Mark the Word – Autumn 2021

Autumn 2021

From the Minister

News from Church Council

On music and function

What do you look for in worship -1

Our Candles

What do you look for in worship -2

Whither Worship?

Noticeboard

Earlier this month (on Sunday 14th March) we had an important meeting to come to a decision about the future of our church property. There were many questions and many of them remain unanswered.

We, the editorial team, have therefore given over this issue to the congregation so that you may have the opportunity to have your say.

We know this is not the end of a difficult process, so we will do our part to make MtW a vehicle for ongoing input in the form of comments, questions or reflections.

We look forward to hearing what you think! Please feel free to give us your thoughts at any stage.

Suzanne Yanko (Editor): skyanko@ozemail.com.au

Rosemary Wearing (Assistant Editor): rosemarywearing@gmail.com

Rod Mummery (Producer): rmummery@netspace.net.au


From the Minister
by Craig Thompson

With Easter’s approach comes closer attention to the heart of our faith: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Being the heart, these are not properly seasonal realities at all but ever with us. ‘Easter time’, as a season, is about our fondness for chocolate and gathering data on the question of whether it tastes better when ovoid. Beyond being a season, the cross of Jesus – the resurrection-illuminated crucifixion – “towers o’er the wrecks of time”, as one of the old hymns has it. It colours all seasons.

Our time has no few wrecks; these are the substance of our newspaper headlines and foreign correspondent reports, and those things about our own lives which – as St John puts it – are wrought in the dark. Closer to our own church community’s heart is the ‘wreck’ – of a different kind – which is our buildings at Curzon Street. However, these are not monuments worked in darkness; they were built ‘in the light’, in the confidence that God saw and approved what was being offered and established, and they have long reflected the light.

What the church is learning in these generations is that such works in the light are not the light themselves. As these fade – if that is how we might characterise the decline of the church and our churches in modern times – the light does not shine any less; it is just that how we have vested ourselves is less shiny than it once was.

In this context, the call is to shine again. We have recently committed ourselves to look seriously at re-vesting – raising up new works in the light, which again reflect the light. We are yet to see what this will mean in terms of place and identity, worship and mission. But, whatever the case, the call is to shine – to become more and not less. Our ever-distracting Now is but a season in the light of the cross which, in all seasons, shines out of God’s desire to see us, and to be seen.

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News from Church Council
By Tim O’Connor, Chair of Church Council

Worship

As members of Mark the Evangelist, we are thankful that gathered services in the Elm Street Church have been able to continue since their resumption in Advent, aside from two weeks during February. I am just one of us grateful to share the liturgy, hear the scriptures and preaching, come to the communion table and listen to the organ music. I will be even happier when we can sing again without the mediation of masks, a day I hope is not far off!

Church Councillors have thought it important to maintain live-streaming of services. In the coming weeks we will consider whether it is still useful to do so: we will monitor how many are watching, and are mindful of the demands on Rod and Peter who operate the audio-visual equipment and that copyright law restricts the hymns that Craig may choose for singing. Recordings of weekly services are uploaded to YouTube as previously, which enables our members and others to view services any time. Craig will convene an after-church conversation in the month following Easter for feedback on your experiences and suggestions about worship.

Pastoral care

Pastoral care within the congregation has demanded our particular attention in the New Year. There are some who are ill, frail, and unable to come to church. Regular morning teas after worship are not yet practical, and it is apparent that attendance of services has been lower than before the pandemic. As a consequence home visits, telephone contact and video catch-ups have become more vital than before.

Meetings online

Online meetings have multiplied since the pandemic, as they have proved accessible and convenient for most members. The annual Lenten studies are being offered online, and the meetings of Church Council, Finance & Property Committee and Hotham Mission Board are held online as they were last year. Rod and Craig attended the recent Synod held online and reported that the usual business could be transacted, but there were serious limitations when it came to conducting discussion and debate.

Other Church Council business

The February meeting received a report on the remarkable achievements of Hotham Mission during the pandemic last year, when the food and educational programs were maintained and in some cases expanded in spite of considerable difficulties. We congratulated Greg Hill, Administrator of the Congregation, and all the Mission staff on their hard work and dedication to serving the needy in the North Melbourne and Kensington community.

The Mark the Evangelist Accommodation Process, concerning property needs and options, has been a major agenda item of monthly Council meetings, as it was at the Congregational Meeting on 14 March. Further information will be given at the Annual General Meeting of the Congregation on 18 April. In the following weeks members will be invited to take part in small group discussions.

