Joan and I assisted our pastor Pat Raube with today’s Good Friday service at noon. Pat had asked Joan to share some ideas for this first-in-a-long-while Good Friday worship at Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott. Between the two of them, they designed an appropriately moving occasion for readings, hymns, and prayer. I was glad to have a role in the readings and liturgy.

Joan and I have both retired, and for almost the first time in some 42 years can worship together side by side, same church, same pew. When we met at college, Joan was preparing for a vocation in church music at the school’s Conservatory of Music, and I was a pre-ministerial student in the Religion Department. When we took the chaplain’s Pre-marriage Seminar together, I’m sure it must have occurred to us that one day we might work together in the same church. I don’t recall that ever being the plan, however. Good thing. Would have been a waste of a plan, because we never did work for the same church.

First of all, and well-documented here previously, I wasn’t called to be a pastor of churches, at least not for the first 19 years of my ministry. I did radio. And Joan answered the call to be a church musician (usually both organist and choir director) wherever the way was clear; that wasn’t always a Presbyterian congregation. In fact, it rarely was. She played in three Presbyterian churches during her career, but also played the organ and led choirs in Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and UCC congregations. So the likelihood of our finding a position where I was pastor and she was the musician were close to nil.

What we did best together was enjoy one another’s friendship and love together, create a warm and welcoming home, and raise two wonderful (or insert another very special positive adjective  or six here________________) children, Wendy and Jim. This is not the place to write about what a good marriage we celebrate or to express my gratitude to her for all she means to me. This is the last of my forty entries about the people in my life who have contributed in profound and lasting ways to my Christian faith and vocation. While I didn’t make a list of those forty at the outset of this Lenten journey, and would never in a million and one years try to rank the forty, I did know from the very start that Joan Maisch Kellam would be on my list, and near the top. (Yes, near… I did write of Jesus, after all!)

So, while we did not work together professionally in the same church building, we did share a ministry in the same Church, capital C: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and often in the same building, that is, our home. As we raised our children, we did our best to live up to the sacred promises we made at their baptisms. Together, pastor-father, musician-mother, created a church within our home, where prayers were prayed and songs sung, where Christian holidays were treated as the holy days they were, and where we nurtured the faith of our own family always within the wider family of faith in local congregations.

Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t serve as a pastor until later in my vocation. Because my kids never had to be PKs — Preacher’s Kids. I wasn’t the preacher of the churches they were raised in. So they weren’t under the stereotypical scrutiny of church parishioners whose steady gaze apparently turns normal children into monsters. (Since I am one of those ministers who was not raised in a manse or parsonage, I wasn’t a PK either, but I understand that there have been such things in some churches.)

As I look back on the days when our children were growing up, I realize that it was a good thing for them to be exposed to our common Presbyterian heritage, the denomination in which both Joan and I were raised, as well as those other traditions where Joan provided music leadership. When Christmas and Easter and other special liturgical occasions came around in the Episcopal Church where Joan played, or in the Lutheran or UCC churches, Wendy, Jim, and I would go to share in the services Joan helped lead. Yes, it supported Joan’s ministry of music, but it also communicated to our children that the beliefs of other Christians were as valid and meaningful as our own.

Yes, that is one way that Joan and I shared in ministry, albeit informally. But eventually, we began to grow together vocationally. While I had always appreciated Joan’s musical talents and creativity, it took two events to draw us into a kind of vocational nexus. God called me into pastoral ministry, gently and part-time at first, but eventually into full-time solo pastorates. And summer Worship and Music Conferences at Montreat,NC provided for us a shared experience of learning, spiritual renewal, and fresh approaches to worship design and leadership.

At Montreat, Joan would find master classes in organ performance and conducting. I would attend courses and seminars related to worship planning and preaching. We would go to some classes together, such as Bible studies or Psalm singing. We would both sing in the choir, sometimes 600 voices strong. We would share our ideas and dreams while we grabbed lunch between our busy schedules. And when we got home, we were eager to make liturgy more lively in our respective churches.

Then we started to think, wouldn’t it be fun to do some of this new stuff together? What if we looked for a church that wanted both a pastor and a church musician at the same time? One trusted friend warned us that that wasn’t necessarily a good step for a church to take. Yet we knew of clergy couples sharing a call in one congregation. It must work somewhere, we reasoned. Yet, for one reason or another, or many, we didn’t pursue that vision. There may still be time to try something together though. (More about that in a couple of paragraphs.)

Joan has been a steady and faithful guide for me in my pastoral role. At Montreat, we often heard of rifts between musician and pastors. Maybe it was a matter of musical tastes clashing. Or, the pastor was making unreasonable demands on the hired musical hands. Or, the organist just wanted to be left alone: you preach your sermons and don’t tell me what to play or how fast or slow to play it! But thanks to common experiences at Montreat, and because we have grown together in our faith and in our understanding of church ministry and mission, and because we share similar theological dialects — we do good work together!

Joan has such a good sense of the flow of worship, and she has such theological and musical integrity, that I often asked her help in working out my own services. I would call downstairs from my study at home, “Oh, ‘hymn-lady’ … is #242 singable?” Or, “I need a closing hymn that fits with the theme of ‘taking steps.'”  Or, “Remind me what this tune sounds like.”

But more than those minor mechanics, Joan has a creative streak that finds new ways to sing, pray, and act the faith we profess. I loved watching her move from the organ bench at her last church, and walk up the center aisle teaching and leading an unfamiliar but utterly singable African or Latin American song. At first the parishioners are startled, then calmed, then joining in, smiling and singing at the same time.

I love the fact that Joan values integrity in worship and music, knowing that our worship is centered only on God, not on the personalities of worship leaders or on whether pew sitters are having a good time. Is God having a good time? That is the question. Or, is God embarrassed at the silly jingles or TV co-anchor chat that contemporary culture injects as a drug into sanctuaries, film at 11 (or video at 10?).

Though I’ve gotten carried away with my own words again (it took 10 to say that), I must note Joan’s pastoral skills, too. As a church choir director, Joan served as a pastor to her musical flock, noting their joys and concerns, always letting them know she cared about them. And when a church posse came after me in one congregation, a small but vocal group of complainers, Joan knew how hurt I was, and though she too felt the sting, she was incredibly, pastorally supportive during that rough stretch.

I have kidded my wife about how we really couldn’t ever have worked together successfully in a church. I am a day-at-a-time kind of planner, and she plans w-a-y ahead, as musicians must do. But we have both moderated our styles over the years. So, if the way be clear, and if grace abounds, as it always has, we hope to join our creative spirits in designing some special church services called “Hymn Festivals,” and sharing those occasions with churches that would enjoy (why not?) a special Sunday when, through liturgy, proclamation, and choral music, the service integrates those gifts to interpret a single theological theme. Forgiveness. Faith journey. Names for God. The parables of Jesus. Baptism.

That grand idea will certainly work… especially if I follow her lead.

[I have one more entry in this series, a kind of conclusion as Easter brings its new beginning. Watch this space:]

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