Volume 3 Book 5 Part 7 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(The Big Voice Chronicles)

Covenant United Methodist Church interior.
Rochester, NY.
[ Book 3-4 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]
[ 11 ] [ 12 ] [ 13 ]
June 5-10, 2003.
A Quietly Emotional Duet.
The pictures in this diary entry were taken during a rehearsal for an appearance in front of the Covenant United Methodist Church this past Sunday morning. I was rehearsing with Greg Burley. (Greg is the brother of Chris Burley who played "Jim" in the Rochester productions of The Last Session.) I asked Greg if I could tell his story and he enthusiastically said that I could.

Greg Burley has cancer. It started in his lungs and moved to his brain. The doctors have given him a 20% chance of survival. Already they have operated. He wears the scar on his head as if it were the most natural thing in the world. His wife, Lisa, is absolutely devoted to him and it's easy to see how devoted he is to her.

I invited Bud the Stud (the butchest man in Rochester) to go along with us because I knew I was feeling a great deal of emotion -- or rather, I wasn't sure how I'd feel. He took pictures of Greg and me rehearsing.

The rehearsal went well. We were to sing "When You Care" together. His voice was strong and we even worked in some harmony.


The beautiful exterior of Covenant United Methodist Church.

This particular church has "co-pastors" -- Natalie Hanson & J. Paul Womack. They are lovely people, very kind, and they are married to each other. I fell in love with her immediately. Arriving an hour early, Greg and I couldn't find her in her office. So we went out into the auditorium. She was up in the front, in jeans, arranging the flower display. A attractive woman with a genuine smile and warm heart, I could see that she wasn't the kind of minister who puts on airs or wears her "office" like a military uniform. I immediately felt at home.

The small grand piano, which was placed on the floor, center, immediately in front of the dais, was in tune and had a rich sound.

I sat and tested it out, getting a feel for the sound of the wide, arching sanctuary. I love these old wooden churches. They have a smell to them, a friendly muskiness acquired through the years that only added to the warmness of the musical sound as strings and wood met wood and glass.

It was a warm Sunday morning here in Rochester. Spring is out in force. For all its winter ferocity, this part of the country comes alive with lush green and colorful flowers in the spring. The ceiling fans were gently turning and the brilliant stained glass windows high on the side walls over the balconies were opened to let in fresh air. The cross breeze cooled the room perfectly. No artificiality. No sealed box.

Jimmy had never been to a Methodist Church so he was curious to see how much it differed from a Catholic mass. In fact, not that much. It was largely liturgical, in the sense that they had "call and response" moments intermixed with songs and announcements, calls for prayer and moments of worship.

But Pastor Natalie created a very inviting and informal atmosphere, very familial. Very friendly. I think anyone would have felt comfortable. She "ran" the service while Pastor Paul watched. Both of them were in white robes with colorful stoles.

When it was my turn to sing, I began with "Near You" which ends with "God please keep me near you," and since this was Pentecost Sunday, Pastor Natalie too that phrase right into the next portion of the service which was a baptism for a baby. The young family was dressed in their Sunday finest and they had beatific smiles as the well-behaved youngster received his baptism and the church pledged to support and love both the baby and the family.

We Baptists don't baptize babies so I was surprised that it didn't seem strange at all. It felt very natural, a young family being embraced by a larger family.

Just before it was time to sing with Greg, his daughter sitting right behind me said, "My dad is so excited. He's been looking forward to this all week." I said, "Me too."

And we did it. We sang "When You Care". I looked over the audience and it seemed like every eye was brimming with tears. Greg is a lovely human being. He is obviously well loved by everyone. I found myself, at one point, just looking at him as we sang. And we connected on some deep level that I suppose transcends simply because he is now facing/accepting "death" on a profound level. But like me, he is fighting it all the way.

That might sound like a contradiction, but it's not. "Accepting" death is not that same as surrendering to it. When we talked at the rehearsal he said the same thing that I said when I was going through the "near death" phase of my disease -- that the things you thought were important but weren't simply fade away. Your priorities change and you realize what's "real" and what's just inconsequential.

We finished out song and when I looked over at Greg he had the biggest grin I've ever seen on a human being. I embraced him immediately and quietly felt thankful for the songs that brought me to this place.

June 11-15, 2003.
Once a Baptist...
This past Sunday I got back to the church that is beginning to feel like a "home" for me. (There are others, too, by the way -- like last week's Methodist, Spiritus Christi which is Catholic, the MCCs in LA & SF, several United Churches of Christ in Kentucky, Nebraska and California, the Unitarian church in Houstin, Jewish synagogues in the San Fernando Valley and in Ohio, just to name a few).

