Monday, May 10, 2010

A long faithfulness

I had the pleasure this past weekend to attend the alumni-driven retirement dinner for an important person in my musical education. Mr. Gerald Edmonds has retired from a distinguished 41-year career at the Moody Bible Institute. For 33 of those years, he conducted the Moody Chorale - long considered the flagship musical 'face' of MBI. In 1970, as a young faculty member, he founded the Moody Concert Band. And it was primarily as my band director that I interacted with "Mr. Ed" during my matriculation at Moody, 1973-76.

He also taught choral arranging, and conducting, and some of the church music sequence. And orchestration. So, come to think of it, he really was my primary music professor for 3 years. And as the band director, he also headed up the instrumental division in those years. That meant taking the lead on weekly Repertoire & Ensemble classes, semester juries, and recitals. So, yeah, Mr. Ed was pretty much my music education.

But, really, you can't blame him for the results. He did what he could. And you may rightly pity him, since as a young and immature music student I was never easy. I came to the Institute woefully unprepared to be a music major, and as a trombonist, only marginally qualified. First testimony: I was in the program, and in the band, by grace - and that mediated through Gerald Edmonds. I know (really, honestly, truly, I know) there are days he regretted that. But I hope that there were also moments when he felt there was hope, and I trust he has come to appreciate that God somehow had some purposes in it. I'm writing today to say that I am thankful Mr. Ed was instrumental in those purposes. (yes, pun intended)

We have some stories, good and bad. Have I mentioned that I was young and immature? How about a supreme goof-off? This isn't about those stories. Saturday night was an evening of tribute for a man who loves God, loves his people, has a high standard for music-making and instilled that in generations of students. And through and over it all, knows all this comes from God and is genuinely a tribute to God's work in his life.

A generational connection was beautifully demonstrated. Mr and Mrs Edmonds, before they were Mr and Mrs, sang in the Moody Chorale, with Donald Hustad conducting. Dr. Hustad was present Saturday night to participate in the recognition. So, many in that room were able to see that they are "the grandchildren" in the tradition. An evening of appropriate recognition of a man's impact, in the context of God's greater work. Someone aptly said, "the kind of evening you don't want to come to an end." And as one of my band mates said, "the sort of thing you usually only hear at funerals." How nice to hear and participate in it with the honoree still able to enjoy (and correct) it!

Adding to all that I have noted above, Karen and I had the joy of hanging out with former band-mates and renewing those friendships and telling our own, non-Chorale, stories about Mr Ed. I said we were the "sullen minority" - because those of us who were in his bands felt "betrayed" when he took up the baton for the Chorale. Of course, it made perfect sense that he would, and wisdom is proved right by her children. Still, we made our presence and our preferences known. Rowdy is, I think, how the MC described us. And obvously, since he was our director before any Chorale alum's ... we were the oldest present.

A small group, our presence there was pretty much random. None of us made any special  effort to get band members to turn out for this. So it was especially fun, and remarkable, that the 5 couples associated with band - and that meant 7 former band members - had all been in band at the same time. 6 of the 7 had been on the one international tour the band took in Mr Ed's band career. 2 of the 5 couples are the the lifelong unions begun as band romances. My Karen, at least, was a band "groupie" since that was where nearly all my Moody friends were. So we were not just bound by a common experience but by that particular experience - a few brief years, under the direction of a fine musician doing remarkable things for an historic institution.

I leave most funerals and memorial services, (a) wishing that I had known that person, or known her/him better, and (b) feeling that my own life does not and will not match up. And such was the impact of this recognition as well. It hit especially when his daughters spoke. They grew up having to share their father with generations of students in a busy career including both the school and church. But he clearly managed it well, as heard in their testimony ... And as I have witnessed first hand, since one of the daughters is a key volunteer colleague in the music ministry of College Church; married to a chorale alum from the Edmonds years. Huge testimony, that.

