The members of First Reformed Church often face living in a world that does not fully understand us. We engage in conversations with people every day who would question our faith in God. This is one of the side-effects of having an open, socially-involved church in an inner city. Just last month the Adult Ed class watched “Religulous,” a movie by Bill Maher in which he, an atheist, challenged some of our basic assumptions and attacked some of our most outrageous practices. While it was very funny, the movie also led us to consider the apologists of our history. So we read from Justin Martyr and others who had to defend the faith against accusations of cannibalism, incest, and other atrocities.
Perhaps we are used to hearing the cry of the atheists against Christianity. But what does it mean when an atheist is for us? The great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an avowed atheist (and later he called himself a “contented agnostic”) who supported the church throughout his life. He was an editor of the English Hymnal, and set many sacred tunes, such as the Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, to glorious orchestration. He is the author of one of our best-known tunes, SINE NOMINE, which we usually sing with the text “For All the Saints.” Perhaps one could say that the performance of music provides the opportunity to approach sacred music with secular detachment, but the evidence suggests Vaughan Williams was intimately attached to the Church and her poetry, if skeptical about her doctrine. Unlike Vaughan Williams, his contemporary Maurice Ravel did not set one single text of sacred music in his life, except for a handful of Hebrew prayers, which stemmed from his interest in Jewish Culture, but not religion. Whereas others reject the entire package of Christianity, Vaughan-Williams engages and loves its contents, enriches it and hands it back to us improved, as a “bride adorns herself with jewels” (Isaiah 61:10, NIV).
The First Reformed Church choir has begun preparing to sing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs for our Easter Service. The piece is in five movements, to sacred texts by George Herbert, a seventeenth-century Anglican priest, with an emphasis on Easter. If you have ever thought about joining the choir, this could be your chance. Firstly, we need as many singers as we can to perform this piece convincingly. Secondly, it’s a one-time commitment, so if you decide you can’t continue, there will be no expectation. Thirdly, it will be an opportunity to explore the richness of early 20th century music and its intoxicatingly beautiful poetry.
Please join the FRC choir on Wednesdays from 7-9. While the choir has been working on the piece already, it will not be too late to sing with us if you can come to all of the following rehearsals:
March 25 and