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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 16 – Year C

1 Timothy 2

My husband, Andrew, and I met on a blind date in New York City when I was a seminarian back in 1996. A mutual friend gave him my number. He took his sweet time calling me. He had “doubts.” I wasn’t surprised. Very few men have dated future clergy; few still have any intention of doing so. They assume that a woman of the cloth is likely to be a little too “churchly.” So after Andrew finally did call and we finally met, I took precautions: my dress was low-cut and my hair was big. Real big. I looked quite…unchurchly. There was no way Andrew was going to walk away from that first date thinking I was some nerdy Jesus freak!

Needless to say, my ploy worked.

At the time Andrew was something of a lapsed Presbyterian. While he attended an Episcopal boarding school, the extent of his prayer-book knowledge was sketchy at best. But it is also Andrew’s nature to be open to new experiences—even to the smells and bells of the prissy Anglo-Catholic liturgy in which I was immersed while at seminary. As our relationship grew serious and we began to talk about our future, I told him that while I would need him to support my call to the priesthood, his commitment to the church would solely be on his terms.

At the time, Andrew was not baptized. Nor was he seeking to be part of a church community. I knew that I could not force him to “find” God. And I have found that this is especially true now that we are married. Andrew thinks of me, first and foremost, as his wife— his flawed, nagging, shopacholic wife—rather than as his spiritual counselor. As much as I’d like to command him to pick up his dirty clothes in the name of Jesus, it just won’t fly.

The only spiritual stipulation I placed on him before we were married was that he had to learn to pray. I could not be in a relationship with someone who wasn’t sharing a prayer life with me, for me, and for our family, whether in happy times or in crisis. In the last eight years we’ve had our share of both. We pray together, and our marriage flourishes because of it.

Now, Andrew was somewhat involved in my parish back in New York , but not nearly as much as he is here at St. James’s. He has his own place in this church community. He has his own set of friends within the parish, relationships apart from mine. Relationships that involve beer and sports and other things that I don’t wish to know about. And, of course, Andrew has the Parish Choir. Was it the Holy Spirit that led him to the choir? Was it the strong-arming of Mark Whitmire ? Who knows? The point is that Andrew’s immersion in church music has ushered him into a relationship with Jesus that is lyrical, and personal.

In Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy he writes, “God our Savior desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Paul goes on to say of this task, “I was appointed a herald and an apostle, a teacher of Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim 2: 3-4, 7). Life experience shows us that the work of the spirit comes in unexpected places and through unexpected people. Even in our skepticism we have to be willing to seek out and be open to those entrusted to lead us into the light.

Last summer, my husband spent two weeks in England with the Parish Choir singing at Gloucester Cathedral. While I was thrilled he decided to join them, on his own and with no prodding from me, I had my reservations. As anyone who has ever been on a mission trip knows, traveling with a group of fellow Christians, bunking with them, and being in close quarters for an extended period of time can make anyone nuts. So I worried about how Andrew would fare. And, frankly, because Andrew is, well…Andrew, I worried about how his behavior on the trip would reflect upon me. How to put this delicately? My husband’s sense of humor can be…an acquired taste.

But the fact is, that choir trip changed his life. The Holy Sprit was alive and well on that trip—the Holy Spirit was shakin’ it up on that trip. Who would have thought that a black gospel diva could bring my husband to Jesus within the vaulted space of a 15th century English cathedral? Faye Perry, I am eternally grateful to you!

Many of you read Andrew’s article in the monthly Chimes a year ago describing the choir’s adventures, and one Evensong in particular in which he described Faye letting the spirit loose. It was during an anthem entitled, Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, that the Spirit shook Andrew to his core. He described it like this: “She began quietly. Then she began to rise. Rise and plead. And then, all at once, the arms went up, the head went back and a sound erupted out of Faye Perry’s body—lonesome and wounded and shocking; purely musical and yet somehow beyond music—that you wouldn’t have thought a human being could make. It was a revelation, that wail, both healing and traumatizing, a thing that shivered through you and broke you down. As Faye grew the piece into the whole of the Cathedral space—Some-times I feel like an eagle in de air! —many of us couldn’t continue. Just stopped singing. (A number of singers and tourists continued to sob throughout the closing prayers.) It was, simply, the greatest musical moment I have ever been a part of. And yet to call it a musical moment is to limit it. It’s hard to describe; faith, after all, is both above and beneath the level of language.” End quote.

Andrew does not cry. I have never seen him cry. He did not cry when his piano teacher, mentor, and surrogate father died unexpectedly of a heart attack; he did not cry when we were married, when my mother died, when his grandfather died, when our beloved cat was hit by a car, or when Quincy was born. My husband is an odd bird—a highly emotional man who nevertheless does not express himself with tears. But on that day, August 9, 2003 , in the 36th year of his life Andrew Corsello wept. Faye Perry, God’s apostle and herald, helped lead my husband into the light and into faith. Through her spirit, God was revealed. As Andrew wrote, “I regard Faye’s performance of that anthem as a beautiful answer to a number of fundamental human questions. Such as: Why do we sing? And: Why do we worship? And, perhaps, even: Why do we exist?” End quote.

And today, after nine years of Faye gifting us with her soul and voice, St. James’s resident gospel diva, and dearest friend leaves the choir and the church to begin a new life in Detroit .

When Faye joined the West Gallery Choir back in 1995, her reception was less than gracious. She answered an ad the Whitmires placed in Style Weekly looking for paid singers after the recently dismissed music director’s choir had walked out on them in revolt. It was a tenuous time. Mark and Virginia decided to take a risk on a black woman who had no formal music training, but who had a voice and a style emanating God’s spirit. Naturally, one would think these to be positive attributes. Not necessarily. It wasn’t long after Faye’s presence was felt, that a parishioner approached her with a scowl and asked, “Why are you here? Who do you think you are to be doing that kind of music?” It was abundantly clear that this person was referring to the color of Faye’s skin and her style of spiritual hand waving and clapping. To Faye’s credit, she never gave up. She told me that she had to make a choice: to praise God in the only way she knew how or quit. She took a stand, and trusted that God would lead her and bless her music. And she told me, too, that what she learned from this church was that God was always present in what seemed like at times a very cold building. Even if the congregation was not clapping or waving its hands, she said, God’s presence was real, palpable. She witnessed it through the shed tears and through its silence. (I laughed when Faye told me that the one thing she could not get used to was the season of Lent. Well, Faye, now that you’re a confirmed Episcopalian, and a card-carrying member of the Frozen Chosen, you’re just going to have to get over that one!)

And Faye learned probably one of her biggest lessons in our midst. Growing up she said that she feared white people and learned through her experiences that they could not be trusted. But her nine years in the midst of this congregation and in the protective bosom of the Whitmires and her choirs, dispelled those notions. Faye said that she has been embraced, loved and cared for in ways that she could never dream. And for that she is eternally grateful. Faye told me that her life is now fully integrated and cross-cultural because of St. James’s. Her friends, her community and her church are now primarily all white, but she has never had to sacrifice her “black-self” to be embraced.

Now what does that say about the power of the Spirit—the wishes of God among his people. Faye, I believe that when one person single-handedly changes the course of another’s life, they should know about it and be thanked. Thank you Faye. Thank you for touching my husband and my family and my ministry. Thank you for showing this congregation what it means to sing God’s praises. Amen.

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