an article written for the St. Luke's Chapel Choir's bi-yearly anthology
"For example, something about you that people don’t know."
When Mr. Ohnishi approached me about this article, he suggested the above theme. Later, when I looked over the paper he gave me, I also noticed “my encounter with a choir” as a suggested theme. So I decided on a combination: “Something about me that people don’t know, that has to do with my encounter with a choir.”
When I was 22, I was working at an entry-level position at an ad firm in my home town in Texas. One weekend when I traveled out of state to a friend’s wedding, I met my ex-girlfriend from college, and before I knew it the old flame came roaring back to life.
A few months later, I quit my job, said goodbye to my protesting family, packed all my worldly possessions into a car and drove 1,000 kilometers to Atlanta, my heart full of thoughts of building a family and building a career in advertising.
In short, I bet the farm on “the love that lasts forever.”
It was all very exciting and romantic. And stupid.
Within two weeks of arriving in Atlanta, I discovered that my girlfriend was NOT betting the farm on “the love that lasts forever” but rather betting little plots of the farm on several different boyfriends. You might call it risk management, or different values, or playing the field.
Whatever it was, I was not down with it, and terminated the relationship. I promptly fell into a deep funk.
The problem was, now I was alone in a strange town, with no place to live, no job, and not much money. My car became my warehouse and my bedroom. I parked at night next to a public park, always worrying about whether the police would come around.
I sent my resume out to dozens of ad agencies, but had no luck landing any interviews. In fact, I couldn’t get interviews for jobs waiting tables! So I was basically spinning my wheels, at a total loss about what to do next with my life.
Around this time, I happened upon a beautiful old Episcopal church. The last time I was in church was the previous Christmas with my family. And that had been the first time in a long time. You might say I was a long way from being a “model Christian.” At that time, I wasn’t even sure I believed in God.
But I felt drawn to this church. The signboard out front said there was a service of the Stations of the Cross on the coming Friday. When I was a child, during Lent I used to go to the Stations of the Cross service every Friday with my family. The service was way too long, although it was kind of interesting because we all got to walk from station to station, making a big circuit around the inside of the church. But what I enjoyed most was the potluck supper after the service!
So maybe it was nostalgia which brought me back to this church on Friday. The service was a little lonely, with just the priest and one other parishioner besides myself.
But then, as we started walking to the first station, we sang the Stabat Mater dolorosa—“At the cross her vigil keeping…” (Hymn 149). Suddenly I was back home again, standing between my mother and father. For a little while, I forgot I was alone in a strange city, forgot I was homeless, forgot I was heartbroken, forgot everything.
I just sang, and recalled Christ’s final hours of suffering as we walked slowly around the church.
The priest approached me after the service. I’m sure he wondered who the devil I was. He had a gift that many priests I know have—namely, the gift of strongarming people into doing service at the church. “Have you ever sung in a choir?”
Next thing I knew I was a bass in the Church of Our Saviour choir. The choir took me in like a long lost relative. I got to know them. The alto who was a lab technician at the famous Centers for Disease Control. The tenor who was still single and living at home and could have been a stand-up comedian. The elderly soprano and bass couple, neither of whom had very strong voices but they sure loved Jesus. The bass who knew everything there was to know about the history of church music.
And, of course, there was a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle!) rivalry between the two best sopranoes (I’m convinced this is a phenomenon you can find in any church choir anywhere in the world--I wonder about St. Luke’s choir!).
Thursday night choir practice was the highlight of my week. (It wasn’t like I had to make room for it in my busy schedule!). So I kept going week after week, even when I finally got a job and a place to live in a different part of town.
And, of course, now I had an obligation to go to church on Sunday, too. This church had High Solemn Mass every Sunday (this was a very High Church kind of place) and the choir played an important role in leading worship.
So without planning on it, I found myself back in church again. It was a strange feeling. Somewhere, I guess I had thought I had moved on from religion. But now I found myself surrounded by stained glass and incense and candles and pious Christians. I was reciting the prayers thanks to which I had come to love the English language.
To tell the truth I have no memory of the sermons preached. I do remember the deep comfort of being fed week by week on the Body and Blood of Christ, despite the fact that I had ignored Him for so long.
And most important of all, I was part of this Christian family, accepted, welcomed into people’s homes, even, and allowed to sing together with them.
Being part of that choir probably saved me from an emotional trainwreck. I stopped singing with the choir only when I came to Japan.
So I am deeply grateful for God’s kindness. And for choir families everywhere.