All posts by KFord

Choral Evensong Blog: Sunday 3rd March, 6.30pm

A blog about the history, composers and background to the music for our forthcoming services of Choral Evensong, by Damian Cranmer:

St George’s Church, Norton, Letchworth Garden City

In the return of last summer’s exchange, we will be joined for this service by the choir of St George’s, Norton, in Letchworth Garden City, so a warm welcome to them.

In any discussion of music for choral evensong, it’s never long before Stanford crops up. I’m not sure that he would be entirely happy that his reputation nearly 100 years after his death depended almost exclusively on his Anglican church music.

While there might be many composers who would be delighted to have such a strong continuing presence in any field, Stanford was always keen to be known in an international context, and anglican church music would not provide such a reputation. I thought of this when reading the obituary for John Joubert, who died in January, the headline describing him as the composer of ‘Torches’. Well, he was, and a jolly good piece it is too, but the composer of five operas, three symphonies and much other music deserves wider recognition for his more substantial music. Though having said that, I once had a discussion with a colleague about whether music had to be substantial to be considered great.

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

Anyway, crop up Stanford has, and it’s his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B flat that we’ll be singing with our friends from St George’s. The B flat may not have the grandeur of the setting in C, or the stature of the A, or the originality of the G, but, as the first attempt at canticle writing by a 27-year-old, it is remarkable, and it’s the one that everyone knows. For 140 years (exactly!) choirs from cathedral and parish church alike have sung this piece regularly. In 1883, four years after its composition, it was sung 12 times in Christ Church, Oxford. So why does it have a history different from the contemporary canticles of Stainer, Charles Lloyd, George Garrett and even Parry?

Its broad appeal comes inevitably from its singability. It has memorable themes with easy flowing lines, not too much counterpoint and a helpfully supportive organ part. But it is the almost symphonic approach to key and structure that makes the music so satisfying for both singers and listeners. In the Magnificat, the triple-time music of the opening returns for the Gloria, but you have to look to see this, so well is the music fitted to the new words. And the middle section, now in duple time and the subdominant key of E flat, but straying to C minor and A flat, develops its own material, giving the piece a ternary structure. The Nunc Dimittis is set mostly for unison men’s voices, but sends the tenors up to a sustained top G at ‘and to be the glo-ry’. The Gloria, different from the Magnificat is a wonderfully measured conclusion marked ‘with dignity’. Both Glorias end with a version of the Dresden Amen. I wrote about this Amen in relation to John Sanders’ responses which were written in 1983 to mark the centenary of the death of Richard Wagner who used it extensively in his opera Parsifal. Unfortunately there’s no great story about its birth or name: it was written by JG Naumann for the royal court in Dresden, but its fame has been secured by the many composers, such as Mendelssohn in his Reformation Symphony, who have adopted it.

Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877 – 1950)

The anthem is Evening Hymn by Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950). It is a setting of the Latin office hymn for compline,’Te lucis ante terminum’ (a favourite of 16th century composers such as Tallis and Byrd), with alternative English words beginning ‘Thee, Lord, before the close of day’. It was written during a brief spell that the composer spent teaching at Winchester College. The organ plays an important role in setting the scene for the three verses, of which the second is contrasted. Balfour Gardiner, as he is generally known, was a man of private means which he used to support music and musicians most generously. His own composition, much of which he destroyed, ceased in the mid-1920s and, thereafter, as Wikipedia nicely puts it, “he devoted himself to a pioneering afforestation programme on his Dorset pig farm.”

For the responses, we give a second outing to the reconstructed Gibbons setting that was first heard last month.

Percy Whitlock

The closing voluntary is Toccata, the fifth and last movement from the Plymouth Suite by Percy Whitlock (1903-1946) who features quite regularly in our programmes. Each of the movements remembers a different organist, and the H.M. of the Toccata is Dr. Harold (Harry) George Moreton (1864-1961) who was organist of St Andrew’s, Plymouth, from 1885 to 1958! Whitlock held organist posts in Rochester and Bournemouth, where he was also municipal organist at the Pavilion. The Plymouth Suite dates from 1937 – after only 52 years at St Andrew’s, Moreton was probably in his prime. The Toccata, as toccatas do, has a non-stop fast semiquaver pattern which moves between the hands, against which a solo tune comes in various guises. The speed relaxes only at the very end, where some rather splendid chords bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.

Damian Cranmer

Stewardship Article: What is God calling us to do?

What is God calling us to do? a sermon by Anthony Davis

The Lord asks Isaiah “Whom shall I send?” Jesus calls Simon-Peter, James and John to follow him, but what is it that they are being called or sent to do?

But perhaps a more immediate question is what on earth is your ex curate’s husband doing standing in the pulpit, as if he’s about to deliver us a sermon? A bit of a tongue twister there – just in case any of you who don’t know me weren’t listening properly and are now wondering if you have just heard a revelation about Tim, I said ex-curate’s, not curate’s ex…

To address this last question first. I am here because I am starting to explore what God is calling me to do. That discernment might result in me being called to ordained ministry myself, and as part of that discernment I was tasked to interview some clergy about how they spend their time. So last Monday week I was here to grill Will on what he does when he is not in church on a Sunday.

