The Summons

Church yesterday was unexpectedly difficult.

Our younger daughter Trinity was with me, which is a rare occurrence in the last year as she has been away from home for grad school and a summer internship. She pointed out that we were singing some of our favorite hymns, including “The Summons” which we were singing for entrance. (Text is at link; other sources list the author as John Bell.)

I love “The Summons.”  I love its message and its challenge. I love Kelvingrove, the lilting Scottish tune to which it is usually sung. I loved singing it. I loved conducting it during the years that I volunteered as accompanist with our youth and junior choirs.  (I usually accompanied anthems, but conducted hymns.) “The Summons” was an important part of an ordination and first Mass weekend for a member of our parish ten years ago last June.

And that is the problem.

That momentous celebration weekend was also our last with that parish, which had been my church home for over twenty years, where our daughters were baptized and made their first Eucharist, where I volunteered extensively with the music ministry and liturgy committee, where our daughters sang and cantored and rang handbells, where “The Summons” was an important call to mission, where I felt called to serve.

And it all fell apart.

The gospel reading yesterday spoke to what had happened. Someone in authority had fallen victim to an obsessive and slavish regard for the “laws of men” at the expense of love, justice, mercy, and compassion.  I believe that this person suffered from mental illness, but our bishop, to whom we had appealed, would not protect us.

After the ordination/first Mass weekend, we left the parish in solidarity with a staff member who had been unjustly terminated after decades of service.

Ten summers ago, Trinity was transitioning from 9th to 10th grade, which meant that she was in the middle of a two year sequence to prepare for the sacrament of confirmation.  In order to continue, we joined a parish near her school, so that she would already know some of the other students in her confirmation class. The circumstances surrounding our departure from our former parish had been soul-crushing for all of us, but she was in the most vulnerable position. She considered not being confirmed at all.  In the end, she did decide to request confirmation, which involved writing a personal letter to the very bishop who had refused us his protection.   The parish confirmation director told me the letter was honest and powerfully expressed Trinity’s feelings about what had happened.

I’m sure it did. I never saw it. I think that Trinity wanted to spare me any additional pain.

“The Summons” became a painful reminder of what we had all lost. Whenever it came up at Mass during the first six years, I would cry through it, unable to sing. Gradually, as some healing occurred, I found that I could sing it again, especially once Trinity had graduated from college and was singing with the choir at Holy Family.

I thought I was finally over attaching pain to hymn.

Until yesterday.

I was thinking  – it’s ten years. Trinity is beside me, she is strong spiritually, and she is singing this beautiful song of mission which we both love.

And I started crying. Not enough that I wasn’t able to still sing, albeit tremulously and missing a phrase here and there.

Some tears of loss and pain. Some tears of gratitude.

And some tears right now, while writing this…