Easter 2024

24 October 2014
Halloween - a Christian holiday

This marvelous little article was written by the then Reverend Shannon S. Johnston before his ordination as Bishop of Virginia. It was written for the Parish of All Saints', Tupelo, where he served as Rector, and it still lives on the parish website (source). It is a wonderful foil to those unfortunate souls who believe that Halloween should not be celebrated by Christians.


When I was a child, I loved Halloween. All of my family participated enthusiastically, decorating our house with witches, devils, black cats, and ghosts. It was innocent fun, filled with imagination and creativity. Looking back, what made Halloween so great for this child was its contrast of silliness and fright, the supernatural and the known, the permitted and the forbidden, the secretive and the public. Halloween was unique; no other occasion was anything like it.

As an adult––and as a priest––I still love Halloween.  And I do mean HALLOWEEN, not a “Fall Festival” or the like. Every year, I carve two pumpkins–one playfully smiling and the other “very scary.”  I love seeing the children’s costumes and making a big fuss over them.  How sad now that Halloween is being spoiled and even taken away from us by the absolutely outrageous ideas that it is “satanic,” pagan, or of the occult.  Such notions are poorly informed, terribly misguided, and absolutely untrue.  There are many materials circulating these days, all pretending some sort of scholarly knowledge and/or religious authority, that strive to show that Halloween is “really” celebrating the powers of darkness.  In response, I must be absolutely clear:  pretenses of authority notwithstanding, these materials are at great odds with centuries of commonly accepted theology, not to mention scholarship with proven accreditation.  The so-called “exposure” of Halloween is nothing more than a skewed, self-serving agenda from various churches that make up only a tiny minority of Christianity, indeed a minority within Protestantism.

Of course I am aware that satanists, Wiccans, and other occult groups are indeed active on October 31. It is also true that some pseudo-spiritualists and some plain ole’ nut-cases use Halloween as an excuse to act out.  NONE OF THIS CHANGES WHAT HALLOWEEN ACTUALLY IS OR WHAT IT MEANS IN THE CHURCH’S LIFE AND WITNESS.  Much of the occult association with the day arose long after the Church’s observances began in the mid 300's.  Our answer to those Christians who bristle at the celebration of Halloween is that we will not allow occultists to steal it away from God’s Church.  Moreover, several Christian observances have pre-Christian ancestry or pagan parallels (the date of Christmas, for example).  Whatever the case, the fact is that the Christian truths proclaimed on such days are not affected.

A big part of the problem here comes from the people who do not understand the Liturgical Year because their churches do not follow it. It’s hard to keep a clear perspective on something so rooted in history and tradition if you belong to a church that has no such roots, or to one that rejects as irrelevant or “suspect” the ancient practices from the earliest Christian centuries.

The bottom line is Halloween’s relationship to All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), one of the Church’s seven “Principal Feasts.”  The celebration of any Principal Feast may begin on the evening before––thus, Christmas Eve, Twelfth Night (before Epiphany), Easter Eve (the Great Vigil), etc.  Halloween is simply the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is also a baptismal feastThe great truth behind Halloween’s revels is that which we declare at every baptism: “YOU ARE SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT IN BAPTISM AND ARE MARKED AS CHRIST’S OWN FOREVER.”

The most important thing to remember is this: Halloween is the time when Christians proclaim and celebrate the fact that Satan and the occult have no power over us and cannot disrupt our relationship with our Lord and Redeemer, as long as we live faithfully to Christ.  We show this by making fun of such pretenders, lampooning them in their face.  This is why our costumes and decorations certainly should be witches, devils, and ghosts.  In the victory of Christ, Christians are privileged to do this and we must not be timid about it!

Ours is not a fearful faith, cowering from the prospect of falling unawares into Satan’s grasp.  In God’s grace and your faithfulness, you ARE Christ’s own forever.  Nothing supersedes that fact.  Halloween is therefore one of the boldest Christian witnesses, precisely because of its highly public, graphic, and lampooning nature.  Personally, I suspect that those who cannot embrace this are living a fear-driven and even insecure faith.  If so, they have bigger problems than the highjinks of Halloween.

In Christ,

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22 October 2014
webcasts - a smorgasbord of

It's webcasting season. In case you didn't already know it, we at are huge fans of listening to liturgy, church music, and organ music online.

Trinity College, Cambridge has just released a new tool to search all of their archival webcasts. All of this is free.

St. John's, Cambridge, perhaps our favorite webcast destination, has just started their choral year, and new music is appearing there. Creating an account allows free access to their archival material (very worthwhile).

