Hold On! Keep Your Hand On The Plow

The Cathedral Choir is about to introduce a new CD.  That sounds as if we do this often; we do not.  Our first and only other CD was recorded about 25 years ago.  This new one is a recording of African-American spirituals arranged by Harry T. Burleigh.  So why would the Cathedral Choir make a recording of African-American spirituals?  For us at the Cathedral of St Paul, it was quite simple: we wanted to bring the music and life story of this most remarkable man to the people of Erie, the diocese and beyond.  It is our way of “living history” and making it relevant in contemporary time.

Spirituals are a significant part of American choral literature.  The melodies are true American folk songs, passed on by oral tradition.  Burleigh’s arrangements transformed the simple melodies he learned from his grandfather on the streets of Erie into classic art songs and choral works using his distinctively American harmonic language.  Some are quite jazzy!  His music is especially important to us at the Cathedral of St Paul because of his connection to Erie and our church.  We have continued to learn more and more of his arrangements.  Some are fairly simple and some are quite difficult.  Following the celebration of the Cathedral’s Centennial  a few years ago, we were encouraged to make a recording of his music.  I was a bit hesitant to take on such a project.  Singing live is one thing; recording is quite another.   Live performances bring his music to life but in order to share it with a broader audience, we needed to record it.   And there was no better time or place to do it: we have an exceptional group of singers right now and we are in the very place where Burleigh first sang as a young boy and teenager.  He received the sacraments at St Paul’s and his musical foundation was formed in this building.  It just seemed right to move forward with the project.

We hired a local company and spent two days in March recording.  Over the next several months I worked with him on finding the best takes of the choir and soloists and came up with our final product.  Many hours were also spent finalizing the design and information to be included on the cover.  But we expect delivery of the final product this week!

That bring us to the release of the CD, Hold On! Keep Your Hand on the Plow.  On Sunday, November 5, at 4:00 PM, the Sunday following All Saints’ Day, we’ll commemorate the life of Harry T. Burleigh with a traditional Choral Evensong followed by the singing of some of his spirituals and an opportunity to purchase the CD.  There will be a festive reception, and more Burleigh spirituals, as well as an art display by one of our choir men, Jon Chisholm.  He has donated several of his works of art for silent auction the proceeds going to help with expenses of the choir’s trip to England next summer.

I am thankful for the encouragement and gifts from the Cathedral Chapter and members of the Cathedral of St Paul that made the production of this CD possible.   Special thanks to AJ Noyes for the cover design and to Jim Steadman for the cover photo.  And I am incredibly grateful for the Cathedral Choir, their countless hours of rehearsal and their devotion to bringing this music to life for all to enjoy.

Sharon Downey is Canon Musician for the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie. 

Church Bells To Be Rededicated

This article appeared in the Philipsburg Journal on April 14, 2017. 

The bells of St. Laurence Episcopal Church in Osceola Mills, which have not resounded together in some time, will ring in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday at 11 a.m., thanks to rehabilitation by master bell restorationist Brian Michaels of Forest. Delivery of a newly-fabricated part for one of the bells last week means that all three of them will be ready for their debut by Easter.

“To think we looked high and low for someone to bring back our bells, only to find an expert right in our own back yard,” says church board member Sheila Heath of Chester Hill.

“… He took a look, pronounced our bell tower good and solid, and prescribed a little TLC for two of our three bells, only one of which was in working order,” says church organist Luther Gette of Michaels.

According to Michaels, only a little cleaning and oiling was needed for two of the bells, along with tightening up the mounts, some new bell rope, etc.

“It was bell number three – the middle in tone – that required a new bolt, since the old one had rusted out and could no longer hold the clapper assembly,” Michaels explains.

“I searched for a manufacturer to make a new one, – 15 inches long and made out of stainless steel – and finally found a firm willing to do the job.”

The three bronze bells of St. Laurence Church were cast by the McShane Foundry in Baltimore in 1898, only six years after the church was built in 1892.

They were first housed in a small, temporary bell tower until the present tower was built in 1904 by the Osceola Lumber Co.

The present restoration was undertaken as part of a general sprucing-up for the 125th anniversary of the church.

