Choir Director Report
Once again, it is time for me to give the yearly Choir Director Report. I'm not going to rehash things I've said in years past about the role of music in the Orthodox Church, and importance of giving our first fruits to God, and not just the crumbs left over from all the other things that seem to be more important.
First, everyone should let everyone know that Christopher George Flippo is my assistant. He volunteered, probably not truly understanding what being the choir director truly involves, and I am grateful that he did. He is learning all aspects and helping me, so be supportive of his efforts. It takes a while to become a competent director, and longer to become an excellent director. I have no doubt that he will be an excellent director, none at all. If I am absent, he is in charge. If he is also absent, then Subdeacon John and Reader Isaac are in charge of the choir and the readers. Thank you to all three for stepping up to the plate when I am unable to! Thank you also to Xenia, who I miss so very much, who has been my right hand and dearest friend all these many years.
The choir is in a transitional state. We've got some changes in our roster of singers, and you will note over time that there are some changes to the music that we sing. I say this every year, and every year, we have learned some new music. This year will be a little different, because much of what we have sung over the years requires four parts and doesn't work well with only two parts. You may have noticed that many Sundays, there are not four parts in the choir, so I would be remiss if I did not prepare for that. So, things are changing. Change is hard for many people, so please be patient as we adjust to the new choir reality.
As I wrote the first few paragraphs of this yearly report, I was sitting safe and sound in Xenia's living room in Atlanta. I evacuated my home and was waiting for Hurricane Irma to hit. I had done everything I could to prepare for what looked to be a catastrophic landfall in Savannah, and I had no idea whether I would have a home to return to or not. I had to make some very hard decisions about what to take with me and what to leave to the elements and the mercy of God. I'm no different from everyone in this room today. We all had to make the same decisions without knowing the outcome.
Isn't this a metaphor for life? Don't we all make preparations as best we can for what comes next? Sometimes we choose to not make preparations, and that is preparation of a sort. No matter what we do, though, the final outcome depends on the mercy of God.
Can we think about this for a minute? I am the choir director. As such, I must plan ahead. I plan about three months out – so, in September, I am thinking about December. I need to plan the music that is best suited to the voices we have, what we will rehearse and when, what we will sing; I need to keep on top of filing music, repairing and recreating music books. I need to plan what will happen if I am out sick, and finally, I need to prepare for my replacement. I'm not going anywhere soon, but I would be foolish to not train an assistant who will eventually replace me when I move on to my next stage, whether that be through retirement or death!
We know already that within the next year or two, our priest will retire, and we hope and pray that we will not be without a priest for long. We don't know how that will all work out – who will be sent to us, how we will integrate him and his family, if he has one, into our loving church family, and what challenges we will face in doing so – but, we know that by the grace of God, St. Mary Magdalene Church has always, and will continue, to persevere.
However, just like preparing for Hurricane Irma, we all need to make some hard choices. Look around the room today, we are a family. I recently had this brought home to me when I needed some help with some repairs to my house, and my brother and sisters in Christ – my family – helped me. Thank you Brian, Kathy, Chloe and even little William. I was reminded by their selfless efforts, and the offers of assistance from others, like the Holleys and Tom Maty, that we are, indeed, a family here. Like any family, we get along and sometimes maybe we don't, but we love each other and help each other the best we can. We work together. But there are not a lot of us. The people in this room are who we can depend on to keep the doors of this church open. There is no one else.
So, when I say that I had to choose what I should save and what I could save from Hurricane Irma, and what I had to leave behind, I am struck by the fact that in our life together, in our desire to have a church to worship in, and a church family to worship with, sometimes we have to make hard choices about our lives, too, about the activities we participate in and those that may conflict with our desire to have a church here in Rincon.
More importantly, we have to make hard choices about our priorities, about how we spend our time, our talents, our money, our energy. I know that if I do not wash my dishes, there is no one else to do that for me, and eventually, unwashed dishes become a major problem on a lot of levels. Dishes do not magically wash themselves. However, here, at church, it is so easy to let someone else do the dishes. When we arrive at church, the grounds look so beautiful – we can proud of how beautiful our property always looks. When we arrive at church, late, the clergy and choir are already here to do liturgy, a word which means, literally, the common work of the people. There is oil in the lamps and candles available to light. Everyone has prepared and knows how to perform their role in the common worship. There is a clean bathroom and toilet paper. When we come to the residence, there is food to eat, and the place is clean. Dishes are done. Bills are paid. This is not magic. People make these things happen. The same people, week after week, get here early, stay late, come during the week, and ensure that you have a church to come to.
You may think that I'm gearing up to ask people to volunteer to do some of these things, and although that would be great, that is not my point. My point is this:
Orthodoxy is not what we do on Sunday mornings. Orthodoxy is the true faith, nothing more and certainly nothing less, and when we treat this gift of faith as someplace we go on occasional Sunday mornings, we are making a choice. Orthodoxy is so much more than that, it is a life, - not a lifestyle, but life itself. We choose how we organize our life and our priorities. Now, you may say, Denise, it's easier for you – you don't have small children to worry about, or a husband to take care of, so you have lots of time. You can devote your life to the church. It's true, I don't have those things – now – and therefore I, and I alone, choose my priorities, but I work many hours, just like you. I have had a husband, a young and very sick child, a home based business, a full-time and demanding job, homeschooling, and elderly and sickly parents – all at the same time, so I certainly understand that modern life is busy, over scheduled, exhausting, and setting an alarm to get up early on Sunday morning is the last thing you want to do.
However, Sunday morning liturgy is not the only way to participate in and support this church, this church family, and ultimately, to make preparations, the best we can, for that moment when we meet our Creator and take our place with the sheep on the right, or, with the goats on the left. We need to keep that goal in mind when we organize our lives and make room for participation in the church services – all the services – and to serve the church by offering our talents. As the choir director, I know that we have good singers who do not offer their gift by singing in the choir. I know that there is not a single person who is unable to be on a food team, or who is incapable of washing the coffee pot, or pushing a broom. There is not one person here who is incapable of making it to church early enough to hear these words, “Blessed is the Kingdom.” If you don't know exactly where these words occur, then that should tell you something.
So, as I finish this, I'm still sitting in Xenia's house in Atlanta, but Hurricane Irma has come and gone, and when I get home tomorrow, I will know if the preparations I made were enough to keep my home safe. My true home, though, is not at 318 Montclair Blvd in Savannah. My true home is with my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ, where I hope to sing with the heavenly choir forever. I've been thinking about the preparations I am making for that, and to my chagrin, I realize that my priorities, the way I've organized my life, the way I spend the minutes and hours of my days, are not pointing me toward that goal. My preparations thus far are insufficient, are inadequate. This hurricane has caused me to pray and to reflect on how I have spent my life thus far, and how I can more fully enter into an Orthodox life, right here, in this church, in this church family, with you, my brothers and sisters. This hurricane is a wake up call. May we all wake up.