Tag Archives: St James

A Really Big Choir

Spotlight

On Saturday I, together with ten other people from St James sang in what was quite possibly the biggest choir I’d ever been a part of. I’m not quite sure of the exact numbers, but the choir took up all of the space on the stage at the Albert Hall, and a good deal of both the stalls and circle, and was large enough that the orchestra and conductor had to be on the arena floor.

The event was organised by The Really Big Chorus who describe themselves as Britain’s largest choral society – their mailing list includes over 8500 contacts representing an estimated 35,000 singers. They do three major concerts a year in the Royal Albert Hall where essentially anyone can turn up and sing. By virtue of the old adage of safety in numbers there will be enough people around who will know the particular pieces of music, and will be able to carry you along if you are a weaker singer, as such it’s a great way to get an experience of singing in a major venue. This time it was Mozart’s Requiem, something I’ve done before, but not in quite such an illustrious venue.

This time we were going along in part to support the father of a friend of ours who at the end of last year bemoaned the fact that when he was younger and had sung in a choir he’d never done a big concert. As a result our friend and her sister arranged a special surprise for his sixty-fifth birthday and arranged for him to come along and sing with us. I dropped around a copy of the Chorusline Bass CD (a special series of CD’s that are useful for learning particular parts), which he sang along with at home, and then on the night he sat between a couple of our choir members who are also in other local choirs who were able to keep him on track. Things were made slightly more difficult by the fact that we were sat in the back row of the bass section, well away from the tenor and alto sections, and with some of the soprano section behind us – on the bass line we are usually used to getting cues from the alto or tenor part, taking them from the soprano isn’t something we’re used to, however after the one hour full choir rehearsal it was straight into the performance.

Not surprisingly there were one or two ropey bits, but in the main we made it through, and certainly it is a fantastic experience singing in the Royal Albert Hall with so many others. The atmosphere is certainly not quite like a professional concert, as the bulk of the audience are supporters, but it is still great fun, and I’m sure something I hope I can do again before too long.

I’ve uploaded some pictures from the event to our photo galleries, and Beth took a short video panning across the whole choir, which should give some idea of quite how big the choir actually is.

Annual Church Attendance Story

The annual survey of Church attendance figures has just been published, and as usual it is an opportunity for the media to publish a load of stories highlighting the figures. The Times in particular really went for it including this article – Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour – which in particular plays the Muslims will outnumber Christians card, and is being disputed by the organisation who conducted the research. As the Church of England response to the survey points out it does this using a figure taken from census data and compares it with the actual Church attendance – if a similar ploy was used to calculate numbers of Christians from census data the figures would show something like twenty million active Christians in the UK.

Ruth Gledhill also backs up the main piece with a comment article which includes a number of juicy quotes:

As the Religious Trends Survey shows, an ageing generation of churchgoers is about to die out and there could be, within a generation, a God-shaped hole at the heart of our society.

and

The decline forecast for the Church of England is so severe that its position as the established church of the nation with the Queen as Supreme Governor can surely no longer be tenable.

however this point does get to the heart of the problem:

Yet, as the report notes, the decline in attendance coincides with a surge of interest in religion, reflected in the growing numbers of children opting for religious studies at GCSE and A level. There are also increasing numbers of students at theological and Bible colleges.

Somehow, the churches, despite innumerable studies, reports, synod and assembly debates, are failing to get these people into church.

The thing is that whilst as a bit of rabble rousing all the press coverage is good, it doesn’t really reflect the true picture – needless to say that is a lot more complicated. David Keen, a vicar in Yeovil, looks in more detail and points out that a significant number of diocese have already reversed the decline. Bishop Alan gets straight to the point too, highlighting a cutting from the Times in 1971 that said the same thing, and on the basis of which the church will cease to exist in a couple of years. (Amusingly to show the ‘power’ of statistics he goes on to prove that the Diocese of Oxford Reporter will have a larger circulation than The Daily Telegraph by 2050…)

The main Times article again puts forward that only the evangelical churches are growing – which from my point of view is wrong. Seriously, Ruth Gledhill should come along to Finchampstead sometime as St James is anything but evangelical. We’re a mainstream middle of the road Anglican church, and yet for the past two years our electoral roll figures have gone up by more than 10% a year, and as I mentioned back at Easter we were struggling to find seats for everybody then. Whilst it is certainly correct to say that our growth area is in the young families, as our Rural Dean pointed out at his recent inspection we manage to produce a respectable fifty to sixty or so people at our prayer book services too.

As far as I am concerned the parts of the Church are growing aren’t anything to do with their Churchmanship – churches of all denominations and types are growing – it’s about getting the basics right, and looking at what people want. In the case of the prayer book services what people are looking for is familiarity and authenticity, so those are done absolutely straight with traditional hymns, and the King James bible. On the other hand the young families, who often come in via our play-group, are looking for accessibility, which is what they get through our 9:30am Family Services. The main 11am services are a bit more of a blend of the two, so we’re relatively traditional, with organ, choir and sermon, but with more accessible elements. The biggest thing though is to be a welcoming community. It is always frustrating to hear of other churches that are spending more time turning themselves into a private club and excluding people – as far as I am concerned whilst things have changed at St James to bring about our rise in numbers, they haven’t been particularly radical, and to be honest if they were radical we’d only end up marginalising a different group. The whole basis of what we do is to be inclusive of the broad range of people in the village rather than exclusively focusing on one group. Whenever the “how do you do it?â€? question comes up though, most people at St James’ really can’t explain, as from our point of view we aren’t doing anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, and equally the area around the church from which our attendance is drawn isn’t that much different from much of the surrounding area either.

