by the Rev. Douglas Barclay
Proclaim member and Pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, Manchester, CT
When I was a child I would hide beneath the pew during the endless sermons at my central PA church. But when the organ would play it was like the voice of God. I would sit up on the pew and strain to see the organist: clearly the person closest to God.
Other Sundays with my grandmother we wouldn’t “go to church” but we could watch TV church…The Hour of Power. The Crystal Cathedral had water features and the glass doors would open as the organ postlude exploded…I was convinced that Fred Swann was a divine being.
I was hooked.
While some children dreamed of becoming astronauts, I wanted to be a church organist, preferably a caped organist.
After years of piano lessons at 14 my dream job finally emerged. My English teacher offered me my first organ job at her Methodist church. A vintage Wurlitzer electronic organ was the instrument. Soon enough I would soon graduate to the bigger Lutheran churches with real pipe organs in the small town in Western PA.
In the midst of all of this I was also struggling with the realization that I was gay. I would have done anything to be delivered from such a fate, especially in scary gun-toting Western PA. It was in that place of fear that I heard God’s voice once again through music.
While preparing for Sunday worship, sitting on the organ bench, I had what I can only describe as a mystical encounter with God. As I was playing, I felt the entire world melt away…erotic rapture.
I interpret that experience as one of pure grace. God’s presence made me aware that I was entirely held, known, loved and accepted.
I think I was given this gift so that no matter how bad it got in school or at my house, no matter how close to self-harm I came, I would have something to keep me alive.
God gave me the gift of escape through music as well and I went on to study piano and organ at college. The music of the church and the liturgy kept calling. My first job out of college was as an organist at a Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore. Even though it wasn’t a gay mecca, I finally could be out and doing what I loved.
That freedom and space created room for me to discern that I was called through music into the priestly ministry as well. Now I get to wear incredible capes even more often.
I still don’t particularly like sermons. I don’t feel particularly holy or in divine ecstasy often these days.
But I know that the God of acceptance and holy affirmation continues to speak through fiery musicians and dissonant chords and the congregation’s song.
Thanks be to God for the gift of music. Thanks be to God for the gay musicians who have mentored me. Thanks be to God for the work of Proclaim in always keep God’s acceptance and Yes before us. Also, thanks be to God for fabulous capes.
The Rev. Douglas Barclay is pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Manchester, CT. He graduated from the seminary formerly known as LTSP after setting the world on fire with a particularly good sermon on the importance of capes in 2nd c. Gallican worship. He worked for years as a church musician in Baltimore, including a brief but spectacular stint at Christ Lutheran Inner Harbor as Interim Director of Music where he was also ordained. He and his partner Sean live in New Haven, CT and enjoy long walks on the beach, Swedish hip-hop artists and pizza from Modern. He hopes to one day be interred in the organ loft at Notre Dame in Paris.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Provided by Rev. Barclay
by Ben Winkler
Proclaim member and first year seminarian at Luther Seminary
There is something about the experience of making music which brings me closer to God than almost anything else. This has been true for as long as I can remember. I use music to express emotions in a healthy and constructive way that lets me process life. For me, this usually takes the form of opera. I am obsessed with opera (actually, literally obsessed). This also means that some of my happiest and saddest moments are connected to the music that I make.
I do a lot of composing and arranging as a hobby. It has been an incredible study break for me as a first year seminarian. Most of the music that I am proudest of composing is my vocal music. When I was approached to write this blog, it was in regards to a specific song that I composed for men’s choir based on the classic wedding text “Arise my love” (click here to listen to it). But the time when I started writing this piece made all the difference in how this song looks… here’s where I was at that moment:
I started writing it hours after coming out as gay the first time to the first person. That night, September 13th, 2016, I went to the open rehearsal of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus- because saying that I was gay out loud was too hard for me. I found what I needed- the first proudly LGBTQIA+ community that I had ever known, and they didn’t look like the stereotypes that the world had taught me to expect- they looked like people. I needed an outlet to express what this experience meant to me- what my hopes were for a future that I could hardly imagine for myself- what I wanted to become through them, and so I opened up my music notation software and started to write in 8 part TTBB harmony. What I wrote is a love song dedicated “to my beloved, whoever he may be”.
Music has given me an outlet to say what I cannot, to be strong when I am not, to give me a community who understands me better than I understand myself. I hope someday to go back into that score and delete “whoever he may be” and replace it with a name. For now, I know that this world is often scary and intimidating, but God has called us all to preach a Gospel of radical love in the face of exclusionism- We seek a world where the next generations will have the courage to name their truth in the confidence of love and acceptance.
I have written some music for church choirs and have intentions to do more of it. I am also working on a new sung/spoken liturgy setting for the uplifting of the LGBTQIA+ community. I am happy to share my resources with you and your congregations. While most of my music is not released to the public domain, I will never charge an RIC congregation or a Proclaim pastor for the use of my church music or liturgical materials- I consider this a part of the ministry that I can bring to the ELCA and to the glory of God.