“We’re hoping the bells can ring once again for many occasions in the community, such as the Fourth of July Parade and Osceola Spirit Days,” says Fr. William Walker, pastor of St. Laurence.

“We will be blessing them on Easter Sunday, a few moments before the service at 11 a.m., and we invite the whole community to come and participate.  Or just listen from anywhere in town as the beautiful three-bell peal wafts over Lingle Street and the park.”

Article submitted by Luther Gette, organist at St. Laurence, Osceola Mills. 

O Come, Divine Messiah!

advent-policeThe above cartoon recently popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s by the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, and depicts ‘the Advent police’ citing people for putting up Christmas ornaments and singing Christmas carols during Advent. Silly, right? Normally I would just chuckle and keep scrolling, but for some reason this particular image made me stop and really look.

Can you imagine if there really WERE an Advent police? I know for a fact that the dollar store downtown would be awash in violations, since I’m pretty sure I recall the Christmas aisle being set up the week before Halloween this year. Think of all the fines that could be set aside for mission funds! (Just kidding.) Then again, how many of us are really able to go the entire four weeks before Christmas without trimming the tree or humming a few bars of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ when we hear it played over the store loudspeakers while doing our Christmas shopping?

As a former (recovering?) church organist and cantor, I find Advent to be one of the most fascinating times in the church year. Though the calendar year is drawing to a close, it’s just the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of quiet, preparation, and yes – anticipation of the coming Savior. The days are shorter, the hymns on Sunday a bit quieter than during the season after Pentecost, and the readings talk about waking from sleep and preparing the way of the Lord.

One hymn in particular makes me marvel every year: ‘O Come, Divine Messiah’.  If you’re not familiar with the tune, please do look it up on YouTube. The music is light, just a tiny bit bouncy, but combined with the lyrics it’s an amazing summation of the anticipation and longing of the Advent season. We wait in the dark and quiet of these weeks of December, yearning for Jesus to come to Earth for our redemption and to bring joy and light into our lives.

“Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.”

I finally made a note in pen at the top of my sheet music to tell the choir not to speed up at that point, because every. single. time. we sang that piece they would get so excited it was like trying to hold back runaway horses. “Hurry, Jesus! We’ve been waiting for so long!” Women in their 80s were singing with all the enthusiasm and impatience of my two year old daughter – “Now, Mommy? Now?”

It’s a busy time of year, and many of us have to-do lists as long as our arm, making our physical preparations for the coming of the Lord. Try to take a few moments this week, though, to quiet your mind and enjoy that thrilling anticipation that comes from having to wait.

“O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.”

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. 

Who Knew There Were So Many Chipotles?

This is a post from Nicholas Evancho a seminarian from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania who just completed his first year at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Nicholas’ home church is Epiphany, Grove City.  To read about our other seminarians, Click here . 

200px-Virginia_Theological_Seminary_Alexandria,_VAMy first year of seminary has been an eventful and formative experience and more has happened in the last year than I ever expected. I have had the opportunity to connect with people from all over the Communion and the Episcopal Church in ways that have been both exciting and challenging. Being immersed in the Seminary community has shown the breadth of the Episcopal Church and the life and opportunities that are present in her.

During my first semester I had the privilege of singing in the choir at the consecration of the Immanuel Chapel presided over by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori with Archbishop Justin Welby serving as preacher. It was exciting to meet them and other big names in Anglicanism and to put personalities and faces to the names that receive so much esteem in church circles.

Being a musician on campus and one of the staff choristers for the Seminary Choir has given me the opportunity to participate in the diverse liturgical life of the Seminary community. I have served as everything from soloist at Lessons and Carols to service organist, to the background pianist at a cocktail party for the Alumni Association 50th Reunion and everything in-between. My most rewarding musical experience has been being a part of the Schola Cantorum which performs acapella motets and chorales for services of Solemn Evensong and other special services throughout the year. This is a totally student run ensemble that has managed to grow into a professional quality group that has become a valued part of the worship life of the community.

red-peppers-296655_640It has also been exciting, and at times scary, to get my first car while living in the Washington, DC area. I have been able to venture around DC and to see many of the monuments and museums that are scattered throughout the city. I have also gotten to take advantage of my horrible sense of direction since many of my discoveries in the city are due solely to my ability to get lost following even simple directions. (Who knew there were so many Chipotles?) It has been a joy to have many family and friends come and visit me and I have, as Bishop Sean warned me I would, become a great DC tour guide over the last year. It was a special gift that many of my classmates from Grove City got together for a reunion in the DC area and spent the weekend together playing games and catching up on developments in life.

