Thursday, 30 September 2010

London Schools' Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican

After taking their programme on tour to Turkey during the summer, the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra were able to play some most taxing works with absolute confidence at their concert in The Barbican Centre last Tuesday. Under their dynamic conductor Peter Ash, whose infectious enjoyment of music-making gets the best out of these young players, the orchestra set the hall fizzing with their spirited performance of Glinka’s overture ‘Russlan and Ludmilla’. The acoustics of the hall tend to accentuate the brass at the expense of the strings, and this was rather evident with such an enthusiastic brass section, but the cellos had their moment of glory as their joyful second-subject melody rang out.

Continuing the Russian theme the main work of the first half was Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, with the soloist Aleksander Madzar. He played with the cool aplomb of Rachmaninov himself, with absolute clarity in the fast quiet passagework, and powerful bravura when needed. The orchestral sound, particular the muted strings, was mature with some lovely woodwind and horn solos punctuating the work. Peter Ash had to work hard at times to move the orchestra along with the soloist, but the ensemble never fell apart. It is hard for the players at the back of the orchestra to hear the piano in a concerto, but they were watching intently and playing with great dedication. The final peroration of the work brought enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

Although only two years separates the Rachmaninov from the final work – Stravinky’s ‘Petrouchka’ - they inhabit completely different sound worlds. The orchestra jumped the hurdles of the ever-changing time-signatures without fear. Only the impossibly high opening in the cellos showed that this was a dangerous ‘high-wire’ act at the circus. Solos from the flute and trumpet deserve special mention for their professionalism. The young players of the LSSO obviously enjoy this music, and portrayed all the fun of the fair with energy and attention to detail, and were ready to give an encore. For those groups of school children in the concert hall, perhaps for the first time, this was an inspiring occasion that will hopefully encourage some of them to consider the joys of classical music.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Prayer and Coincidence

Someone once said, when asked if answers to prayer were merely coincidence, "Well, when I pray coincidences seem to happen." So here's an example from today. We were praying this morning at Morning Prayer for someone we know who's mother is ill. This afternoon I happened to be going over to the church and bumped into this person by the shops. We talked about his mother's situation and the difficulties she is facing. As we parted, he said, "I'm so glad I met you today." I sensed that he was really helped by our chat and the concern of others. Coincidence, or answer to prayer?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Thanking God for 750 years

Today we had 333 people in church for our Service of Thanksgiving for the 750th anniversary of the church. It wasn't just a celebration of history, but a celebration of the Good News today. During the last few months we set ourselves the target of collecting 750 good news stories; in fact we reached 801 by today. Stories of hope and new beginnings, of new family members and pets, of God's faithfulness, of the help of friends, of the support of families, and many more. We wanted the church to be seen as a focus of good news, and then, in turn, being able to share THE Good News of God's kingdom and life in all its fulness.

I was moved to hear people telling stories of how faith and prayer had helped them in difficult times, and how they had found encouragement by discovering the support of the church community. This is as it should be.

I said in my talk that the church is not here just to make people happy, but to bring hope; it's not here just to entertain, but to encourage. To use an example of wartime: it's the difference between cheering people up momentarily with a sing-song and telling them that we will win through in the end.

We have a wonderful cake-maker in our congregation, Nancy, who excelled herself today by making a cake so rich it needed 2 strong men to carry it. On top there was a meticulous model made in sugar of the church. I haven't got a photo yet, but I will display one later.

Sometimes the pressure of church leadership gets to me and the effort seems like climbing the North Face of the Eiger. But today it was all worth it as we experienced the real joy and gladness of the kingdom of God.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Always have a Blessing up your sleeve

I was at Coulsdon College last Thursday for the Topping Out Ceremony to mark the end of structural phase of the new building and the transition to the finishing stage. Representatives of the contractors, Willmott and Dixon, were there with staff members from the College and other community representatives. As I arrived the College Principal asked me if I'd say a few words and give a blessing after the explanation of the Topping Out Ceremony. It turns out the Topping Out is a very ancient practice in the building trade and is based on the invocation of tree spirits and fertility spirits in order to bring good luck. I wasn't sure to how follow that up, but I did speak about the place of the College in the life of Coulsdon, and the links that the church has been able to encourage through the celebration of our 750th anniversary.

