Yesterday was our church’s annual General Conference of Elders, and the theme was “Live The Word .” As our congregation’s retired pastor, the second split sermon speaker correctly noted, this theme is a directive, a mandate, a command. Both of the speakers yesterday were from the Pacific Northwest, and their messages were greatly of interest. I did not personally know the gentleman who gave the first message well, as he is an associate pastor in Spokane, and it is not an easy task as an overly scheduled and somewhat overly committed person in my local congregation to travel even to neighboring congregations, much less ones further distant. The second message in particular struck my interest because of the way that it was fairly simple and straightforward for the sort of messages that the speaker tends to give, which are usually deeply layered. Even in this message I noted one of the speaker’s characteristic concerns about the avoidance of adultery and his love of noticing bookends and patterns, in noticing that he was clearly in the elder statesman role with the task of encouraging young people and young leaders. Being a person of great delicacy, it is likely a task he will undertake with his usual discretion and subtlety, even if it was a bit of a surprise for him, in the introduction to his message, to lay out the matter fairly openly.
As it happened, contrary to my usual practice I was in a neighboring congregation for services. Apparently I did not do a good job of informing others that I was going to Salem largely because a practice had been scheduled for the combined choir we are to do on Pentecost, and not being someone who enjoys singing songs without adequate preparation on a wing and a prayer, it was the only time I would be able to visit the congregation before Pentecost given my other duties. When the first message was beginning, I received a text message from a friend asking if I had remembered the earlier time for services this Sabbath on account of the conference. I informed my friend that I had, and that I was down in Salem. From what I heard later from another friend, a few people had asked about where I was and what I was up to. I had, humorously enough, in Salem chatted just before services with a couple of my friends there that I am not in the habit of announcing where I go, but in this case it may have been a good thing to do, simply because I am such a creature of consistent pattern that when I do not follow that pattern it draws more scrutiny than the behavior of others generally would. I tend to be somewhat overly self-conscious of the scrutiny which my behavior attracts generally, though, especially given the fact that I am aware that I am being watched by many who do not feel it necessary to communicate.
One of the more common tasks undertaken while watching the video feed for the General Conference of Elders is for audiences to evaluate the quality of the ABC Chorale for the year. I remember that fact being forcibly imprinted on my memory during my own time in that choir in 2004, and in listening to this year’s choir, I found that the critical spirit in this particular matter was alive and well. Late in the evening I was chatting with a friend of mine when I had returned back to Vancouver to play geeky games with her and her husband a couple of others and her comments about the music were savage. I thought that the second song sounded like something that a children’s choir would sing, but my impression of their performance was colored by the fact that there was an overwhelmingly loud and out of balance husky alto in the front row who destroyed the balance of the choir as a whole, and that had her voice been in proper balance with the rest of the choir, it is likely that the performance would have been much more enjoyable to listen to. As a fairly loud tenor myself, it must be admitted, I am often concerned personally about being out of balance with others, since a choir performance is a matter of balance, requiring a great deal of sensitivity in not overwhelming other people, but rather focusing on the overall blend. It is a task I seek to be conscientious about, and one that requires a great deal of personal restraint.
As it happens, the practice in Salem that prompted my own visit to my neighboring congregation went well. For about two hours or so, with some breaks, a core group consisting mostly of Salem’s choir members and a handful of choir members from Portland, myself included along with a few ladies, performed three of the four numbers for special music, the fourth being the a capella mostly youth choir I am a part of that attracted a fair bit of humor at the pot luck early dinner we enjoyed. Two of the ladies in Portland did a lovely duet for a song called “The Book Of Ruth,” the adult choir, including a couple of precocious young sopranos, sang first among the three on a piece that requires both high and loud notes as well as sections at the beginning and end of loveliness and delicacy, done softly. At the end of practice the teen and young adult choir sang a lovely number that worked nicely as well, where our voices were somewhat ragged but we were still concerned about the technical quality of the songs. All in all, it was an enjoyable time spent singing and talking about such random subjects as the prospect of a highway to Siberia through lonely Little Diomede Island and its hundred-plus lonely residents connected to the world only through a small wharf and a town heliport. Sometimes one feels as if one has been marooned on such a lonely island, I suppose.
Although at least for my own personal purposes the day was a successful one, the day itself was deeply saddened by announcements in both Portland and Salem. While I was eating at the pot luck, some of the brethren who had gone to Portland for services informed me that one of our brethren had suddenly died while sitting down to play bingo on an Alaskan cruise with his family. This gentleman was one I knew a little, although not particularly well , and he had been fit enough to walk a block or two home after Passover without any apparently concern for health. Sometimes death comes suddenly with no warning at all, only shock and a lot of questions. In Salem, the local announcements were given after services and one of those announcements was about a member there whose health has taken a rapid turn for the worst. The announcement was that the cancer that had recently been found had been found to be fast-spreading and inoperable and incurable, and the prayer rather mournfully asked brethren to pray that her last days be as peaceful as possible. Even my retired pastor had contributed to this mood on reflection on death by commenting that he had spent much of his time recently with a gentleman dying in a hospice near his home, which likely put the audience, even those not listening to news of shocking or imminent demises in a mood of some reflection.
When one reflects on the sudden nature of death, and its universal aspect of a scourge of human existence, it points attention to what it means to live the Word. When we reflect that Jesus Christ was the Word, and that the greatest of our tasks is to love our Heavenly Father with all our heart and all our strength, and to love others as ourselves, it was striking to reflect upon the sheer absence of outgoing love and concern in the messages discussed. When Jesus called for people to follow Him, he did so reminding them to pick up their cross daily, but also that His yoke was easy and His burden light, in stark contrast to the burdens of life in a fallen world. On the night where he was taken to be convicted in an illegal trial and to suffer and die so that mankind could enter into salvation, He asked that believers be one as He and His Father are one, and commented that people would recognize His followers by their love. Are we known by our love, both of truth and understanding and knowledge and wisdom but also of other people, even those who are highly imperfect, and even those who may wrong us?
 See, for example:
 See, for example: