Church organist and RCIA director Paul Skevington celebrates his silver jubilee

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This spring, parishioners of St. Luke Church in McLean are showing their appreciation for Paul Skevington, who has served the parish for the past 25 years as the director of music and liturgy, as well as the director of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. 

“He has done a marvelous job with developing the music program here,” said Father David L. Martin, pastor. “He brings a solid knowledge of music and liturgy and is well-respected throughout the Washington area.” 

"It’s the singing of the congregation that inspires me more than anything else." Paul Skevington

To mark his silver anniversary, parishioners commissioned a musical piece in his honor. The piece titled, “Make a Joyful Noise,” composed by Thomas Colohan, director of the Washington Master Chorale, will be performed at St. Luke Church April 29 at 4 p.m. and May 6 at the 11 a.m. Mass.

A musical journey

Skevington started on his musical path while taking piano lessons in the third grade. He was offered free organ lessons by the church organist if he continued to study piano. His proficiency and love for the organ landed him his first job as an organist at St. Jude Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., as a junior in high school. 

“At the end of my junior year, I won a scholarship for a five-week summer session along with 28 other high school students,” said Skevington. “It was just a great experience to be immersed in music like that. I realized then that that was my passion.” 

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organ performance at Indiana University in Bloomington and a doctorate in music and liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington. He was assistant organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, as well as summer organist at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. 

He worked at the shrine in Washington for three years before accepting a part-time position at St. Rita Church in Alexandria from 1987 to 1993. While Skevington loved music ministry, he knew that he would have to find another position if he wanted to work full-time. It was suggested that he consider the RCIA program, but he lacked the knowledge and experience. Fortunately, he received some special instruction from Father Ron Oakham, a team member of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. The two met when Father Oakham asked to join the St. Rita choir. 

“It was an example of another door opening and the right person coming along at the right time,” said Skevington.

Since arriving at St. Luke as the music minister and director of RCIA in 1993, Skevington has led the parish music ministry using his expertise to build on the existing music program, which grew from a choir of 12 voices to 35.

He also oversaw the installment of a new custom-made pipe organ for the church. The more than 3,000-pipe instrument, one of the largest in the diocese, fills the church every week with beautiful music.

Bringing music to the public

When Skevington arrived at St. Luke, the sanctuary was already a popular venue for both religious and secular concerts. Skevington brought them all together as the “Music in McLean Concert Series.”

“It’s an outreach to the community,” he said. “I’m sure there are people who may not know the Catholic Church, who will come to these concerts and they are inspired by being in the space and by the knowledge that the Catholic community is opening its doors to the public. There is no question that the Mass is the most important thing. But there are other ways that we reach out. There is a spiritual void (in) the world. Any way that we can touch the spiritual core within individuals, the more strengthening it will be to our culture and our community.” The concert series usually features 18 concerts a year with leading ensembles, choruses, orchestras and soloists.

Under Skevington’s guidance, the St. Luke choirs have performed in cathedrals and churches in Rome, Paris, Montreal and Quebec.  The next trip is a choral tour in Ireland.

Parish approach to RCIA

As director of RCIA, Skevington and the parish catechists use a team approach that enables the entire parish to take responsibility for the five to 10 catechumens each year. 

 One of his more unique contributions to the program is the Easter Vigil liturgy that he developed with the help of Father Oakham.

“It’s a stational approach that involves a lot of processions,” said Skevington. “It starts outside with the lighting of the Easter candle, then we go to our hall for the liturgy of the word. Then we process from there to the baptismal font. And we are able to get 200 people around the font to witness the baptism. Candidates are able to walk in the font and kneel. It is a very powerful statement when water is poured over them and they are baptized,” he said.

The crowd then processes into the church for the liturgy of the Eucharist. 

“Because we are going from space to space it has a nice flow to it. Every step is a little bit brighter. It is really just beautiful,” he said.

As the director of two important ministries, Skevington has had to learn how to balance his work life with his personal life with his wife, Kathleen.

“I am constantly working weekends and two evenings on a regular basis,” he said. “I always play for the children’s school Mass early Wednesday morning.” 

His secret to avoiding burnout — after working Saturday and Sunday — is to take Monday and Friday off when he can. As with all musicians, it takes a lot of practice to stay proficient. Skevington says he loves to practice and gets several hours in on his days off. 

Singing the Mass

Looking back over his 25 years at St. Luke, the events he really looks forward to are Easter and Christmas, but he also enjoys his weekly routine.

“The Sunday to Sunday thing, I find it so important to me,” said Skevington. “It’s the singing of the congregation that inspires me more than anything else. We are lucky to have great acoustics. When the people in the pews are able to hear everyone around them singing it makes them want to sing out just that much more. In a church with poor acoustics, when you can’t hear the person next to you sing you don’t want to sing.”

Skevington sees it as singing the Mass rather than singing at Mass.

“When we come together as a large community, we are able to understand (the biblical phrase) ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in your midst,’” he said. “Music somehow has a way of enlivening our spirituality and our whole being. It is a very important part of Mass.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018