For the first semester this year I was able to visit different parishes around the Dioceses of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington in order to find a place to serve as parish seminarian for the following two years. These churches ranged in character and history spanning from parishes at which George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended, to the National Cathedral, to those with newer worship styles using praise bands and contemporary liturgical ideas. I eventually settled on doing my Field Education at Christ Church, Georgetown which is an historic parish in the oldest neighborhood in the DC area. I am excited to serve there each Sunday and to begin to experience the life of a congregation unlike any I have ever encountered.

Now that I have finished my first year I have completed studies in New Testament, Greek Translation, Old Testament, History of Spirituality, Liturgical Music, and the Theory and Practice of Ministry. These classes have not only enriched me academically but some even involved community volunteer work that broadened and expanded my understanding of what it means to be a minister to a wide range of people. These classes have prepared me to enter Clinical Pastoral Education this Summer during which I will serve as a chaplain at a local Nursing Home/Rehab center in order to get experience with ministry in crisis situations. This will certainly be a great opportunity to grow in my vocation and begin to practice ministry in real-world situations.

Your prayers are greatly appreciated as I continue on my journey and I could not do any of it without the support of the great and Godly people of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. If you would like to continue to follow and support my journey you can find periodic updates at my website: http://www.walkingtowalsingham.com

Nicholas Evancho

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Love Them

This is a post about the partnership between the Cathedral of St. Paul and Emerson-Gridley elementary in the City of Erie public school district.

I remember it very well, my first-grade classroom at Asbury Elementary in Millcreek Township. I loved everything about it. I was so excited to finally be able to go to school and could hardly wait for the first day. My mother made me a special new dress; my name was embroidered on it so my teacher would know my name at a glance. Our desks were in neat rows and I sat in the front of the room. I remember this because our music teacher would roll the piano into our room right in front of my desk. I would watch her fingers fly across the keys, sparking my interest in piano lessons and asking my parents for a piano.

Now fast forward to this past February when I was heading into a first-grade classroom at Emerson-Gridley to volunteer. I had all of the clearances and training required and was excited about this opportunity. Probably not as excited as anticipating my own first-grade experience, but excited about spending time in a classroom. I have always felt the pull of becoming a classroom teacher, either in music or general education. My degrees are in organ performance, choral conducting and church music, applied music, not music education. At many points in my education and career I have considered adding teacher certification to my credentials. When the Cathedral began its partnership with Emerson-Gridley and the call for volunteers in the school came along, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a try.

IMG_3012 (3)So my first day began by meeting the school guidance counselor who took me on a tour of all the first grade rooms ending in Mrs. Steele’s classroom. This is where I would be volunteering. Mrs. Steele welcomed me and introduced me to the class. The walls in the room were brightly decorated. There was a “Word Wall” with columns of words under each letter of the alphabet that the students were learning every week. There was a list of the children’s names on one board. I could only pronounce a few without help. The desks were grouped into three or four sections, not rows, and there was a carpet on the floor for story time. She asked the students to read at their desks and then called on a few children and me to sit with her to read aloud. We worked together to help students sound out words and read sentences. Once she saw I was comfortable working with her students she asked me to work with several children who needed some extra help with reading. We made flashcards and played relay games and all sorts of things to help them recognize the difference in their “w” and “wh” words. I was hooked. I knew my Monday mornings from then on would be spent with Mrs. Steele’s class at Emerson-Gridley.

As that first morning progressed, one student left the room and came back with a box of snack bags for the children filled with cherry tomatoes. Every day the students are given a mid-morning snack of fresh vegetables. They look forward to it. If the designated child doesn’t remember to go for it, she is reminded by her classmates. She always offers me a snack, too. She and others in the room often express concern that I might be hungry, too. The students all receive a hot breakfast before class begins, a mid-morning snack and lunch. Many stay after school for another snack and some for dinner before going home. Monday morning is difficult for them. Many do not have regular meals at home and they are very hungry when they come to school after a weekend. It is not unusual for several of them to fall asleep with their head on their desk while I am there.  There are lots of red and watery eyes looking up from a book or paper as they struggle to stay awake and concentrate.

