So here we are in Advent.
No idea how that happened - would have done my best to avoid it if possible, but clearly the passage of time is just another entry in the ever-expanding category "Things over which the vicar has no control - even if parishioners believe otherwise"
a) that everyone I meet says, knowingly
"Of course, it's your busy time of year...." (because clearly I spend the other 11 months in delicious idleness)
b) I try to focus even more than usual on noticing God at work in the prevailing muddle of parish life.
Advent Sunday was a bemusing mish-mash of the wonderful and the disappointing.
Graced moments included:
- the glorious voice of the "redundant opera singer" who worships with us periodically, lending both body and beauty to "Wachet Auf" at the morning Eucharist at Church-in-the-Valley
- The appearance of some quite unexpected families at Christingle (though the absence of several dozen more was one of the great disappointments of the day - I clearly need to rethink timing for the service in those years when Advent starts before December)
- The moment when the silent and hopeful darkness in Gloucester Cathedral thrilled to the opening of the Palestrina Matin Responsary
I first met this when, at 16, I moved to take my A levels at Eastbourne College. I've blogged before about the impact of the choir there, and the Director of Music, John Walker - a former Kings' chorister whose passion for church music was matched only by his passion for good food and drink. As that first busy term hurried to an end, we began practising for the Advent Carol service. I was pleased to be asked to sing the "1st boy" solo but didn't really "get" the piece until the day of the service.
Then as we stood at the back of the darkened church, I realised what was going on.
We were all those people through the centuries who had waited and hoped for light to come into their lives.The music spanned the ages, heavy with longing. It was one of the most powerful experiences of a window opened onto eternity that I've been part of - and each year, the music has that same power for me.
This Advent Sunday, as the familiar pattern of music and readings rolled on, and the congregational candles were lit, we were for a while taken up into the drama.The choir moved from the west end to stand beside the nave altar and we were surrounded by light and beauty, but then they moved on, behind the screen, to sing from the choir stalls. We could hear the music - but the readings were another matter. Clearly church in the valley is not alone in having issues with its sound system.
My small candle seemed inadequate to read the text but the odd word floated through the darkness
"strengthen the feeble knees.......your God is coming........."
It seemed that I was living a parable of the contemporary Church of England. Bright certainty gone, we stood waiting, straining our ears to catch the good news from a group that was now far ahead of us...But we still held our candles, still stood in hopeful expectation - and, in due time, our voices joined in glad recognition"Lo, he comes......."