;" 9:08 - Irish folk tale, "Jamie O' Rourke and the Big Potato," as told by Tomie de Paola; 9:52 - Latin American folk song with motions - "En la pulga de San Jose"

"Our preschoolers loved this program! The songs were silly and engaging and the stories held their attention. We had some senior citizen friends at the program too, and it was wonderful to see them singing along to some old familiar tunes!  The children each got to pick their own balloon animal to take home at the end of the show! They all went home smiling!"

- Lisa Wallace, director, Stepping Stones Preschool, Harrisburg United Methodist Church, NC


Jon has a special appeal to seniors because many of them remember the old folk, bluegrass and country songs he sings, and they enjoy revisiting memories of those times. "Keep On the Sunny Side," "I'll Fly Away," and "My Grandfather's Clock" are examples of religious and secular songs that strike a deep chord. Seniors also relish his well spun tales of Homer, the pet catfish or Steamer and the Mule Egg. A generous sprinkling of humor is always included in these senior concerts, as well as a tale or two for serious reflection. Like many of the early country artists Jon is an old school entertainer and "raconteur." In addition to his warm personal manner, the fact that he is a senior himself helps Jon make a strong connection to this age group.

As well as his concerts, Jon's square dance evenings are very popular with seniors because of his patient, thorough manner ensuring everyone can follow along. He also enhances the experience by breaking up the dancing with several interludes of music and storytelling that entertain everyone present and give the dancers plenty of chance to rest.

Sample songs:

  • Keep On the Sunny Side
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • Life’s Railway to Heaven
  • My Grandfather’s Clock
  • The Storms Are On the Ocean
  • My Name is Morgan, But It Ain’t JP – Bill Morgan’s gal spends too much money!
  • How Do I Know My Youth Is All Spent?  - How do I know my youth is all spent?/ My get-up-and-go has got up and went./ But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin,/ To think of the places my get-up has been.”
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"Martyn and I thought your concert/ square dances went extremely well, and we really enjoyed your performances as well as your demeanor with the senior adults.  You guys were the best group we have had in many years! Thank you so much for the work you do and providing a great and entertaining experience for the senior adult campers this fall at Cheerio!"

- David McDonald, Program Director, YMCA Camp Cheerio, Glade Valley, NC

This is basically an assortment of songs and tales suitable for an audience of seniors (and other adults), although several of them are seen here being done with children. 1. Biographical photo intro, including sequence of square dance shots, accompanied by studio recording of Jon doing "My Daddy Rides That Ship In the Sky." (song by Woody Guthrie with banjo) 2. Keep On the Sunny Side - Carter Family theme song with autoharp. 3. "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife" - ballad with banjo. 4. "The Cajun Possum" - Cajun tall tale. 5. "I Wish I Was a Mole iln the Ground" - mountain folk song with banjo 6. "Waterbound" - mountain folk song with dulcimer 7. "Steamer and the Mule Egg" - mountain folk tale 8. "Eight More Miles to Louisville" - by Grandpa Jones with guitar. 9. "On My Grandma's Patchwork Quilt" - by Larry Penn, with guitar, motions created by Jon Sundell.

Sample tales:

  • The fools of Chelm – A series of short, hilarious Jewish tales about a village of fools.
  • The Cajun Possum – In this Louisiana tall tale a skinned and supposedly dead possum eats up the stew, escapes from the oven, runs off with a chicken and reclaims his hide!
  • Nasrudin Hoja and the Hungry Coat -  At his banquet the muchtar only honors the Hoja when he is elegantly dressed. Since his wardrobe, rather than the Hoja himself, appears to be the guest of honor, the Hoja embarrasses his wealthy host by "feeding his clothes first," slathering them with banquet food.


Through all his years of working with children, Jon has never lost his original and ongoing role as an adult entertainer. Adult concerts in faith settings can be done in several different ways, according to the preference of your group:

SONGS AND TALES OF THE SPIRIT -  This concert includes Christian songs that lend themselves to folk style presentation with Jon's different stringed instruments- ranging from lively gospel, to African American spirituals, to quiet meditative hymns, Sacred Harp and unaccompanied camp meeting songs.

Sample Songs

  • 'Tis a Gift to be Simple
  • Resignation –an exquisitely tender setting of the 23rd Psalm
  • That’s All Right - “It’s no secret what love can do,/ what it’s done for others it’ll do for you/ Since my soul’s got a seat in God’s kingdom, that’s all right.” African American – from St John’s Island
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • The Touch of the Master’s Hand – parable about a beat-up violin about to be auctioned for $3 until a master violinist steps forward and plays it
  • O, Come, Angel Band
  • Life’s Railway to Heaven
  • Down in the Valley to Pray – acapella camp meeting song

The Christian songs are complemented by tales from other faiths providing food for thought, as well as some humor. Generally these share themes with Christianity, but they may approach them from a different angle that gives us a fresh look.  The stories also give us a fuller view of faiths that guide  our neighbors around the globe.

Sample tales from different faiths  - Thought provoking tales from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other belief systems – mostly serious but a few humorous ones.

Outwitting Fate - In this Hindu tale a young brahman is outraged to discover that the God Brahma has pre-destined the two children of his devout teacher to become a poor farmer and a prostitute. He sets out to trick Brahma and change their destiny.

 The Mustard Seed – When a woman begs the Buddha  to change her poor lot in life, he agrees to do so if she will bring him a mustard seed from a house that has not known sorrow and suffering.

Short tales of Nasrudin Hoja – A Sufi Muslim who lived in Turkey in the 13th century, Nasrudin taught in an odd and often humorous way.

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"I felt in all your contacts that your performances were richly rewarding – both for the warmth of your manner, the balance and variety of your materials, and your skill in demonstration of the many instruments you have mastered. I’m sure almost any age would have a more complete understanding of American folk music if they attended one of your concerts."

– John Bowers, Fountain Street Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan

MOSTLY SECULAR SONGS AND TALES – A veteran performer of four decades Jon presents folk songs from the Appalachian Mountains to all over the United States and the United Kingdom, accompanied on guitar, banjo, autoharp, and mountain dulcimer. These are interwoven with folktales from all over the world.  Often several songs and a tale are tied together along themes that illuminate their meaning. This can be presented in one set of 45-60 minutes or two 45 minute sets.  See adult concerts for more detail.

Sample songs and tales:

  • My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains
  • The Cumberland Land – a stark unaccompanied ballad describing the difficult trek across the mountains to resettle in the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee
  • Over in the Gloryland
  • TALE: The Stolen Donkey - As a farmer leads his donkey home, a thief sneaks off with the donkey while his companion follows in his stead. He convinces the gullible farmer that he is the donkey - finally released from a spell because of good behavior.
  • Barefoot Boy With Boots On
  • Oh, Groundhog!
  • TALE: Ghost legend of a miner’s dog who senses danger before a mine collapse and warns the men
  • The Dream of the Coal Miner’s Child
  • TALE: Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato. A tall tale about the “laziest man in Ireland,” who catches a clever leprechaun, and accepts a giant potato seed in lieu of gold
  • Paddy on the Railway – rousing chorus song of the Irish workers building the transcontinental railway

SONGS & TALES FOR A BETTER WORLD – A more sophisticated version of the children’s/ family program, this concert combines songs of good will with multicultural folk tales emphasizing compassion, community, and justice. Many of the songs can be heard on Jon's CD in progress, One World Family.

Sample songs:

  • Oh, Had I a Golden Thread
  • If We Could Consider Each Other
  • Somos el barco – “Somos el barco, somos el mar/ Yo navego en ti, tú navegas en mi/ We are the boat, we are the sea/ I sail in you, You sail in me.”
  • God Bless the Grass – "God bless the grass that grows through the cracks./ They pour the concrete over it and try to keep it back./The concrete gets tired of what it has to do;/ it breaks and it buckles and the grass grows through...
  • De Colores –  This song celebrating the beauty of Springtime has been used by the United Farm Workers to rejuvenate their spirits amid the difficult struggle for dignity and better working conditions.
  • Like Meat Loves Salt – Before dividing his inheritance a vain old king asks his three daughters how much they love him. When the youngest one answers, "like meat loves salt,” he casts her out.
  • Challah In the Ark – Each week Jacobi  leaves his wife's bread in the temple's holy Ark as a gift to God. The hungry caretaker takes it, thinking it is a gift to him from God. For 30 years God and the angels look on in delight at the devout exchange.
  • Cesar Chavez in the fields -a thumbnail biography of the great leader labor leader– how he fought with diligence and creativity to organize migrant fieldworkers and obtain better working conditions.

SQUARE DANCES (for all ages)

“I just wanted to thank you once again for the wonderful time we all had at the Square dance. You did a super job with the children’s stories, songs and dances. They all really felt a part of the whole evening.”  

– Angie Hobbs, Chairman, Family Ministries Committee, First Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem, NC.


SQUARE DANCE: Another great activity that Jon leads is square dancing. The combination of lively music, physical activity, and social interaction is great for lifting spirits and building the spirit of unity. Jon specializes in teaching complete beginners, although those with experience are certainly welcome. Dancers love the challenge of working together to perform different figures like the big basket, mountaineer loop or bridges.  Children who are 8 or 9 years old or more can usually participate along with the adults. Jon prefers to bring a string band, but he can also lead a dance using recorded music to save money. this is the ultimate collaborative sport! Participants go home with a special skip in their step and a warmth in their heart from having shared this great event with their fellow congregants.

If you wish, Jon and the band members can fill one or more interludes with music and storytelling. A dance event can run anywhere from one to two hours, depending on what seems appropriate for your group and the occasion.

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“You did a great job! You balance the fun of dancing and stories with the serious attention needed for instruction. You guys were the best group we have had in many years!” 

– David McDonald, Program Director, YMCA Camp Cheerio, Glade Valley, NC