Today was the first day in our church’s week-long celebration of our 200th anniversary. It’s a lot of work. But it’s the kind of work that is also bringing people a lot of joy, which makes it a satisfying kind of exhaustion. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere.
The day began with a worship service led anachronistically by Rev. “Father” Martin, ca. 1824, brought to life by one of our members. Father Martin preached a mighty fine sermon on Ecclesiastes, and the difference between the wisdom of the world “under the sun” and the wisdom of the gospel of that kingdom where “there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light …” (Revelation 22:5), and how the one command we have from Jesus is to proclaim that good news. At least, that’s the way I heard it.
But the main event was the “Program of Sacred Music” from the past five decades or so of the life of the church.
Our [amazing, beloved, … wonderful, insert all appropriate adjectives from A to Z here] Director of Music Ministries had assembled a combined choir – the “usual suspects” who collaborate on special services during Holy Week, pooling the resources of several small congregations – and others who have been part of worship and music at the church in the past, like one of our former organists, and had put together a program of music that has been important at various times in the life of the church: anthems sung at special occasions, old favorites, something for the audience/congregation to sing along with, the whole range. With an ice cream social to follow.
We had rehearsed for weeks, and at each rehearsal had been charged with bringing at least one person – friend, family member, neighbor, colleague … But a lot of people brought more than one, so the place was packed. That alone made for some joy. [It is also fun, from the vantage point of the choir loft, to look out on the audience and realize, “Oh, there’s Soandso! Oh, and with their grandkids!” Knowing people and their stories is also one of the deep, warm pleasures of living in a small town for a couple of decades or more. No one warned us about this when we moved here 25 years ago from Chicago.]
The church ladies had decorated the CLC with white tablecloths and simple, beautiful centerpieces – yellow carnations in sea-foam green glass bud vases – and set out cookies on trays to go with the ice cream. Presentation – perfect.
[Aside 1: “The CLC” is the church multi-purpose room. “CLC” originally stood for “Community Life Center,” christened that by the pastor 24 years ago when the “new church” was built. But let’s face it, the real community life center is the sanctuary, and also since then people keep making up all kinds of other “C” words for that first “C,” like “Christian” and “Church” and “Congregational,” but it doesn’t really matter, because everyone just calls it “the CLC.”
Aside 2: Those sea-foam green glass bud vases are left over from our wedding four years ago, so there’s a chance they look more beautiful to me than they do to everyone else. We donated them to the church afterwards, and when we had the giant church yard sale later that year we thought we’d sell them, but LR said “We should keep those for here,” so she put them back in one of the special church occasion stuff closets. Every time I see them in use it makes me smile. And every time LR uses them, she says to me “Aren’t you glad we didn’t put those in the yard sale?!” Yes.]
The program was beyond expectations. The music all “came together,” there were many smiles and lots of applause, and a standing ovation for the Director of Music Ministries, along with a big bouquet of flowers, and LOTS of people stayed for ice cream and social, so cleaning up conversation was mostly about all the ways “This was a good day!”
This was a good day.
I confess, though, the moment that really hit me, personally, of all the moments of the day that will be memorable, was somewhere in the middle of the rendition of “Clair de Lune” by one of the daughters of the church. That beautiful music will get a person to thinking anyway. And we were celebrating people’s history, which will get a person to thinking about history anyway.
So it makes sense, a little, that the thought struck me: “This music was new once.” Entirely new. Music people were hearing for the first time, not as “oh, that’s famous” or “here, listen to this” in a class on art history, but as something just now coming into being.
One of those thoughts that takes you by surprise and makes you cry. Because it means this: When “Clair de Lune” was new, entirely new, before it was art history, it was part of a world, a living world, a world of ordinary people just living their lives and going about their business and maybe going out to a concert or a music program and making memories and stories …
“Ordinary” people “just” living their lives in their world, which is to say, people just like us.
The world is full of new music. Literally. And metaphorically. Some of it is going to be “Clair de Lune” one of these days.
Listen for it.