We have been collecting Good News stories around the parish, and I was able to say that the College is a good news story for Old Coulsdon through its work in the formation of young people.

Afterwards, over a cup of tea, one of the staff asked me to come and speak to some of the students about faith issues. This is just the opportunity we have been waiting for in the church, and I thank God that when the time is right the opportunities present themselves.

It's such a privilege to make contact with groups in the community on behalf of the church, and to have the authority to bless what is good.

The new college buildings are fantastic, by the way, and you can see what they will look like by clicking on this link:

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Papal Visit

I have followed with great interest the Pope's visit to the UK and have been glad to see the encouragement it has brought not only to the Roman Catholic community here, but to all Christians. I listened to the evening service from Westminster Abbey, ordered in the best of the English cathedral choral tradition, and was moved by the expressions of fraternal friendship between the Pope and the Archbishop. But I have to say I was disappointed, as I am often am, with our Archbishop's address. Both he and the Pope are academic intellectuals of note, but Dr Williams always seems to cloud his speeches with obscure intellectual language. In particular I noted the number of times he and the Pope referred to 'Christ': 3 times by the Archbishop, but 10 times by the Pope.

The Pope gave what I though that was a clear and explicit description of the gospel and its implications for Christian unity

Our commitment to Christian unity is born of nothing less than our faith in Christ, in this Christ, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. It is the reality of Christ’s person, his saving work and above all the historical fact of his resurrection, which is the content of the apostolic kerygma and those credal formulas which, beginning in the New Testament itself, have guaranteed the integrity of its transmission. The Church’s unity, in a word, can never be other than a unity in the apostolic faith, in the faith entrusted to each new member of the Body of Christ during the rite of Baptism. It is this faith which unites us to the Lord, makes us sharers in his Holy Spirit, and thus, even now, sharers in the life of the Blessed Trinity, the model of the Church’s koinonia here below.

The Archbishop seemed to major on the Benedictine way of life, and hardly mentioned Jesus Christ at all:

And in this, we are recalled also to the importance among the titles of the Bishops of Rome of St Gregory's own self-designation as 'servant of the servants of God' – surely the one title that points most directly to the example of the Lord who has called us. There is, we know, no authority in the Church that is not the authority of service: that is, of building up the people of God to full maturity. Christ's service is simply the way in which we meet his almighty power: the power to remake the world he has created, pouring out into our lives, individually and together, what we truly need in order to become fully what we are made to be – the image of the divine life. It is that image which the pastor in the Church seeks to serve, bowing down in reverence before each human person in the knowledge of the glory for which he or she was made.

And this is not the first time he seems to have been embarrassed by the name of Christ. I remember hearing him trying to persuade John Humphries of the truth of the gospel, and just seemed to end up tying himself in philosphical knots rather than appealing to the historic basis of our faith.

I am by conviction an Anglican, and would not want to change that, but I can't help feeling that the Pope, on this occasion, articulated much about our faith that the Archbishop doesn't or can't.

Friday, 3 September 2010

'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'

The mist hung low over the park opposite us this morning, and as the sun made its watery appearance it was a clear sign that autumn is here. The English autumn is something to get poetic about as it seems to encapsulate both fresh beginnings (shaped by the school year) and a sense of the year tipping towards winter. The laziness of summer gives way to a new freshness and energy, yet at the same time there is a hint of regret for another year passing away. The nostalgia for the heat of summer, with the anticipation of winter fires.

We are very blessed to have a beautiful garden, and although it has done nothing to help my back, it gives me the satisfaction of being productive. The day after getting back from our holiday in SW France we started harvesting our fruit and veg. If I wasn't being the Rector I'd have time to make us self-sufficient in vegetables, but even so we can enjoy the fruit of the land. I guess, though, I'd quickly lose the enjoyment if we really did have to rely on growing our own produce. When our potatoes run out there's always Tesco up the road.

When I was in Kenya 10 years ago one of the bishops I visited encouraged his clergy to make better use of the land around their churches and houses to supplement their income through food production. At a clergy conference I attended, and spoke at, he gave them detailed instructions about how to keep chickens, and harvest not only the eggs, but the droppings as well. He then invited me - with a day's notice - to speak about rural spirituality. Most books about gardening today assume people have small gardens, but a large income. Most of my fellow clergy have large gardens, a small income and little time. Perhaps there's a niche market here for a book for reluctant gardeners on a small budget.