The Visitor File: The Rt. Rev. Michael Marshall

Bishop Michael Marshall is a world-renowned churchman, preacher, and lecturer, the author of several books, and an accomplished concert pianist. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1961 and Consecrated as Bishop in 1975. He began studying the piano at age three. He has performed concerts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra of London, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He will speak and play at Trinity’s Discovery Class on April 2: Music and Ministry: A Double Life. 

How do you see your two vocations as a musician and a bishop?
For a long time it did seem to me that my commitment to the ministry seemed in opposition to my commitment to music. It’s taken me a lifetime to see that they do converge; that music opens people up in a way that ordinary preaching and teaching don’t. 

When I went to my first parish in Birmingham, England, I didn’t have a piano in my lodgings and I thought, that’s the end of my music for me. There were 18 pubs in the parish; 15 of them had a piano. I would find myself sitting down at the piano at throwing-out-time, when pubs used to throw out at half past 10, playing a pub routine and that was when I began to come back to the piano. Pubs in England are very much the focus of the local community there. People saw the church there in a new light. Music, I’ve found, is really a handmaid in my ministry. 

Was it difficult giving up music as a full time career?
Music has been my Isaac. Abraham was asked to come to the point that he could slay Isaac and then God gave Isaac back to him. I had to get to the point where I was willing to give it up altogether and God has given it back, and I’m free to enjoy it and I think other people enjoy me doing it and I’m free from it. 

I never pretend I’m a professional pianist. I’m a bishop and very enthusiastic about music. I’ve played with some of the great orchestras and I’ve played all over the world, which I never would have had an opportunity to do if I had pursued music full time. Concert pianists are incredibly competitive; I would have been rather disillusioned.

How does music connect us to God?
I do think that music is one of the extra things that God put in creation like butterflies. There’s something gratuitous about music; He didn’t have to do it. Rather, like love and poetry and music and art, these are all some extra thing, a bit of a foretaste of what the afterlife will be like. There will be butterflies. Music opens another window into reality, into the greater reality. And it will be as beautiful as Chopin but more, beyond an 8 tone scale, something quite different and yet connected to music. 

What can others learn from your experience finding a vocation?
I think we have got to mind that we don’t get into bondage with the thing we love. God wants us to be able to enjoy his creation. I sometimes look at orchestras playing—they don’t seem always to be enjoying it, because perhaps they’re disappointed. Same thing with ordained ministry: sometimes they’re disappointed they didn’t get the job they think they should have and they don’t think, "God wants me to enjoy what I’m doing." 

I always think of the prodigal son. He didn’t realize that his father loved him and that his father wanted him to enjoy what he had; he never dared break away and enjoy it. He’s rather a sad character. And I often see it in ministry and musicians. The enchantment is gone and they don’t enjoy what they are doing. I think I’ve found a great a freedom and I think I’ve imparted that to others who have enjoyed my ministry and my music too and found it fruitful. It’s good news.