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From Dallas to Capetown: Sabbatical 1998 Reflections

Presentation for Rector's Forum at All Saints Church

From Dallas to Capetown: Sabbatical 1998 Reflections
Sunday, November 29, 1998 James Walker

Preparing for this forum has been an enjoyable task, allowing me to relive an incredible five-​month period of my life. It has also been an almost overwhelming task to put into coherent words these rich and varied experiences, and to not simply be a mere recollection of places visited, information gleaned, and skills acquired.

Those are all definitely part of the picture, but the larger tapestry I want to weave for you this morning will hopefully have greater depth, as I communicate some of the profound ways in which this time away from All Saints has changed my life.

Three concepts continually come to mind for me, and help to holistically bind together the entire five months. These three concepts: spark, beauty, and perspective. 

Spark — as a glowing, burning, luminous force … something I encountered over and over again in sitting with a wide variety of human beings, listening and responding … hearing their stories.

Beauty — which washed over me as a mighty river at times during the sabbatical; which eluded me at other times; and which I am called to pursue in the most passionate and resolute way.

Perspective — seeing things from many different angles; seeing many aspects of my life and work with greater clarity; seeing what is important.

First of all, you need to know how difficult it was to leave this place, even for five months. This was the first sabbatical of my life, and my anxiety was high. Not coming to work at 132 North Euclid Avenue, for five months, in some ways seemed like walking into some mysterious and chaotic void.

I got over that.

But, particularly difficult was not being with Canterbury Choir and Coventry Choir on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Besides the great intimacy of creating music together, we are community, and that was very difficult to leave.

Church visits in the United States

The first leg of the sabbatical was a 3½-​week investigative trip within the United States.

I learned so much by observing worship services and interviewing music directors. I had my laptop computer with me, and presented Ed Bacon with a 30-​page document upon my return. So, for today, just a few highlights.

My first stop was Dallas, where I visited St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. This is the largest Episcopal Church in the U.S., with about 6500 members, and they have six liturgies each Sunday morning — three at 8:50 and three at 11:00, using the church, the chapel and the theater.

Several of these liturgies are geared toward specific age groups. For example, at 8:50, the Joy Mass in the theater is planned for children ages 3–5 and their parents, though there were lots of children at all six liturgies, even the very formal two-​hour confirmation service at 11:00 in the church.

You can imagine that I looked like a lunatic, running from liturgy to liturgy that morning. However, I spent most of my time at that Joy Mass. It was really quite wonderful, full of spark, and as we move toward adding services at All Saints, particularly concurrent liturgies, the Joy Mass may well be very instructional for us.

Two general comments about all of my various church visitations throughout the sabbatical: I really missed the robust congregational singing that we have built here at All Saints. And, with one notable exception, I did not attend one liturgy that made any slight attempt toward inclusive language in referring to God or human beings, even from the pulpit.

This gives me a different perspective about All Saints.

A nationally-​recognized conductor and concert organist, James Walker entertains and enlightens audiences throughout the United States, and his solo recitals are broadcast on National Public Radio. Winner of the prestigious Mader National Organ-​Playing Competition in 1986, he is a featured soloist at Bach festivals and regional and national music conventions. Currently James is Director of Music at All Saints Church, Pasadena, California.