A Reflection on the Pilgrimage

The choir in rehearsal in Norwich.

And ready for Evensong in Lincoln

First, a word about the First Church Choir on this trip.  THIS IS ONE FINE CHOIR!

On the Friday evening the choir arrived in Norwich, we went to Evensong and heard the visiting choir that preceded us sing.  Without making any specific observations about that choir, I want to say that Kevin Jones and The First Church Choir give great attention to things that make a difference:

Everyone wears black shoes.   The robes are all steamed and    pressed.  Choir members enter the space with erect body carriage.  They move in a stately manner.  They enunciate clearly.  They know how to shape vowels and how to sound consonants.

When you look like your belong, the chances are pretty good that you do belong.  Wonderful sounds seem inevitable.  THANK YOU to our First Church Choir for paying so much productive attention to detail and for singing such wonderful music!  Indeed, they belong here.

Now a reflection about pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage has been defined as a journey of significance to a place of spiritual importance.  Pope Benedict XVI said it is a time to “step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where God’s grace has shone with particular splendor.”   Those both ring true for me as I think about this journey we have made to Norwich and Lincoln Cathedrals.

Singing Choral Evensong in an English Cathedral is like viewing the original of famous paintings.  It’s akin to going to The Holy Land for Christians or Mecca for Muslims.  It is a profound experience.

Choral Evensong is a gift of the Church of England to the world.  The liturgy first appeared in the 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, combining the services of Vespers and Compline.  Music appeared a few years later in the reign of Elizabeth I as composers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis began to develop polyphonic choral settings.  Thus it became Choral Evensong.  We sang the music of William Byrd in Lincoln Cathedral where he was organist from 1563 to 1572.  That’s “going to The Holy Land.”

We sang and worshiped in what is likely the first Church of England cathedral.  When Henry VIII issued his dissolution orders to the monasteries throughout England,  Norwich monks were the first to submit and become priests in the C of E in 1538.  We sang where it all began.

[I use the editorial “we” here.  I’ve never sung in the choir, but I’ve been so bound up with this choir through this trip that I feel as if I sang every word with them.]

There is a current group of people whose project is promoting Choral Evensong throughout the British Isles.  They are doing this because they believe that in this service is “a powerful sense of tapping into something greater than ourselves . . . . .that we join a vast community enduring both through time and place, by acting in the same way as countless people have done before us over 1000 years.”  [from choralevensong.org]. My experience says they are “spot on!”

And then there is history in general.  Rome sent one of its Legions to Lincoln in 60 CE to extend the boundaries of its empire.  That’s the year Paul arrived in Rome, where he began his two years of imprisonment.   In the Cathedral and around our hotel we stood on the sites where those Romans built their fortresses.  We saw the remains of those buildings.  We lived into history.

I thought back  to our commissioning on July 8 at First Church.  We were commissioned to “bear witness to God’s love and to let that love shine through us.”  I believe we took that commission to heart and have fulfilled it.

Our world views have expanded.  Our perspectives have changed.  We’ve experienced being involved in something far larger than ourselves.  We’ve joined the stream of pilgrims who have experienced the grace of God shining in particular splendor.  We’ve shared God’s love through our music and, hopefully, through our daily living in the places we’ve found ourselves.  To paraphrase the lyrics of Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked, “It may be that we will never come here again, but because we have been here, we have been changed for good.”

A reflection from the Norwich booklet, The Eucharist, upon leaving the service:

Lord Jesus Christ, alive and at large in the world, help me to follow and find you there today, in the places where I work, meet people, spend money and make plans.  Make me as a disciple of your kingdom, to see through your eyes, and hear the questions you are asking, to welcome all people with your trust and truth, and to change the things that contradict God’s love, by the power of the cross and the freedom of your Spirit.  Amen.

John  V Taylor,  1914-2001





The Children on Our Trip

It was wonderful having two children with us on our trip, Cameron and Aarav.   Both came along with their dads, who sing in the choir.  They provided me (and I suspect all of us) with moments of joy and delight.  They were both fully engaged in this experience: inquisitive about the sights and sounds of the cathedrals, attending all the services, participating in the liturgies.

I watched Cameron in Norwich Cathedral, at that wonderful baptismal font that is accessible for for all ages, as she did what we were all invited to do:  put our fingers in the water, touch our foreheads and be reminded that we are baptized.

I sat next to Aarav in worship several times.  As we stood, facing the High Altar in Norwich Cathedral, reciting the Apostles’ Creed, I was moved when I heard Arriv’s young voice saying those ancient words.