But Lake Ave. Baptist holds a very special place in my heart. It's where I'm allowed to really be my Baptist self. As much as I have willingly admired and identified with many of the belief systems I've encountered over the years, I am, at heart a Baptist -- in character if nothing else. It's what I grew up with. It's who I am. No matter how far afield my theology may swing from moment to moment, I can no more not be Baptist than my friend Michael can't be Jewish.

I love the original Baptists' sense of fierce independence, the doctrine that your relationship with God is your own and that everything is totally between you and God. I'm also an angry, loud aggressive drama queen, which is very Baptist. Amen? I can be full of fire and brimstone and, as much as I hate to admit it, I love to just preach.

I can hear my brothers right now, "Duh."

But when I was in Baptist College, the preachers I liked the best were not the ones who simply preached dogma, or who created carefully crafted little speeches with humorous asides. It was the ones who really used their brains. Who challenged us to think. But who also could throw some fire around the room. (Yeehaw!)

Lake Avenue Baptist ChurchLake Avenue Baptist Church
Lake Avenue Baptist Church.
This building here on the north side of Rochester is very impressive in the photo but in person it feels much more modest. I hadn't realized how startling the architecture was until I looked at it here. Look below and you'll see that in the sanctuary, sunlight streams in from all angles. It really is a house of light.
Lake Ave. Baptist Church Rochester NY sanctuary interior.Lake Ave. Baptist Church Rochester NY sanctuary interior.
See how the sunlight pours in?
Notice also that Baptists have very little iconographic adornment on the walls.
When I was very young I remember a time when Baptists wouldn't even hardly put a cross up, thinking it too Catholic looking. Iin the 70s, I remember there was a sudden change. The Christian bookstores suddenly all started selling very sleek, modern looking cross jewelry. It almost felt licentious to buy.

One thing that hasn't changed is that the cross is bare. There are no dead Jesuses hanging on Baptist walls.

The church is multi-cultural, supports the ordination of women,
has a mixture of races, ages, cultures; straight couples. Gay couples.
Notice the rainbow sash running along the side wall.

For Lake Ave. Baptist the message of inclusion is central to their belief system. If you don't understand that you are welcome in this church, no matter who you are, no matter what you believe, then you aren't paying attention.
Rev. Peter J. Carman
Rev. Peter is a wonderful mixture of
intellectualism and passion.
Rev. Peter invited me to sing one song this morning and mention Big Voice. Notice in the picture that he is wearing a plain white robe. This is because there were to be two baptisms this morning. (Last Sunday at the Methodist Church there was a baptism but they didn't dunk the baby. Methodists don't dunk. Baptists dunk, so Baptists don't baptize babies. It could be bad for the babies, for one thing.)

The sun brilliantly lights up the baptismal font.

(The Spring weather here, by the way, has been sensational. The sun is hot but there's a cool breeze off the great lakes and it picks up the rich scent of trees and flowers coming to life. The colorful flowers are scaldingly bright and they are everywhere. The green is lush and rich. It can be intoxicating to the senses. In LA we get lots of sunny/cool days but compared to this, they feel kind of artificial, like some studio executive who hated winter ordered it but didn't quite get it right.)

The first thing they reminded us as we started the service was that it was Father's Day. In fact, the male chorus of the church sang. The tall ceiling acoustics amplified their almost perfect blend as they sang an old spiritual a cappella. The richness of the tone felt like warm blend of woodwinds, cellos and French horns.

My dad. Seeing Rev. Peter dressed up for the baptism made me flash back to the days when my dad would perform baptisms for his little Baptist churches, how mom was always embarrassed that someone in the changing rooms would see the big Navy tattoo on his shoulder. When I was in high school in Buna Texas I was quite startled when a Methodist friend witnessed a "dunking" baptism and pronounced it "primitive."

I sang "A Simple Faith" after the offering and then Rev. Peter preached. I told him afterwards how much I enjoyed the "fire in his belly." He remarked that he had a mixture of people, some of whom love the "fire in the belly" style and some who embrace a more intellectual approach. And since they're both facets of who he is, he preaches what he feels.

Back into his regular preachin' robes.
Speaking of which, this next Wednesday night we have suddenly put together an impromptu "An Evening With Steve Schalchlin" concert. I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to say or sing. Maybe I'll preach!

(Maybe. Right.)

Happy Father's Day. I love you dad. You are an amazing human being. I guess I don't tell you that enough. Your ability to love and to accept all kinds of people, from the street kids you and mom once took care of, to the tiny country congregations out in the backwoods of Texas is a true example of what Christianity is to me. Your humility as a human being is also stirring. You remind me what great men truly are, they feel like pillars. Always there. Always dependable. Strength that doesn't show or advertise itself. Thank you.

[ Book 3-4 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]

© 1996-2003 by Steve Schalchlin.
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