Twenty years ago this month I began working as a musician at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. Sometime early in those years I learned the mantra of all church musicians who take their job seriously – that a church musician is a pastor, a teacher, and a musician. In that order, so Eric Routley, who wrote about these three roles of the church musician, adamantly insisted. It’s parallel to the three-legged stool Anglican theologian Richard Hooker outlined – scripture, tradition and reason. And equally analogous to another three-legged stool the Bishop of Maryland talked about in a sermon I shared with Daily Cup readers last year – a Sunday morning version in which liturgy, music and preaching share the weight.Bishop Sutton, sermon “Two Calls”
As we know, it’s an unsteady seat when one of the legs is longer, and returning to Routley, I have tried for twenty years to keep the three legs of my work equally balanced. I can’t imagine how one exists without the other in fact. I can’t teach if I don’t work on my own musicianship. I can’t lead people musically if I haven’t addressed their pastoral concerns in one way or another. And as a pastor I try to teach (or model) the behaviors and skills that will inform the music – i.e. caring enough about the value of music in liturgy and spiritual growth to rehearse and prepare it properly. Of course, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s a three-ring circus instead of a three-legged stool!
I don’t think I knew about these three legs twenty years ago, but I have learned about them and worked hard to make my three-legged duties come alive in this place. As I look back, I see relationships that have bloomed, and some that have ended as people have moved or died. I see failed experiments, and much more often, moments of the Holy Spirit’s work that have taken my breath away. I see performances of shows that had us throwing baseballs in church and dancing down the aisles with streamers. I hear nervous voices singing a solo for the first time, and lusty voices singing in unison while swaying in time. I cherish memories of connections made within St. Albans’ walls – with choirs and instrumentalists from South African townships, Russia, the Citadel, Argentina and too many other places to name. And outside of its walls, in places like Anacostia and Columbia Heights, with the Peace Corps and the National Gallery of Art and Theresienstadt.
Dixieland bands, gentle sounds of the harp, children gathering at the organ during the organ postlude. Twenty years of being stretched and asking others to stretch. For all of this, and so much more, I am grateful because I have not taken one day at St. Alban’s for granted.
How could I celebrate 20 years of music-making at St. Alban’s without some music? Check out something from this: St. Alban’s on YouTube