I walked to the Cathedral in Lincoln behind Emily, Cameron and Aarav as they made their way to Sunday’s Sung Eucharist.

I had a delightful conversation with Aarav about the trip.  When I asked him what he would remember about it, he said, “That Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 400 years.”  He’s right; it was so until its spire fell down.

A lot of incense was used in the Sung Eucharist service on Sunday morning.  That afternoon, as we waited for Evensong to begin, one of the women on the Cathedral staff explained the church’s use of incense to the kids.

There were sights to be seen, like the dragon on the Castle grounds in Lincoln and the ice cream shops to be visited.

They joined us for our meals.


And sometimes they just wore out.

I’m confident that I speak for all the adults on this Pilgrimage when I say THANK YOU to Cameron and Aarav for being with us and to their parents for bringing them along.  They added the spark that only children can bring a group.  Blessings on them!


Our Last Sunday: Part Two

Choir members had to be back in the Cathedral by 2:15 Sunday afternoon, but the rest of us had more free time.  I spent most of mine on the Cathedral Lawn (east end of the grounds).  There the local chapter of the RSPB had set up an information tent and three telescopes so that people could view the Peregrine Falcons that nest in the Cathedral tower.  A pair have now hatched 2 chicks that have grown to “juvenile” age, according to the RSPB folks.  I saw the female and one juvenile and it was raising quite a ruckus.  Eventually both flew off, presumably to the nest on the other side of the tower.

Also on the lawn was the local Salvation Army Bank, playing a concert.  Some people sat in lawn chairs they had brought, but most (like me) just drifted in and out, stopping to listen for a bit.

Choral Evensong began at 3:45 . . . . .earlier on Sundays than on other days of the week.  The choir was at its best!  A special treat was the Venite, the “come to worship” invitation.  The choir sang Runestad’s I Will Lift Mine Eyes in the nave, just outside the doorway into the Choir.  That lovely song filled the Cathedral!  I wish this program would let me post the beautiful video I have of that music, but it won’t.  Sorry.

It was a bittersweet time.  Sweet because the week had been so rich and meaningful and such a blessing.  Bitter because it was coming to an end.  I cannot tell you what a joy it was to hear our very fine choir singing the Evensong liturgy in the setting in which it has been sung for so many years.  The sad news:  the week ended.  The good news:  we hear this choir every week at home!

After Evensong we all gathered outside a south door for a group picture.

We then walked back to the hotel for our evening meal together.  It was time of good food, good fellowship and good conversation.  The cleaverly folder dinner napkins provided entertainment for these weary people.


Kevin presented our organist, Tyler, with thank you gifts from the choir.  It was wonderful to have home with us on this trip!


Pavan presented Kevin with thank you gifts from the choir.  We will al miss Kevin as he begins his sabbatical immediately.

Bill and Sarah Lange announced a series of “recognitions” that highlighted various memorable moments during our trip.

Eventually we began drifting out to the remaining tasks of the day: mainly packing, though some people continued the good time out in the lounge.

About 2/3 of the group boarded the coach Monday morning at 4 am to make the ride to London Heathrow and fly home.  10 or 12 others headed for other places to continue their holidays.  All of us left Lincoln with wonderful memories of a Pilgrimage we will never forget  . . . . . .one that undoubtedly has changed us forever.

Look for one or two more posts this week with some reflections about this remarkable journey and a few more pictures.


A Long, Rewarding Day: Part One

Sunday was a day of hard work for the choir:  3 services within the span of 7 hours.  The singers were up early in order to eat breakfast and be in the Cathedral, ready to sing, by 8:15 am.

Sung Eucharist began at 9:30 in the Choir.  This location was a bit of a surprise to me as this service in Norwich had been held in the nave with a sizeable congregation.  In Lincoln, it is held in the Choir with the High Altar as the focus for Communion.

When the priest welcomed worshipers at the beginning of the service he thanked our choir for its music ministry throughout the past week.  I thought to myself, “We’ve fulfilled the commission First Church gave us.”

This service really was a feast for all the senses!

Sight:  The glories of the Cathedral itself;  the colors in the beautiful vestments and the paraments.

Sound:  The choir sang Mozart’s Missa Brevis in F (Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus Dei) and the motet, O Sacred Feast, by Willan.  The congregation sang “Take My Life, and Let It Be” (though to a tune I did not know),  “Will You Come and Follow Me” (m favorite Iona Community hymn) and “ and “Thine Be the Glory.”

