Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Light in our Darkness

As Advent Sunday approaches, here's a hymn for use when lighting the Advent Candles which I wrote a few years ago. It can be sung to the tune Bunessan (Morning has broken)

Week 1
Light in our darkness;
Joy in our sorrow;
Hope for our future;
Help on our way;
Jesus, your people
Look for your coming,
Bringing deliverance:
Hasten the day!

Week 2
Lord of the future,
The past and the present,
Now and for ever
Always the same:
May we believe
The truth of the Scriptures,
All of us giving
Praise to your name.

Week 3
Voice in the desert,
Calling your people
To new beginnings,
Starting anew:
Jesus, your coming
Challenges us
To offer our lives
In service to you.

Week 4
Mary, you heard
The voice of the Master;
Willingly gave
Yourself to His plan.
Through your obedience
We have salvation:
God is among us,
Now become man.

Christmas Day
Glory to God
And peace to all people;
Jesus is born
Salvation to bring.
This Christmas morning
With all creation
We join in worship:
Praise to the King!

Copyright © John L Simms 1999

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

"Sing and make music..."

I was prompted to think about music and musicians this morning, as I was reminded that today is the Feast of St Cecilia, the Patron of Church music.

Music is a very important part of my life. I don't think a day goes by when I don't listen to music, and thanks to the wonders of digital technology I can now carry my music collection with me wherever I go, and listen (almost) at will. Music can aid relaxation, or can stir one to action. My tastes are diverse, with everything from Bach to the Beatles, from Stravinsky to the Sex Pistols, and from Miles Davis to Iron Maiden. My particular predilection is for Progressive Rock, from the 1970s to today - the great thing about Prog is that it keeps on evolving and pushing the boundaries, which can only be good in the end, as fresh musical expression is found.

Music has the ability to lift the soul, to raise the spirits, and to burrow truth and beauty deep into the psyche. Charles Wesley, through his hymns, used popular music of his day as a way to teach Christian doctrine to those who couldn't read the Bible. At this time of year, as Christmas approaches, I'm always amazed at the ability of music to stir memories of times past, and to bring Scripture to mind. Handel's wonderful combination of stirring music and Old Testament prophecy in 'Messiah' is just one example - I cannot read those words without hearing his melodies: the two for me are now intertwined.

I belong to a Christians tradition that was 'born in song': worship just doesn't seem like worship to me if it doesn't include singing. Having spent the last weekend away on a course it seemed really odd for the times of worship in which we shared to be non-musical. That's part of who I am. St Paul (if 'twas he) urged the Ephesian Christians to 'speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord' [Eph 5:19] and that, to me, is the most natural expression of devotion and worship.

I found the following quote in Butler's 'Lives of the Saints'. At the end of the chapter on Cecilia, he writes:
"As to music as an amusement, too much time must never be given to it; and extreme care ought to be taken... that children be not set to learn it very young, because it is a thing which bewitches the senses, dissipates the mind exceedingly, and alienates it from serious studies, as daily experience shows. Soft and effeminate music is to be always shunned with abhorrence, as the corrupter of the heart and the poison of virtue."
I'm not sure I could agree with any of that. What do you think?
  • How important is music to you in your life?
  • How important is it to you in your devotions?
  • John Miles wrote: 'To live without my music would be impossible to do'. Do you agree?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Yes - Sheffield City Hall

After releasing their first album of new material for 10 years in July this year (my review here), Yes are currently touring Europe and tonight was the second concert on the British leg of the tour.

The concert was approximately 2¼ hours long, with no interval and no support.