Comments, queries and suggestions are invited by the Church Council: Gaye Champion (Chair of Hotham Mission), John Langmore (Elder), Rod Mummery (Elder and Treasurer), Tim O’Connor (Elder, Chair and Acting Secretary), David Radcliffe (Elder), Craig Thompson (Minister), Rosemary Wearing (Elder) and Alan Wilkinson (MTEFP Coordinator).

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On music and function: a few more thoughts
by Donald Nicolson

Back in 2013, I wrote my first piece for Mark the Word, in which I offered a few thoughts on my responsibilities and duties as a church organist. As we all know, the passage of time has a constant effect on our approach to such tasks. Eight years later, I share a few more ideas. Some are same, some are different. To do this, I have picked out some of the key sentences and ideas which I explored, and now use them again to frame those reflections.

What are the role and the function of the church organist today?

We are off to a good start here. Last time, I used this as a springboard to explore how certain necessities in organ playing – accompanying hymns in particular – are contradicted by other necessities, and the way to negotiate those problems. As an example: playing the organ to match the meaning of individual words is offset when trying to play with clarity. As I put it once: ‘the organist must play the hymns in an intelligible and easy-to-sing manner.’ Now, however, I would also add the importance of structural integrity within the service. Playing a hymn in a manner that matches the words is one thing, but where does that hymn fall within the order of the service? I’ve noticed that even a joyous hymn might seem out of place if all the stops are drawn, and it occurs as part of communion. Too much contrast between a hymn and the events which proceed it can be disruptive. I’m always trying to find ways that weave the fabric together in a manner which is much more holistic, smooth and uninterrupted.

Even Bach was heavily criticized for ornamenting the hymn and “mingled many strange tones in it, and for the fact that the Congregation [was] confused by it.” He even changed key mid-hymn!

I like this because it shows my mode of thinking at that time. Changing key mid-hymn was clearly something that I did not agree with, and I was clearly focused on the importance of making the tune audible and clear. BUT… as a congregation we have already been experimenting with many of the particulars that Bach’s congregation could not manage. Today, I frequently decorate the tune with baroque devices or add a descant line above it: such ornamentation is a big no-no for organ teachers. Several times, Craig has asked me to change key for the final verse, or even to omit playing altogether for one verse or another. The congregation of MtE is one of the most confident singing groups I have ever engaged with and it is always a pleasure to know that if I change key or stop, the congregation knows what to do: perhaps Mr Bach’s employers might take note.

Much of my decision-making over preludes and postludes is based on studying the hymns and the psalm that are chosen for each weekly service. The wonderful thing about the church liturgy is that so many tunes have formed the basis of most musicians’ knowledge for over 500 years. So when the congregation sings a hymn from the Lutheran tradition, I can choose preludes composed by Bach, Buxtehude or other great German baroque composers.

This is something young Donald wrote that old Donald agrees with. As a student of the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, I have always relished including that music within the services, and its musical language has also informed my own improvisational style. Many of you will have noticed a prelude based on the psalm of that day, or a postlude set to the same tunes as the first hymn. Historically, the psalm setting would have been performed within the service to emphasise the sermon, or for personal reflection. As we approach Easter, I still feel especially privileged to include the Passiontide Lutheran chorales of Bach and Buxtehude. My favourite Lutheran hymn has always been Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (TiS 399, “O sacred head sore wounded”). Bach seems to have been fond of it too, including it numerous times in the St Matthew Passion. Thus, we hear it several times on Good Friday, where it fits liturgically as well as musically.

The role and responsibility of the organist are surprisingly simple when laid out on the job description page.

…and yet, still, these seemingly basic responsibilities – hymn-playing and providing musical accompaniment – are constantly changing in approach as I become more informed and more experienced. It’s almost ten years since I first joined the congregation (I covered for Ken in May 2011!), and I’m so happy that it continues. And of course, I’m happy to discuss ideas and insights with you every Sunday morning!

As a closing thought, I should say something about the temporary acquisition of the Rodgers digital organ which you have all heard on Sunday mornings over the last few weeks. This was originally bought down from Sydney for the 3MBS marathon of Haydn’s music in late February, and I was preparing for the minor role of continuo (accompaniment) in a performance of the Missa celensis with the Consort of Melbourne and a few instrumentalists. Melbourne’s five-day lockdown resulted in the cancellation of that piece and with only a week before broadcast I was suddenly required to produce and perform an arrangement for solo organ of Haydn’s Symphony no 49 instead. Having got talking to the director of Principal Organs in Sydney, the organ lived in our house for the week (along with four harpsichords) before the broadcast. But I was also given the option to keep it a little longer, and I immediately thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to have it stationed in Elm Street. Digital organ technology has improved exponentially over the years and I have quickly become enamoured of this instrument. Within its digital skeleton lies several emulated organs from a diversity of organ traditions: American, English, French, and – my personal favourite – German baroque. Each of these instruments contains a wealth of registrations to explore and who doesn’t love the thrill of a 16-foot bass trombone for the final verse. This will be staying with us until the end of Easter, and I’m so happy to be able to share the profound Passiontide music of Bach, Buxtehude and others to enhance this important part of the church calendar.

