25 July 2011


Knowing the Score has moved to the family of blogs at the College Church website. Click here to get to that page.

Sing on!

05 January 2011

A new year and a new venture

Knowing the Score is going on hiatus for 6 months. It's author is going on sabbatical beginning 10 January 2011. And, really, nothing else about the music ministry of College Church is going to shut down or slow down!

I have been granted the very generous gift of a 6-month sabbatical. It is all the more generous for being my second sabbatical at College Church. (Now in my 26th year of full time music ministry, this will be my 3rd sabbatical. I had a 6-week sabbatical - which I squeezed into 9 weeks - at my previous church.) Let me say here that I am very mindful of the grace this represents. Almost none of you reading this can imagine a job that even holds the prospect for time away like this. I do not at all take it for granted. I simply accept it with thanksgiving and commit to making the best use of the time, and return with fervor, ideas, and energy for the next season of my ministry here at College Church.

Some readers may question the whole concept of a sabbatical from ministry. I seriously understand that. But I won't defend the concept or my making use of it. (I can defend it, but that is kind of pointless.)

 What is a sabbatical for? It is for study, reflection, rest, and preparation for continued ministry. So, how will I make use of the time away?

First - the bulk of my time will be spent in formal graduate theological training. I have been accepted into Wheaton College Graduate School, to work toward the M.A. in Historical Theology. I will be enrolled as a full-time student for the spring semester. Long term, I expect to poke away at this program and finish it on a part-time basis while back in the saddle here at church.

Then - I will also be investigating and visiting a few churches with well developed, intentional and purposeful music internships. We have been blessed here at College Church with quite a few excellent interns over the years. These have developed more or less in response to a particular interest or a particular need. Many of the interns have "done music" and also taken part in the pastoral ministry intern training. All well and good. I think it is time for the church to launch a more formalized annual internship with a standard curriculum and learning/leading opportunities. So I hope to return from sabbatical with a clear plan, a concrete proposal, and the wherewithal to lead it in the coming years.

And also - yes, there will be some rest built in. It's hard to explain how "working Sundays" affects family and personal routines. Many readers build their weeks around their commitments on Sundays - and I am profoundly grateful for that, not to mention dependent on it! But the reality is that of course any one of you may choose to opt out on any given commitment, or even take the summer off (for example). Ministry familes don't really have a normal experience of "weekends." So there is that, to begin with. Beyond that, I will be training (again!) for the Big Sur Marathon, and enjoying cycling. I will enjoy some leisure reading in addition to my formal theological study. And Karen and I will get out to see our kids and friends along the way.

What about church? Well, we expect to settle into a local congregation, as parishioners, and have a church home-away-from-home when we are not away and/or visiting other churches.

So, that's that. This space will be more or less dormant until I return. For those masochists who want to keep up with my writing, you will find me at my professional blog http://tedecethymnus.blogspot.com/ and at my personal blog http://chuckking.blogspot.com/.

Blessings! I know that you will enjoy the music and leadership while I am away, and will with joy

Sing on!

22 December 2010

a lot like Christmas

As I write this morning, it is 24 hours until my first Christmas airport run. By the end of the day Thursday (12/23) Karen and I will be enjoying a house filled with our grown kids, a baby-sat cat, and boisterous conversation and laughter. A lot like Christmas, to us!

Christmas Eve we will wake up and some of us, at least, will structure the morning to be sure to catch the live broadcast of "A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols" from King's College, Cambridge. This is the most widely broadcast radio event of the year, world-wide, and the largest radio audience. Sort of like the World Cup of Christmas Eve music and worship, except it is the same "team" each year and there is no one else on the field. So, I guess really it isn't much like the World Cup ... except for the vast numbers that tune into it.

Our kids have grown up with Christmas Eve being built around Dad's work. They have participated in many a service themselves (lots of stories there!) and they have also patiently waited for some aspects of our celebration dinner on that night. This is our 15th Christmas at College Church, and our Christmas Eve dinner has a rhythm to it that connects us all to our years in Minnesota. It is when our family Christmas begins in earnest.

We used to attend a very special Christmas play, in St. Paul, MN. "The Black Nativity" combines the words of the Christmas story from the King James, some poetry by Langston Hughes, and a dozen or more traditional, spiritual, and gospel Christmas songs. It is a glorious mix, and when I say "our dinner has a rhythm to it," I am not only speaking metaphorically!

Christmas 1995: we did not know this was going to be our last Christmas in Minnesota. We were just making a complicated evening work between services and keeping up a family tradition. For the first time (and as far as I know, the only time), "The Black Nativity" was broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio. We had just enough time after our early service to get home, turn on the radio, and pop in a cassette tape. We had to tape the program, because Dad needed to head back to church before the 90-minute broadcast would conclude. It was a clear, brisk, starry night with perfect radio reception, and we snagged a very sharp recording. Which we labeled and put away.

Christmas 1996: our first in Wheaton, and after the early service we all got home and started to lay out the traditional Christmas Eve smorgasborg. Karen found our "Black Nativity" tape - unplayed for the full year - and as we set the table and finished up in the kitchen, we were transported back not only to the previous C. Eve, but to all the times we had attended the play. This became "a lot like Christmas" for us. It became official then (I probably made a rule. I love to make rules) - "Black Nativity" shall only be played once a year, on Christmas Eve.