We are all called to something, and equipped according to our calling. Comparisons are meaningless, at best, and dangerous at worst. But in one thing, we are held to the same standard: Faithfulness in our calling. And a long faithfulness, at that. What a privilege it has been to see Mr Ed's long faithfulness, up close and personal, from a distance, and then through his students and his family. It doesn't really matter, finally, what my children or my church will say of me at the end of my career or my life. What really matters is whether I am faithful to the end. This weekend I was privileged to see what that looks like - like the biblical examples, even if imperfectly. "So teach me to order my days!"

Monday, May 3, 2010

A privilege I don't covet

I have had occasion to preach. A sermon. In a church service. With people in attendance.

As opposed to "preaching to the choir."

It is a privilege I don't covet, and I am all too happy to be a partner to preachers, by planning and preparing music appropriate to the text of the day.

But I will spend the bulk of this week in the annual Workshop on Biblical Exposition at College Church. This is a gathering of several dozen preachers, for "spring training" in a particular approach to Christian preaching. As ours has been the host church for years, and my previous senior pastor was the host/co-headliner of the event, it has always been one of those "command performances" in my annual calendar. And (like men's retreats, and Sunday evening services) something I don't really look forward to, but am always glad I went.

I do not look to these weeks as a way of inching my way to what some consider 'real ministry' ... that is, to become a preacher. But I have found over the years that by going through the Workshop I become a better student of scripture, and thus a better partner to preachers and the preached part of our gathered worship. And yes, sure, on those random occasions when I do preach, it helps immensely!

The Workshop has 3 components:
  1. Instruction: background, tools, and topics presented by mature, gifted pastor/preachers. (This year the focus is on Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature.)
  2. Model exposition: the Workshop leaders (usually 2, sometimes 3) preach a recent sermon as a demonstration of this particular approach. A couple of comments here. First - "model" as in example, not as in "hey, look at me and try to top this!" My experience is that these are always offered very humbly. And (and this is a part of the humility, I think), the sermons are to be the preacher's most recent (or most recent of the genre), and not their "silver bullet" sermon.
  3. Small group workshop: here's where everybody rolls up their sleeves and gets dirty. All participants prepare outlines and preaching points, and these are shared for peer review in groups of 5-8 fellow preachers, who often don't know each other before the week begins. Guided by a gifted or more advanced preacher - always an alumnus of the Workshop - the group helps one another fine tune their work in the passages at hand. That's humbling, and encouraging.
So, as a musician, where and how do I fit into this? Well, to be honest, some years I beg off the small group aspect. But most years, I do my homework and come to the small group as prepared (or not) as the other preachers. And I take my lumps, and I contribute to the conversation. And at the end of the week I have a little more in my toolbox, and have sharpened up some older ones, and I move ahead and say ...

"Preaching is a privilege I don't covet."

But I do enjoy the felllowship of this kind of ministry, and I have the very great privilege of preparing our daily time of singing together. Of introducing new songs and old hymns, and interacting with pastors who are eager to learn more about what they could be doing musically in their churches, and how to find resources, and how to interact with their musicians. These are conversations that I could not have if I did not engage in all the Workshop. They know I am not just dropping in to lead singing, then retreating to my office until the next morning.

I wish other music pastors came to these Workshops with their preachers. (And yes, I wish preachers would go to Music workshops with their musicians, too!) For one thing, I would like to become acquainted and spend time with more church musicians who see their work as Ministry of the Word. For another, I think a lot of really committed church musicians are more serious about this kind of ministry than their senior ministers are aware, and would eat it up and benefit from it. Also, preachers can and do inhabit their own little worlds, just as musicians can and do. It would be great if more of these partners spent this kind of time together and became "iron sharpening iron."

Of course, almost nothing in anyone's education for ministry suggests this kind of partnership, cross-pollenization, or camarderie. So, we should be creating it wherever we can. And that's what I look forward to in my "preaching week" this week.