Cleaning the Church to Tears


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.