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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This is the coldest damn winter I have ever experienced, and I'm not the only one. But when I got to Barrington in 1994, in February, it was the coldest one in a long time, and I was driving into town from Arizona, where I had lived under a broiling sun pretty much all my life. I arrived on a Friday night, and Saturday morning I had to direct the choirs for the confirmation mass. Welcome, sit down, and get to work.

The parish had arranged for me to stay with a lovely woman who lived less than a mile from the church. I had, almost literally, nothing, just my clothes and guitar and a few odds and ends. Recently divorced, I had come to try to make a fresh start. At St. Jerome, my former parish in Phoenix, I had tried really hard to make a go of it, and most of the people there were very understanding and tried to help us all through the difficult time. I had had an apartment about a mile from the church and about a mile from the house still occupied by my children and their mother, we were all trying to make that work as best we could. Then, a new pastor was assigned at St. Jerome, and shortly after his "I, me, mine" homilies began there, I knew the handwriting was on the wall. (He was subsequently chased out of the parish, and later indicted in another parish on numerous counts of misusing church funds. Lovely man.)

Courtney Murtaugh
I had been at the NPM in St. Louis the previous summer, and a woman by the name of Courtney Murtaugh approached me after the GIA showcase. She introduced herself as the liturgist from St. Anne's in Barrington, Illinois, and told me they were looking for a music director. I had never heard of Barrington, but I had asked my longtime acquaintance Mary Prete, then of Alverno Religious Books in Chicago, to keep her ear open and let people know I was looking. She had apparently told Courtney, and so Courtney came to me. She gave me an information packet from the parish, and told me to call her. They flew me out on the weekend of the Assumption in August of 1993, and I interviewed with some staff there and played with the groups at the masses. I told them that I thought I would like it there, but that I couldn't leave Phoenix quite yet, maybe not for another six months, so I suggested they might want to interview someone who would be available sooner. The pastor, Fr. Jack Dewes, told me that if I wanted the job, they'd get by until I could get there.

So we had a deal. I was amazed. The reason I'm writing all this is because this is a great parish, and it's in a great little town, and I count my blessings so often that I ended up here of all places.
Best. Fourth. of. July. Parades. Ever.
Barrington is small, actually a cluster of five villages or areas that share a zip code. For you to appreciate the way that I appreciate this town, you sort of have to know what Phoenix is like. Phoenix is a grid, a sprawling city laid out in square-miles like patchwork. Within each square-mile area there is a neighborhood, a school, some churches. At the intersections are the strip malls and grocery and convenience stores, larger malls and metroplexes dot the map. This was the city that was my home from 1958 until 1994, give or take a few years for high school and college in southern California and southeast Missouri.

The church where I work in Barrington is about a block from the Metra (commuter rail) station. Like many communities in Illinois and around the western US, Barrington was a railroad stop, a farming and horse ranching community, before it became a bedroom community for upscale Chicago
Village Hall
commuters. Hopping on a train at any of about twenty daily times, you can be in downtown Chicago for about five dollars or so, no hassles, no traffic. It's wonderful (at least for those of us whose trips to Chicago are not two-a-days, 250 times a year!) From the church, I can walk less than half a mile to the library, the post office, the bank, two Starbucks, my dry cleaners, a grocery store, and to Barrington's own "second run" classic theater, the Catlow. Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin' Donuts, and pizza are in the same radius, and several cafes, restaurants, and an Irish pub. But I can also walk a five-mile path that is mostly parkway and along the Cuba Marsh, a forest preserve.

This is life for a lot of people in this part of the midwest, a neighborhood where you don't really need a car to get around. It's a good thing, too, because for part of my tenure here we only had one car, and Terry needed it to drive to her job in St. Charles. On top of all that, and if that weren't enough, about two years after I arrived, the church had bought a couple of houses to expand their green space in anticipation of our building project which culminated in the new church being built in 2000. They let us rent the house right across the street from the church, so all the benefits of village life were ours, too, benefits which we could definitely never have afforded if we were actually paying what the place was worth in rent or mortgage. The rent we pay was certainly less than a lot of our neighbors' property taxes. In 2009, we bought a house a few miles north of Barrington in Lake Zurich, which is about halfway between Barrington and Terry's teaching job at Carmel Catholic High School, where Desi attended school before tripping off to be a Cornhusker.

Our home from 1996-2009, the once and
future (current) rectory on Franklin Street
All that began twenty years ago this month. It has been a good relationship for these many years. As anyone knows who has been a non-ordained person in church ministry for any length of time, all of this can change in the blink of an eye. A pastor can leave or be moved at any time, and his replacement could be as different in style and personality as is humanly possible—think of what happened in Phoenix, for instance—and I might not fit the bill for the new guy. There is absolutely no recourse: all of us serve at the pleasure of the pastor. Contracts, verbal or otherwise, mean next to nothing in the ecclesiastical world. No amount of clamor by no number of parishioners would make a bit of difference if any of us were let go for any reason; it just doesn't matter. I've seen it happen all over the country.

Still, while it lasts, it's a good job among wonderful people. I have wonderful, committed colleagues who love ministry and we do our best to announce the gospel in our little corner of creation and move people to take care of each other. To get paid for doing something you love is a blessing for anyone. To be able to make music for worship, to work with people for whom faith matters and who want to make a difference in the world, is a treasure. To be able to do that in a little town "where everybody knows your name" and everything is a five-minute walk away, that's just off-the-chart brilliant. As the old song goes, "I don't know what tomorrow holds/ But I know who holds tomorrow." I'll keep my nose to the grindstone and see how this plays out, in Barrington, Illinois, 60010.

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