One of the things that really impressed me about the inauguration of the new organ at St George’s Anglican Church is that we, the audience, were specifically invited to come and join with St George’s Church for worship. At the second concert the audience was once again invited to join in worship, and this time it was specifically mentioned that there would be an organ recital followed by Choral Evensong on Sunday 3 June 2012.
I resolved to attend. So did another woman who had been sitting behind me at the concert. I’m sure there were others as well. So I attended. I found the woman sitting behind me at the concert sitting in front of me for the recital and service. We chatted. While we were chatting I heard one of the St George’s congregants demanding his seat from two vistors who had sat there. They moved. I would have demanded proof of ownership, probably not politely. It was almost amusing, or it would have been if it wasn’t so markedly unfriendly.
The organ recital was by Richard Pantcheff, Composer in Residence for St George’s Church, Johannesburg. The recital included the premiere of his work Sequence for St George 1: “… for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. It is a pretty and accessible work, difficult to date, crafted in the mould of the old masters of the organ craft. The programme was constructed otherwise to offer a lesser known work followed by a well known work, finding the Prelude and Voluntary in D Major by William Boyce followed with Largo from Xerxes by Handel, and Psalm Prelude Set 1, No 1 by Howells followed by Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Pantcheff’s piece being followed by Air in D from Suite No 3 by J S Bach, ending with the Prelude and Fugue in A minor by William Boyce. The air of worship was enhanced by the fact that the audience was requested not to applaud until the end of the recital.
Evensong followed with the premiere of the introit piece, A prayer of St Columba, again composed by Richard Pantcheff. The glorious sung evensong conducted by Richard Pantcheff and accompanied by Peter Black was spoiled for me by the fact that we, the audience, were not given old prayer books. Evensong made use of the old prayer book. There was one poor soul desperately trying, right though to the end of evensong, to find the references in the new (1989) prayer book. The bibles in front of us were one version, and the bible from which the readings were taken was another. I noted an academic from Wits English Department, a specialist in Renaissance English. He seemed to like the old prayer book and the King James Bible reading. I noted no young people from anywhere at all. The audience members were also not given parish notices. Oops! How to make visitors feel unwelcome in three easy steps. Exclude them from the corporate worship. Make them observe the worship without allowing them to participate in it. Exclude them from the community for their effort in having driven to the church – that way they won’t know about forthcoming events or know what ongoing events happen in the congregation. Importantly they won’t know the name of the preacher for the evening either. And, last (or first in this case) for good measure make them feel unwelcome in whatever pew they have chosen to sit. Let the ‘beauty of holiness’ which is the choir’s awe filled contribution to the glory of God only be observed, not felt.
Visitors may be back, but it will be to hear the concert, not to enter into worship, which kind of loses the value of music wonderfully made to glory of God which I somehow doubt is the stated intention.
The service I attended was Evensong on 3 June 2012, at St George’s Anglican Church, Parktown, Johannesburg.