Local Politics and the Church

I’ve blogged from time to time about politics within the Church, but every so often, even at a local level, village politics and St James come into contact. In the past it’s been in relation to things like the villages memorial oaks being on church, rather than public land, and occasionally the Parish Council will use the church or our parish centre for services or events. The Parish Council also generously gives us an annual donation into church funds. However as part of our conservation appeal, alongside a number of other grant awarding bodies we applied to the Parish Council for a grant, and put in an application for what would be considered a significant amount – £15,000, backed up by Rev Richard personally attending the meeting to put his case for the benefits that the church building offered to the community and the village as a whole. In all honesty expected to be awarded a lot less than what we had asked for, therefore we were delighted to be awarded the full amount, but it caused a bit of a storm. The award was passed by majority of the councillors at the meeting, but one Parish Councillor who voted against the award was so upset that she has resigned her position in protest, stating that she believed the money would not be benefiting the whole community.

There Wasn’t Anything About This in the Book!

I’ve just had one of those evenings where nobody knows what to do, but people turn to me because I’m the Churchwarden!

When I turned up at choir practice the kids were still over in the Parish Centre on their break, so I went into the church, and there was a small creature in the middle of the floor of the north aisle. On closer examination it turned out to be a bat – and a rather inactive one at that.

Many people who have been to our church will know that we have regular visits from bats, but this one was a lot smaller – and they are usually flying around, not sat in the middle of the floor. Luckily Meg our Parish Administrator was around as well, having an additional practice with the Handbell Group. She has regular bat visits at her home, and also had a booklet of contact numbers in the office from previous problems with the bats in the church.

First off we phoned the local vets, who directed us towards the RSPCA. It is worth saying that tonight was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have my mobile with me, as it was back at home on charge, as a result trying to speak to the person who knew about bats at the RSPCA proved to be a bit of a pain. When you phone the emergency number you get through to a regular call centre person, who then passes a message to the relevant part of the organisation. They then phone you back – the problem being that twice I didn’t manage to get to the call. No problem I thought, I’ll just dial 1471 and ring them back. That doesn’t work though as the number you dial redirects you to the same emergency number where you can only speak to the normal call centre.

Eventually I got to speak to the bat person who said unfortunately there was nobody available in our area tonight, but that they would try and come out in the morning. She then talked about some of the bat behaviour, and said that the bat would be unable to take off from a horizontal surface – they need a drop of about five feet at least to get airborne, and that if we could move the bat somewhere that had this, that would help matters. She then also suggested trapping the bat in a box and providing food and water.

So what we did was put the bat on a shelf by the 1590 door – a place that bats can get into the building – and close to the wall, and then I came home. I then went back up about twenty minutes later to find that the bat had vanished – so it didn’t seem to be too unwell – the kids took it’s inactivity as being that it was dead, I think it was just trying not to attract attention. Anyway, either it’s still flying around inside the building, or hopefully by putting it close to the door where it could squeeze through, it made it’s escape. Suffice to say there isn’t anything in the Churchwarden’s Handbook about how to deal with bats!

Update: Seems our resident bat hadn’t gone – he was back on the floor of the north aisle at a christening this afternoon. Our Director of Music who was playing for the service left the 1590 door open however and he managed to make his way outside, and climb up enough of the wall to fly away.

Easter at St James’

The New Paschal Candle

So that’s Easter over for another year. Over the last twenty-four hours we’ve been to five services, and we’ve seen over five hundred people pass through the Church.

We kicked off late last night with the service that starts the Easter Vigil, which as in previous years the Youth Group took part in, and as with last year, we didn’t have to! As with last year we helped set up the vigil service, and then could head home to bed, rather than spending the night in the Parish Centre. This year there were about twenty-five of the young people who spent the night at the Church, and as is traditional, a lot of them looked decidedly rough come 6am on Easter morning.

The 6am service was our first appointment of the day, along with another sixty or so people who also got up early to see the sun rise at the church – although thanks to the cloud you couldn’t see much – and then after the service everybody went over to the Parish Centre to partake of the traditional bacon butties and/or croissants.

Dawn on Easter Morning

Since Beth was down to be sidesperson at the 9:30am Family service, there wasn’t much point in going home after breakfast, so we stayed for the 8am said Eucharist, which also had fifty people appear for it. That was quickly followed by the 9:30am Family service, where things started getting really crazy.

There has been a lot of grumbling about the fact that Easter this year doesn’t fall within the school holidays. That maybe a problem for some, but in terms of our numbers at Easter it seems to have made a massive difference. At 9:30am, even without a choir taking up a lot of pews, the building was absolutely full. We ran out of chairs, so had to go over to the Parish Centre to get some more, and ran out of hymn books too – a total of two-hundred and twenty-seven people squeezed into our little Church. Things were much the same come 11am – this time we had people seated in the vestry, and other people standing in the North Aisle – certainly it looks like another attendance in excess of two hundred for that service too.

The 11am was the big choir service of the day, and we had pretty well one hundred percent attendance – and we needed it as the anthem for the day was the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. It has to be said that we’ve been having problems with this over the past couple of weeks, and although it came together a lot better on the day, it still wasn’t quite right from where we were standing. Having said that, it went down really well – even inducing spontaneous applause from the congregation. As was said afterwards, it may not have been exactly right, but there aren’t many village church choir’s who would even attempt it!

Anyway, the weirdest aspect of the whole day was the weather. You can see a shot from dawn (there are more in our photo galleries) where it was dry but cold – but look at what it was doing a couple of hours later… to be followed by sunshine and blue skies a few hours after that! If you look at this picture, you can see that for a while the snow was actually settling too!


Easter Snow at St James from Richard Peat on Vimeo.