Back from Retreat (all perky and ready to go)

Just back from a week on retreat in a Jesuit house in sunny Spain.

It is a while since I’ve made a retreat and four years since I went to this particular place. Like before, I’ve come back all perky and ready to go.

I realise as I look back over the last few weeks that much of the blogging has been quite technical church synod stuff. Normal service begins again here.

It has been interesting reflecting on my life here at St Mary’s recently. I didn’t particularly go on retreat to do this but inevitably, one thinks about where one is coming from and in conversation with other retreatants, you do find yourself thinking a lot about the life you have as you hear of the lives of others.

This retreat wasn’t a silent one – it consisted of mostly imaginative Ignation exercises and group sharing in the morning, siesta/sun/snooze in the afternoon heat and then a Jesuit examine style of prayer in the evening before mass. Quieter in the mornings. Chatter later in the day. It was just what I needed and I’m very grateful to those who make this kind of thing happen. The theme, by the way, was Mentoring.

No doubt I’ll have lots of emails and messages to deal with when I get back into the office this afternoon.

I’ve just checked the cathedral website to realise that this Sunday is one of those bumper ones which make life around here so wonderful. It is the last blast of the West End Festival this week and so we’ve a special Choral Service in the morning (Darke in E) and then the extraordinary spectacle of an Orchestral Choral Evensong in the evening.

Yes, you heard that right – Orchestral Choral Evensong. A very big choir and an orchestra and music that you know and love:

Orchestral Choral Evensong
sung by the Cathedral Choir and St Mary’s Festival Chorus,
accompanied by St Mary’s Festival Orchestra

Introit: I was glad – Parry
Responses: Rose
Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd – Howard Goodall
Canticles: Stanford in A
Anthem: Greater Love – Ireland

Orchestral Evensong

Well, the Cathedral musicians certainly ended the summer term with a bang and not a whimper this time. Just when you didn’t think it could get more outrageously better, you find yourself in the middle of the most extraordinary Orchestral Evensong. 86 singers and a 50+ orchestra somehow managed to squeeze themselves into the crossing of the church, with the Director of Music conducting triumphantly from between the pews at the front of the central aisle.

There was not really much space for clergy. I had to sit in my stall (which is a rare thing in these parts) and then conduct the service from the pulpit. It did feel, when singing the Shepherd responses from up there, as though I was at the top of a minaret giving the call to prayer.

Stanford in Bb was a revelation with the full orchestral accompaniment. And Bairstow’s Blessed City felt equally fresh and new.

The congregation clearly enjoyed singing the hymns along with the massed choirs and orchestra and the choirs themselves were clearly having a blast. I know, I was amongst them. It seemed like the right kind of night to join in by singing all the choral bits too.

This whole endeavour was to celebrate music, at the bidding of the Royal School of Church Music. I knew it was a good idea when it was first suggested, but had no idea it would be quite such a flamboyant and extravagant success.

Congratulations to Frikki Walker the Director of Music, to Geoff Woollatt at the organ, the choirs, musicians and the hangers on who help to make it happen. Those kinds of musical events don’t happen unless there is a rich, complex and positive set of personal ties and relationships to draw people together and to draw people in.

Warm good wishes to the cathedral musicians who take a breather, at least from leading public worship, for a few weeks. We continue, meanwhile, with a Sung Eucharist and Sung Evensong next Sunday morning and evening.