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To the Saints who are in Los Osos, May 2022
Marc Antony speaks some of the best known of Shakespeare’s words, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…,” after which does indeed praise him. I come to unabashedly praise Barbara Hoff.
I’ve been thinking about time the past weeks. I have been under appointment as a pastor for 41 years. It sounds like a long time… and it is. Barbara has been Organist, Pianist, and Choir Director for 54 years… since I was 13 years old. That truly gives me pause.
In my 41 years I have had ten appointments and eleven churches; (One was a two-point charge). In Barbara’s 54 active years she has served just one church – Trinity. In my churches, (some quite a bit larger than Trinity), I have worked with at least twenty different choir directors, organists, and accompanists – sometimes one person doing all tasks as Barbara did, and sometimes separate people doing each task, and once with an organist, an accompanist, and two choir directors.
I only mention my time because I’ve worked with a lot of church musicians. In all of these situations, I have only known one other organist who was Barbara’s equal. That said, in all of my churches I’ve never had a choir director who was as good. I have had good choir directors – people who could choose good music and make their choirs sound good. I’ve never had a director who was as in tune with the pastor and staff; as competent in understanding the tones and movements of the church year and how to choose anthems and other music to support those themes, or as good at inspiring a choir as Barbara.
In her 54 years at Trinity Barbara worked, and worked well, with eleven different pastors with differing styles. We have come and gone but Barbara has always been here. Rich and I have compared notes. Barbara seemed to fear only one thing at each pastoral transition: that the incoming pastor would choose to use only praise music and set aside formal music and choirs. I know that when she told me about being relieved that I prefer the kinds of music that are her gift I was happy – and I couldn’t imagine any other way. For sure each of the clergy has put our own stamp on Trinity, but Barbara has been the defining presence here for over five decades. We have not even begun to experience what her loss will mean to Trinity. We will find people to carry on the music ministry but part of the heart of the church is gone forever.
All of this would be more than enough of a loss, but I have felt her loss more keenly than that of almost any other person than my parents. I have cried for her several times, and I don’t usually do that. I will miss her for her music, but that is only a small part of how I am missing her. Barbara was exceptionally easy to work with because she was an exceptional person. I can’t recall her ever being mad, even when the bass row wouldn’t be quiet. I never saw her express anything but kindness and charity toward others. She was generous with herself and her time. She was unfailingly patient. She had a good sense of humor and more importantly appreciated mine. I will say a personal note about her playing. It could be playful. Too many church musicians play hymns at a dirge-like pace with the thought it makes them somehow more stately. Barbara knew how to play hymns at proper tempos.
Barbara was truly a Minister of music not just a director of music ministry. She was a great listener. I know many outside of the choir as well as within experienced her as a counselor and confidant. I know I did. She was an encourager. There have been times of stress when I confessed problems or issues and always found her to be supportive and often very helpful. We enjoyed each other’s company and had fun at staff dinners and choir events. She really enjoyed our Halloween Open Houses.
She was truly the embodiment of 1 Cor. 13:4-7 4 “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Most of all I loved her and she was my friend. I’ve typed this column with teary eyes and I miss her terribly.
See you in Church or