So that is the scene, every December 24. Mom and Dad return from the family service, and the kids have got out this year's new candle holder for the center of the table. (Always a "surprise" from Dad to Mom.) "Black Nativity" is all cued up, and to the opening a cappella strains of the black preacher, "Come, ye disconsolate," we hit our stride (literally) of preparation. By the time the alto sings "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" we are sitting down at the table, pause the tape [which we have since transferred to CD to preserve its quality!] to light our Christ candle, and then we eat and sing and laugh and dance to the Christmas story as re-told in word and song by recently freed slaves in a barn cum church cum Bethlehem with Mary, Joseph, townsfolk, shepherds and all.

I'm told that there is the chance that at least one of our grown children might actually listen to her recording of "Black Nativity" before Christmas Eve. But you know, I choose to doubt it.

Check the links above to learn how to tune in to hear "Lessons and Carols" from King's College (WFMT or live streaming audio). Then sit down with a cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa, and a scone, and enjoy 90 glorious minutes of worship! It's Friday at 9am central standard time. And at the appropriate times with the congregation sitting in that cold chapel,

Sing on!

01 December 2010

Everywhere you go

'Tis the season! Today there is a light dusting of snow in progress as I write. Not enough, yet, to complicate life, but enough to show up on the grass and trees. The northern European, Currier & Ives, Norman Rockwell images of Christmas are starting to come into focus once again. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" and "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" - everywhere you go!

On the internet, too, Christmas standards are showing up as viral videos. A couple of columns ago I posted a flashmob video that brings together two of my passions - choir and bicycles. By now most of you will have seen at least one of the "Hallelujah Chorus" flashmob videos. Choir insinuates itself into a crowded public space, recorded orchestra kicks in, and voila! this shopper and that mom and the other custodian are actually choristers who regale the unsuspecting crowd with a glorious Handel chorus. It really is inspiring, and I can't see these without a lump in my throat and without wondering, "could we pull that off?" So far, the videos are everywhere you go, but I don't know anyone who has been present in an actual flashmob scene.

But also everywhere you go, if you have the ears for it, you may hear the Gospel being sung in unusual places. Unabashedly clear, classic Christmas carols and hymns proclaim, "Christ the Savior is born!" and "Sweet little Jesus boy - we didn't know who you was" and "Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die ... born to give us second birth." Lately I find myself praying in those places, "Lord, give people ears to hear these words! Then take them some place they can do something about it."

We have a number of occasions to be that place where people who hear Christmas music can take the next step in understanding and responding to its Gospel message. The children's choirs festival, "The Christmas Gift" is an excellent guest event, with the Gospel winsomely and clearly presented by our children. The carol service, "Enter In," likewise has a clear message which listeners may "enter into" by singing familiar carols. Pastor Moody will help connect the Christmas-Gospel dots with a few comments in that service. Then the annual Christmas Communion service explores and celebrates the twin themes: God With Us/God For Us, or Incaration/Atonement, with a Christmas service that takes place around the communion table. A full, rich picture of the Gospel.

Not to mention the Christmas Eve services. Christmas Eve is the greatest "guest service" of the year across America. More un-churched people will be in a church that evening than on Easter morning. And we have some beautiful services - precious metal into which is set the jewel of the gospel.

Many of you will participate musically in one or more of these services and events. I encourage all of us to invite others to attend:
Dec. 5 - 6pm - "The Christmas Gift" with the Children's Choirs and College Church Singers
Dec. 12 - 6pm - "Enter In" with the Chancel Choir and Orchestra
Dec. 19 - 6pm - Christmas Communion
Christmas Eve services on Friday, De.c 24, at 4pm (for families with young children), 8 and 11pm (candlelight services).

The music is everywhere you go. And so is the Gospel! Enjoy it as you

Sing on!

17 November 2010

Gettin' Ready

My grown children still suffer under the parental edict banning the playing of Christmas music before the day after Thanksgiving. I won't say they don't listen - but I know they feel guilty if they do, or they feel they have to justify it! And to be honest, I think they have come to appreciate the edict and enjoy its payoff on what shoppers call "Black Friday." We stay home and make it a day of light.

I mean, how else to make "Advent" a season of preparation? How else to guard against being jaded against the glut of Christmas music?

To be honest, the ban began long ago in our home. Because I have to listen to the music and prepare scores then rehearse pieces for choir, I just didn't want to hear more of it at home. Pretty selfish, eh? But then the day after Thanksgiving became this magic day in our home. The LPs -  then the tapes, and then the CDs, and now the iTunes -  come out, the stereos are turned up to "11" and the decorations come out. After Thanksgiving Friday, the next time we will all be together will be our festive Christmas Eve dinner - when again the stereo will accompany our preparations and draw us together with music and drama of the Nativity. (More on that night later this season.)

One of my sons prompted this reflection today by sending me a link to a new song by Paul Simon, "Gettin' Ready." Pat's subject heading, "for the day after Thanksgiving," was his nod to the ban. But I'm sure he knew I was hooked when I saw the link to a Paul Simon song. (Busted - I am a huge Simon fan.) My self-justification is that (a) I am at work and free to listen to Christmas music any time I need to; and (b) it isn't a Christmas song, per se, but an Advent song!

Yes, perhaps my children have also learned from me to how to justify breaking the ban.

Click here to hear "Gettin' Ready" and ... um,

Sing on!