Set List:
Yours Is No Disgrace
Tempus Fugit
I've Seen All Good People
Life On A Film Set
And You & I
Steve Howe Solo Set:
     Second Initial
Fly From Here
Wondrous Stories
Into The Storm
Machine Messiah
Starship Trooper
Staging, lighting and sound were all, on the whole, excellent. There were one or two minor technical hitches, but nothing to detract from the music, which was played to the very high standard of musicianship that fans have come to expect from these guys. Geoff Downes juggled with three banks of keyboards and a set of bass pedals excellently; Chris Squire strutted around the stage like the consummate pro that he is, and interacted with the crowd with warmth and good humour; Alan White kept things ticking over splendidly on the drums - like any good drummer the sometimes unseen powerhouse of the band, driving things along when necessary, and dependable throughout; Steve Howe, every bit the mad professor of Prog, was for me outstanding in his flair and virtuosity, at one point working with electric, acoustic and steel guitars at the same time. Benoit David, the 'new boy' of the group and, at 45, the 'baby' of the band by 14 years, displayed great energy on stage, pirouetting and contorting during most of the numbers, and running around the ample stage to interact with fellow band members and the crowd. Vocally he fitted the songs well: only 3 of the set were songs that he had recorded and he did great justice to Jon Anderson & Trevor Horne's songs.

The versions of classic songs from the band's heyday in the early 1970s were first rate, with some brilliant improvisation within them, though I did think that more could have been made of Geoff Downes' keyboards at some points during the show. The crowd were swept up in the music and were all on their feet for the set closer - Starship Trooper - which saw most of the band rocking out on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass and 'key-tar' (or as my son calls it 'git-board') during the final section, and for the encore - Roundabout.

This was a night that I had been anticipating for almost a year, and a band I've been wanting to see for roughly 35 years. It was an unforgettable night, and one I will remember for a long time to come.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Frustrations and joys

One of the things I love about my life as a Presbyter in the Methodist Church is its unpredictability. However much you try to be proactive and plan ahead, there's always something that crops up to take you by surprise and demands that you react in the moment.

One of the things that really frustrates me about my life as a Presbyter in the Methodist Church is its unpredictability. However much you try to be proactive and plan ahead, there's always something that crops up to take you by surprise and demands that you react in the moment.

I've just come though 'one of those weekends' -  a long weekend, really, because it all started on Thursday evening. Some background: I have responsibility for one church in Sheffield, but two congregations - we brought the two together under common governance and trusteeship in September 2010, and a large part of my work focus over the last 15 months or so has been on forging stronger links between these two Christian communities. In the past we have socialised and eaten together (always popular) and studied and shared fellowship together. Last Thursday saw the start of a short (4 weeks) course on faith-sharing - a course produced by the Methodist Church called 'Talking of God'. What frustrated, no, saddened me about was the numbers that turned out, particularly the numbers from one of the congregations (not the one where the meeting was held). Like the Great Banquet, there were many valid reasons for not being there, but after I'd put in so much work preparing for the evening I was a little disheartened.

Then there was Saturday morning. For the last few years one of the congregations has shared in an 'away day', where we can worship together, think, talk and pray about the state of and future direction of the church. This year I'd planned for it to be an opportunity for both congregations to share together - to talk about how we can better be one church on two sites. But again, the attendance from one congregation was minimal, and attendance overall was very disappointing (half those there disappeared at lunchtime too). Again the plans I'd made had to be shelved, and the productivity of the day was severely reduced. There was opportunity for us to pray together, which was positive and helpful, but I have to say that I came home thinking 'Why do I bother?'

On Sunday morning I was planned to lead worship with the congregation that had been conspicuous by their absence over the weekend. We presented JMA awards early on to those who had raised almost £600 for the World Church and Mission in Britain, and as the culmination of worship we shared Communion together. I'd decided to not use a set liturgy this week, but to pray ex tempore, and I have to say that it was one of the most moving Communions I've shared in for a while. God was so clearly present with us as we prayed and shared together, and a number of people commented after the service about how moving they had found it.

I'm glad sometimes that God continues to surprise us, and to meet us in our deepest need, in our frustrations, and in simple things like Bread and Wine.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The real story of Xmas?

I have to say that I found this mildly ironinc. This advert on Facebook today caught my eye:
Surely the real story is not a X!?