All posts by shesselgrave

The organ as metaphor

I imagine each of us has a different story of how we came to love organ music. Two things did it for me as a missionary kid growing up at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro: a 7-inch extended play 45-rpm recording of Thurston Dart playing some of Handel’s Aylesford pieces*, and a one-manual, 6-stop Walcker tracker organ that arrived in crates, a gift to our local church, from the Leipzig Missionary Society. My Dad, who had a bit of an engineering background, got the job of putting it together, and I, with some guidance from my piano teacher, got to play for services.

Three decades later, as the Chair of the Liturgy and Music Commission of the diocese where I served before moving to Toronto, I watched more and more congregations moving away from organ music, and for a variety of reasons: Fewer and fewer people could play the organ (at one point I read a frightening remark that there were more organ builders than organ majors—not a sustainable situation); for others, the organ represented the past, and signified an aesthetic with severe limitations. The expense of a pipe organ was another barrier, and in more than one situation, I was called in to mediate conversations between church members who felt it was immoral to be spending so much money on an organ, money that should better be given to the poor. In every instance, I tried to help people understand that both/and had a few advantages over either/or.

There is a reason, I have come to believe, that the organ became the archetypical musical instrument of the church—quite apart from all the glorious music that has been written for it. As the all-time champion of wind instruments, the organ is the perfect metaphor for the relationship between God and the Church. You probably have heard that, in both Hebrew and Greek (the principal languages of the Bible), the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are the same: in Hebrew it’s ruah; in Greek, pneuma. The wind that makes the pipes of an organ sound, and the breath that enables us to sing, are both like the Spirit of God, that blows where it will, breathing life into us and empowering us to do the things God has given us to do.

The Valley of Dry Bones reading, which we usually hear at the Easter Eve service, suggested itself, because all summer, the pipes and parts of this great instrument lay strewn about the church like so many bones, bleached by the sun, as they waited their turn to be reassembled so that, when the wind was turned on again—naturally, it blew a fuse the first time—the breath of life would course through the organ’s winding.

In its nearly 40 years of life, this instrument has comforted mourners at funerals, brought joy to hundreds of baptisms and wedding parties, and of course, helped a congregation to raise its voice in praise to God each week. In the decades to come, it will bring joy and comfort and inspiration to thousands of listeners and worshippers, and for this we give glory to God, and gratitude to the Rathgeb family and to the congregation of Deer Park United Church for the vision to bring this fine instrument to life so that we might all enjoy its beauty and power for generations to come.

* Recorded on “one of the largest and most beautiful of the 17th
century English organs still remaining.” [1958] St. John’s Church,
Wolverhampton

“Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you”

Our affections and beliefs are wiser than we; the best that is in us is better than we can understand; for it is grounded beyond experience, and guides us, blindfold but safe, from one age on to another.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson wrote these words in the dedication of a collection of his youthful writings and his Ethical Papers. I had picked up the book at a yard sale years ago, but finally got around to reading it this week, and when I read the passage above I flashed on Paul’s words to Timothy: “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you…” (2 Tim. 1:6)

As we looked around this week and watched the financial markets reel and tumble, I’m sure I was not the only one wondering how on earth, with all the Ivy-League brain-power on Wall Street, no one saw this scenario coming. The blinding ability of greed, perhaps.

I see a more hopeful scenario as we look to the future at Holy Trinity. In the three months I’ve been in Toronto, I have seen glimpses of the goodness and gifts that reside in the members of this community, and the future they envision is not powered by self-interest, but by a deep and rich desire to live out the gospel values, engaging the brokenness of the world with compassion. May God’s Spirit continue to blow on our embers and fan us into a roaring flame.

A violent wind

Looking over the Pentecost bulletin I can only imagine the joy you will be experiencing. ¡Mucho gusto!

I’m looking forward to June 1st. Jim Love is the worship coordinator for that day, and we’ll be working on that this week, along with packing kitchen stuff, and sorting things to be taken along or left
behind.

Bishop Gene Robinson’s autobiographical, “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God” includes an amusing anecdote about a very special Pentecost service at a large church in Florida described as having a “flair for the dramatic.”

The priest “decided to dramatize the Holy Spirit coming like wind in a particularly spectacular way. He got the engine out of one of the boats used in the Everglades– an airplane propeller attached to a big gasoline engine–and mounted it in the choir loft high in the back of the church. The wind from the propeller would blow across the congregation when the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit was read, It seemed like a great idea….

So when the great moment arrived, and the lector read, ‘And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house’, the engine coughed once and then howled into life.

But the effect was a little different than it had been in rehearsal. The sudden screaming gust of wind sent sheet music and bulletins flying out over the congregation. Coiffeurs came undone and hair streamed out from faces. The preacher’s sermon notes were gone with the wind. A hair piece flew towards the altar like a furry missile. It was like a scene from ‘Green Pastures’ when the angel Gabriel looks down and tells the Lord ‘Everything that was nailed down is comin’ loose!’

Everything was messy and noisy, and absolutely unpredictable. And that’s just the way it is with the Spirit.”

Praying that the Spirit is filling your sails at HT,

Sherman

Maiden Voyage

Years ago, I was preparing an address for my first congregational meeting as the new pastor. I had titled it “Great Expectations” and—in that age before laptops—given the manuscript to my secretary to type. As I proofed the typescript, I spotted a typographical error that made me burst out laughing. I had written something about our common “hopes and dreams,” but it had come out “hopes and dreads.” The more I reflected on the error, the more I realized it had revealed a truth of its own. New beginnings are, indeed, about hopes and dreams; but new beginnings also come with fears about how the future will play out.

It is probably a good idea that the Gospel reading appointed for the Sunday after Easter is always the same: the risen Christ appearing out of nowhere and announcing “Shalom” to the disciples, who have been paralyzed by fear and hunkered down behind bolted doors since the crucifixion. I see this as one of many examples of God giving Jesus’ followers exactly what they needed to start them in the direction of a hopeful future. ‘Shalom’ is a much richer word than ‘peace,’ for it also connotes wellness and wholeness, nothing missing, nothing broken. It was the word they needed to hear after their world had collapsed and they didn’t know where to turn. It was the word that rolled back the stone and drew them out of their tomb of fear.

The risen Christ still comes into our midst and speaks to us with words of encouragement, words of prodding, words of vision, words of hope. I’m sure it is clichéd now to call Christians ‘Easter People,’ but I love the season of Easter and everything about it, because it reveals the essence of the gift we as Christians have to offer a broken world. From Easter sprang the original vision of who we are as Jesus’ followers, and how we are to focus our energies.

Easter blessings,
Sherman