Monday, August 3, 2015

. . . and the Ladies

My previous post is woefully incomplete on many counts. But especially as it gives the impression that only men were important partners in my music ministry. Wrong.

Karen figures into everything I write—often explicitly, but nearly always implicitly. I survived three decades in this work because of her. She kept me going when I was discouraged, she saw things in my that I could not see in myself, and she brought her outstanding gift of hospitality to the church and our home.

Karen did not want me to go into ministry. She came into this life thirty years ago, kicking and screaming. (Not literally, but that is only because she is so classy.) She was raised in a Baptist church, her father was an elder, and she saw some terrible things happen to pastors and leaders. She did not want to see that again, and didn’t want it to be part of our family life. Not to mention that change is hard, and with this change—10 years into our marriage—I would be embarking on an exciting new venture, but she would be leaving behind all her friends, her church, and the home we loved. More to come.

There were a number of women at Berean Baptist Church, Burnsville, MN, who were the strength of the music ministry before I came, and continued faithfully after I left. The Graded Choir program was run by a creative and competent trio of directors: Kay Mundt, Sherry Kix, and Kathy Severson. They kindly called me out when necessary, and gave me one of the best lessons of my life: I quickly learned that giving a crew like this the freedom and responsibility, their program was going to be much stronger than if I kept my hand in it. What a joy to see them love children, prepare good music, and put on great children’s musicals.

Elsewhere I have written about my friend Steve (“the first friend I almost killed on a bicycle”). Steve and Jackie Thompson were deeply involved in the church’s music program before I came, and stayed involved until they got involved in a church plant. Jackie was—and I’m sure still is!—a fantastic pianist. She had style, panache, skill, and a joy that made working with her a blast. We worked together a lot on Sunday evenings, and for a time had a bit of a combo going, which I like to call “the JT 5.” Good times, with a classy lady who loved to take risks.

Being the kind of Baptist church it was, Berean had an organ/piano duo that played in all the morning services. Adele (piano) and Carol (organ) were faithful, devoted, joyful, and fun. They welcomed me into their well-established routine, then let me change it on them. They refused to be paid, not because that would place some kind of restraint on them, but because they were charter members of the church, loved what they did, and lived to serve. Oh, I put them through a lot. We laughed a lot.

College Church also had a strong children’s choir program, with a young mixed choir, a girls’ choir and a boys’ choir. While the boys’ directors changed occasionally (one director called this choir the Dead End Kids, but he meant it lovingly, and he did a good job with them), Jennifer and Debbie had been in their roles for a while, and are still. That long-term faithfulness sustains one of the best church children’s choir programs around. Jennifer’s gift of administration is second only to her mastery of the developing child’s voice. Debbie has the knack of drawing out beautiful music from girls grades 3–6, with discipline heavily dosed with love. The program under their long watchful care excels in teaching children the role and place of music in public worship. Brava!

Diane Jordan, Children’s Ministry Director at College Church, is a musician, a horn player, and fiercely committed to the place of music in children’s programs. Pre-schoolers sing hymns (as well as other children’s songs). Diane was very visible as a founding and sustaining member of the church’s excellent brass ensemble. Diane was not only on the same page as me musically; she often led the charge in staff meetings, private conversations, and in public.

Elaine Meyer was my administrative assistant through my last few years at College Church. An excellent organist, and good with people, she made my work that much easier as other aspects of my ministry got more complicated. Elaine was preceded by Claudia Gerwin, whose diligence and passion inspired and informed me.

Obviously, in both churches, women were the backbone of much of the music-making. I would be remiss not to mention choir members, worship team musicians, accompanists and service players. But if I start listing names, I won’t be able to stop. So I’ll just say, I’m thankful not to have done music ministry in a monastery!  

Thirty years ago I handled this change of life badly. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I did not handle well Karen’s reservations; did not really comprehend the nature and extent of  disruption this was going to mean. But in time Karen not only saw that it was right for me; she saw that it was right for us. (Oh, and I should mention that our Baptist church was nothing like what she experienced growing up!) And when—more often than I will admit—I was prepared to toss in the towel, it was Karen who saw the big picture, and my place in it.

And she continues to be that partner in our current stage of life as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Three decades of music ministry. Hmm . . . which sounds older? Thirty years, or three decades?

Today I name names:

Henri Manasse, friend, boss, music chair. Karen and I called Henri my godfather. We sat next to each other in the choir at the Village Church. He hired me part-time while I was a student, to do some record-keeping work at the U of I College of Pharmacy, where he was Associate Dean. Later he hired me to manage his office staff. As chair of the music committee at the church, he also arranged for me to be the assistant to the minister of music.

