Remembering Scott Weidler

We learned this past weekend that Scott Weidler, interim Music Director at All Saints’ from June 2015 through November 2016, died on January 23. He’d been under treatment for what began as pancreatic cancer for several years, but had recently been told that there was no further hope. He and his husband Zia Ahmad went to their vacation/retirement home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to spend Scott’s remaining time in the place they loved.

I knew of Scott Weidler before I ever met him. Early in my time at All Saints (mid-1990s), I found a wonderful supply (substitute) organist in Bill Beermann. He was a choir member at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Edgewater, where Scott Weidler was the organist/choir director. Scott’s other job was a big one: he was Program Director for Music and Worship for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest national Lutheran denomination. Bill was happy to accept jobs at All Saints’, but he always had to check Scott’s schedule because Bill was the designated organist at Immanuel any time Scott was traveling, which was often.

I had occasional contact because of interactions between All Saints’ and Immanuel—Andrea Knepper played flute for their Taizé services, Amy Knickrehm was married there, but I next met Scott in the Leadership Program for Musicians Serving Small Congregations. That little program with the big name was begun by Episcopal musicians, and I was in the first Chicago graduating class in 1998. When LPM expanded to more denominations in 1999 Scott joined the national board and I got to know him as we both served on the Chicago-area board. I distinctly remember how Scott and other Lutherans moved quickly to push LPM to fuller and more visible inclusion, addressing problems some local Episcopal churches were still struggling to figure out.

Michelle Mayes was in the second LPM graduating class. That graduation was held at All Saints’, and Scott played the organ. I remember the pouring rain that day in 1999, rain that–before more-recent renovations and roof repairs– came pouring into the sanctuary near the bell tower.

Scott was still working for the ELCA when he and Zia married, sold their Rogers Park homes, and began to plan to live in Toronto. Zia is Pakistani-born, but a Canadian citizen. Scott told Bonnie Perry that he’d take the job as interim musician at All Saints’ until all the paperwork was completed for him to move to Canada. Everyone expected three months, but Scott was with us for 18. On November 6, 2016, that fateful election day, Scott voted in Chicago and then got on a plane for Canada. In Toronto, he continued to work locally as an organist and worship and song leader. He also launched a business as a travel agent. Acknowledging the connection they’d both made to All Saints’, Zia Ahmad donated profits from The One-Hundred, his novel about street children in Lahore, Pakistan, to RCS.

Scott brought lots of new music and spirit to the All Saints’ choir, teaching us to sing without paper in some instances. Learning to sing by ear instead of reading printed music can be threatening to old-school folks like me, but Scott was a master of the art. He was a prominent member of a then-fledgling organization called Music Makes Community, dedicated to training people to lead group singing with only their voices and gestures. In 2017 I was lucky to attend an all-day workshop held in a restored 19th-century church meeting house outside Waterloo, Ontario, for which Scott was one of the teachers. Music Makes Community has continued to spread their message through Zoom and online sessions during the pandemic. Eileen Crowley, Elizabeth Vann, and I participated in one of them this past summer. Here’s a YouTube video Beau Surratt shared. It’s a perfect example of how Scott worked, a confidence-inspiring teacher with infectious enthusiasm and a playful spirit.

Colin has announced that the choir will reprise one of Scott’s own pieces soon. It’s Scott’s arrangement of “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” We’ll be singing through our tears: tears of sadness at his death, but tears of gratitude for having known him and learned so much during our time with him.

Since she knew Scott in other contexts than the ones where I encountered him, I asked Eileen Crowley to share her thoughts here, too:

Scott Weidler had such a generous, welcoming heart. He always made me, an outsider to his denomination, feel at home. Again and again over many years, he invited me to contribute to helping ELCA Lutherans to embrace continuing liturgical reform. Together we produced two video series on ECLA reformed worship (1998 and 2000). He hosted a welcome party for my wife, Terry DeLisio, and me when we moved to Chicago in 2004, because he knew we knew no one. He invited me to be a plenary speaker on liturgical media art at a 2004 national Lutheran liturgy conference where I got to watch him lead hundreds of people sing music, ancient and ever new, in the full-throated ways Lutherans do. He prompted a Lutheran publisher to ask me to write my first book on media art in worship. He asked me to lead a team in producing photography to be used as liturgical media art for the ELCA 2007 Church-wide Assembly. He invited me to serve for six months as Artist-in-Residence with his own church, Immanuel Lutheran in Edgewater, to guide his parishioners in creating liturgical media art for their Easter 2008 Vigil readings. In so many ways, Scott was pivotal to my career through the opportunities he gave me. But that was Scott… always pointing to others, always encouraging, always connecting, always welcoming, always inviting people to participate. His enthusiasm for diverse music and participatory worship was infectious. I was so fortunate and blessed to have known him. He was an incredibly talented musician, choir director, liturgist, and the best of human beings.