Season after Pentecost, 2023
On Saturday I attended an ordination service at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Washington, D.C. As I sat in the immense gothic building I found myself meditating on the name of the cathedral, it's architecture, and our purpose there that day.
I love ordinations for the same reason that I love volcanos: they're glowing bright red with the hotness of newly created, creative substance. If you've ever seen a lava flow that moves into the ocean, you know the hiss of bright white steam as the lava quickly cools and hardens into land. The same effect, I imagine, is present with the Holy Spirit when we ordain deacons, priests, and bishops. There's a brightness, a transformation, and then there's something new.
And contemplating this during the service I realized that this kind of energy is not temporary. It is the ongoing and holy work of God's people.
The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul has two massive towers, one named for Peter and one named for Paul.
Tangent: The one named for Paul has ties to my former employer, Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, having been given by Eli Lilly, a former vestryman of that parish, and one who ensured its future. But that's another story.
The two towers of the saints -- one who confessed Jesus, and one who was converted by Jesus -- flank the entrance.
And the Church itself springs out of this ongoing tension between those who confess and those who ask. It surely exists for both.
Liturgical Kalendar Tangent: Incidentally, it's no coincidence that these two Epiphanies, Peter's confession and Paul's conversion, fall one week apart on the calendar, and both occur during the Epiphany season. And the ecumenical observance of the octave is known as The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A further suggestion that these two poles offer something definitive about the nature of the church.
In her sermon on Saturday, Bishop Marian Budde charged the ordinands to devote some of their time to the "new". A corrective to the Episcopal tradition which can easily be faulted for leaning more toward Peter than toward Paul.
If we do that, we fall down.
So I don't mean getting all wishy-washy and hippy-dippy and saying "Jesus is whoever you want him to be, man", but really living in that tension between our Creed and our Catechism.
Who do we believe that Jesus is? And what answer do we give to those who ask?
More importantly, as charged by Bishop Budde, how do we hear the questions being asked beyond our church walls?
If my architectural reading of the cathedral in Washington is any model for ministry, then we must continually form that sacred space that consists of those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and those who ask the question, "who are you?"
And now, a humorous anecdote on its sesquicentennial:
During Divine service at St. Paul's Church on Sunday morning, one of the Christmas wreaths decorating the church fell from one of the pillars, and encircled the neck of a young lady sitting beneath. The young lady shrieked, thinking a gentleman's arm was around her, and the congregation turned and stared. The wreath was speedily removed[,] the young lady recovered from her embarrassment, the officiating minister from his surprise, and the congregation from their mirth, and devotional exercises were resumed."
from the Daily Richmond Examiner, 6 Jan 1863
Labels: St Paul's (Richmond)
Well, the last night of Christmas has arrived.
We hope you've enjoyed this little tour of Christmas YouTubisms. Because after all, if a composer like David Farrell can make composing an 8-bit carol an annual tradition, we can certainly post other people's nice carol videos for 12 days.
Mmmm, delicious. The only way to sing this one.
Peter Warlock: Bethlehem Down
There's something utterly remarkable about the ending of this carol, which I think is a result of a superb director, also the composer here, who knows the acoustic of the chapel and the sound of the organ intimately.
I want to write to you today about the realities of planning music in the church for Advent and Christmas. Never mind Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, Ascensiontide, Whitsunday, Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day, or any other day or season in the church (and yes, church musicians work on those services too), I just want to focus on the specifics of what a church musician does in the month of December.
I have read recently two things that have prompted this reflection:
Together, these two encounters bring us face-to-face with the reality of what your local church musician tries to do: to minister, through music, in the temple of a God whose very being draws praise from our lips.
music in the church does not exist to be praised, it exists to praise
When I fill out a survey and it asks me to fill in the bubble for what industry I'm employed in, I'm always a bit baffled. Since I'm a musician, "Entertainment" often seems like a logical choice, but I, and others like me, make music within a certain context. I don't expect people to clap for me and I'm not an entertainer. Put simply: music in the church does not exist to be praised, it exists to praise. (Sometimes my only option is to put down something like "Human Resources" because it's the closest thing to what I do).