Don Doig, minister of music, Village Church of Western Springs. Don was Chicago’s sweetest-voiced tenors, a professor at Chicago State University, and our choir director. He traveled to sing, and as his assistant I had the privilege of directing his fine choir. As assistant in the church, I also directed the children’s choir, worked with a high school ensemble, and directed hand bells. I did this for three years, then when I went back to grad school part-time, I continued as a volunteer substituting with the choir. Thanks to Don, I had some experience to offer as I was called into full time church music work. Shortly after we moved back to Illinois 11 years later, Don was diagnosed with cancer, and he died way too young. I still regret that I didn’t have the chance to use him as the tenor soloist in oratorios at College Church.

John F. Wilson, friend, collaborator, mentor. I’ve mentioned John several times in recent posts. He set me on the worship pastor track, and encouraged me all along the way.

Jerry Sheveland, pastor, Berean Baptist Church, who took a risk on an inexperienced candidate in 1985, when there were plenty of older, experienced options. I served with Jerry for four years, and when he left I felt that I had worked through a probationary period. It was good for me to begin this life with a man who really did not understand music, but well understood his congregation! Jerry took a church in southern California, and from there became the “pope” of the Baptist General Conference.

Steve Thompson, friend. Steve could have done my job at Berean, very well indeed. That he did not want to was something of a mystery to me in 1985. Later, I understood his wisdom. Steve was a friend, colleague, co-conspirator, and confidant. Steve was also a cycling buddy, and now is among the cloud of witnesses.

Gary Allen, elder, Berean Baptist. When Jerry moved to California, Gary was head elder. Under his leadership, I was given the responsibility of where the buck stops in worship. I did not exactly have free rein (or free reign, ha!) but I did blossom in ways that surprised me and others. During this long interim—16 months—I made a lot of mistakes, and had some amazing successes. Gary was a good leader.

Roger Thompson, pastor, Berean. Roger’s arrival was a timely breath of fresh air. I was beginning to tire of holding the bag alone. We understood each other. He once said, “If I tell Chuck, I think this should be orange, he knows what I mean.” Well, we never did talk to each other that way, but you know what he meant, and I (usually) did get it! Also, Roger could read music, but did not consider himself a musician. We only had five years together, but they were good ones. I learned a lot, and enjoy the rare times we can be together.

Kent Hughes, pastor, College Church in Wheaton. More than a year before I landed at College Church, Kent had preached a sermon, “Vision 2000.” I picked up a copy of this sermon in August, 1995, read it in October 1995, and was impressed with his articulate vision and the church’s commitment to historic worship. Imagine my delighted surprise when I ended up a candidate, then a staff member on Kent’s team. With Kent, I had a pastor with a strong aesthetic sense to go with his keen theology with a vibrant ecclesiology. We shared a decade of ministry on which I look back with gratitude and amazement. It was not always easy, and no we did not always agree. But I trusted Kent, I admired the staff he assembled, and I thrived musically, pastorally, and theologically.

Greg Wheatley, friend, collaborator, coffee conspirator. Like Steve, Greg is a guy who, when I arrived, I wondered why he wasn’t doing this job. Lucky for me, he wasn’t the least bit interested, but was always available to fill in for me, talk about the work, and inspire me. Happily, I have lived long enough for Greg to finally take on this work and is currently serving a congregation as their music director.

Interns. These young people get their own post.

Josh Moody, senior pastor, College Church. The two-year interim between senior pastors at College Church was not the season of thriving that I had experienced at Berean. That’s a whole different story, probably best left untold. The short version is that, whereas earlier the interim prepared me for the long haul, the later interim convinced me that this part of my life was probably wrapping up. Josh’s ministry, and our work together, did nothing to disabuse me of that conviction. We had a good relationship, but did not have the “connection” that I had with Roger and with Kent. Perhaps I was more tired than I knew; probably I misunderstood and misread the culture of the staff and  the elder team. Ultimately, it really seemed the right thing for me to step away while everything was “OK.” Through the process, Josh was understanding, encouraging, and affirming. Many people in ministry don’t get such a gracious exit.

So many more people I could call out. I hope I will over time. And of course, there are still people of great influence in my life—some continuing, others are new in the past three years. Each, like these I’ve named today, are God’s gifts to many, and thankfully I can say, also to me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

All the things I'm not

“I have served two large churches, because I’m not talented enough to serve a small church.”

Another, rather more detailed and disparaging description: I’m a church musician who does not play the organ; a worship leader who does not play the piano or guitar; a pastor without a seminary degree; a choir director whose performance degree is in trombone; a conductor mostly trained on the job.

When I am in the mood to put a positive spin on it, I admit that my strength in music ministry has been as a steward of others’ musical gifts. I do not deny that I have a certain musical sense and vision. I have a gift for programming—whether the selection of hymns for a Sunday morning or the creation of a seasonal service or special concert—I know how to put things together. I did not know that 30 years ago; it took others to recognize and name that as a spiritual gift. Some think I am a gifted administrator; I think I just have a strong self-defense instinct.

