Sunday, 6 October 2013

St Paul’s and St George’s Church

Worship Service, Sunday 06 October 2013, 11am
Led by: Richard Cornfield, Associate Rector
Preacher: Vanessa Conant, Associate Rector

After a few small churches where any visitor is conspicuous, I thought I’d go for a big one where I could hide at the back. “Ps and Gs” should be a good place to hide, because there might have been about 200 folk there (beyond a certain number it gets difficult to count, so that’s ballpark), but the people sitting in front of and to the side of me made a point of saying hello, which was nice of them. As I’ve said before, there’s a balance somewhere between being lovebombed and being completely ignored.

Other Episcopal churches I’ve been to so far, Old St Paul’s, St Columba’s by the Castle and St Mary’s Cathedral, have all been pretty trad with their Anglican liturgy. Not so Ps and Gs, which had no liturgy (maybe their early communion service does, but I was still dragging myself out of bed at that point). In fact, so non-liturgical was it that barely anyone said, “Thanks be to God,” in response to the reader’s “This is the word of the Lord.”

It was a service of contrasts, bests and worsts. There’s a band (aaarrgh! thought the Soul Searcher, this is a bad sign) but the guitars/fiddle/bodhran combination gave it a folksier feel—which worked particularly well for My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness (Getty/Townend) but less so for Praise my Soul the King of Heaven—the backing singers had some nice harmonies, and the sound engineers hadn’t gone overboard with amps and base, which is more than can be said for some of the dire worship bands I’ve encountered this year. On the other hand, there were two songs that were so drab, and so deep – a point that deserves a paragraph of its own – that I just gave up and stopped trying to sing at those points.

Okay, about pitch. I’m a mezzo and I can sing from the G below middle C up to the B-flat below high C. That’s just over two octaves, but I wouldn’t want to spend much time singing at the extremes of that range. Keep me between middle C and the F/G an octave and a half higher and I’ll be quite happy, and even that is a big range that most songs for untrained singers, such as people in church congregations, wouldn’t span. As singers know, and as arrangers of songs ought to know, what makes a song comfortable to sing is not so much how high or low the highest and lowest notes are as where the tessitura lies, i.e. the typical pitch range, and once you’re grubbing about at the bottom of what’s comfortable for you it can feel, and sound, like growling. Last week’s music was generally too low, and over the year I’ve noticed that the trendier the music the lower it’s pitched. I think it must have something to do with the worship band style of singing, but it doesn’t make it easy to participate. Goodness knows how a soprano or tenor would fare.

But now that my little rant about gravelly singing is over, let’s go back to the sermon, and hats off to Vanessa Conant, who is right up there in the running for best preacher of the year. Matter of fact, personal and heartfelt, she drew on the story of Jesus preaching from the boats and filling Simon Peter’s nets with fish (Luke 5:1-11) and talked about how frightening it can feel to be called to follow Christ. Let’s bring our fears into the light, she said—the fear of the unknown, of the ridiculous, of looking like an idiot—and acknowledge that our first reaction is to decline the responsibility and ask Jesus to choose someone else.

The abundance of God’s presence can be scary too; it breaks our nets and causes our boats to sink with the weight of it, and of course we want to opt for a safe way out. Being called brings a sense not of certainty or strength but of inadequacy and brokenness, but God calls us not for our strength or competence but for the totality of ourselves, and we don’t have to become someone we’re not to be a disciple.

She was really very good, and didn’t seem to have any speaking notes either. All their sermons are online, so have a listen.

Unfortunately, the chap who led the prayers was the mayor of Dullsville, a real let down after that sermon, but then Vanessa was a hard act to follow. 

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