Last summer, I had the best sabbatical ever! I worked with church members for a year and a half to design a perfect plan, one that would “make my heart sing.” We wrote a grant and submitted it to the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Program. August 2013, we learned we’d received the grant! Now, all I had to do was wait–appropriately enough, 9 months– to begin.
I haven’t given birth, but I imagine what happened after my long wait parallels what happens when a baby is born: As soon as the real baby appears, everything changes. That’s what happened with the sabbatical. Despite my meticulous planning, a new course was set–one I’d never imagined–the minute the actual sabbatical appeared.
It started with a FB shout-out from my friend Rachel Small-Stokes, Associate Pastor at Union Church in Berea, KY. “Hey, Kim! We’re hosting a concert to honor Jean Ritchie. You should come!” So, just 3 days before the sabbatical’s official start-date, my musicologist husband and I headed north for a concert that would change everything.
The concert itself merits its own blog post, which isn’t this one. 🙂 This post is about my friend John McCutcheon.
John was one of the performers at the “Dear Jean” concert in Berea. I had a couple of John’s CDs and enjoyed his performance at Union Church…so the second day of the sabbatical “proper,” I visited John’s website to see if I might attend one of his concerts on my “Playing (Music) with My Friends” sabbatical.
None of the concerts looked convenient, but something else did: John was leading a Songwriting Camp at the Highlander Center for Research and Education near Knoxville, Tennessee. I signed up. And choosing that road, as the poet says, has “made all the difference.”
Twenty-one of us gathered at the Highlander Center for song-writing, singing together, and learning about Highlander’s rich history of community organizing and civil rights work. John is a skilled teacher and a terrific storyteller; we all learned a lot. But John’s best gift to us last summer was creating a space where we could (wanted to!) connect with each other. That group of people….they are my friends. My good friends. And not just when I need advice on buying a new guitar! We created that community in response to the enthusiasm and good will of John McCutcheon.
Later in the summer, I attended two of John’s concerts in upstate New York. As I sat and listened, I realized that in his concerts, John does the same thing he did with us at songwriting camp: he creates a space where people can connect with each other. He draws us in with his stories, with his music, with all those instruments, and with–this is the only word that feels right–love. By the end of the concert, we feel deeply connected to each other….almost like church!
Tonight, John McCutcheon plays at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA! Can’t get more convenient than that! (Unless it’s the Gilmer County High School Auditorium in Ellijay, GA, which is where John plays TOMMOROW night. 🙂 Can’t wait to attend both concerts. Gotta love a church service with a preacher as good as John McCutcheon!