blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The medium and the Message

Christ Church on Sparks Street is the HQ of a "diverse and vibrant parish that glorifies God and welcomes all people," so I read in the programme for the Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols that took place on the last Sunday of Advent. A diverse and excited congregation was indeed packing the church to bursting point when I came in, half an hour before the service was due to start. Or so I thought. It took me a while to find a side pew I could squeeze into, during which time Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols was being valiantly sung against the congregation's background chatter by the Cathedral choirs. Had I known beforehand that this was not a late rehearsal but the actual performance––the Choral Prelude to the service––I'd have turned up half an hour sooner and listened more carefully. I was sorry to have missed the beginning of it, but the event had been poorly advertised. I almost wonder whether the time had been wrongly announced on purpose, in order to divert attention from the musical element. As Anthony Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire vividly describe it, there has long been rivalry and antagonism between church musicians and the less musical anglican clergy.

I have no complaints about the music I heard. The cathedral choirs' first rate reputation is justified. Matthew Larkin's choral arrangements sounded faultless to me, and the organist and harpist played magnificently. However, I have half a mind to ask one of the Very Reverends or Right Reverends some questions about the framework.
  1. Why did the candlelit procession have to happen in silence? It would have been wonderful to have heard the choirs singing and not just treading, as they emerged from behind the scenes.
  2. Why were the lights kept off for seven of the nine Lessons (and Carols)? We were all handed an explanatory programme but nobody could read it in the dark.
  3. Why was the first Lesson read in French when none of the other Lessons were? If the few francophones in the church could follow the rest, and I'm sure they could, or else they wouldn't have come, why bother making a token gesture that alienates a large majority?
  4. Why finish each Bible reading, which surely speaks for itself, with: "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church!"? This annoyingly repetitive and sanctimonious nagging adds absolutely nothing to the message of the story; in my opinion it detracts from it. It certainly detracts from the poetry of the occasion.
  5. Why include two unfamiliar hymns for the congregation to sing (Jesus came, the heavens adoring and Come, thou Redeemer) when there are so many better known Christmas carols to choose from? I am not one of those people who only wants to listen to the usual hackneyed stuff sung by the choir, quite the contrary, the more unconventional the better, but when it comes to my turn to sing, I like to recognise the words and / or music, or at least have access to some musical notation I could sightread.
  6. Why not use the archaic but beautiful words of the old, King James' Bible for the readings? Modern translations sound so inferior. Old version: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." What could be clearer than that? New version: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor [sic] rests.” Wasn't the whole point of Christianity to transcend such favouritism? But perhaps I have got it wrong.
Apart from those rather carping criticisms, I must congratulate the church's decision makers for allowing us to sing: "... pleased as man with man to dwell ..." and "... born to raise the sons of earth ..."  (in Hark The Herald Angels Sing) instead of some idiotically feminist substitute for those masculine phrases, such as you'd find in the hymn books in other local churches.

Anyhow I came away touched by the music and not at all in a religious frame of mind regarding the Lessons. Then the following day (Christmas Eve) I tuned in to the BBC Radio 4 broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge, which was done properly, and put me into a less rebellious mood.


CWC said...

That was hilarious (you know me). 'Course, everything *should* have been in Latin. I think cellphones have a flashlight function but I'm behind the power curve on those gadgets. I've also been known to pack one of those micro flashlights for use in restaurants with no lighting (Fratelli's, I'm trying to look at you). This is all because if you're as blind as a thing which is very blind you learn lessons :-) Except with phones.

Shouldn't "KING" be replaced with "MONARCH"? Or "DULY ELECTED...something or other"?

Emma said...

Well, this made me laugh - typically you!

Of course you should recognise the obvious quote:
Revelations, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22 (I've missed one, as I there were 7 letters). KJV:
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

The KJV is very beautiful - but occasionally it got the translation wrong. If modern scholarship suggests this, should it be changed? And what about all those people in the congregation for whom English is not a first language - should they struggle through an old translation in a language very different from the one they speak on other days?

Personally I like the NRSV, which maintains much of the "well-loved" KJV phrases, but modernises where the KJV is difficult to understand. But you can spend hours on a website like: playing with different translations

(Actually I agree with a lot of what you're saying - and this is exactly the problem with a words-based form of worship - if you don't like the words, you can't hear the message)