Smell:  Incense played a significant part in this service.  The steward carried the thurible around the Choir multiple times filling the space with both the smoke and the aroma.

Touch:  Hand shaking as we passed ”The Peace of Christ”

Taste:   The wafer and the wine in the Sacrament of Holy Communion

The Precentor preached a superb sermon about Mary Magdalene (this was the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene in the  church’s calendar).  She reminded us how the church has misrepresented Mary Magadalene through the years, shaping for centuries our sexual morality in unhelpful, even destructive, ways.  Then she reminded us that the stories about Mary are really not about Mary’s behavior; they are about Jesus’ behavior . . . . . .his gracious acceptance of her.  “The grace to amend our lives comes from acceptance, not condemnation,” she said.

And then we were invited to share the Sacrament of Holy Communion . . . .moving to the kneeling rail to receive the elements.

I think I have said this before:  I know the purpose of this trip was not to show off our fine choir.  Our choir participated in a worship tradition that is hundreds and hundreds of years old, adding their voices to those of our forbears in faith who have lifted theirs in prayer and praise.  But I want to say that I was so very proud of our choir!  They belonged in these choir stalls.  There was absolutely no sense that some singers not quite up-to-snuff were “filling in” for the real thing.  Our choir was “the real thing” in Lincoln Cathedral and I could not have been prouder.

Not long after the Eucharist service, as we were waiting for Sung Matins to begin, someone came through the aisle saying,  “If you go outside you can hear the bells.  Change ringing.”   And out we went.  Sure enough, the bells were ringing and here is what we heard.  I made a video of the tower and the bells ringing, but when I tried to upload that to this blog, I received a message saying,  “Sorry, but for security reasons we cannot upload this type of file.”  I really am sorry.  It was a lovely sound!   Maybe we can figure out a way to share some of these videos when we get home.  I do have a picture of choir members who came out to hear the bells walking along the south side of the Cathedral, back to the west front door.  While we were out, the south door had been locked and we had to go around to the front to get back in.

Choral Matins began at 1:15, and if truth be told, there were more people in the choir than in the congregation.  Nevertheless, it was another rich service.  The choir sang Responses by Byrd, “O Come, Let Us Sing” by Piccolo, Te Deum in C by Britain, and Jubilato Deo by Britain.

Following Matins a refreshment time was held for the choir in The Chapter House.  The Precentor was most gracious in expressing the Cathedral’s gratitude.  “When our choir goes on holiday,” she said, “guest choirs come. We’re never sure what we are getting.  From the first cords you sang, I knew we were in good hands.”  She went on to say she counted our choir as friends and that they will always be welcome in Lincoln.  “You have a new home here.”

And then we were off to find a quick lunch and a few moments of rest before returning to the Cathedral to be ready for a 2:15 rehearsal and Evensong.

More about Evensong and the evening meal together will follow in the next blog.   I am writing this on Monday morning after most of our group left on a 4 am bus to Heathrow to fly home.  I am off to London for a few days.  While in London I will try to finish up a couple more blogs:  one about Sunday evening and another about general reflections.





A free Saturday and a very moving Evensong

Choir members had a pretty early starts for a Saturday morning as they had to be in the Cathedral for a rehearsal at 8:30 am.  But they then had the rest of the day free to enjoy Lincoln until time for Evensong preparations.

Two activities caught our attention.  One was the Market taking place at the top of Steep Hill in the open area between the Cathedral and the Castle.  Most of the tented stalls featured area produce:  meats, cheese, candy, jams and jellies, baked goods.  Business seemed to be brisk.

The other was a wedding held in the Cathedral.  We had watched preparations for it yesterday as some women were creating a floral arch over the doorway into the Choir.


When we arrived for Evensong we found the High Altar still held the wedding flowers and paraments.

The wedding reception was held in our hotel, so many of us got to watch the wedding party move from the Cathedral to the hotel.  Some got to see the bride and groom arrive at the hotel in a lovely horse-drawn carriage.  [Thank you, Emily Corzine, for the picture.]

I got to watch a group of young boys who had been participants in the wedding in some way arrive at the hotel.  They were as elegantly dressed as were the men.

In addition to wedding-watching, popular activities included walking up and down Steep Hill (simply to be able to say we did it), last minute shopping in the Old Town, lunch in one of the fine cafes, tea rooms or pubs, ice cream for dessert.

Guess who took the tower/roof tour in the Cathedral.                          [Thank you, Ryan Jones, for the picture.]