The BBC has a very long-running weekly Evensong broadcast which you can hear online. Each broadcast is up for about a week, so time is of the essence!

And a welcome newcomer to the webcasting game is King's College, Cambridge. These webcasts are gussied up with spoken introductions by choristers, the chaplian, or sometimes Stephen Cleobury himself. Organ recitals are also mixed in.

We also eagerly anticipate the return of webcast Evensongs by New College, Oxford.

And if these aren't enough for you or you're not feeling quite so liturgical at the moment, don't forget the pure church music webcast of the fine radio program With Heart and Voice and the wonderful radio program dedicated to the music of the organ, Pipedreams.

And last, but most assuredly not least, you can hear no fewer than five services webcast weekly (Tuesday Evensong, Wednesday Evensong, Thursday Evensong, Sunday Eucharist, Sunday Evensong) by St. Thomas, New York. A truly outstanding gift of prayer and praise available online.

Happy listening!

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20 October 2014
Vaughan Williams, Ralph - as sung by Iron Maiden

Who knew?

Okay, surely some of you already knew, but this was news to me.

It's the hymn "O God of earth and altar"

Tune: King's Lynn
Words: G. K. Chesterton

Thanks to Michelle for this one.

See also: John Ireland as sung by Coldplay

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11 October 2014
rubrics - lesson summaries as

A list of rubrics this coming Sunday:

Hmm, one of these things is not like the other.

These aren't the rubrics, per se, just the result of printing lesson summaries in the same typeface as the rubrics.

Well, liturgy is a drama . . .

But perhaps we should rethink this.

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10 October 2014
Barrell, Bernard - "Truly the Lord is in this place" from Two Short Anthems

This story begins with a service of Choral Evensong. The occasion was the Annual Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM) this past summer in Washington, D. C.

I was very pleased to serve as the organist for this particular service -- and I say very pleased, because my current work does not allow me to tend to my organ playing as much as I used to. As an Assistant Organist (which I served as in an Episcopal congregation from 2002-2004, a Lutheran congregation from 2004-2006, and an Episcopal cathedral from 2006-2010) one's domain is almost exclusively the organ, with a major emphasis on accompanying. I honed these skills as best I could, but it wasn't until my work at Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, that I really come to understand the finer points of choral accompanying on the organ.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that I relish these opportunities to accompany, in any setting, because they are a kind of homecoming. More than that, they allow me the rare opportunity take a back seat and observe the work of other (usually far superior) conductors, with different music.

“Truly the Lord is in this place. This is no other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”

The Introit for the AAM Evensong was "Truly the Lord is in this place" by English composer Bernard Barrell (1919-2005).

Barrell is not a major composer. His name appears in the Grove Dictionary of Music but only in the entry for his wife. The entry for English composer Joyce Howard Barrell says: "In 1945 she married the composer Bernard Barrell and in 1946 they settled in Suffolk."

I had prepared the accompaniment for this Introit, but there wasn't much to it. Some four-note cluster chords in the Lydian mode (F-G-A-B), and a few other places where the organ seemed to very closely follow the voices. Easy peasy. There were other things -- a busy evening service, the psalm, the anthem, and a Howells premiere -- to occupy my time. On to the next thing.

As the service drew closer I reminded myself that I would need to not short-change this piece, it being the easiest. I checked my notes, my registrations. I also paid special attention to the rhythm of the choral parts (all quarter notes, like the organ part) since the choir would be in the liturgical west end of the church for this, while the organ would dutifully remain in the east end. There would be no sightlines. I would have to keep it together with the choir without seeing the conductor. No problem, I thought.

And so, the pre-service rehearsal arrived, the first time I had heard the choir.

We began the piece, and then something remarkable happened. This simple, short little anthem, that I hadn't really expected much of, expanded into something so rich and beautiful that I didn't think it possible.

You see, I had neglected to play through the choral parts. But even if I had, I'm not sure that I would have been fully aware of the rich harmonic alchemy that Barrell had designed in combination with the organ. It really is quite something; it is the very definition of "more than the some of its parts".

And this is exactly the kind of setting that you need for the words from Genesis 28:17.

Truly the Lord is in this place. This is no other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.

These are beautiful words. We heard them this summer in the lectionary readings on July 20 (Proper 11A, track 1).

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.

In context, the words become even richer. The imagery is of dreams, promise, covenant, numerous descendants, promised land, etc.