Early on, it was a challenge to appreciate the clearly superior gifts of the musicians in my care. I felt threatened by the amazing pianist, the creative organist, the guitarist who could instantly harmonize any melody they heard. I had to get over myself . . . my insecurities and real or perceived shortcomings . . . to get to the point of celebrating the amazing gifts that others offered so faithfully and generously. Only then did I have the freedom to be a steward, and to joyfully put others before myself.

Paradoxically, only as a contented steward could I fully enter into those activities and undertakings that gave me greatest pleasure and most fully used my gifts.
* I finally gained the courage to undertake the preparation and conducting of oratorios. With fond memories of Messiah, Creation, and Saint Paul, I can—if I have to!—go to my choral grave content.
* A long string of internships blossomed into what was the highlight of my last few years in full-time ministry. It is a thrill for me to see former interns thriving in the musical world as they encounter it.
* I still get great pleasure from helping others with questions of hymnody and related liturgical questions.

It is good to know my limitations. It is better not to feel stuck with them.

Thirty years ago this month, I became a pastoral musician. I’m still trying to sort out all that means, and I’m still eager to fulfill that vocation, in whatever form it takes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I have the distinction of being the first full-time pastor for worship and music at two large churches. Both were overdue for this position—Berean because of its quick growth in less than 25 years; College Church because of its long history of outstanding music ministry.

A friend of mine in another region of the country was courted for the College Church position. It seemed a perfect match on all sides. But when it came down to standing as the candidate, George felt it was not right to do so. He demurred, and he passed along my name.

The search committee already had a lead on a guy in the Chicago area. Who just happened to be in a study cohort with me. Both he and the search committee felt that this was not going to be a good match. As Dave left the process, he suggested that they get in touch with me.

Now the search committee was curious. How was it that two  people, who did not know each other, and lived in different regions of the country, with no prior contact with College Church, would recommend the same unknown person from yet a third region?

Every position I have held since college, has come to me through—because of—someone I know recommending me. My first full-time job, my post-grad school “day job,” was offered to me by the guy who sang next to me in the church choir. Henri was also the music committee chair, and arranged for me to work part-time as the assistant to our minister of music. A friend in an influential publishing company recommended me to Berean. Two friends who would have been quite happy (and successful) at College Church, recommended me instead. This trajectory continues right to the present, with my academic work. But that ‘s a story for another time.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That rankles, doesn’t it? There are many who could have done better than I, wherever I have been. I haven’t deserved the positions I’ve had. When I pursued something “on my own,” it was a near disaster. The lesson for me has been to be faithful to what God has given me to do; do the work of networking and job hunting when necessary; and then just be surprised at what God is going to do anyway.

Your results may vary. But this is my story, and it is a story of grace.

Thirty years ago this month, I became a pastoral musician. I’m still trying to sort out all that means, and I’m still eager to fulfill that vocation, in whatever form it takes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Road Hazard

To this day, I suspect that Berean’s search committee had resumes from two Charles Kings (it is, after all, a pretty common name) and that they pulled the wrong one when making the call. Mistake or no, there I was, and I hope Berean will agree God gave us eleven good years together!

During a time of restlessness, nine years into my tenure in Burnsville, I scanned music ministry job postings. We ended up going to interview with a church in North Carolina. It was a botched weekend, on the church’s side: they had not been clear about the expectations, and it seemed they were eager to move much faster than we were, or than we thought they were. There were other issues that concerned Karen. We returned to Minnesota, disagreeing pretty strongly about whether to take the next step, which seemed to be tantamount to agreeing to go.

We were approaching our 20th wedding anniversary, and a decade in ministry, and had the most difficult, most terrifying season of life together. Finally, even my thick head could see that even if I didn’t see the danger Karen saw, she has a better danger radar than I do; she is smarter than I am; and that this move might just undo us. Call it feminine intuition. I call it the Holy Spirit. She was right. And when I gave that church my final “no,” we stepped back and assessed the situation.

Karen, being Karen, thought she was wrong to be so obstinate. I believed she had to be in order for me to pay attention to her keener spiritual sense. She promised never again to say “no” to a job I was interested in. I asked her to say “no” as often as she needed to to keep me from being stupid.

Two years later (during which time I was not looking for other positions!) I was candidating for the worship and music position at College Church in Wheaton. True to her word, Karen never said “no.” I had finally learned enough (if no more) to ask, include, and press her input at every step. When we were asked to come to College Church, it was for both of us an exciting step to take. Not easy, mind you . . . leaving people you love, and a home in which you are happy, is never easy. But it was exciting.

Thirty years ago this month, I became a pastoral musician. I’m still trying to sort out all that means, and I’m still eager to fulfill that vocation, in whatever form it takes.