Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Chant?

Today’s 10:45 service was a musical mixed bag. Among other things, the choir sang Herbert Howells supremely beautiful “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.” There were other musical highlights as well. Also, there was Michelle Boomgaard’s chanting at the beginning of the Eucharist.

The Rev. Michelle Boomgaard
It is thoroughly inadequate to say that Michelle’s nervous chanting was bad. It was, in fact, excruciating. It was not only inadequate, but also distracting. It took one’s attention away from the text of the liturgy and surely caused many to think, “When is this agony going to be over?”

Now, I like Michelle. I like her the more I know her, in fact. Moreover, I understand that she practiced diligently for today’s assignment. She was not, however, ready for prime time. Why was she allowed to chant today? Her performance was particularly distressing in comparison with Lou’s chanting, which, as I recently noted, is quite good. That you don’t chant well doesn’t mean you aren’t a good priest or that you shouldn’t be one in the first place. Why was Michelle allowed to embarrass herself?

Why, in fact, do we chant at all at St. Paul’s? I have heard that chanting was developed because it allowed for greater intelligibility in large spaces without the benefit of sound systems. We chant now out of some sense of tradition, I suspect, but we don’t do it regularly. We don’t chant the whole service. If we are going to chant at all, why do it half way? But we are chanting in Lent. Are we doing so because this is a penitential season? If we were less sinful, could we dispense with Michelle’s chanting? Do any parishioners even like chanting, even if well done? I doubt it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Good News/Bad News on the First Sunday in Lent

First, the good news. As usual, the 10:45 service began with the Great Litany. (This led me to do some research, which I report on my main blog in the post “Persons of the Trinity.” But I digress.) Lou and Annette Tierney alternated in chanting the part of the celebrant in the long Litany, and they each did a very good job. Lou definitely chants better than most priests I’ve known.

The postlude was performed by Bill Owens on trumpet, Curtis Starr on trombone, Tommy Starr on timpani, and Doug Starr on the organ. It was a quite wonderful arrangement by Doug of Copland’s well-known “Fanfare for the Common Man.” It helped that our organ has some magnificent trumpet stops. What was particularly remarkable was the fact that I did not see one person leave after the dismissal. Everyone stayed to listen to the postlude, and they clapped enthusiastically when it was over.

Bill, Curt, Tommy, Doug, and Bryan Sable played at a Friends of Music concert at 3 o’clock. It was surely an unusual all-instrumental concert. They again performed “Fanfare for the Common Man,” as well as some Copeland songs, less the actual singing. Much of the program was devoted to early music, however. The audience was small, but appreciative.

Now, the bad news. The 10:45 service began with a problem. We had only one acolyte, and we were doing the most complicated procession we ever do. (Informally, the path taken by the choir as we sing the Great Litany is referred to as “the pretzel.”) The procession down the (liturgical) north aisle was led by a crucifer, but Annette, in the south aisle, was on her own. The choir improvised nicely, and I’m sure most worshipers were unaware that anything was amiss. By the time we were a few minutes into the service, another two acolytes had materialized from somewhere. I long for the days when St. Paul’s reliably had seven acolytes at each principal Sunday service. We are enlisting ever younger acolytes, but we cannot seem to get them to show up.

The choir sang two anthems—well, I think, but I may not be objective. One of the anthems, Farrant’s “Call to remembrance,” a favorite of mine, was sung just after we had sung the Angus Dei. At this point, the Chinese fire drill began. We had been told to abandon our sections and take up positions in which choir members singing different parts would be mixed up. We didn’t quite execute this as planned, and I fear the effect was chaotic. Then there was confusion about when we should be taking communion ourselves, and more chaos ensued. Doug began playing the communion hymn before most of us had returned to our places. I hope worshipers were concentrating on their own trip to the communion rail and not watching the choir, whose comings and goings were not a pretty sight.

Finally, there was this afternoon’s concert. The concert itself was fine, actually, but the church was inordinately cold. The church had been comfortable in the morning, though the choir room registered 52°F when I showed up for rehearsal at 9:30. (I had nearly frozen to death in Bible study in the lounge Saturday morning, when that room was also in the 50s.) Anyway, I had meant to put on my sport coat before I left the house, but I only grabbed my parka, which I left in the cloakroom downstairs when I returned to the church for the concert. It was a cold concert indeed, and I was jealous of concertgoers wearing sweaters or coats. On cold days, why can’t we heat the building enough so that it is only mildly chilly?


Saturday, February 2, 2013


I was  at the church this morning for Saturday Bible Study. There was not yet any sign of an Annual Report or brochure about Vestry candidates. As I was leaving, however, I noticed a listing of current Vestry members and the commissions to which they are assigned. I was surprised that the number of commissions is reduced from what it once was, and two Vestry members are assigned to a number of commissions. The current commissions are as follows (number of Vestry members assigned are shown in parentheses):
  • Children & Youth (2)
  • Fellowship (2)
  • Outreach (1)
  • Stewardship (2)
  • Welcoming (1)
  • Worship (1)
By contrast, here is the commission list from the 2003 Annual Report:
  • Children and Youth Ministries (1)
  • Communications (1)
  • Fellowship (1)
  • Outreach (1)
  • Pastoral (1)
  • Spiritual Growth (1)
  • Stewardship (1)
  • Worship (1)

Some Observations

 Currently, 9 Vestry members are assigned to commissions; in 2003, only 8 were. Both then and now, of course, the property has been the primary responsibility of the junior warden. Other roles that need to be filled are those of senior warden, treasurer, and secretary. The treasurer, secretary, and junior warden may be, but need not be among the 12 lay Vestry members, which I assume accounts for the 8 versus 9 commission members in 2003 versus 2012.

What I find especially interesting is the disappearance of the Pastoral and Spiritual Growth commissions. I assume that clergy have taken over these responsibilities and operate largely without Vestry oversight. One conspicuous result of this is that Adult Forum seldom hosts outside speakers, and the topics covered are more circumscribed than formerly.

The disappearance of the Communications commission is unsurprising. It was actually short-lived. The need for it is no less pressing than in 2003, but the commission was problematic, since it attempted to oversee and influence paid staff members. (Maybe there is an insight to be had about the Pastoral and Spiritual Growth commissions here as well.)

It is, no doubt, a good idea to have two Vestry people assigned to Stewardship. The job of the Stewardship commission is important, difficult, and—dare I say it—unpopular.

On the other hand, I am perplexed by the assignment of two Vestry members to the Fellowship commission and one to the Welcoming commission. Do we really need three people devoted to hospitality? Of course, people on Fellowship are subject to burnout, as parishioners seem to think that their job is to run events personally, not simply organize them.

It isn’t clear just how many non-Vestry people are involved with commissions. At one time, at least a handful of people were on each commissions, and the commissions met on the same night once a month. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more. That’s a pity, since the commissions provide a means to involve more people in running the church and to lighten the load of Vestry members.

One commission whose demise is to be lamented is the Property commission. In recent years, the junior warden seems to have acted largely alone, but it would be helpful if a small representative group of parishioners provided  regular advice to the junior warden. I have written about what I think is needed here—my suggestions go somewhat beyond a Property commission as it has been constituted in the past—and I commend to you what I wrote on the subject about two years ago. (See “Managing Change in a House of Worship.”)