Now they and I are anticipating the end of the school year. I have been going weekly and have developed a good relationship with the class. Mrs. Steele has given me the freedom to prepare a music lesson each week. We are working on developing a steady beat, following directions, using body percussion, chanting poems using their rhyming words and recently added playing percussion instruments. They love to share their latest achievements with me, “Mrs. Downey, did you know that I….” Now I share their mid-morning snack with them. We chat and giggle about the fresh green pea pods or juicy tomatoes or squishy cucumbers. I love the big smile that comes across each face when I call them by name. I love it even more when they cheer when they see me come through their classroom door with my bag of instruments. I think about each child often. They are now in my prayers, not just as students at the school but as individuals with names, faces and feelings. Some days I leave in tears because so many were overly tired and out of sorts. But more often than not, I leave with a big smile on my face and a happy heart.

The City of Erie schools are stressed. The administrators and the teachers are stressed. And most importantly, the students are stressed. A volunteer’s job comes with little stress: just show up and spend an hour or two a week in a classroom with some amazing children. Learn their names. Talk to them. Smile at them. Read to them. Love them. And pray for them and everyone who works to care for and nurture them. You will be hooked. And you will never be the same again.

Sharon Downey, Canon Musician, The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA 

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I Am An Episcopalian Because…

Danielle Bane is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal church in Fairview, PA. She is a life long Episcopalian who grew up in the Diocese of West Virginia. Below are her thoughts on why she is an Episcopalian.

I am an Episcopalian because:

  • We value learning….about the Trinity and its work, about each other and about ourselves.
  • We are principle-driven with a healthy dose of context. We remain true to the fundamentals of the Bible and the Anglican doctrine upon which we are founded. Yet, we continue to adapt our practice and interpretation as the human existence evolves.
  • This is God’s table and all are welcome. Probably my favorite sentence of the service. We can get better at this—that’s true. But I love that we are a leader in the manifestation of this principle. I know a child who went to a Catholic school for a couple of years. At her first confession, she went up against the Priest about why she couldn’t take communion when they went to Mass. She was quite clear that “God welcomes everybody. Why can’t I eat the wafer?” If an 8-year-old child can grasp that, we are doing something right.
  • No topic is off the table. The best way for me to capture this for you is that where I went to church camp (Camp Peterkin, The Diocese of West Virginia’s church camp) as a child even the connection of sex and spirituality were addressed. We discussed, seriously, many related topics in appropriate degrees of detail.
  • I’m pretty sure the Episcopal Church saved my life. If it weren’t for the connections to the people at my local church and Camp Peterkin, the values my parents were trying to nurture might have evaporated to some degree. The many ripple effects that I was able to arrest would have won.
  • We like to smile. When there is an announcement that includes the words “ring the bell” and a few start dancing behind the last pew because all we can hear is the 2002 Anita Ward song, that’s okay. It’s okay to make a joke and let others join in. When the Prayers of the People includes the names Laverne and Shirley sequentially and half the people stifle laughter, we joke about it during coffee hour. When the organ comes unplugged on Christmas Eve, a parishioner crawls over to plug it back in and everyone is still on the right beat, smiles spread across everyone’s faces. And when my infant daughter cries out at just the right moment in the Baptismal service, the ahhh’s in the room rise as everyone smiles, knowing another soul is filled with the Spirit. We welcome joy in our service.
  • As a child I knew when church was almost over because our Liturgy is a mantra. After about age 10, if I sat in the pews, it was usually with someone else’s family. I typically was an acolyte. And I knew when everything would happen, when I had to sit still, when I needed to get the lavabo bowl and when we were going to sing the last hymn. Today I hear the rhythm in much more meaningful ways. But when I am having trouble concentrating for any reason, it’s nice to know how much longer we have….
  • I don’t know about you but I am wired to feel guilty about almost anything. Even if I didn’t do it. So I am most grateful that the Liturgy and the doctrine of our church does not call guilt one of its layers of foundation. We are all about sincere remorse and making things right when called for—don’t get me wrong. But the use of the Bible to invoke guilt wears me out. The reel in my head does that all by itself.
  • As a teenager, I dated a boy whose father was a very conservative Baptist preacher. I frequently went to church with him on Sunday nights. Most of my memories about those evenings include him yelling, how red his face got and wondering why slapping the Bible helped convey the message. Today I respect the huge variety of ways we can worship God. But for me, I appreciate that there is a balance between the sound of the service and quiet reflection during the Holy Eucharist (okay, okay, are you singing the Sound of Silence in your head, too?).
  • The music. Anyone who will listen has heard me talk about the music from Camp Peterkin. While my daughter heard Jimmy Buffett from her Dad at bedtime, I was singing In the Upper Room, The Irish Blessing, and Pass it On. Today during the Sanctus, I often hear all the versions I have learned as a Cradle Episcopalian. Music lifts people. It evokes meaning when it can otherwise not be reached. It’s a warm, welcome hug. It triggers change. It is an important common thread of history, worship and community whether you are at a campfire or the National Cathedral.
  • And finally, The Peace.

