Once In Royal David’s City (YouTube video)
I. The evening of the 24th will begin with mulled cider and hot chocolate,
tamales, and whatever other finger food is part of your tradition
between 8:30 and 9:00 (instead of AFTER the service). There will also
be a craft station for children to make lanterns that will be used in
the procession at the beginning of the service. If anyone wants to
help either with food or paper-bag lanterns, please contact me
II. From 9:00 to 9:30 there will be carol singing in both English and
Spanish. If you have a favorite carol or two, please contact Becca
III. The service proper begins at 9:30 with the children knocking on
entrances, like Joseph and Mary seeking room in an inn, and being
turned away at two doors before being invited in (the Posada tradition
IV. The sermon will be a multimedia presentation of Julia Esquivel’s
poem, Those Who Saw the Star, read in both Spanish and English and
accompanied by projected images.
Feel free to invite friends, and if you know of anyone who lives
alone, please make a special effort to invite them to what is going to
be a wonderful and special evening. The service should end before
Interfaith Panel Discussion at the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre (569 Spadina Avenue, Toronto–northeast of the circle) on Sunday, November 29th, 2:00 to 4:00 PM. Moderated by Sherman Hesselgrave. Panelists:Imam Abdul Hai Patel, The Right Revd Terry Finlay, Rabbi Tina Grimberg, Nancy Dinnigan-Prashad, Pundit Eshwar Maharaj-Doobay.
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.”  St. John’s Church,
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.