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