Danielle Bane

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Cathedral of St. Paul Source of Inspiration

It’s hard to believe that it’s already over two weeks since the North American Cathedral Deans’ Conference came to Erie. Without question, all our guests had a wonderful time; and as well as taking part in discussions and conference sessions, they showed enormous interest in the local community which was showcased beautifully in so many ways throughout their four-day visit. Under Dean Downey’s leadership, planning for the conference began well over a year ago, before the dean and Canon Musician Sharon Downey left for the 2015 conference in Jerusalem. So by the time the 2016 conference began in Erie on April 7th, a team of volunteers from the Cathedral had long been hard at work to make sure it would be the most perfect event in every way. The Cathedral of Saint Paul was to shine brilliantly for all four days.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.18.57 PMAs a conference and event planner, I know from experience what it takes to bring a major event to that perfect-opening-moment on site. But this was so different. Sharon had kept me constantly informed of the steps she was taking along the way, I knew everything was in place, every detail had been addressed. But the first thing I realized upon arrival in Erie was that the dedicated staff and volunteers of the Cathedral had completely adopted the conference and surrounded it with such love and warmth, it had a life of its own. This was not just business as usual, this event would share a message with congregations throughout North America and beyond, and it would be a reminder of how much we accomplish whenever we come together as Christians. Those attending the conference were welcomed like friends and family, and they were so touched by the warmth and hospitality of our Cathedral. It was an amazing, emotional and uplifting time. It had the personal touch and feel of everyone involved, staff and volunteers, who had given so much time to the planning. It was such a professional, well-run event, but at the same time there was a relaxing atmosphere of such ease and comfort. People were laughing about the freezing cold weather (not in the plan) while thoroughly enjoying the warmth of the welcome inside.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.13.54 PMJohn and Sharon Downey play important roles in the international organization of the North American Cathedral Deans – which is why the conference came to Erie this year. As many of us got to chat with our visitors, it became very clear that both the dean and Sharon are wonderful representatives of our church and diocese on the national front. One of the visiting deans mentioned that they were looking forward to finally hearing Sharon Downey play in her own venue for a change. Well she didn’t just “play” she played so splendidly it just took everyone’s breath away! The choir was simply amazing and several members performed separately during a tribute to Harry T. Burleigh. The hours of rehearsal for all of them must have been endless! But the church, packed to the rafters both Thursday and Sunday, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and there was such gratitude, love and happiness in that beautiful House of God. The choir and entire congregation raised the rafters even higher as they sang so loudly proclaiming the gloriousness of the resurrection and celebrating the very presence of the Holy Spirit among us.   Never was the Peace of God exchanged so vigorously as it was that Sunday morning! Through it all, the magnificent old organ resounded so brilliantly I’m sure it was heard downtown as well, carrying our message of hope forward as the conference concluded.