Choir members had to be in the Cathedral for a 3:30 rehearsal and then we all arrived for 5:30 Evensong.  St. Hugh’s  Choir is looking very familiar to us after a week of daily Evensong services.

I cannot say that I speak for anyone else when I reflect on the power of this evening’s service, but my suspicion is that others feel as I do.  Tyler Robertson’s prelude prior to the choir’s entrance was particularly calming and peaceful this evening.  The choir sang Responses by Howells, Canticles by Byrd, and an anthem by Shapiro, “The Church Floore.”

As I’ve read the newspapers this week and listen to some TV broadcasts, I’ve been struck by how much chaos, dysfunction, and downright evil there is in the world.  And I’m aware that even as I decry much of what goes on, I am embedded in many of the systems that do damage to people and to the earth itself.  This evening, when the choir began to sing, “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us,”  I felt all of my sadness, anger, frustration, sense of helplessness, and pain gathered up into that music and carried to the throne of  God’s grace.  It was a powerful moment!

And throughout the Howells’ music in the prayers, each stretch of dissonance ALWAYS dissolved into a beautiful, sustaining, consonant chord, reminding me that as chaotic as things might get in this world, we are held in the steadfast and faithful love of God!  In the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

The “benediction” of the evening for me was the final hymn:  “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.  Reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives our service find, in deeper reverence, praise.”  We sang these words of the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier  to the flowing hymn tune, “Repton,” composed by English compposer, teach and music historian Hubert Parry.

Our time in Lincoln is drawing to a close, but this service will live within me for a long time.



Day Trip to Stamford and a Beautiful Evensong

Before I write about Stamford I want to make a note about the Burghley House blog.  You might want to visit it again as I now have posted more pictures.

Now . . . . . .on to Stamford.

By this time in the week, some of us are beginning to drag a little.  But the most energetic of the group gathered at the coach Friday morning at 9 am for the 1 hour and 15 minute trip to Stamford, one of England’s loveliest villages.  Backdrop for several TV dramas, notably “Middlemarch” and the 2005 production of “Pride and Prejudice,” Stamford has one of the highest densities of listed buildings in the UK.  It is settled on the banks of the River Welland. In 2013 The Sunday Times rated it the best place to live.

The group met a delightful guide (with the umbrella) who took them on a walking tour.


Stamford was at one time a walled town, but only a very small portion of the wall now remain.  Initially a pottery center, by the Middle Ages it had become famous for its production of wool and woolen cloth which, in Henry III’s reign, was well known as far away as Venice.

A Norman castle was built in Stamford in 1075 but was demolished in 1484.  A small part of the curtain wall survives.

People travel from far and wide to see Stamford’s 17th and 18th century stone buildings and its even older timber-framed structures.



Stamford has five very fine medieval parish churches, one of whom is All Saints.  It is mentioned in the 1086 Doomsday Book.  None of the original church exists today, but the bulk of the building dates from the 13th century.

We learned in our tour of Lincoln about the Eleanor Crosses in a line down part of the east of England.  King Edward I had the crosses erected between 1291 and 1294  in memory of his wife, Eleanor of Castile, marking the nightly resting places along the route when her body was taken to London for burial.  The remains of the Lincoln cross stand in the castle grounds.  That marked the beginning of the trail.  Stamford was the third stop on the trip.  Only a small marble fragment of the Stamford cross survives and it is displayed in the town library.  A modern monument marks the spot of the original cross.

Stamford was the half-way point of the mail coach interchange on the Great North Road, being half way between London and York.

Stamford, clearly known for its attention to preserving historic treasures, also clearly has an eye on othe future.  It was the first town in the country to create a conservation area.

Stamford has hosted an annual fair since the Middle Ages.  That fair, mentioned in Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV, Part 2, is now the largest street fair in Lincolnshire.

Stamford has a bustling market every Friday when the town centre is packed with eager shoppers stocking up on local vegetables, meats, pies, bread, fresh fish, and many other things your heart might desire.  Our group got to experience market day in Stamford.

By 1 pm the group was back on the coach and headed for Lincoln.  A bit of a traffic tie up delayed their arrival, so choir singers had to scramble to get to rehearsal.

Evensong was at its usual time: 5:30 pm.  The choir sang Leighton Responses, Esenvalds’ “Merton” Canticles, and Runestad’s “I will lift mine eyes.”  The choir was in good voice, the musis was lovely.  Worship was calming and meaningful. Those of us who came for worship that evening were, once again, richly blessed.  I continue to be grateful for these daily experiences of peace and beauty in a world filled with so much chaos and ugliness.