Because I'm not in Entertainment, and people are hungry for the Christmas message, I should be sympathetic to this argument that we should sing Christmas music before Christmas, right?
It would be easy just ignore this argument and write it off as an artifact from another era.
We Episcopalians -- and other "liturgical" denominations too -- are largely way past this. In fact, it's the Baptists, Evangelicals and other traditionally "non-liturgical" denominations that are advocating for a stricter adherence to the rhythms of the liturgical year.
Tangent: pithy, animated summary of what I'm about to say: WHAT SINGING CHRISTMAS CAROLS DURING ADVENT DOES TO ADVENT
But since we are taking about this, let's assume that the precise time that people are hungry for the Christmas message is the season the church calls Advent. Why wouldn't we want to use our rich treasury of Advent hymnody in preparation for Christmas? The Advent season is expectant and eschatological. It frames who Christ is, what Christ means, why Christ has come, and that Christ will come again. The Christmas season is nonpregnant (hey, it's an antonym of expectant) and incarnational. Both seasons are important to our theologies and our faith. It's easily said that there's no Resurrection without Good Friday. It's less easily said that there's no Christmas without Advent, and yet many in the church find the richness of this short season particularly meaningful.
I'd love to be able to give that word incarnational more weight; fully-present, in-the-moment, here-and-now, God-with-skin-on, Jesus walked on this earth, he breathed this air, etc.
So if people are hungry for the Christmas message in December, what should we do? We should preach it, we should sing it, we should pray it, we should live it as best we know how. And we should do this on Christmas.
Even the National Weather Service knows when Christmas is. Last week's forecast didn't say "Tuesday" it said "Christmas Day".
I think that's about as far as I need to argue this point.
Ot it would be, except that it's much same as the next point: that when we finally do introduce Christmas (not just the music but the lessons, and the sermon, and the prayers) on Christmas Eve, there's something "not right" with it.
We didn't sing my favorite carol, or I didn't like the sermon, or I couldn't follow the service.
And, if this author may be so bold, those for whom it is very important that it be "right" are those who skipped Advent. I'm not blaming them, I'm just asking what are they expecting to get out of Christmas services?
I'll tell you exactly what they're expecting: warm fuzzies. The experience is no longer about the community; it's focused entirely inward.
Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn describes this well when she discusses the "tourists" who help populate our churches on Christmas Eve and Easter Morning.
For them the liturgy is not the work of the people but rather a "commodity" that produces the "device" of good feelings. It's "ask not what you can do for this service, but what this service can do for you." They objectify the liturgy and evaluate it on it's success of connecting them with other times when they felt good at Christmas (i.e., when they were a child). And this really has much more to do with Santa Claus than it does with Jesus Christ.
I'm sorry to be a conservative about this, but I will remind you that I am not an Entertainer, and the tourists are, on some level, coming to be entertained.
And I may be a conservative, but I don't want to be a curmudgeon. I really believe deeply in the "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" stuff. I want people to come to our churches on Christmas, on Easter, and every other day that services are held in our churches.
And that's the problem with being conservative. Maybe I do not truly understand what compels someone to come to church on Christmas Eve, and not on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the First Sunday after Christmas, or the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe there's some other failing of the church that is keeping people away from our doors, and the reality and primacy of Christmas draws them in. And if that's so, I'm very sorry. But let's not blame the music. And let's not try to fix the problem with music either.
You are most welcome in the parish where I serve and any other Episcopal Church I can think of. Our Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve is a largely choral service (sung by the Choir) with many hymns (seven to be precise) sung by all present. This popular service is modeled on a service from Truro, England, as handed down in the tradition from King's College, Cambridge. What I hope to bring to any parish where I serve is not imitation, but an appropriate iteration of this type of service informed by a working knowledge of the tradition as handed down to us (have you seen my spreadsheet?!).
the director "should be locked in a darkened room and never let out."
I'm not saying it's perfect, but what is?
And what about the note of complaint?
It said that the director "should be locked in a darkened room and never let out."
Oh wait, that wasn't the complaint that I received. That was the note received by Stephen Cleobury who directs a Lessons and Carols service heard annually by 30 million people.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Bonus video: BLESSED_BE_THAT_8BIT_MARY
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