Alphabetically, my name came up for the church cleaning assignment this weekend. The next 2 days are jam packed with activities. Two stake conference sessions and the stake Christmas concert. The choir has a practice scheduled first thing Saturday morning. So, I decided to clean the chapel tonight, Friday, rather than be a nuisance during the rehearsal.
I was not the only person in the building. Two men in charge of the extensive sound system were there to nail down all the technical details. Shortly after I started vacuuming, my late night companions turned on a recording of Christmas music sung by the Tabernacle Choir. Oh my goodness, it was gorgeous!!
Dust…Wipe… Arrange…Vacuum. All the while beautiful holiday music wafted from the high quality sound system that had been specially set up for the upcoming Christmas program. I’ve never enjoyed cleaning as I did tonight. At least, for the first hour, anyway
Then came the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The sublime voices, stirring cadence, and beautiful instrumentals touched me deeply. I choked up. Tears filled my eyes. This classic Christmas mainstay brought back pleasant and painful memories.
Over 20 years ago, while serving as bishop, I had interviewed a particular man in the ward. We only met 2 or 3 times over the course of maybe 8 months. A delightful young professional. Returned missionary. Strong testimony. And….he was gay. Still in the closet, he hadn’t come out to anybody, yet. I don’t remember much of our conversations. My only counsel was encouragement to continue coming to church. Except to express my love, I had no idea what to do. Soon, a move took him out of the ward boundaries. I lost track of him.
Ten years later, our stake started our annual Christmas Concert. At the very first rehearsal, guess who walks in the door? My former gay parishioner. My heart warmed to see him. And, to see that he had stuck with the church. I had not heard hide nor hare of him for all these years. Selfishly, I took a spot right next to him. He was a strong tenor, I was weak. He led me through all the difficult parts. Plus, I wanted to reestablish our connection without the office of bishop between us.
For me, the most difficult number in each annual Concert was the Hallelujah Chorus. Man, that was tough for me. But, my talented tenor friend never seemed to miss a note. He helped me miss a lot less. We developed a great camaraderie. I sung with the stake choir for 3 years. The next 7, I only attended the performances. My friend stopped singing, too. But, he stayed on as the choir organist. Every year we had a joyful reunion at the lovely Christmas musical.
Then November came. November 2015. The infamous gay policy was announced. Twenty years had now passed since I first met my gay friend. How would he react?
The policy was devastating. Twenty years of working to stay in the church. This was too much. He was done.
He stayed just long enough to play the organ for one last Christmas Concert. Now, he’s gone. We’re still friends…good friends. But, he’s gone from the church that had been such a big part of his life…for his entire life. Last May, I composed a piece about my sadness over friends leaving the church. He was one I definitely had in mind when I wrote “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
So, tonight, when the Hallelujah Chorus echoed joyously over the hum of my vacuum, sweet and sour memories swept through my mind. Tears flowed into my eyes. They remained teary for the entire next cleaning hour.
My dear choir-mate, if you read this, I love you my brother. Although you are gone, I stay and vote opposed to the policy that drove you away.
8 thoughts on “Cleaning the Church to Tears”
When they sing the Hallelujah Chorus I hope they can be mindful that historians believe Handle was gay.
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Sam – You show your wonderfulness over and over in this blog. Your willingness to clean the church even on a busy weekend. You show how you give of your time for the choir. But most of all your big heart shows in how much you care for others. I have know “of” you Sam for decades, but only in the last year have I gotten to really meet you and in those months I know I have another person in my life that loves me. I already have my Christmas gift from Sam.
And to reply a bit to Helen’s comments, you should watch I think it may be at least the first half of this BYU professor’s lecture. His comments about the early church on music and left-handedness are really interesting to hear. BTW – I highly recommend his book “Way below the angels”. EVERY RM should read it when returning from their mission. His wife Paula also has a great book on polygamy.
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oops – the link to Craig’s (very funny) presentation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-o23SurnGA
Thanks my friend. You give me way too much praise for pushing a vacuum. Your comments have meant the world go me, over these past several months.
Sam, this brings back such sweet and sour memories. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed “Cleaning for Jesus.” Don’t be too sad about your friend. After a lifetime in the church my family and I jumped out of the boat. Although it was scary at first we soon discovered the water is fine and eventually we came to the mainland where we built our house on solid ground called “Grace Community Church.” We have restrooms to clean and songs to sing. What we don’t have is a policy that condemns believers who are different. All are welcome as we sing to and about the Lord and His wonders to perform. Thanks for all you do and Merry Christmas!
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And merry Christmas to you, my friend.
“do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” ~ Luke 23:28
My guess is that, like most of us who intentionally leave the church after trying to make it work for years and decades, he is much happier now.
I don’t regret that I left, but I regret the feelings my departure caused my parents and extended family and LDS friends.
Don’t weep for us who have left, Sam. We left and are glad to have done so. Weep for those who wish they could leave but cannot. Weep for those who have not yet left but will feel there is no other way in the next few months.