Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Sometime in the late autumn of 1972— when I stayed at home in Harrisburg, Central Pennsylvania to help my parents get re-settled after the flood of Hurricane Agnes– my father's friend and older assistant pastor, Wallace J. Cummings died. I don't recall the exact circumstances of his death, but I do remember his funeral.

Following my reflexive, spontaneous remarks from the pulpit the Sunday after Christmas 1969— a traumatic time in my life— when during a student-led service I said that I hadn't been sure about my faith in God since I had been a child, but appreciated all the support I had recently been given— Pastor Cummings informed Dad that I had told a different story when I had given a talk, concerning young people's doubts about religious faith, to the Men's Bible Class at Hart's diner in Paxtang two years before. 

I clearly recall that talk, and remember how I very carefully phrased and characterized my remarks as "not necessarily my own." In fact, they mostly were. But I had learned the lawyer's – or politicians trick— of plausible deniability.

At Wallace Cummings' funeral, the Grace Church Chancel Choir sang a chorus from the Du Bois "Seven last Words", a traditional Good Friday anthem at Grace Church. Most of the choir was in tears, and could barely make it through the piece. For some reason, I was strangely unaffected. 

But the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, when we sang the same chorus—from the rear gallery below the marvelous Tiffany Ascension window—as part of the annual Christmas pageant, I had a delayed reaction, I guess, and blubbered throughout the entire piece. 

Later that week, we had choir rehearsal in the Robert Lee George Chapel— for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. My father's organist, Robert Clippinger, had been there for years. He was a superb musician with impeccable technique. He never made finger errors. His entire family –wife, two sons, and a daughter, who had made extraordinary efforts to be there— and his entire choir – were at the rehearsal. 

Half way through a "Halleluia" from a Bach Christmas Cantata, Dr. Clippinger had a cerebral hemorrhage. He started to make mistakes, again, something he had never done in my memory. I was sitting behind him. I couldn't see his face, but he kept on playing. With almost super-human effort, he finished that piece. Then he toppled over—never to regain consciousness. He died two days later. For all practical purposes he died at the rehearsal. 

Think about it: an organist with his family and choir at Christmas rehearsing Bach. It doesn't get much better than that.

1 comment:

jutka said...

Dear Rob, thank you for all the enjoyments that your blog gives me. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and a Very Happy and Healthy New Year!

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)