When Pure Love is Present

Closing remarks to St. John’s Episcopal Church, February 10, 2019
David-Charles Campbell, Minister of Music

“When pure love is present, who is giving and receiving become so elided that neither is distinguishable from the other” (C. Anne Hallmark, interim rector, 2010)

And so it is that pure love, at many levels is present here today. Who would have imagined that when Tom O’Dell (rector, 1994-2000) hired me on a handshake in May of 2000 that today we would be celebrating twenty years of growth, intentional community among our choirs, a music academy for children and a glorious arts series in Music on the Corner. In reality, I never applied for the job. Further, I’m confident that in 2000 I did not want another church gig. God for certain had a distinct and different plan in store for all of us.

Not knowing the future nor my time frame, this congregation literally saved my life when I came to St. John’s, broken, wounded and not wanting to serve another Christian congregation. For you see, I came from a beloved former parish where I served for nineteen and a half years, building a large music program, a huge new organ and walking with the church through three major building programs. That congregation moved extremely far right and divorced their denomination. It was a simply miserable season of angst, divisions and egos. I chose to leave before I would have been asked to leave. At that time, I was much more interested in hospice work than church parish work. Holding the hands of dying folks seemed the real Jesus to me.

As is obvious, God had a different plan, for you, for me and for St. John’s. Twenty years later and here we are today with a consummate choir, a choir that has carried this parish through many joys, sorrows and transitions and become musically one of the finest choirs between Washington and Charlotte. The choir and I share some three hundred-plus hours a year together. Multiply that by twenty and we have shared together in over six thousand hours of ministry together. We certainly know each other well. How grateful I am, grateful beyond human words for this choir and this parish, many of you opening up your hearts and personal lives and stories, inviting me in. Holding each other’s hearts and hands and interior lives… well, I shall miss this portion the very most. At the end of my life I do not want to recognized for great concerts, beautiful church music and building pipe organs. Much the more, I want to be remembered that I was a part of your daughter’s wedding, your mother’s funeral and that I played at your children’s baptisms. Thank you, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives, hearts and stories. Profound thanks!

After forty years serving on a church staff it is clearly obvious to me that behind any effectual and successful church leader is a spouse of great merit, a spouse who spends copious amounts of time alone or separated during “normal” family times. Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving Day, Easter Day – every time the church has a special moment, the family life of a church leader goes without. I/we are deeply indebted to, thankful for, and grateful beyond measure for how you, the dear children of God, have included Charles, known as Mr. Richards to most, as a part of our church family. I am profoundly grateful to Mr. Richards (Charles) for the hundreds of hours donated to our shared mutual ministry. My ministry would have been feeble at best, weak on most days and of little strength if I did not have this wonderful human being in my heart and daily life. We all together owe him a debt of gratitude and a measure of thanksgiving as large as twenty years on a pedestal. Thank you, thank you, Mr. Richards. You were a minister in toto when you did not even recognize it. Bless you, dear and good man of God!

Today’s hymns are of particular importance to me, and might I say that the leadership of hymns at the organ is one of my most favorite and serious moments in life. Bringing texts and tunes together with the wondrous many sounds of the organ is a beautiful moment for any serious church organist. When the spirit moves us to sing, we simply must sing. Bishop Light reminds me regularly that our parish has become a rich and full-throat singing parish and is always quick to compliment my hymn playing. I have sought my entire life at the organ to play both with my hands and with my heart, hopefully bringing to life every word, phrase and the theology of every hymn.

“Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” was the entrance hymn when I worshiped at Westminster Abbey some months before coming to St. John’s. The sermon and lessons that day were about risk taking – Jesus inviting Peter to step out of the boat. In a similar manner, today, too, is about risk taking.

The theology of “I want to walk as a child of the light” is, for me, one of the strongest theologies in the 1982 Hymnal. When the night and the day become so elided, when pure love supersedes darkness and evil, and when Jesus is all that remains, then we are for certain completely in the presence of God. And is this not what we as church leaders and church musicians seek to do every day of our lives – move the children of God into a set-aside, holy and sacred space. For the past forty-two years this has been the very reason I wake in the morning and come to the church house, seeking to feed sheep. It is perhaps uncommon for an organist to seek to feed sheep, but then I am not your common church organist.

So back to pure love. I wrestled for some weeks and really prayed about what might be the last hymn that we will share together. Initially I was drawn to the great text of Martin Rinkert, who, after burying some three thousand folks during the black plague in Germany, including his own wife and several of his children, penned the everlasting text of “Now Thank we all our God, with heart, and hand and voices.” Yet this theme of pure love grew in my consciousness as being the heart of our shared twenty years together. The more I reflected and prayed about this moment, the more I found and find myself consumed with an inexpressible love for each of you. A love deeper than human words. A love that in itself is pure breath.

In a few moments we will share the fabulous text of Charles Wesley’s “Love divine, all loves excelling.” I want to leave with you with these intimate, awe-inspiring, life-changing and real-as-dead-men-eating-broiled-fish words. When we arrive at stanza three, I will lift the key and add to the organ and I would like to invite you to sing as like as you have never sung before, with every fiber of your being. These words perhaps best sum up our wonderful shared mutual ministry these many years. As I say to the choir and to each of you today, “‘'I love you’ is grossly insufficient!”

Finish then Thy new creation; pure and spotless let it be;
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee:
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.

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