12994463_1153312074701453_7107254429042034600_nCathedrals are usually in city centers and downtown areas and by nature have more transient congregations. The Cathedral of Saint Paul is no different in this, but we are extremely blessed to have continually attracted such amazing talent, not just to the music program but in leadership, teaching and most importantly what every church needs: a strong family of those who come to volunteer and serve the community, to do the work we are asked to do. It’s what we continue to do so well in our downtown Cathedral under the dean’s leadership. I’ve often heard Dean Downey mention the diversity in our diocese. Each church (including the Cathedral) has times of weakness and strength, we might worship and evangelize in different ways, but our goals are the same and in our diocese there is a healthy tolerance for diversity. So it was particularly meaningful, and quite humbling, when Bishop Sean told the deans in his welcoming speech, that the congregations of the diocese look up to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. That was such a meaningful statement. Growing up in England, cathedrals were always “ours.” Whatever your religion or place of worship, the great Cathedrals were the standard bearers of the Church of England and they were ours! They are rich with culture, history and great music. I hope the wonderful people in the Diocese of NWPA, will continue to look to the Cathedral of Saint Paul as a source of inspiration as we all seek to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in our corner of the world.

Diane Mitra

Sabbatical Church Hopping

This is a reprint from Father Adam’s blog “The Black Giraffe” November 1, 2015

Today is the last day of a three month sabbatical.  During that time, my family and I have had the opportunity to visit a variety of other churches.  We have been to Episcopal churches, other mainline churches, evangelical churches, “mega-“churches, and an African-American church.  Here are some thoughts about those experiences.

1. In general, the quality of preaching is disappointing.  I could easily believe that the decline in church attendance is due solely to bad sermons.  In more than half the churches I visited, the quality of the preaching would have made me think twice about ever returning.  The four sermons not in this category (and yes, there were only four of them) were preached in an Episcopal church, an African-American Church, a mainline church and an evangelical church, so I’m not worried about style, but of substance.  The award for “Best Sermon Delivered To My Family While on Sabbatical” goes to Craig Thompson of East Side Church, Sharon, for his preaching on the paralytic being let down through the roof to see Jesus.  The criterion for the award is that his exegesis and delivery made enough of an impression that my daughter could talk about what he said two-and-a-half months later.
As a sermon listener, I would much rather hear a sermon from someone who has clearly been studying the scripture, trying to live it, and has some good news they desperately want to share with me, even if the sermon has serious flaws, than someone much more polished and sophisticated who thinks I need to hear their wisdom.
2. If the peace allots enough time for you to do more than hug your family and shake hands with the person in the pew behind you, it is too long.  Most churches have coffee hour to catch up with friends.  As a visitor, my experience of a “warm, welcoming peace” is standing there for five minutes, while every 30 seconds someone smiling comes up, shakes my hand, and then goes off to an extended conversation with someone they know better.  At some point, the well-meaning priest comes over, often asking a question and then ignoring the answer while being pulled away by a parishioner.
When an frustratingly long peace is followed by interminable announcements being read out of the bulletin that I have in front of me and have already read, I become so disengaged from whatever sense of worship may previously have been present that I just want to go home.
3. More sophisticated or professional music doesn’t make for better worship, but hearing people’s voices does.  I have been moved during this time by music done with choir and organ, with praise band, with “worship karaoke”, and with a couple of singers and an acoustic guitar.  Some styles and some songs I prefer to others, but all can be powerful.  What I did find that makes a difference, however, is being able to hear other people singing.  Ideally that means the entire congregation around me, but it also means that the instrumentation, whether organ, electronic, or otherwise, doesn’t drown out the choir or the worship leaders.  When worship music stops being primarily about people singing, something central is lost.  The other unexpected musical discovery of sabbatical: reading song lyrics off screens at the front can make it much easier to sing, including easier to sing hymns (although obviously singing in parts requires words and music in my hand).
door-lock-401714_19204. Unlock the doors and let people know how to get into the church.  Should I have to write this? No.  Do I?  Apparently.  The first church we visited was a terrible experience that started with the doors.  The doors that could be seen from the street were closed with no outside handle to open them.  The doors closest to the parking lot were all locked.  We only found the way into church because a uniformed security guard (!) came and showed us how to go into an adjacent building, up a flight of stairs, across a breezeway, down a hall, and through a door that had a handmade sign taped to it directing us to the sanctuary.  The kicker was when the rambling sermon described all the work the church was doing to reach out to the community.
5. Church pews can be very uncomfortable (and they don’t need to be).  When I am waiting for the opportunity to kneel down or stand up because sitting any longer has become unbearable (a condition worsened by bad preaching), the pew is a problem.  Everybody in the church doesn’t need their own barcalounger, but the environment doesn’t need to be a barrier either.  One church we visited replaced what were clearly very tight upright pews with more slanted, comfortable pews with much more space between them. (I could tell because the floor still had holes where the old pews were bolted in.  So work to be done, but a good first step.)
6. God is being worshiped by good people in a wide variety of settings.  Some of those settings are rather depressing, as congregations dwindle, but people are still gathering to pray for their needs and the needs of others, to praise God, and to do good work in the community.  All the issues mentioned above notwithstanding, in every place I went, I found a part of the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit showed up.
The Rev. Adam Trambley, St. John’s, Sharon, PA

