It was flagged by a string of “on this day” Facebook memories. Otherwise I might have missed it. No, rather I would not have anticipated it. On the day it was marked in my Bible—in the Psalms and Proverbs readings: “Oct. 7, 2012, last day at College Church.” And so there it was, my first date and day anniversary, Sunday,October 7.
Six years ago today I began life apart from full-time music ministry. Twenty-seven years of Sundays, with up to four services per Sunday; twenty-seven years of weekly choir rehearsals, planning, meetings; twenty-seven years of joy and disappointment, successes and failures, kudos and brickbats.
I thought I would take a year off to finish a master’s degree, probably return to church work, and jump into a Th.D. program somewhere, somehow. I had no idea. But then, I’ve never had any clear idea—never successfully predicted—what “the next thing” would be!
So, this seems like a good time to reflect, to be grateful, to consider the grace that has filled the past six years.
Finishing the MA in Historical Theology at Wheaton Graduate School was a thrilling year. Not since my graduate work at Northwestern had I been so satisfied and challenged intellectually. A year of reading and writing, of classroom interaction and hanging out with people a lot smarter than I am . . . yeah, that was great. And during that year, Karen and I again learned what it means to not really know how our finances were going to work out; we re-learned that no one really knows what each day will bring, and that for decades we had just acted as if we did know. It was exciting to again know that we were living by faith.
Writing my MA thesis was a dream come true. And whilst completing that work, I was surprised by an invitation to interview, then accept an offer to teach music history at Trinity College, Deerfield IL. What I thought would be my life, back at Northwestern, was creeping into my life all these years later. A year as adjunct was followed by a year’s appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor, renewed a few times, and then this past spring turned into a three-year renewable appointment. Teaching—long a dream—has been hard and challenging and fun and rewarding. A year ago I was honored to be handed the baton for the Trinity Concert Choir. Which is above and beyond all that I could have asked or imagined six years ago.
Life with Karen gets richer and more fun all the time. But during these six years both of her parents have entered their eternal reward. She (and to a lesser extent, we) spent a lot of time back and forth between our home and her parents’. She was with each of them when they passed. Her parents’ generation of family is gone: a sobering reality as we entered our sixties.
I have learned some things about myself (chronicled elsewhere) that have put in perspective aspects, memories, and challenges of my past. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that some of my perceived failures were lifelong patterns related to depression; and that others were not in fact my weaknesses but the fault(s) and result(s)—intended or otherwise—of spiritual leadership. Owning my own problems, and recognizing where I have been wronged, is making my late-life career much more manageable and fun.
But the bottom-line (for now at least) is that I am truly done working in the church on a full-time basis. While I deeply miss the weekly church choir rehearsal, and the privilege of contributing to the weekly morning service, there is nothing else I miss about church work. Emphasize nothing. So it has been a special blessing to have had two small church choirs, accounting for nearly three of the six years I have been away from College Church. I have been able to work with that special beloved breed—the volunteer church choir—without the complications of church staff life. I have missed the privilege of choosing congregational music, but for my psychic health and simply as a reality of time available, these have been perfect brief godsends. Of course even now I qualify that bottom-line. Because I will not presume to know what God has in store for Karen and me; not presume that there isn’t some circumstance in which it will become obvious that I belong back in the church. I have not relinquished that part of my identity by which many still know me: pastor. But I am content, and eager to get back to campus today!