As always, from the back of the church,
Donald

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What do you look for in worship – 1

Some look to the past, others to future changes but most talk about what they value now. Because the theme is “what do you look for in worship” is deeply personal, we have presented the contributions a little differently from in the past; highlighting some of the texts rather than simply adding headings.

We realise that this is a big topic, hence we have actively invited your contributions to this Autumn Edition of MtW. We are gratified by the seriousness and warmth of the responses received to date and we look forward to more on this topic in later editions.

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“I worship in the Universal Church community as an act of love, penitence, and renewal. To be reminded that we are the Trinitarian God’s own. To worship with liturgical beauty, fine music, prayers (adoration, confession, intercession). To be gut-wrenchingly challenged by preaching. To be nourished and comforted in the Eucharist.”

Neil Champion

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“For the last 15 years we have been driving across Melbourne to be part of this interesting small congregation. All our lives we have been within the church, David as a son of the Manse and Mary as a daughter of active Anglican laypeople.

We have had many moves together in 55 years (different states and countries) and in every congregation we have been in we have learned something new. We particularly appreciate the warm fellowship and continued searching for understanding from this group of people who after a lifetime within the church don’t have simplistic answers to the issues of our contemporary world. We appreciate that faith is nurtured within a group, and this congregation does this through the liturgy and through friendship and looking out for each other.”

Mary and David Sutherland

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Our Candles
by Mary Sutherland

Our paschal candle is lit regularly at the beginning of the worship service. But for the last 14 years it has also been a contribution of the children to the whole congregation as they have decorated it each year. This is a tricky job and a whole series of children have tackled this demanding task with close concentration saying “It must be well done because it is in the church for the whole year”. It is a difficult but authentic activity for the children as part of their time at church.

First we think about the symbolism of the candle.

“I am the light of the world” Jesus said

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”

“The light shining in darkness and the darkness not overcoming it”.

For the cross which is the centrepiece we have usually chosen one from various Christian traditions, each with a story behind it. It may be St. Cuthbert’s cross now in Durham with the story of Lindisfarne in the background. Or the cross in a starry sky, the ceiling of the Archbishop’s chapel at Ravenna. Or the cruciform monastery at Lalabella in Ethiopia carved out of the very rock.

2021 paschal candle

The process is quite demanding for the children, as it is difficult to get paint to stick to the surface of a wax candle. At various stages during the painting it can look rather wildly slapdash, but stripping off the masking tape is a revelation and such a moment of pride. “Look at my strip!”. Over the years many children have been involved. Luke, Elizabeth and Ben, Matthew and Robin, Mina, Arthur, Genevieve and Mireille, Chessie and Isabel, Coulton and Jasmine, Sam, Luke and Fergus, ranging in ages from 12 to 2 in some cases!

The high point is the lighting of the candle from a brazier in the garden on Easter Eve. Here we accept the light from the main candle and process round the corner to the darkened church, each carrying our small candle with the light of the news of the risen Christ.

With COVID restrictions this year’s candle will be painted without the children. It is inspired by Matisse’s Dominican Chapel of the Rosary at Vence in the south of France. He designed everything there when he was bedridden, using chalk on the end of a long bamboo to create a place of light and hope.

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What do you look for in worship – 2

“I am a very traditional person and I enjoy a traditional service, but I think what I want most of all is something that resonates with my children -a place for them to learn and grow in faith. It’s a growing challenge for the church with all of the competing interests that surround families these days”.

Catherine Mancuso

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“Any response to the question as to ways that worship at MtE might be enhanced cannot be divorced from the larger immediate issue as to the future of the congregation and a likely move to other venues. However, given that this matter will not necessarily alter our long-held convictions and expectations of the nature of the Sunday service, one addition might be considered. In a former congregation with which I was identified, it was the practice following the sermon for the organist to play some appropriate music. The mission statement of MtE expresses appreciation for the centrality of preaching each Sunday. If this is a currently shared expectation, this proposal offers a chance to absorb the content of the sermon before perhaps too quickly moving to the prayers of confession.

With Donald as our organist, we could not do better than allow him to provide us with such an opportunity.”

