Maundy Thursday

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jim the Tenor

It would have been easy to underestimate Jim’s intelligence, because he was mostly introverted and, like half of our entering class, not from the pre-seminary preparatory schools. We did not know the jargon and were not among the anointed, which sadly was indicative of the very arrogance for which some of the faculty and, definitely, the key administrators were already known. By the time I had completed seminary, my favorite professors were not numbered among the self-proclaimed elite. But, again, I digress.

The very first seminary choir rehearsal, Jim and I sat next to each other in the tenor section. He was a first tenor with a gorgeous well-developed voice. I was a second tenor, who had been abusing my voice with cigarettes for the previous four years. Jim had majored in music and had the chops to prove it. I had not and did not. We became friends and understood each other as small town boys in the big city.

Jim had a wicked sense of humor and was always very quick in his own understated way. In Worship 101, or whatever it was called, Professor Mark, our choir director, was doing a diatribe against individual glasses. He said, “The words of institution do not say, ‘After supper, he took the cups.’ Jim quietly added, “And broke them.” The class cracked up. Another time the professor was warning us about not leaving consecrated hosts too long in a ciborium (the bread box from which the pastor distributes the hosts). Jim said, again quietly, “Yes, you might end up with the Father, the Son, and the moldy host.”

Jim was large man as great singers often are. He was so gifted that he was chosen to sing in the St. Louis Bach Choir, which made singing in the seminary chorus often frustrating for him when guys were goofing off and neither learning their parts or following the director. That was the only time I would see him angry and let others know how he really felt. For Jim, as with Bach, everything was done to the glory of God.

I thought Jim might end up in a large parish with a school where he might be the parish musician but not also the organist. As part of the little AELC, Jim did not have as many opportunities for such a call. I will never forget that, on the day of my ordination, Jim sang in the seminary chorus and later gave me a small crucifix that I kept on my office wall for many years.

We lost touch along the way but happily reconnected in Chicago when I was working on my last degree. He had married near the end of seminary and had become an instant father and then a biological father. We caught up with one another. He had been ordained and was serving here and there mostly doing supply work. Then, we reconnected in 2009 at the Society of the Holy Trinity General Retreat. We sat together at meals and shared stories back and forth. We often sat next to each other in the wonderful worship services when the pastors sing in four-part harmony. The first time, Jim suddenly looked at me with surprise. I was singing bass instead of tenor. Afterwards, I said, “Yep. My voice dropped.”

We saw each other last September at retreat. Jim was walking with a cane and a lot slower. He had been serving two parishes in Iowa and had finally retired to Minneapolis. His wife and he were living close to a daughter and grandkids and had joined Paul Manz’s old parish where David Cherwien is the Kantor (the German Lutheran title for parish musician). We had sung there once on our second seminary choir tour when Manz was still there. Jim and Jan, his wife, were apparently very happy in their new life.

I was shocked to see Jim’s death notice in the most recent Society of the Holy Trinity newsletter. Two Jims I had known and loved were there: Jim the Tenor and Jim the Bishop. The heavenly chorus picked up a couple of ringers with those guys for sure.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for Jim the Tenor. Be good to those who love and miss him most of all and remind us at the altar today that both Jims are with your Son as we gather. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put forty-four pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.