At the end of the grilling, Will had a question for me:

“Anthony” he said “Would you consider coming and preaching for us in Redbourn?”

When I didn’t say “no” immediately, he followed up with

“Great, because we are having a Stewardship campaign and you know quite a lot about church finances”.

“Church Finances? Stewardship? Asking people for Money?” Not something about vocation, God’s call on our life then?

“Yes, and I want you to focus on the Parish Share, the money we give away to the diocese”

Really Will? Parish Share?

On reflection though, perhaps the concepts of vocation and of giving to church are not so far apart. Bear with me…

What is Jesus calling the disciples to in today’s Gospel?

He is calling them to “Catch people”, to evangelise, to bring people to God. They are also being called to literally walk with God, God in Jesus Christ, to learn and to understand. Later on in the Gospels they will be called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, bind up the broken hearted.

In the words of our Diocesan Living God’s Love mission statements, they are being called to make new disciples, to go deeper into God and to transform communities.

This is not just a call to the disciples, it is our call too. A call from the God who is so powerful and huge that just the hem of his robe fills the whole temple in Jerusalem, who generously created all we have. It is a call from the same God who loves us so much that he was prepared to come down from heaven, live as a man, and to die for our sake. As Christians, as we respond to God’s generosity and love with generosity and love of our own.

And our response is with all we have – our time and energy, and our financial resources too. So, we are called to give to those organisations, including the church, which answer God’s call to evangelism, mission and worship.

But why on earth does Will want me to talk about the Parish Share?

Perhaps because the amount St Mary’s is asked to “give away” to the diocese could be an obstacle for some to giving to the church here.

But here is the thing, God’s call is not just to Redbourn, but to all of humanity. Jesus did not call the disciples to rebuild their local synagogue. St Paul was not inspired by the truth of the resurrection to go back home to preach the Gospel. And that Gospel message is certainly not just for the rich and those who can afford it.

Although some of you may feel, like the fishermen in the Gospel, you work all night only for few fish, collectively at Redbourn, your nets are full to bursting. This is statistically one of the wealthiest places in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in one of the wealthiest times ever in history. St Mary’s itself is blessed with amazing riches – beautiful buildings and also people – Will and Tim and also the wider ministry team of retired clergy, readers, LLWs and others.

Your Parish Share is a way of sharing some of your catch with others. It is about funding mission, evangelism and worship across the diocese, where there is need, not just where there is wealth.

So what does this mean for Redbourn.

Does anyone know what Redbourn’s parish share is?

It is about £130,000.

It is calculated based on three things – the number of paid clergy (excluding first post curates – i.e. just Will for Redbourn), church membership (which is an average of attendance and electoral roll) and the relative wealth of the parish. As an aside, although the overall figure for Redbourn is very high because you have a high church membership, because of that high membership, the amount requested per person is one of the lowest in this deanery, £530 per year against over £600 on average for the deanery and also lower than much of the diocese.

So what does all that money pay for? The first answer is not as much as you would expect – the diocese estimates that the all-in cost of employing a single full-time member of the clergy, including pension, the upkeep of vicarages and costs for training new clergy, is over £57,000 Therefore, after they pay for Will and Tim, your net contribution to the rest of the diocese is currently under £16,000.

Before I tell you what that does pay for, let me briefly mention some of the things the Parish Share doesn’t pay for. It doesn’t fund the Cathedral, it’s staff, or the Bishops – those costs are met by the Church Commissioners. It doesn’t fund chaplains at schools, hospitals and prisons whose salaries are paid for by the school, the NHS or the Prison Service. And it also doesn’t fund diocesan admin – the diocese has a small amount of investment income which more than pays for its admin overheads. In fact, the Parish Share is spent entirely on the costs of parish ministry.

So what does it actually pay for? Well, just under 4 years ago, at the end of her training, your last Curate followed a sense that God was calling her to be vicar in Flitwick, Bedfordshire. Flitwick had no Curate, no retired clergy, no readers, no lay leaders of worship, it’s congregation was elderly and declining and for many years it’s parish share had not been sufficient to cover the cost of its single vicar. Were the 15,000 people who live in the town of Flitwick any less worthy of God’s love than the people of Redbourn? Is the church of Christ called any less to evangelise, to build communities and to worship in Bedfordshire than in Hertfordshire. Of course not. And your generosity in giving enables that.

So what is God calling us to do… with our money? The same as he is calling us to do with our hearts and minds and bodies – to make new disciples, to transform communities and to worship Him, from whom all that we have and all that we will have, is given.

And many parishes like Flitwick, up and down the diocese, are thankful that places like Redbourn respond to this call.

Anthony Davis