Retirement Speech - August 20, 2023
Thank you to Sheila, Mary, and Carol for putting together this retirement party! Their friendship and deep devotion to this parish has sustained me over the years; it’s no surprise that they’re here to administer my last rites.
Last weekend we attended Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in downtown Bozeman, MT. The music served the people well; the cantor stood in front of the assembly with the organist and console off to the side. Other aspects of the liturgy that stood out were the single adult server wearing a suit, Eucharist offered under both species, a young family bringing up the gifts, and the passing of baskets during the Preparation of the Gifts. Everyone sang, and aside from the exclusive use of the organ, it felt like Roncalli Newman Parish. It reminded me of why I love church.
Even though I have always loved church, I had several reasons why I never wanted to work for a church:
1.I didn’t want to be tied down every weekend.
2.I had never studied the organ because I didn’t think I’d ever need the skill.
3.I had never taken a course in sacred scripture or liturgy and most of the bible studies that I tried in college were narrowly focused. At a time when I was searching for deeper meaning, I found that these groups seemed to be making it up as they went along…and I had better things to do.
4.I didn’t find the music very challenging. Even though I was part of a small group of musicians who supplied music every weekend at the Newman Center at Wash U, I didn’t want to plan, prepare, and play that music exclusively.
5.All the church music directors that I knew were rather odd, and I didn’t want to be one of them.
What was going through my head when Tom Walter called and said, “We are looking for a Director of Music at the Newman Center. Do you know anyone who might be interested?” After submitting an application, I remember Fr. Mark asking me if I really wanted the job. I could only answer that “I had an inexplicable feeling in my gut that it was the right thing to do,” and who says “no” to the Holy Spirit?
What I learned was that…
1.I enjoyed playing for Mass and didn’t mind the Saturday/Sunday work schedule.
2.I was no longer afraid of the organ.
3.I worked on a Masters in Theology at St. Mary’s University for three years – taking courses focused on liturgy, ecclesiology, theology, spirituality, and scripture, to name a few. The Diocesan School of Biblical Studies was another avenue of growth for me.
4.The music in my fingers seemed to beckon for more, and before I knew it, I was improvising for the first time in my life; I also exercised arranging and conducting skills which would have gone unused in my teaching job; and I have loved working with Liturgy Committee on Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time liturgies.
5.As for church music directors being odd… They are odd because they love their assemblies and the music ministers who either participate for a time, or stick it out indefinitely. They are also odd because they have moments of panic – wondering if choirs were going to learn all the music thrown at them for high seasons, or trying to remember names of parishioners as they come to Mass. Yes, I have been happily odd for 25 years because knowing all of you has been one of my greatest joys.
After 25 years, I regret:
1. …that I didn’t take a few organ lessons, mainly because it would have added variety to our worship. Organ blends better with brass than the piano, and hearing it from time to time wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.
2. …that I would have had the energy to keep reminding the staff that Roncalli Newman is a parish and not just a center. I know the terms “parish” and “center” have been used interchangeably over the years, but a distinction is imperative now more than ever.
3. I really regret putting a VHS of “What Cantors Should Never Do” (starring Peg Manson) into our VHS player at home. It was promptly eaten…and I cried.
But those regrets are small when compared with 25 years of memories firmly embedded in my memory:
If you have worked with me as a cantor, please stand. (Thank you!)
If you have worked with me as an instrumentalist or choir member, please stand. (Thank you!)
If you have served on Liturgy Committee, please stand. (Thank you!)
If you are a member of Roncalli Newman Parish and cherish our liturgies, please stand.
You are why I love church. Thank you!