Sunday, October 8, 2017

Five Years

Five years ago today (I am writing on a Thursday, October 5; the rehearsal was a Thursday, Oct. 4.) I led my final rehearsal with the College Church Chancel Choir. Three days later I was in my final services as Pastor for Worship and Music at College Church in Wheaton. I guess it's time for a few reflections . . .

In another space I have been writing about what turns out to be a related issue. Or at least, I should say, an issue that has some bearing on my ministry, my transition, and how I reflect on both. Those posts are more personal than I'll get here; here I'm more historical I guess.

In the five years since I served the church full-time, and conducted that splendid choir, I have had an interim stint with a symphonic chorus, two semesters with a college symphonic band, two-and-a-half years with a small church choir, a full year away from the choral conductor podium. I have been musical director for two campus musicals. I am now in my second month with a college choir.

I have returned to my trombone--though I'm still far from my recital chops. I play in church, sit in with the college band, had a year or so in the college jazz ensemble (trying to learn improvisation), and have even picked up a few bucks in the occasional gig. That has been fun. I even bought a second trombone!

My voice, which was at risk five years ago, has recovered. I have taken the risk of singing in public and more and more to demonstrate in the classroom and rehearsals. I put my hands on the piano with less self-consciousness (though not more skill), use my ukulele in class, and learned the three necessary guitar chords.

So, what about my vocation? What part does leadership in musical worship play in my work and relationships?

I still get calls and emails from former colleagues, with questions and resource requests for regular and seasonal services. I teach music and worship courses at Trinity, and oversee students internships in church music. University chapel personnel are gracious and welcoming of my participation and input. (Even if I am the campus poster boy for hymn-singing, I appreciate that.) Our music department is working our way to a revised church music curriculum, and probably a worship arts major. My experience in the church is considered valuable, and I have the privilege of serving churches by helping prepare young people for music and worship leadership.

I do have an unsettled relationship with the local church. Karen and I are attending a church associated with College Church, but we also take the freedom of Sundays to visit other congregations. We find it difficult to engage deeply; while we don't like to be, we are pretty much "one and done" church-goers. This is partly due to the uncertainty of my teaching gig (we're reluctant to move closer to campus without a long-term contract; and we're reluctant to grow again into a church that we might move away from), and partly due to a deep sense of loss we both carry from our departure from ministry at College Church. We long for a deeper and more sustained connection with a congregation. We hope that will again be a part of our life.

All told, while I am still very much in transition (and aren't we all, always?) the past five years have flown by and have been filled with wonderful surprises, rich blessings, and grace piled upon grace.

I am thankful.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse

Yesterday—August 12, 2017—the nation witnessed an alarming, disgusting public display of white supremacist/Nazi-symbol-toting protest, a predictable counter-protest, and the loss of three lives and many injuries. Social media erupted, with many (Christians and peoples of others faiths and no faith) decrying the march and calling for the deaths to be named acts of domestic terror.

Can anything good come of this? Will this be any sort of wake-up or call to repentance for a number of systemic evils that plague the U.S.? What are churches saying today? (As I write this on a Sunday morning while on vacation and not in a service.) Specifically, I wonder what is being said in the churches called “home” by the supposed 80% of white evangelicals that voted for Donald Trump—who has still failed to denounce white supremecists.

One thing to denounce the players in yesterday’s tragedy. Another to call the church to take a stand. Yet another to make a personal commitment to be part of the solution. How will I do the latter, and from what position, with what convictions, using which resources?

In the course of my typical Sunday morning Bible reading and prayer, this morning I turned again to the Evangelisches Kirkengesangbuch (from the Lutheran Church  in Lower Saxony). (It’s just how I wrap up my Sunday morning devotions and work on my German.) The opening prayer for this Sunday of the church year seems so timely. If I understand it correctly, it translates:
Give us the Spirit, O Lord, who always desires justice and will bring it about with your help: so that we, who can do nothing without you, may receive strength to live according to your will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.

Did I get that right, that word “justice” [das Rechte]? I do want under the circumstances to avoid “the right” (though it is obviously not a political reference). “Who always desires us to do what is right” would work, I guess, but there is not that verb. No, it seems “justice” is not only apt and timely, but correct. But just to be sure, I check the Book of Common Prayer.

(Something I should look into: what is the common source that results in these two traditions sharing so many collects?)  Anglicans this morning may have heard or prayed: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . Amen.

“The Spirit who always desires justice” . . . “the spirit to always think and do those things that are right.”  Yes, they come at it slightly differently, but pray for the same thing. Because what is justice but doing the right thing? There is no justice without righteousness. And true righteousness will be just.

My friends in liturgical traditions will today be helped through the pain of yesterday by prayers long established and often prayed. My free church evangelical friends will—I hope—be guided by similarly wise prayers. At my own “family altar” I find myself praying under the guidance of the cloud of witnesses, learning to pray in troubling times, and prodded to ask that I “who can do nothing without” the Lord may be “enabled [given strength] to live according to God’s will.”