Bruce Barber

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“I’ve been an advocate of more silence in normal worship, but few ministers and few organists can stand very much of it, even when announced! I have gone on silent retreats for a week at a time irregularly, but memorably and blissfully, throughout my life… I also think the pace of speech and the pace of a liturgy are important- unnoticed- elements in prayer. But I do need the nurture and constant reminder of the Word and the tangibility of the Eucharist!”.

Robert Gribben

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“What I hope for and find in worship at Mark the Evangelist is time, in that uncluttered space, to be still. Wrapped in the cloak of ritual, I am linked by familiar words to the people around me, and to past generations of my own family. I look for insight, inspiration, and challenge- though not perhaps the challenge of learning new hymns! The friendship of members of the congregation is heart-warming, and Donald’s music is always a joy and a gift to the spirit”.

Geraldine Rayner

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“Following our very positive but constrained worship experience during the pandemic, we are pleased that we have been able to return to our practice of participation by various members of the congregation. We are keen for future worship to once again see the coming together of all members of the Mark the Evangelist community. This coming together – the social relationships between us – has always been so important at Sunday morning worship services and valued by all. With this in mind, we hope and trust that all our members will feel personally safe to return to our gathered worship in the near future.”

Ann and Alan Wilkinson

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“We find ourselves facing difficult choices. There are many emotions; frustration, apprehension, weariness and a sense of loss. There is also a sense of possibility. Our hope is that the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist discerns a way forward to share its unique witness. A prayerful place where the Eucharist is celebrated weekly within liturgies and music that draw upon the rich traditions of the church. A learning place where we can grow by being challenged through the preaching of the Word and studying the scriptures, in-person and online. A loving place where, in partnership with our ecumenical partners, we serve people and communities in need on the north-west edge of the city in practical ways”.

David and Vicki Radcliffe

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Whither Worship?
by Robert Gribben

Craig’s request for responses to future patterns of worship for the Congregation of Mark the Evangelist is not a general question about the future; it is grounded in our choice of location. The first thing to say is a supposed comment on a sermon by a Pope on the subject of humility: ‘The Basilica shouted him down’. The building we occupy determines almost everything about the kind of worship which occurs in it. We are the inheritors of a tradition which not only regarded preaching as the summit of the liturgy, but also gave the longest part of the time in church to it. So the congregation sat in efficient seating facing the front. If there were so many as to require a balcony, the pulpit would be even higher. Protestant congregations are audiences (cf Wren’s ‘auditory’ design for the churches after the Great Fire of London, certainly the finest examples of the kind). What this architecture encouraged in preachers is not to be thought of; and add sloping floors, and the paraphernalia of theatre and it’s worse. But the day of the Prince Preachers has also gone.

Protestants have never been able to celebrate a eucharist in the right spirit in such buildings. They enforce non-participation. John Wesley should not have been surprised when Methodists clambered over the pews in the places where he held his Love Feasts to break bread with a friend – presaging the passing of the Peace in our own time!

One of the great liturgical historians, Dom Gregory Dix, describes a third century eucharist at which the bishop of London presided. It was held in the principal room of a wealthy Christian’s house. When people came in from the street via a back door, a deacon checked who they were. In the ‘drawing room’ (Dix was English!), the bishop was an ‘elderly gentleman’ sitting in the best armchair. ‘On chairs in a semicircle facing down the room, looking very obviously what they were – a committee – sit the presbyters. In front of them is a small drawing-room table’. The chatter stops when the bishop stands and greets the assembly. The peace is passed. And the rest of the description is familiar to anyone who knows Mark the Evangelist’s liturgy. Dix omits the Service of the Word, perhaps because he’s describing a meeting early on a working day, but it would normally precede the point where our description began.

So we could meet in a pleasant drawing room in North Melbourne, if one of us has one. In the succession of early worship places, the next step, as the numbers grew, was the aula, the hall, and most towns had one. Just before Constantine’s time, we (these are our ancestors) occupied the largest hall, the basilica. These were built to house courts (both in the legal and the imperial sense), and some were very grand indeed. They were not buildings where either preaching or conversation was easily carried on. When bishops gained the equivalent of senatorial rank, the liturgy changed again. Incense, with which dignitaries were usually welcomed was used; distinctive robes were donned, a bow towards the bishop’s chair became customary (as it had – and has – towards the judge).

Say we hire a hall. I hope we would use furnishings worthy of their purpose (font, ambo, table) but they would need to be stored. Dual use has often ended much Uniting liturgy: the primary use, and the owners, win. But, like our dear old present hall, the space is flexible, though we have found a rectangle restricting (front or side focus?). A square would be better. Wesley liked the octagon (but built few). A circle has the same problem as an octagon – where is the focus? If it’s in the middle, the presider has their back to someone. Think Liverpool Catholic Cathedral.

