Ring Around the Collar

Ring Around the Collar

It was a most memorable day at Holy Communion because those of us who gathered there at 11:00 this morning were able to witness the ordination of one of our own,  Nick Barootian.  It seems like just yesterday that Nick was a sweet-voiced boy soprano warbling “Pie Jesu” – and now he is more properly introduced as Pastor Nick Barootian.  Where does the time go?

I do indeed remember Nick from all those years ago – and if you are curious to hear a sampling of Nick’s singing voice from way back when,  go to my Listen page and click on “Trusting is Believing.”  This was sung by six young people: and when they trade off singing solos the second time through,  Nick is the third soloist,  singing “and trusting is letting God know that you’re depending on Him.”   Every so often I will bring up that recording and transport myself back about twenty years.  Nick was a tremendously gifted young musician who was also so incredibly anxious and eager to please- a trait I had as a youngster and still do, to some extent.  Nick is also someone for whom his church was always very central-  it was all but impossible for us to imagine him without it or it without him.   And as Nick grew into young adulthood,  it was wonderful to see our relationship grow from mentor-student to friend-peer.  Nick was someone to whom I would turn when I had composed a new hymn or wanted an opinion on a given anthem I was thinking about giving to the choir.   And it was very specifically for Nick that I composed one of my favorite original songs,  “Great and Glorious Light.”  (I wrote that on Thanksgiving Day 1999, when Kathy chased me out of the house so I wouldn’t be in her way… and I ended up walking two blocks to church and noodling around on the piano- and when I walked out of there,  I had written “Great and Glorious Light” – and I called Nick yet that afternoon to tell him that he and I would be singing a new duet, hot off of the presses,  on Sunday.  And we did.  That’s a memory I deeply cherish. . . one of many special musical moments Nick and I had in Holy Communion’s sanctuary.

I also think of two occasions when I had to try and comfort Nick in that very same room.   Once was the second time that Nick sang the aforementioned “Pie Jesu” as a duet with Jackie Drummer. The first time – which was sometime around Holy Week – went like a dream (it was twenty years ago but there are people who still talk about how transcendently beautiful that was) and so I had them sing it again for the choir’s last Sunday of the year. . . probably the first Sunday in June. . . with very little rehearsal.   It went fine, but not quite as seamlessly as the first time,  and Nick made one or two very minor mistakes (including one little note where he cracked ever so slightly.)   By the time I was playing the last chords of the accompaniment,  young Nick was already dissolved in tears,  so unhappy with himself and afraid that he had displeased me and the congregation.   I thought of everything I could think of to say but didn’t really succeed in comforting,  and finally Kathy swooped in and offered to take Nick to go get some ice cream.  By the time they got back, he was smiling again.

Several years later,  we were comforting Nick for a very different reason.  One Sunday morning,  just as Walter had begun to deliver his sermon,  Nick’s grandmother slumped over in the pew,  the victim of a massive heart attack.  There was both a doctor and a nurse in church that morning who went to work on her immediately on the floor of  the center aisle,  doing what they could to sustain her life until the rescue squad could arrive.  I can still feel Nick’s slender frame, quivering and shaking in my arms as he quietly cried, trying so hard to be brave in such a frightening, sad moment.  How can one help but grow up a bit more when confronted by life’s fragility?

By the time Nick reached high school I was teaching him private voice-  and when he decided to attend Carthage,  I had the joy of continuing on with him for another four years- including the two years when I had the Carthage Choir. Nick was a gigantic help to me in that overwhelming undertaking, and when it finally became necessary for me to step down, Nick was very first student I told – over lunch at Burger King- and in this case the tables were turned as Nick offered words of reassurance and affirmation to me.

Then he was off to graduate school, to a year with Lutheran youth Encounter,  and eventually to seminary. . .with a scary detour at one point when he elected to have brain surgery in the hopes that the periodic seizures he had would be eliminated.  A bunch of Nick’s friends and family gathered in his backyard for a cookout and head-shaving party (I don’t know what else to call it) and the next day was the surgery- which went remarkably well.    I will never forget walking into Nick’s hospital room a few days later and seeing his wide, radiant smile from across the room.  And when I asked how he was doing,  he grabbed a magazine sitting next to him on the bed and read these words from the cover aloud – in a loud if slightly halting voice – “Six . . . Days . . . To . . . A . . . Slimmer . . . You.”  For someone with a golf ball-sized portion of his brain removed three days before,  it was a spectacular accomplisment-  and welcome assurance that Nick’s brilliant mind was fully intact – or would be.

And all that brought us at last to today’s special day.    Nick might very well have chosen to hold his ordination service at the church in Prairie du Chien where he has begun his ministry,  but instead he chose to come back to Holy Communion and to the place which has helped to shape him and sustain him.  Certainly that was made abundantly clear at the moment when Barb Salvo presented him for the ordination rite.  Barb has not only been a mainstay at Holy Communion for as long as I’ve been there-  but was also Nick’s biology teacher and the advisor for Park High School’s state champion science team of which Nick was an invaluable leader.  The two of them go back almost as far as he and I do.  Pastor Walter was on hand to read the gospel and to lead us in the prayers of the church.  And in the pulpit was Pastor Jeff, who delivered one of the best sermons I have ever heard him give. . .( even though he spent half of it quoting liberally from some country western song. ) He and Nick have been through all kinds of joys and sorrows and adventures over the years, and Jeff spoke about Nick’s readiness for the ministry with the assurance of someone who knows him right down to the marrow of his bones.   So it was so right for all of us to be part of this occasion.  With him as well was the director of Wilderness Canoe Base (up in the Boundary Waters), Nick’s favorite home away from home.  .  . Nick’s college roommate and dear friend Caleb Sjogren and other friends from Carthage. . . . fellow pastors . . .  the bishop himself . . . lots of family. . .  and even some friends of Nick’s from the Twin Cities whose surprise appearance was an especially precious gift.

The above picture is from that moment in the ordination service when the stole is laid on Nick’s shoulders – laid there by Pastor Jeff – while Nick was encircled by family and special friends and some of his fellow clergy.   As I watched that ring of friends and family encircle Nick,  I thought of all that Nick has experienced in his life…. a life which to someone more worldly might appear to be an overly-protected life, lived out within the loving bosom of family and church and school.  But in fact I think all of those entities have not protected Nick from anything or turned him inward at all – but in fact have awakened him to the whole world,  with all its wonders and all its hurts.   And what better way could there be to equip someone for a life of ministry?