I’ve enjoyed Rory Cooney’s entry into the blogosphere, Gentle Reign. I especially like the stories behind his songs and recordings. This week, his post on his thirty-year anniversary as a parish music director plucked a few of my historical strings. It was thirty Lents ago I began my own journey into ministry. My path wasn’t quite as crystal clear-cut as Rory’s.
Thirty years ago this Lent I came to the realization that I was in a dead-end job and my life wasn’t leading anywhere. The deeper I got into college, the better student I became and the less sure of where it was all leading. The last two years (1979-1981) were a struggle. I almost enjoyed my three student jobs more than classes. Residence halls. Food service and catering. Communications.
I think I still had an attachment to my university after a handful of years. I found a fourth job when telemarketing came to the university campus. I hung on after graduation because I could help manage an office, train callers, keep statistics, and be an eagle-eye on mistakes. After a day off I came in to help complete a 1200-person mailer and in a few minutes I noticed some familiar names on the labels. We already called these people. My boss said I was dreaming. A quick check of our last campaign’s files found about a third of these new names had been called just three months before in the preliminary round of the campaign. Attention to detail.
My boss wasn’t impressed with the attention. Our consultants weren’t happy that 382 out of 12oo “new” potential pledges were x’ed out of the campaign. The development office had a bit of face egg–they vouched for the list. People don’t like attention to detail, especially when it’s pointed out by an obnoxious recent graduate.
The last straw was when an entry-level position opened up in development and it was filled before I got the interview. My alma thought the reverse would kick, so they hired a guy who was coming off five years of telephone fundraising for one of the two major political parties. No way was I going to compete with nonsense like that. And after a number of applications and just two interviews elsewhere, it was clear no other college was going to hire me either.
With my fate sealed, I swept off my desk into the trash, announced to my boss I was leaving (and she could interpret that as unpaid vacation or resignation) and walked out the door, nearly broke, but fairly free. I packed up and bought a bus ticket to Ohio to visit my mother’s family. I had about three weeks to a month before running out of money and getting to the Next Stage and maybe something would come to me.
I took a walking tour of Dayton Ohio one day. I like being dropped into a city when I can start walking and see what I find. This day was cloudy, though. I think I was trying to find a historical museum or something. But I got turned around. I was in a neighborhood where it’s good to look tough and not make eye contact. Passed a bookstore. Almost walked in, but I realized that the product offered there wouldn’t make a good impression on my good Baptist cousins. I turned a corner instead. The sun came out. And there to my right was St Mark’s Bookstore. They had stacks of liturgical albums and songbooks I had never seen before: PAA, GIA, St Meinrad’s, Collegeville, and others. I picked up a few and a few days later, it was time to move on.
The next stage of the trip took me to Indiana University to visit a friend in law school. I’ll write more in detail about that experience some other day. They had a “liturgist” (never heard that term before) on loan from St Meinrad’s. I experienced my first really serious Triduum at St Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington that Holy Week. It wasn’t immediately clear to me that I was going to follow in the footsteps of the liturgist-on-loan. I did think how great it would be to have liturgy like that back home. Or in every parish.
More on the next steps in a few days. Maybe.