Say we move into another congregation’s building. The building will press its customary patterns on us. If it suits the kind of worship the majority of us wants, fine. But also note the problem of our choosing what we like. Is there nothing objective about worship, no tradition which guides what we do and how we do it? These days so much depends on the presider; we used to do it like Methodists or Presbyterians or Baptists or even Anglicans, with histories longer than our own.

At Mark the Evangelist, we have the advantage of having already made many adaptations since the Cracking of the Wall (shades of Jericho). Frankly, any choice of room will have its problems, and we will need to fight it determinedly enough for the liturgy to win.  We have an advantage in numerical size: we’re not tempted to find a basilica. Wherever we gather, most will be able to see and hear both the presider and our neighbour. We can stand together for the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and turn chairs around for a small group discussion. We could even move rooms. Relative informality and conversational style are both possible and are highly valued in the present culture. (My Scottish mother would have found both very peculiar in her kirk.) If we go much further down the track of Aussie casualness, we will have lost the whole plot: the Holy Spirit does give distinctive gifts to people (e.g., Rom. 12:6f, Ephes. 4:7f) and they are rightly exercised by those in whom they are recognized; we are not a democracy. But neither are the gifts hierarchical.

The study of liturgy brings the reward of being able to see how the same things have been enacted in worship in vastly different epochs and diverse cultures. Diversity is more obvious than unity, and yet there are things in common. The simplest is the time of hearing the Word and the time of breaking the bread. There is a necessary time of gathering, and there is a farewell, a sending forth, neither of which need take much time. These are the basis of what the scholars call the ‘ordo’, the recognizable ‘shape’ or ‘flow’ of worship. There are sub-structures as well – in how the readings from scriptures are organized, read and expounded and by whom; in what happens at the Table, which has two important actions, the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and the communion, and two lesser necessities, the setting of the table and the breaking of the bread (and pouring the wine). Over the centuries, these actions have sometimes been seriously out of order and out of proportion. In the aftermath of the Reformation, we managed to have one side elevating word over sacrament, and the other vice versa. Both are commanded, both are God’s gifts. The most important point to make in 2021, all old prejudices aside, is that the hearing of the Word prepares us to receive the gifts, which nourish and strengthen us in body and spirit, to venture on the mission of God. The Word does not stand alone, it has a purpose, a natural conclusion, so that a preaching service alone is profoundly unsatisfying. It cries out for the bread and the cup, the bread for the morrow, the cup of life, for all the baptized disciples. At Mark the Evangelist, this is one of the things for which we stand, and the rest of the Uniting Church needs our witness.

As long as these things are palpably at the heart of the life of this congregation, all other things will find their place. But one thing more needs reaffirmation, for it is everywhere absent from Sunday services: a sense of the presence of God, and that our single purpose when we gather is to give God the glory. In some places, one would wonder whether we are no more than a service industry meeting.  The focus sometimes seems entirely on the emotional and psychological needs of an atomised crowd: my needs, my denomination, my pew. The reason the Gospel is proclaimed is to make God’s love in Christ known. When Word and sacrament are faithfully set forth, people are drawn to Christ and are enrolled in the company of his disciples; the confirming sign is baptism. Such a company knows the One in whose hands the universe, this fragile earth, our fellow human beings lie. They grow more deeply into this saving mystery and are fed by Christ who is present; they give thanks. That’s what we do when we come together as Church, wherever and however we do it.

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Noticeboard

Passion Sunday: March 28, The Passion of the Christ according to St Mark, 10am

Maundy Thursday: April 1, Tenebrae service, 7.30pm

Good Friday: April 2, 10am

Easter Vigil: Saturday April 3, 8pm

Easter Day: April 4, 10am.


A postscript from the Editor:

We held over this precious piece of pandemic humour from the previous edition.

From Mary Sutherland

“En entrant dans cette église, il est possible que vous entendiez l’appel de Dieu.
Par contre, l’l n’est pas susceptible de vous contacter par téléphone. Merci d’avoir éteint votre téléphone.
Si vous souhaitez parler à Dieu, entrée, choisissez un endroit tranquille et parle lui.
Si vous souhaitez le voir envoyez-lui, lui SMS en conduisant.”

Translation:

“As you enter this church it is possible you may hear the call of God.
However, he is not likely to contact you by phone. Thank you for switching off your phone.
If you want to talk to God come in, find a quiet place and talk to him.
If you want to see him, text him while driving.”

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