When we sing this in our churches, we evoke these things. Our dreams, God's promises, our communion with the saints, and more.

Our worship is all of these things. Like this music by Barrell, it should be more than the sum of it's parts.

We only need to listen fully and be amazed.

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07 October 2014
Howells, Herbert - Sarabande for the 12th of any October

It's been a nearly six year wait. But the time draweth extremely nigh.

You didn't think we had forgotten, did you?

Previously on the blog in 2008: October - Sarabande for the Twelfth of any.

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02 October 2014
Seminary - General

It is not the place of this blog to add anything substantial to the discussion of the recent events at General Theological Seminary in New York City (see today's New York Times for an overview of the situation: "Seeking Dean’s Firing, Seminary Professors End Up Jobless")

But we would be remiss if we did not at this occasion quote the Rt. Rev. Euguene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland and his sermon to the Annual Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians this summer.

My brothers and sisters, this bishop believes that our parishes need to focus more on their community’s worship as the vehicle for the kind of evangelism that works for us. The problem for the Episcopal Church is not that we are neurotically and unhelpfully fixated on music and liturgy. Rather, the problem for us from an evangelical and church growth stance is that we are not focussed enough on our worship.

"The Two Calls"

This seems to pair well with the perspective of Derek Olsen on the situation at General Seminary:

One of the points of controversy regards the current Dean’s approach to the liturgy and his alteration of this fundamental schedule. Apparently in the name of relevance he has cut this schedule back: there’s no Morning Prayer on Monday and Thursday, there’s no Eucharist on Wednesday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday). Medievalists and those with a grounding in classical Anglican liturgy will, no doubt, note the irony of skipping Eucharists on Wednesday and Friday…

What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that this pattern teaches our future clergy that their spiritual obligations can be altered and shifted if they conflict with more important things. Of course, as time goes by, life interferes more and more until the very idea of an obligation is dispensed with in the name of efficiency and—I suppose—relevance.

"On General Seminary"

It should be noted that one of the faculty members in question is the noted church musician David Hurd, whose work is found throughout the Hymnal 1982

It should also be noted that the hymn tune GENERAL SEMINARY takes its name from General Theological Seminary and was composed by former professor David Charles Walker. It is found at Hymn 382 to the words "King of glory, King of peace".

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time - screen

There's no question that the number of screens we have available to us have changed our lives and can change our schools. There's also no doubt in my mind that we need to limit the amount of "screen time" that kids have.

But I take real issue with an angle in a recent NPR story Kids And Screen Time: Cutting Through The Static.

Thirteen-year-old Tom Zimmerman gets it: "One example: this one kid who was, like, in this room, and he had, like, this fake lightsaber, and he was acting really crazy. And it looked really stupid. And it was funny, but I'm sure that kid won't want it in the future. But so many people have taken that video and put it on their channels that there's no way of getting rid of it."

That 2002 video — of one teen boy in a heated lightsaber battle with himself —has been watched millions of times, but the so-called "Star Wars Kid," now in his 20s, says he was bullied because of it and had to leave school.

And that gives principals like Brad Zacuto not one but two big reasons to worry about screen time: 1) Because of what's not happening — important face-to-face time; and 2) Because of what is happening — kids putting themselves out there in embarrassing and potentially dangerous ways.

links removed

I beg to differ. Thirteen-year-old Tom Zimmerman doesn't get it. Neither does reporter Cory Turner.

The problem with the "Star Wars Kid" video is not the video; it's the bullying. Why aren't we talking about the bullying?

Because the video "is pretty amazing", or so comments reporter Cory Turner in the audio version of the story.

Just see for yourself:

So, step back and look at this. What is being proposed here is that kids not "put themselves out there" at all.

Is that wise? In this increasingly digital economy we want to stifle this form of creative self-expression too? We've already taken away art and music, and now kids can't even make awesome YouTube videos in their basements?

So what if you embarrass yourself? Make another one! There has to be a happy medium here. Kids have to be able to play around with this stuff. We've never had video tools available like we do today. Don't we want kids to play with this stuff?

The odds of your video going viral are next to nothing (not discussed in the NPR story) and the odds of you encountering bullying are pretty high (not addressed in the NPR story).

What's really "dangerous" here is stifling imagination, risk-taking, and a sense of play. What's really "dangerous" is telling kids that they must conform to their peers, not stick out in any way, and not have any original ideas, lest they be bullied by the enforcers of the status quo.

The answer is more creative self-expression, not less. Every kid should have to submit a "Star Wars" video.

At least you would in my class.

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