The Cathedral Choir School 2015

Do you know a child who loves to sing?

He who sings, prays twice.

Keep Calm and Join a Choir!

Children who play a musical instrument do better in school.

You’ve heard them all. I’ve used many of them myself to recruit new singers. I first saw the title “Do you know a child who likes to sing?” on a recruitment brochure from St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue in New York. I thought it was a great way to catch the attention of people who might send me lots of children who loved to sing. I used it a few y

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ears and then began to notice it was also on most of my colleagues’ recruitment brochures. One summer we were at Salisbury Cathedral in England and, believe it or not, that question was at the top of their choir recruitment poster!

Who could go wrong with quoting St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.”   Parents would be standing in line to sign up their children for the Cathedral Choir! Prayers ascending twice; who could resist?

Why not join the “Keep Calm” fad and add “Join a Choir” to the WWII morale-booster poster? Everyone’s doing it…

And what many of us thought would bring choir enrollment to record highs were all of the studies that prove that children who play a musical instrument or sing in a choir and know how to read music do much better in academics than students who do not. Who wouldn’t want to be smarter and get better grades in school? Children would be begging their parents to be in choir.

11054501_932353570130639_6717629821113683575_nAre all of these one-liners true? Yes, absolutely. Do they help in recruiting? Maybe, but not as much as I would have hoped. Most choirs do not have a long line of parents waiting to sign up young singers for the next choir season. Nor are parents registering their newborns years in advance in order to guarantee a spot in the Cathedral Children’s Choir. Perhaps this is because written materials can only tell you what we do but in order to know what it will mean a person has to experience it.

So here’s my invitation to anyone in the Diocese: come and spend a day, a few hours or even a few minutes at this year’s Choir School at the Cathedral to see how young people are impacted by being in a choir.

A few things you will observe during the week:

  • Children and youth of all ages singing and praying together10565068_818336794865651_4901032998424659801_n
  • Adults teaching and encouraging young singers
  • Older singers mentoring younger singers
  • Daily worship
  • Learning about the Eucharist, the Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982
  • Group rehearsals where singers learn new music and improve individual technique
  • Clergy interacting with singers through worship and Christian Formation sessions
  • Field trips
  • Guest professionals presenting Master Classes
  • Singing the National Anthem at a baseball game
  • Cooking and serving a Pancake Breakfast to 100 of the Cathedral’s Food Pantry guests

Choristers also develop leadership skills, learn to work as part of a team, foster a sense of personal commitment, learn the importance of giving of time, talent and service for the good of the community.

Choir School will be offered at the Cathedral of St. Paul the week of August 17-21 for any young person who would like to explore what it’s like to be in the Cathedral Children’s Choir. Singers come from the Cathedral congregation, from other Episcopal congregations (St. Stephen’s and St. Mark’s) as well as other churches in the community. Singers are only expected to sing at the Cathedral two Sunday mornings each choir season so any singer may remain active in their own congregation. There is no cost to attend Choir School.

10406723_886578358041494_7498215282382553384_nThe Cathedral Children’s Choir meets on Wednesdays from 4:00 pm -5:30 pm September through May. A complete schedule of services, concerts and other singing engagements in the community is published at the end of August.   Children as young as 7 may join. Boys may sing until voice change and girls through high school.

Do you know a child who loves to sing? Of course you do! Please contact the Cathedral of St Paul for more information. Or better yet, bring him or her to Choir School for a stimulating, challenging and fun experience!

Sharon A. Downey, Canon Musician, the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA