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    A View from the Pew

    Timing is everything 

    Timing is Everything

    Next week concludes my year as a pastoral musician at Emmanuel College in Boston. After a year of searching for a full time campus minister of music, the college hired a young man who will begin his work this coming August. Because some of the Colleges of the Fenway end their semester after Emmanuel’s semester ceases, I will return next week for one last Sunday morning liturgy to serve those students who worship in the college chapel. Simultaneously, Stonehill College also just hired a young and talented new campus minister for music and liturgy. Both colleges now have campus ministers of music and liturgy after waiting for over a year for the just the right persons to surface. Timing is everything.

    I seriously considered accepting Emmanuel’s repeated offers to stay on as the college’s campus minister for music. I enjoyed a similar position at Stonehill for ten years and two years at UMASS Dartmouth as a part-time campus minister, just to get my feet wet. The pastoral minister’s work on a college campus can be similar to a parish but academia is really its own world. I really prayed and discerned whether I should resume campus ministry with people and a place that I came to love over the course of this year.  I also thoroughly enjoyed sharing this year’s ministry with several of my children. My daughter, Martha, served as the principle cantor for the Sunday morning liturgies and my son, Tim, took care of the evening liturgical music. Our small musical ensembles morphed into a little extended family, as most musical groups usually become. The director and his campus ministry staff, the president of the college and her academic and administrative staff could not have been more gracious, hospitable and grateful to us the Gannons throughout the course of this entire year. Tim, a teacher at Cardinal Spellman in Brockton loves his school and work and passed up a position as an RD at Emmanuel. As much as Tim loved the college and the students, he knows that his calling lies in high school education. Might the course of Tim’s life changed if Emmanuel’s position had been extended before he began to teach? Who can say? Timing is everything. I readily admit that I will miss the people and this particular ministry very much. So why leave?

    Three really good reasons

    I am a permanently disabled person. Because of chronic spine issues, I cannot sit for periods that extend beyond 20 minutes. Nor can I stand in one place for longer than five minutes. Inactivity causes extreme pain and immobility. I can leg press 300 pounds while simultaneously lifting 50 pound weights over my head, climb 10 sets of stadium stairs without stopping and core plank for fifty seconds at a time. I do that and more with my physical trainer, who gets me through a workout like Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb.  But I cannot sit, twist or even pass a vacuum without panicking that I will rupture another disk and end up with a third back surgery. This time, that surgery means a fusion. And once you fuse a spine, you fuse forever, with little more than a slight lessening of pain. The enemy? Sitting. You rarely think about how much sitting pastoral ministry involves until sitting becomes the foe. Imagine this scenario: in the middle of a liturgy, the pastoral musician stands up to say, “We pause for a commercial break; the music minister needs to stretch on a palates ball or do a bit of yoga before we sing Amen.” (Hey, wait: that could be fun!) So will I take a job that includes a daily commute into Boston every day for meetings, rehearsals and liturgies?  Not even an option.


    I know when it’s time to call it a day. The signs in our lives point us to beginnings and endings. Do we read them? Prayer and discernment, a supportive community and your own authenticity reaps profuse results when approached from that deepest place of honesty within us, where God lives. For example, I can no longer sing; acid reflux, multiple throat surgeries and allergies stripped my vocal chords. Oh, I can still manage to kick a good sound out now and then. However, I can no longer depend on my voice to produce beautiful music. Why hang on to what no longer can be? I had a great vocal run and feel grateful for sharing that wonderful gift for so many years. Now I refer anyone looking for a good singer to the marvelous young people who are beginning their careers and need the work. Rather than trying to cleave to my old life, I constantly find new life when I offer younger and very gifted artists opportunities to create music.


    In my newest collection of original music Tell Them About Me, I am no longer the artist. All of the collection’s artists are young people in their twenties and singing my music. I can honestly tell you that the experience is better than gold. I’m learning how to produce and engineer with wonderful colleagues and seasoned professionals who answer my thousand questions with patience, collegiality and humor. When a church or school asks me to play for a liturgy, I only accept one liturgy at a time and find young cantors who eagerly approach pastoral work with their own gifts and enthusiasm. These days, rather than sitting for hours and writing meeting reports, I write creative monthly columns, a weekly blog and work on a few other creative writing projects (more on those another time). When I think about the pastoral work of a college campus minister, I know that a qualified younger person who may need a good mentor will learn and do that work very, very well. I will be very happy to serve them as a mentor and teacher. Years of experience pays off. Timing is everything.


    To put it metaphorically, when you prune a bush, it looks bare for a little while, kind of bleak and sad. Then the beauty of that new flower makes you wonder what took you so long to trim the bush. Better to let the old shrub stand or cut it back to produce new blossom? You tell me.


    Responding to a call I learned from Fr. Michal Himes that three elements mark a vocational call: (a)What brings you joy? (b) Are you any good at it?  (c) Is anyone asking you to do it?


    What brings me joy? Music and liturgy. What am I good at? Inspiring others to love music and liturgy and creating good community. Who asks me to do that? You do.


    For many years, I’ve heard you when you ask for assistance in matters of liturgy and music. I’ve paid attention when you call me or write to me as you search for ways to theological reflect and apply liturgical mystagogy. I listen to you when you express a real thirst for a community of support that will inspire and nurture you as you pour your heart and soul into your ministry. And I have long admired your courage, your diligence, your love and hard work on behalf of your faith communities. You live the mystery. And you’ve marked me, for better or worse, as someone that you’ve chosen to lead. So here’s what I’m doing about that.


    I’ve applied for grant funding to establish The Roncalli Center, named for Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, who opened wide the doors of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago in October 2012. I’ve envisioned this center for many, many years as a response to your pastoral needs. We need to rekindle the embers of what stoked our fire of faith in that moment of aggiornamento, a bringing up to date a breath of the Spirit of God, of change and new life and open-mindedness. Here’s a little of the language of one of the grants applications:


    “By revisiting Vatican II, the Roncalli Center hopes to educate, support and enrich the liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church through evangelization. Through a focus on the Catholic tradition in the liturgical arts with the use of technology, the new frontier of evangelization, the Center hopes to provide an organic approach and experience of robust and well deployed liturgy to once again set hearts on fire with the spirit of what the Second Vatican Council initiated. This work creates a plan of succession for future generations in liturgical ministry.” 


    Timing is everything. In several conversations with my spiritual director, a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston about my vision for the center, she extended the invitation to utilize their magnificent facility in Brighton as a site campus for liturgies, meeting space and collegiality. Their foresighted renovation makes virtual capacity possible for people who cannot physically be present to attend any of the Roncalli Center’s events. I’m working on funding, a website, programming, a network, grant applications and a tiny starter staff with really great people. This center is for you; pray for its success. I take the show on the road and write in my sleep, while I work out at the gym or plank and stretch on a palates ball.  


    The Roncalli Center didn’t come out of the blue; I’ve dreamed it for twenty years. God’s timing is never ours and always perfect. I’m responding to the same Christian call in new and creative way. Like a good sheep, I heard a familiar voice and I know that I’m on the right path and I know whose arms I will find at the end of that road. Am I just a little bit afraid? Well, the sheep are always afraid of the wolves, but they depend on the shepherd to protect them from harm.


    I came clean to my spiritual director and admitted my trepidation about the new road ahead. As usual when I begin a new project, I have a vision and no idea where that vision will lead. “Get over it,” she calmly stated. She was right. The Lord is my light and my salvation; of whom should I be afraid?