John Eggleston Legacy Fund for Special Music
This fund is dedicated to a program of special music, featuring soloists throughout the year, usually twice per month, and honors the memory of CCC’s music director from 1990 to 2006, John Eggleston. If you are a musician who would like to participate, please contact us.
John Eggleston: In Memoriam
After graduating from high school in Milford, Connecticut, where he was raised, John went on to Yale. He received a scholarship from the Foundation for Theological Education that allowed him to spend at year at Union Seminary. “I was really excited by the theology and the Biblical studies,” he remembered. “And I decided I wanted to be ordained.” So he finished his studies at Union and earned his Master of Divinity degree, spending a year in Rome during that time. John had been raised in the Congregational Church, but he spent his seminary field service in a Lutheran church in the Bronx. “I liked that the Lutheran Church had a theology, and I liked their organized way of expressing faith. So in my middle seminary year, I became a Lutheran.” The Lutheran Synod credentialed John as a minister, and he and his wife moved to a small Brooklyn parish where John had a four-year contract.
“But during my third year as a pastor, I came to terms with my sexuality as a gay man, my wife and I divorced, and I resigned my parish. However, I did NOT want to resign the ministry! Just the parish. I told that to the Bishop. But in the Lutheran Church, if you go three years without a call, your term expires. The Bishop was troubled as to how to submit the name of an active homosexual to a parish. I encouraged him to. I told him that even if it didn’t work out, it would be an educational process, but he wasn’t ready for it. No one was ready for that in the 1970s. So I was dropped from the clergy.”
After he left the ministry, John organized a Lutheran council for gay people, and he took a job as the business manager for the foster division of a children’s aid society, then had a colorful few years working as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Opera. In 1985, due to management changes, he lost that job. He also lost his best friend to AIDs. Receiving a generous severance agreement from the Met, and a legacy from his friend, John took off a year and a half to travel. That time helped him to realize that, “In hindsight, I think that the factors that went into my desire to be ordained were that I wanted to be in an environment with church music.” Returning to New York, he said, “I made a conscious decision to make my “regular job” a less significant factor in my life so I could free myself up for church music. Life is too short. I became Music Director at St. Stephen’s in Jamaica, Queens (where he directed a young people’s production of Godspell) and learned word processing. I ended up at the Transit Authority where in 1988, I became a Staff Analyst in the Office of Management and Budget. And in the summer of 1990, I came to St. Peter’s and to Chelsea Community Church as Music Director.”
At St. Peter’s, John took his place in a long line of organists that began with the church’s founder, Clement Clarke Moore, presumed author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” (John often said that, if it were up to him, he would advertise that connection more – even put Santa and his reindeer on the church’s roof.) For several years, his routine included consulting with the Vicar, the Rev. Wray MacKay, selecting hymns, and rehearsing the volunteer choir as well as serving on the Liturgy Committee as a consulting member–and playing pool with the clergy. “I feel strongly about making the service consistent with the theme: with the Scripture readings. It’s not easy going through finding appropriate music for the varieties of abilities in the choir.” And he firmly believed in the importance of a volunteer choir. “I enjoy the challenge. A volunteer choir is a gift to a church. They are the voices of the community, and there’s a connection that isn’t there when you’re working with what seem to be the requisite professionals or ringers other churches think they have to have to make a beautiful sound. I think I can motivate people and all of us still have a good time. And I know when to explain things to a congregation. My theological training is a help for being on the same wavelength as the pastor’s when we’re choosing music. I identify with the faith of the church, too. It’s – ‘When I doubt, this is the faith I doubt.’’
Many communities loved how John gave them voices. John was also the organist and music director for Chelsea Community Church; he played at their Sunday services and also conducted the annual Candlelight Carol Service. He also enjoyed being Music Director for many years at the Lutheran Summer Conference at Silver Bay (Lake George). He would speak so enthusiastically about this week in July to his St. Peter’s choir, that they wanted to attend, and in fact, a few of them did.
John particularly enjoyed St. Peter’s when Wray MacKay was Vicar, then Rector. What was it about St. Peter’s? “Wray’s process theology, with the emphasis on community inclusiveness, consensus, and the Eucharist. And all the hugging and kissing! And Wray’s preaching, and Janet’s too [Janet Campbell]. Sermons are important to me. When I’m not doing something, I want it to be worthwhile – and that’s pretty much sitting for the sermons. Wray’s sermons are superb.(For a sample of the sermons John and others valued, see below.) I also like the attention to high church detail, but combined with the informality and recognizing that the congregation is truly a motley crew. It’s special for a group to be this diverse.”
When not at church? “I play pool. I go swimming about twice a week. Or I practice the piano. When we lost the organ, I’ve had to really learn those piano preludes. My repertory is really for the organ.”
John also took care of his family and friends, and during these last several years, his father passed away, he helped take care of his good friend Carol, as well as his mother before her passing. He supported his friends, standing by them in tough times and enjoying them in good. His laughter rang through so many places: New York, Milford, Silver Bay, Provincetown, Poland Springs, Buffalo, Seattle, Hawaii… He enjoyed his new place in his hometown of Milford, Connecticut but wouldn’t think of giving up his apartment on East 14th Street. After he retired from the MTA, you could find John at the local library or in the park near his apartment, reading and watching the people. And he had more time to play music for the pleasure of it.
John left St. Peter’s, but he continued to work with Chelsea Community Church and was looking for new opportunities. However, in late 2004, John was diagnosed with lung cancer. He continued to make music with Chelsea Community Church, although he was absent a few months while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy in 2005, and the church was enormously supportive of him. He was able to be present at the Silver Bay Lutheran Conference in 2005, and in 2006, he was their Music Director . (The Lutheran Conference had a rule of keeping staff for only two years, but so many people liked John’s way of making music, that they broke the rule for him, and he was Music Director at Silver Bay for many years. The community there meant a great deal to him.) In February 2007, John entered St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan and then, in March, he entered the hospice at Cabrini Hospital, where he passed away on May 19.
It could be said that, pool playing and good books aside, John’s real hobby was collecting and enjoying friends. All of us who knew John carry his voice and music in our hearts, and when we all sing, what a choir that is!