A local man, walking in the aisle with his wife, asked me if I sang in the choir.  I told him I did not, but that I was delighted to be associated with the choir.  He said, “That is a fine choir.  I heard them on Monday and I have come to hear them again.”  Our friends, who had come from Lichfield to see us and to hear the choir, echoed his sentiment.

That was the “benediction” for Friday evening.

[Again, in an effort to be transparent, know that I did not make the trip to Stamford.  I gleaned information from a variety of sources, including people who did make the trip.  I’m grateful to John Delliman for most of the photos.]

York Minster and Choral Evensong

“Since the 7th century, the Minster has been the centre of Christianity in the north of England and today remains a thriving church rooted in the daily offering of worship and prayer.  The Minster was built for the glory of God.  Every aspect of the ancient building – from the exquisite hand crafted stone to the unrivaled collection of medieval stained glass – tells the story of Jesus Christ.”   So says the website of the Minster.   It is, indeed, a sacred place with the love of God at its heart and has attracted people from across the globe for more than 1000 years.

York Minster is the mother church of the Diocese of York and the Archbishop of York is the 2nd highest office in the Church of England, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is like most cathedrals, with a very long nave separated from the choir by an elaborate screen.  That screen is now under renovation and consequently was covered with scaffolding.

As was the entrance to the Choir, on both sides of the screen. We have seen our fair share of scaffolding on this trip.  It is, however, essential to the well-being of these ancient churches.  When we see scaffolding, we know proper maintenance is being carried out.   Just like at home.

York Minster has some beautiful sights around the building.  Because I am writing this, you get my favorites (one of the advantages of doing this).  My favorite sight in the nave is one of the ceiling bosses:  The Ascension.  What we see are the faces of the disciples, looking up at the soles of Jesus’ feet.

I love the wood carved tomb memorials to various people who are buried in the Minster.  So many of them are elegant carvings and painted so brightly.

One of the chapels now houses a fine statue of Mother Theresa.  I sat in that chapel for quite a while, contemplating that beautiful carving.

There are several beautiful ceilings in the Minster.  One is the ceiling in the crossing where the nave, choir and transepts meet.  One looks up into the tower to see it.

The other is the ceiling of the Chapter House.  This chapter house is unusual in that it does not have a central pillar holding up the roof.  It is a completely open room with a lovely ceiling.

York Minster has one of the finest collections of medieval stained glass anywhere.  Its Great East Window is Larger than a tennis court. It has 1117 panels that feature scenes from the Bible.   The Five Sisters Window, in the north transept (shown below)  is its prize.  It dates back to about 1260.

I was surprised to see a wall plaque commemorating Miles  Coverdale on the Minster south wall.  I was surprised as I had not known he had a connection with York.  His name is very familiar to those of us who study church history as he produced the first complete English translation of the Bible, dedicating it to Henry VIII.  The first edition was printed in 1535.  His translation of the Book of Psalms has remained in use in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer down to the present day.


There are Roman building remains around the city’s and some of them are in the Minster.  The crypt contains several  Roman discoveries, such as a section of the wall of a Roman wall.


I think my favorite sight is the small stone carvings (done recently in a renovation project) on the arch of the Great West Center Door.  These 9” carvings tell the Creation Story in Genesis.  The first depicts the creation of the world, the second Adam and Eve, coming from the hand of God.


As if all that wasn’t enough, we were blessed by the Minster Choir and Clergy in Choral Evensong at 5:15.  The choir and clergy processed in and took their places.  One of the clergymen welcomed all visitors, calling special attention to our group.  He then invited us “to keep quiet together that we may remember God’s presence among us.”  The Precentor, a young women with a fine voice, sang the first words, and the choir (16 boys, 11 men and 1 woman – an alto, I believe) sang the response.

The second scripture lesson for the evening came from the Gospel of John:  “Abide in my love. . . . . .This is my commandment that you love one another.”  I thought about how often the Gospel of John has been read in that place.

The Responses the choir sang were by Leighton; the Canticles in B Minor by Blair; the anthem, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” by Berkeley.

A choir of men and boys has its own unique sound, particularly suited to cathedral settings.  As much as I love the long-standing tradition of cathedral choirs, I confess that I came away with an even greater appreciation for the richness of mature voices in our choir.

The day was a treat.  We did get to hear the Minster Choir in a summer month when most choirs are away on holiday.  And we all got to worship together “in the pews.”

And, as always, we were blessed and sent on our way.