Ben Winkler (he/him/his) is a first year student at Luther Seminary. Ben’s identity is deeply tied to his Lutheran roots, and he enjoys debating theological questions as often as possible. A life-long student of music, Ben is active in the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and their Chamber Choir and Opera on Tap: Twin Cities. Ben has sung with some amazing musicians, and does not deserve (yet has) a resume which includes being a section leader for Weston Noble, sharing a stage with Samuel Ramey, and multiple featured roles in professional operatic productions. Ben is an over-thinker, and thus it took him far too long to write this paragraph.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Provided by Ben Winkler
by John Weit
Proclaim member and Deacon serving as the Program Director for Music in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
I have long sensed my calling to be a leader of the church’s song. Growing up in church I was amazed at how a single person could sit behind an organ console and use the various buttons and keys to make a multitude of different sounds. What was even more incredible to me was how that one person behind that instrument could help a large group of people sing together.
Music can unite a gathered assembly, form memory, and serves as a vehicle to conveying theology. It is sometimes daunting knowing that the words that I choose to be sung and through my leadership I am essentially putting theology in people’s mouths. Through song, sung together in worship, our prayer, proclamation, praise, and lament are shaped and given communal voice. It is not about what I as a leader like to sing and what styles are comfortable to me. In whatever leadership role we have, we need to move beyond ourselves and consider what best proclaims the gospel and shapes the prayer of the church.
With communal song at the core, there is often other music that enriches the worship life of the church. Choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists offer music to glorify God, as well. Silence can also surround our music. All of this works together to shape and support the song of the people.
The vocation of the church musician is something I have cared deeply about these last few years. I’m happy to currently serve in a call with the ELCA that, in part, offers tools and resources to help church musicians think about their vocation and craft. In my role I work very closely with the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM). In 2016 as part of their 30th anniversary as an organization, a statement titled Called to Be a Living Voice was crafted to reflect on the varied role of Lutheran church musicians, often called cantors. I encourage you to read and reflect on this statement and share it with the musicians in your context.
It is true that not all musicians come to this work as a career. Many church musicians I know are bi-vocational. Some musicians may see working for a church as a way to some make extra money or to build their resume. Musicians will take on different levels of responsibility depending on the context. I pray that musicians who serve our assemblies continue to feel strengthened in their sense of call to their vocation and feel supported by their ministry colleagues.
In 2018, ALCM is helping to support the vocation of the Lutheran church musicians by organizing several one-day workshops around the U.S. and Canada under the theme Hearts Hands Voices. The ELCA is pleased to be partnering with ALCM to offer an extended skill-building session in Valparaiso Ind., July 23-26. These events will cover a multitude of styles, instruments, and topics. Visit alcm.org for more information and please share this with the church musicians in your lives.
May the church continue to be blessed with musicians who faithfully lead our assemblies, surrounding word and sacrament with song.
Deacon John Weit serves as Program Director for Music in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. He lives in Chicago with his husband, the Rev. Matt James, and their cat, Buddy. John also serves as Assistant Organist at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
Photo at top: Emily Ann Garcia
Bio Photo: Provided by John Weit
by Kyle Johnson
Seminarian studying at
the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
In early 2014, I started seriously considering a call to ordination. Never one to plunge head-first into anything, I shared this news slowly, one person at a time, to close friends, colleagues, and pastors from my past. I distinctly remember a common response:
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
Their astonishment was understandable, I suppose. I was serving as a chapel musician, university organist, and music lecturer at the time. My professional life to that point had included earning three degrees in music, several years of college teaching work, and 20+ years of church music experience. Now I wanted to become one of “them?”
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
It was like coming out all over again. But “coming out” implies motion, movement from one self-understanding to another. And my movement from the organ console to the pulpit, though frustratingly slow at times, has felt rather natural thus far.
I think this may be because I have many fantastic role models who understand the potential of the music-ministry intersection. My current pastor and fellow Proclaim member, James Boline, was the first pastor I called in my vocational “coming out.” Jim is a trained musician, and shared with me his own process of discernment: “I had to decide whether I was a pastoral musician, or a musical pastor.”
Then there was a call to Phyllis Garrett, my childhood pastor from First United Methodist Church in Eureka, Kansas, who is now over 90 years old and still an active pastor. She graduated from the same ELCA college I did (Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas…GO SWEDES!) and taught music for several years before going to seminary. Phyllis gave me my first informal organ lessons when I was a young teenager. When I “came out” to her about my new call, she chuckled dismissively:
“Oh, I’m not surprised.”
Finally, I had the opportunity last year to do some interim cantor work under pastor and Proclaim member Keith Fry. I could see that his professional experience as a church musician allowed him to thoughtfully discern where his congregation was musically. He was equipped to articulate his musical vision for his congregation, and trusted me to take the first baby steps in nudging the congregation towards that vision.
Jim, Phyllis, and Keith understand the amazing potential that arises from the intersection of music and ordained ministry. Through them, I have witnessed first-hand how that understanding has translated into vibrant, boundary-expanding worship that is exploratory yet strives for excellence. The calls I feel to be both a professional musician and a minister of Word and Sacrament are not mutually exclusive; rather they combine to become an invitation to explore a (frustratingly yet-to-be-well-defined) vocation filled with rich potential for unique service.
At least, that’s what I’m thinking.
Kyle Johnson is a second-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, where he studied with John Ditto. He also holds music degrees from Bethany College and Indiana University, studying organ with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra and Larry Smith, respectively. In recent years he has found a great deal of artistic satisfaction in composing sacred choral and organ works, and has titles published through Augsburg Fortress, Colla Voce Music, MorningStar Music Publishers, Santa Barbara Music Publishers, and World Library Publications. His website is: www.kylejohnsonmusic.com.