Church work is creative work. The congregation is the living work of art, with every member and staff person contributing to the realization of the whole. Music, writing, storytelling and architecture are our tools. We shape them for the greater good. In church, we are invited to be co-creators of the world. Will Sherwood has embodied this calling and artistry throughout his 37 years as our Director of Music.
I remember the Annual Meeting Sunday, about five years ago, when I was preaching on the mission of the church. Mission led me to think about the 1960s TV show “Mission: Impossible,” and Lalo Schifrin’s theme tune started running through my head. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if that tune played at the beginning of my sermon? I went to Will to ask if this could be done, and his eyes lit up. By Sunday he had arranged the piece for organ, and recruited Madeline Browning to play the flute part and Bob Gordon on drums. At exactly the right moment in the sermon, the perfect piece of music was heard.
I remember, too, the beauty of the Mozart Requiem this fall, the first major musical work following the choir’s pandemic pause. Movements were sung at Jim Demetry’s memorial service, and again at our All Souls Music Sunday. Will’s program notes from that Sunday remind us that Mozart wrote his Requiem when he himself was terminally ill. The beauty of the music opened our hearts to the tenderness of our losses during the pandemic. Will’s leadership helped knit us back together again, in soul and community, after so long apart.
Philosopher Elaine Scarry writes that beauty awakens us from the misconception that we are at the center of the universe. When we hear beautiful music, we become witnesses to something that matters more than our own egos. We become dedicated to the beauty, wanting to replicate it, wanting to share it with others, wanting to pass on the openness created in our own hearts. Music is a pathway to the divine. It reaches out to everyone equally. The beauty of music dedicates us to a world where such beauty and fairness are possible, and so commits us to justice. Beauty, including the beauty of music, helps us live by our deepest values.
Will’s life has been dedicated to order and beauty. You may not know this, but Will has built and maintains a number of technical solutions for church work, including a comprehensive choral works database and an online worship planning tool. He was a software engineer for several decades, and has brought that expertise to First Unitarian Church. He oversaw our abrupt transition to online worship services in March 2020, working with James Haupt (Assistant Director of Music) to create the fine live stream we have today. I’m proud to say we have one of the best church live-streams I know of, thanks to Will and James.
Will is deeply committed to justice. He has been a leader in helping to “green” First Unitarian Church, and has hosted musical performances and choir gatherings at his organic farm in Sterling. He has organized musical fundraisers for affordable housing and, just this spring, to support refugees fleeing Ukraine. He brings a zeal in life for doing things right, and for doing the right thing.
This dedication to beauty and justice is just one of the things I will miss about working with Will. I will miss his friendly energy, our frequent conversations, and the thrill of creating new possibilities for worship together. I’ll miss the excitement of hearing him improvise perfect postludes on our organ. He deserves every minute of a happy retirement. He has left an excellent music program for those who will follow him, including world-class instruments and one of the best church choirs in Worcester. His spirit is infused in every aspect of our music ministry, and will remain long after he has finished his work as our Director of Music.
I hope you’ll join us this Sunday May 1 for a special Music Sunday to celebrate Will. The prelude begins at 10:10 and the worship service begins at 10:30. Remember that parking is available on the street as well as in our lots, and that Court Street parking is reserved for those with handicapped placards. A symphony orchestra joins our Festival Choir to sing “best of” movements from Requiems, as well as pieces by Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, and Beethoven. Will himself has composed an anthem, set to words by Jim Scott: “Credo: I Believe in One World at Peace.” How fitting that Will leaves us with an example of both his dedication to beauty and his commitment to a better world for all people.