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