Last week my wife and I officially turned 30. As many of you have read, we threw a shindig for friends this past Saturday. It was great. Erica’s actual birthday was the 25th, and mine was the 28th.
“Where were you on your actual birthdays? Were you sipping margarita’s poolside, or viewing priceless art? Were you shopping for lavish gifts for one another?”
Well, no we weren’t. We spent Erica’s birthday morning here.
“Wow… that’s a little odd. What’d she do?”
Well, she’s been a very, very naughty girl, but that’s a separate issue.
We spent a week with The Agape Singers, an ourtreach ministry from our church. Agape, as it will be hitherto referred… to, is a ministry that has been ongoing for about 25 years. It was started by a man named Jim. Jim directed it for twenty consecutive years, and then decided that he was going to move on. He currently spends halh his year planting and growing churches all over the former Soviet Union.
Jim treated Agape as an evangelist first and a musician second. I say this not as an insult, but as a simple statement of reality. He is quite a good musician and choir director, but he bred into the DNA of the group a deep and profound dedication to spreading the Gospel of Jesus. It has never been an auditioned group. It took all comers, musically talented or monotone angels (that’s some seriously obscure APU humor for all the homies). A willingness to serve was the only qualifier. Agape rarely sings in a church service. We perform at homeless shelters, drug rehab clinics, juvees, and the like.
The year after he retired, someone whose name escapes me took over the group. Apparantly, he had some sort of personal meltdown, and left halfway through the year. This was in the year 2000, when I was still up at VMC. Anyways, the interim music director at ABF at the time was an old friend of mine, who knew I had a background in choral music, and he recommended me as a person who could finish the year out. I got the call, they had a pretty good stipend, and I said yes.
I will never, ever forget that first rehearsal.
It was… really bad. I spent some time telling them about myself, and hearing names and schools and interests, and then we sang. Oh man. Ooooooooh man. I spent most of that rehearsal tuning them out and listening to the Nashville singers on the split tracks give me an idea of what the song was supposed to sound like. Listening to Agape was a lot like listening to dogs have sex, only less musical.
The following week, I started in on it. I started talking about tone, and breathing, and cutoffs, and pitch, and OH SWEET MERCIFUL SHIVA, DOES ANYONE IN THIS GROUP KNOW HOW TO SING!?!?!? About halfway through, a young man named Josh raised his hand and said, “Ummm… what are you doing?”
“Directing the choir…” was my hesitant and nearly honest answer. “Collecting a paycheck,” would have been more accurate.
“We don’t sing well,” he said. “We’re Agape, we’re a ministry group, not a music group. We really don’t sing very well.” I have witnesses. This is exactly what he said. I am not making this up. His mother is the church secretary and his father is an elder. This kid was dead serious.
I went ballistic.
“Oh… so, you think that we’re going to really open hearts and minds by making them listen to crap singing for an hour? Why in the world is the word ‘singers’ in your name, then?” The adult sponsors, including the then-pastor’s wife, watched with a little shock and awe as I basically ripped the most beloved ministry at the church a new one. “You guys should seriously consider just showing up and painting something, and then explaining the gospel.”
Here’s the thing. I was about, oh, 18 months out of University Choir and Orchestra at the time. UC&O was, and most likely still is, in it’s purpose statement, a ministry from Christians to Christians. We were meant to be an encouragement to the church. So, of course, we were rewarded for kicking unholy amounts of ass. The very notion of knowingly offering up anything less then your finest, musically speaking, was absurd to me.
Guess what? I was right. They had this insane notion that since they were deeply invested in the evangelism part of the trip, that somehow they were more spiritual, and pesky things like melodies and pitch-centers were mere nuisances. I actually don’t know how they got this idea, because Jim is quite a fine musician. I’ve gotten to know him fairly well over the past four years, and he’s a huge supporter of the ministry and is ecstatic to see it continue. I can only guess that the grind that is teaching High School students to sing together had worn down his willingness to engage in the battle that is three part CCM youth choir arrangements.
Ok, anyways. That first season was a drag. They kind of warmed to me by the end, and it turned out some of them could actually sing. I continued to battle on the issue of kicking unholy ass every time we open our mouths, and I was infrequently successful. I took my check. I waved goodbye. I did not allow the door to hit me on the behind on the way out.
Fast forward two and one-half years. The senior pastor and his wife (who I believe to this day thinks I have an anger management problem) have moved on. Tom, the interim pastor and longtime family friend, has convinced me to take an interim worship leading position at the church. I had agreed, but on one condition: I wasn’t going to do Agape. The reason I gave was about 65% truthful, “I know how much time that takes, and this is supposed to be interim. I don’t want it to be on my job description.” “And they suck,” would have helped get that number closer to 100%.
They still hadn’t found a director. My homeboy Dave had “conducted” the year after me. He will tell you that for him, “Conducting,” means waving arms wildly and mouthing lyrics. Jim had come out of retirement the following year, out of a desire to see the ministry not die, but he had told Tom that it was, no matter what, his swan song.
They actually asked Erica if she would do it. The stipend was quite healthy by this point (those kids really were bad, after all) and we needed the extra dough. She asked me if I would be available to do charts and support her and I said that I would. She agreed.
Well… then we had to go and have sex. You think I’d learn. Who am I kidding… you think she’d learn.
About a week before the first Agape rehearsal of the season, we found out were were pregnant with our daughter. Erica would be… oh, about 34 months pregnant when the weeklong tour was supposed to happen. The tour, which I will discuss in much greater detail in a post to come, is a week of sleeping on church floors. I was not about to let my bride do that.
So… everyone sing with me…
Yeah, I’m the pastor who likes to swear and blaspheme other religion’s gods and link to Eminem tracks on ministry reports. You like it. Don’t lie.
I have a rehearsal in an hour, and this is getting long. To be continued….
P.S. Sorry about all the period breaks. For some reason, WordPress in Firefox is not liking me today and keeps ignoring my paragraphs. My patience is now over. If Mike wishes to fix it and delete this little note, he may do so. Actually, Mike can do whatever he wants, because he is the Blog Deity
P.P.S. This is Aly. I am the Lesser Blog Deity. Period breaks fixed.