Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Big Update!

Anyone who says that the Age of Miracles has passed, that God no longer reaches His Hand into the lives of His people, is just not paying attention. Sometimes it comes in a whisper, sometimes a burning bush, but I’m convinced that it’s usually just a matter of timing too good to be accidental. Honestly, I just don’t believe in coincidence any more. Call it God-incidence.

After a whirlwind application and interview process, I have accepted the position of Contemporary Worship Leader at Redeemer Lutheran Church, on the south side of Richmond. It’s a part-time job involving selection, rehearsal, and leading music at Redeemer’s 11:00 contemporary service.

It all happened very suddenly, after a long and stultifying build-up process. The story of this event is one of God closing door after door after door in my life only to fling this glorious window open so abruptly that the draft blew me through it.

Flash back to 2004. Having played drums and bass in praise bands at Christ Church Episcopal, I asked Keith Tan, the Music Minister, if it would be possible to switch to piano. I had a sense that God was building me up into a leadership position in music ministry, and I knew that I was going to need to get better at playing piano. The very same day, within ten minutes, in fact, the leader of my praise band asked me if I might be willing to split leadership duties with him. God-incidence #1.

Then, in spring of 2005, Christ Church needed an Interim Youth Minister just as I was graduating from VCU with an MFA and no job. Of course, a big part of the job (in fact, the only part of the job which I feel I did at all well) was leading the youth praise band. I quickly discovered that the kids responded somewhat better to worship music on guitar than piano, so I gave myself a crash course on guitar. I led the youth group for nine months, building up the youth music team to the point where they could lead music for entire worship services. God-incidence #2.

Fast-forward to December 2006. Having taught part-time for four months at the Center for the Arts at Henrico High School (and feeling very low about Richmond Shakespeare’s training program, which simply could not attract any students for love or money), I was told that Henrico was likely going to make my position into a full-time job for the 2007-2008 school year. It was dependent on funding coming through, but it was promising enough that I expressed official interest in the job. God-incidence #3.

In February of this year, Richmond Shakespeare and Shakespeare Festival/L.A. paid for me to attend STAA, the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America conference in Nashville, world center for contemporary Christian music. Loved Nashville, didn’t so much love STAA. I just felt out of place among so many people for whom the regard of Shakespeare resembled nothing so much as religious reverence. I love Shakespeare, but not like these people do. Add to that the fact that the Training department made absolutely no money whatsoever this year, due in large part to my ineptitude at promoting it. I was becoming more and more certain that the board of Richmond Shakespeare was not going to approve my salary in next year’s budget. This would be okay, though, if the full-time teaching job came through. I came home disturbed, convinced more than ever that I need to make more time in my life for my dormant music and writing interests. God-incidence #4.

After STAA, I met with Keith to talk about increasing my role in Christ Church’s music ministry. I juggled my schedule in order to start attending the Wednesday noon worship meetings, and had a big hand in planning and executing drama and music in worship during Holy Week. This was the most entirely satisfying week of my life in Christian service. I even had lunch with Keith to talk about what’s involved in being a professional music minister. God-incidence #5.

Then came last week.

Early in the week, the word came down from Henrico High: the funding was not going to come through for my position to be full-time next year. It was purely a numbers thing; there just weren’t enough IB drama students. My part-time position would still be there, the same as last year. God-incidence #6. Karen and I, who had been looking into buying a house at the end of the summer, finally came to the realization that we just don’t make enough money right now, and that we would probably be staying in our current rental house for another year. Bummer, but God-incidence #7. Dissatisfied with the prospect of continuing exactly the same frustrating, draining, low-pay schedule for another year, on Friday I looked at the Times-Dispatch’s classifieds for teaching or music work. Almost by accident, I came across an ad for a church looking for a part-time contemporary worship leader. God-incidence #8. I called the number and made an appointment to meet with the pastor, James Byork, the following Tuesday.

Well, it just so happened that I was leading Christ Church’s praise band on Saturday, God-incidence #9, and Keith suggested that I videotape our rehearsal to include with my portfolio. When I explained the camera to Paul Johnson, CCE’s rector, he said, “Andrew, you can’t leave. But of course you can use me as a reference.” Redeemer’s contemporary service is at 11:00, so I was able to play percussion and guitar at Christ Church at 9:00, get in my car, and drive south to Redeemer in time to worship with them at 11:00. It was a great opportunity to get a sense of their flavor of worship and to see and hear the music ministry in action. God-incidence #10. (A side note: I went to three different worship services last weekend, and not a single reader pronounced “Ananias” correctly. It’s “AN-uh-NYE-us.)

I came home from Redeemer and told Karen, “If we were church-shopping right now, we would have a very serious conversation about joining this church.”

Sunday, I spent much of the afternoon preparing for my interview. I agonized over a Statement of Faith and a Ministry Vision, printed and re-printed my résumè, and transferred the videotape to DVD. Monday was a 16-hour work day with a workshop and two tour performances of Twelfth Night, so I wasn’t able to prepare much in the way of rehearsed responses for my interview.

Tuesday’s interview meeting was a surreal experience. The number of philosophies we had in common, the needs of their church that I am uniquely suited to fill, the schedule; everything seemed to be a perfect fit from the start. Lump that all in to God-incidence #11.

The final piece was an especially interesting bit of happenstance. James Byork, the senior Pastor, had once needed to fill an organist/choir director position some time ago. Having interviewed several candidates, he was just on the verge of closing the search and making a selection when a young man approached him and asked if he could talk about the position. Jim metaphorically rolled his eyes, believing the search process finished, and reluctantly agreed to interview the young man. The musician turned out to be a recent graduate of Harvard with a degree in sacred music; he was the perfect candidate and held the job for several very productive years.

Friday, when I called to make the appointment, Jim was similarly convinced that the search was over and that he had enough candidates to fill the job. When the secretary informed him that she had made a 1:30 appointment with this Andrew Hamm character for the following Tuesday, Jim metaphorically rolled his eyes, believing the search process finished, and reluctantly agreed to interview the young man.

When Jim shared the story of the organist with me Tuesday afternoon, I was pretty sure he was going to hire me. God-incidence #12, right?

They wanted to hear me play a couple of my original worship songs (I chose “I Believe” and “Temple”), then they asked me to pull a song out of their song book and play it. I looked for “Step By Step,” which wasn’t there, and settled on “Amazing Love.” Just as I was finishing that song, I realized how great of a medley it would be with “Draw Me Close,” which I just transitioned into.

So that’s where I am. What else happens from here is still up in the air. Please continue to pray for me as I figure out what other job I’m going to have next year, and of course pray for guidance as I continue down this road.

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  • At 4/27/2007 7:26 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Andrew - a quick note to say I'm very happy for you to get this position, and I'd say anyone who can get paid to do what they love is blessed indeed.

    Here's wishing you many more blessings my friend.

  • At 4/27/2007 8:29 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    What an amazing journey. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason and we are guided by a higher power if we open ourselves up to it. It sounds like this is your fork in the road and you have been guided to take the turn down the unexplored path. Enjoy!

  • At 4/27/2007 7:06 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    Congratulations, Mr. Hamm. It has, indeed, been a long journey of many ups and downs, and after such a long process littered with so few hits and so many misses, I can easily imagine many people just giving up, or maybe even losing faith, but you proved that if you stick it out and stay true to God and your beliefs, everything will turn out for the better in the end.

    So, once more, congratulations: I wish you the very best of luck.


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