Since 1976, every U. S. President has designated February as African-American History Month. Like other countries, including Canada and England, America sets apart a period of time to recognize persons of African heritage who have advanced and enhanced aspects of our common life. One way in which I intend to mark this observance at Holy Comforter is by including music composed by black musicians in our weekly worship.
“Prophets never preached for personal gain. In fact, the prophets who spoke truth to power and disrupted the religious establishment often had much to lose. History celebrates the prophets and we can think that their life and witness granted them a certain celebrity in their time. But it is often the case that prophets enjoyed no such favor, were scrutinized, mocked and ridiculed, or simply ignored by many. ... Prophets still speak. May we hear and heed them.” The Rev. Amanda K. Robertson, January 19, 2020, Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend
I would be willing to bet that most church-goers, even those who do not consider themselves musicians or who sing in a choir, have heard the name John Rutter. Rutter is arguably the most well-known English-speaking composer of modern times; his music holds special meaning for many, but perhaps especially so for we who identify as Episcopalians.
The hymn sung at the exit procession this coming Sunday will be a perennial favorite, Now thank we all our God. It regularly makes the “top ten” list of many parishioners, and is a well-known hymn across mainline denominations. In a 2011 survey published in the magazine Christianity Today, the hymn was included in a list of the twenty-seven most popular hymns that have repeatedly appeared in denominational hymnals since the early 20th century.
An aspect of my work as a church musician and a “perpetual student” is the ongoing reading and research behind hymns we regularly sing in worship. I never tire of learning more about a text writer or a composer and their historical circumstances, and I love thinking about what a writer’s or composer’s creative energy might have done to spur them on.
One of the ways that Holy Comforter connects with the wider community is through the sponsorship of a Choral Scholars program; that is, college-age music students are part of the Holy Comforter Choir. Each year, four students (one in each voice part – soprano, alto, tenor, bass) are offered a financial stipend to sing in the choir and serve as section leaders. The Choral Scholars program was begun in 2012 following the Vestry’s approval to fund the scholarships with a bequest from the estate of the late Carol Myers. Since that time, additional financial gifts have kept the program running, because the program has not yet become part of the parish’s annual operating budget. Generous parishioners like you contribute almost $8,000 per year to ensure that we can offer talented young singers the opportunity to gain experience singing in a church choir, all while enriching and supporting the adult volunteers who comprise the majority of the choir here.
If you’ve ever taken a closer look at the Psalms as they are printed in the Book of Common Prayer or in our worship bulletins, you’ve probably noticed an asterisk (*) separating verses of text. A question that I’m sometimes asked is, “Why are those asterisks in the Psalms?”
At the moment you read this blog post, someone on earth is praying. At the moment you read this blog post, someone is singing. Someone is quiet. Someone is weeping. Someone is drawing their last breath. Someone is being born. Corporate worship (that is, worship we do as a body, together, weekly) is about making sacred the ordinary things of earth – bread, wine, words, offerings, handshakes, signs of peace, singing, listening. Just as what we do together on Sunday morning sanctifies a period of time, so does another liturgy that has become a more frequent part of the fabric at Holy Comforter and other Episcopal parishes in Charlotte – Choral Evensong.
As the family approached, the young child looked hesitant. Her mother leaned down once they stood in front of me. “Would you like a blessing?” she asked her daughter, guiding her forward. “No,” the four-year-old’s answer and her face were suddenly very resolute. Hands outstretched, she insisted, “I want God’s love.”