Category Archives: Church Music

Resurrection People

Last week was not a good one for the Rochester Diocese.

One of the smaller dioceses of the Church of England, it does not make the news very often, yet it managed to do so last week in ways that make it almost emblematic of the Church of England as a whole.

First, the Archbishop Cranmer blog highlighted its financial difficulties. Like the national Church, Rochester is suffering from declining numbers of Church goers and with it declining revenues, yet as befits one of the nation’s oldest dioceses, it has its full measure of historic village churches whose small congregations have to struggle disproportionately to maintain our national heretage.

Unlike the church in France, whose revolution seized both the assets and the liabilities of the Church, the Established Church of England is fast becoming heritage liability with a missional church attached. Rochester tried to address the problem in two ways, both noble in themselves, but worth noting if only to draw lessons.

It held to its ideals, perhaps in retrospect for too long; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was committed to ” one priest- one Parrish” which is ideal -but meant that if the church numbers did not respond to the financial  needs of the diocese, the financial reserves -never great – were depleted quickly.

The Diocese has recently moved from a “Parish Share” system to one of local congregations making offers to address the published diocesan budget. Many, perhaps too many, who once struggled to meet their quota, may have taken this as the opportunity to ‘bid low’ with the promise to do more of they could. Where, in a harsher regime, they might have pulled more weight in order to ensure they kept their individual priest, under the twin influences of benignly assuring them that they would keep their priest anyway, whilst freeing them from a fixed figure contribution, such parishes probably relaxed in the early transitional period.

There is an  “elephant in the room” ;  some richer parishes, capable of paying their  full  share, for doctrinal reasons, choose not to do so, diverting the monies to projects of their preference, rather than supporting smaller churches outside of their tradition. Perceiving some churches as excessively liberal/inclusive/lax they preferred not to offer a subsidy.

The Rochester difficulty is not entirely a financial problem, but partly a fellowship issue. It emerges early in Rochester, it may may be seen elsewhere. The wider Church needs to take note.

If that were not enough, within the same week,  Rochester hit the news for all the wrong reasons with the publication of the independent report into the historic problems of a girls residential home, Kendall House in Gravesend, where the distinctive feature of the report was the misuse of powerful prescription drugs to render residents more compliant, with devastating effects. There was also some sexual abuse; it is worth highlighting that some adult females are abusers: that is easily overlooked.

If there is any ” good news ” in these stories, it  lies in the response.

Financial nettles are being grasped: a new financial regime has been adopted under the aegis of a former Local Authority Chief Executive , financial stringency is being embraced and some clergy posts may not be filled, as previously.

The Kendall House Report was published for all , in all its embarrassing detail.  The victims acknowledge and take comfort that anyone can read and understand what went wrong. Those in the town of Gravesend who know the woman who ran the home and respected her, are shocked, but not forming a committee to protect her memory: the reason is simple.

Rochester has been transparent.

You can read the story without identifying the victims. Chichester should learn the lesson as it continues to struggle with its handling of the  Bishop George Bell controversy.

In both these Rochester crises, transparency and accountability are at work. Knowing what must be addressed will enable us to do what is right.

Difficulties come to all peoples, and all institutions.

In an entirely different context, Archbishop Justin recently said ” truth is better than doubt”: St John wrote ” The truth will set you free”.

Rochester Diocese is facing some difficult truths at present but we are nothing if not the people of the resurrection.  We still have a mission “to put Christ in the centre of this country’s life where he rightfully belongs” as Canon John Spence has periodically and powerfully reminded General Synod.

We may have to go about things in different ways, we may be chastened by past failures but in a fundamental sense, nothing has changed. We have fallen but we are called to renewal. That is our hope, that is our mission, that is the task ahead

 

New Music for Churches – the horror!

music

Many priests will tell you that few issues cause ill-will within a congregation more than Church Music.

It is not a new phenomenon. There was bitter controversy when new fangled technology was introduced when the pipe organ displaced the motley group of instrumentalist who formerly held sway in the music loft, and many decamped to exercise their talents in the local pubs.

John Bunyan stole the tune for his much loved hymn ” To be a Pilgrim” from a popular Portsmouth drinking song, and later William Booth chose to “dumb down” by encouraging tunes in a popular vernacular to compete with the music halls. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” was his philosophy, not that of some modern worship group leader.

Brother Ivo can enjoy worship incorporating music from a variety of sources, from the Wesleys to Handel, Taize and Iona, to Stuart Townsend and Maggi Dawn. Yet despite such catholic taste he is still being currently challenged. His Church has recently bought a new set of Hymn books and although he and others looked through the indexes to see that we had a readily available selection of hymns from a wide variety of courses, we missed quite a lot in the fine print.

Put simply, the words of some very familiar hymns have been subtly changed to the consternation of many singing on “autopilot”.

It is very easy to become irritated at such “interference”.

What is the point?

“Can’t they leave well alone?” is a natural enough response, and as one thinks of hymns, so one also thinks of liturgy.

There is a joke that the definition of a conservative is someone who thinks that nothing should be done for the first time and that in the Anglican Church once something has been done it becomes a tradition. So new hymn books will never arrive without comment.

At such times, Brother Ivo has the good fortune to have had a most helpful conversation with a retired Anglican priest who, at that time, was running a most welcoming Bed and Breakfast House in Montgomerie Alabama.

He was fascinating man to talk to, not least because he had been the priest to a Congregation during the Civil Rights years and spoke of the difficulties of ministering to a people split  between integrationists and segregationalists. Few Anglicans today will have to hold such tensions in check even over the vexed from of musical tastes.

It was not that political part of the conversation which has most usefully stuck with Brother Ivo however.

As we sat talking in his music room, we turned to the question of managing musical evolution, and he offered a most useful and interesting take on the subject.

Brother Ivo is devoted to sharing interesting views.

Mark Waldo Snr explained that whenever he encountered a hymn he did not like or understand, he would pause and ask himself a question: “What am I missing here?”

Instead of complaining at the innovation, he suggested one should reflect that somebody had been moved to write the words and music, perhaps studying a passage of scripture, praying over it, re-editing a line, honing a nuance. It may have taken a considerable time.

When the piece was completed it was offered to a publisher, who accepted it, offered it to vendors and they sold it to a Worship Leader who selected it for a particular service at a particular time.

With such a provenance, he suggested, such a piece of work surely deserves more than a moments dismissive attention?

 

If it is not communicating , perhaps we are not listening. “There must be something in it to have made it this far” he suggested.

This wisdom has lowered Brother Ivo’s blood pressure on more than one occasion

Even though one may still have favourite hymns, settings, versions, or genres, the giving of respect and consideration to that which is unfamiliar can be the occasion for stepping out of the comfort zone and learning from an appraisal of the new environment – taking a different point of view.

The unexpected has often been the start of a new line of thought.

Even in one’s artistic distaste or scepticism one should perhaps look on such temporary suffering as a spiritual gift.

Brother Ivo offers this to all clergy wrestling with such problems this week.