Last year, I wrote this hymn for the Easter Vigil of St. James Anglican Church in Dundas. It was also sung the next morning for the Resurrection Eucharist.
The images from the Great Vigil of Easter, as many of you will know, involve water, darkness and light, to put it simply. Baptisms have often been held at the Vigil, and the great reading of the Exodus of Moses is read. For many years running, I read the story, and it was difficult not to slide into John Cleese-esque “Pharoh, and his chariots, and his chariot drivers.” You can imagine the sound. Not giggling was a requirement, and it was hard.
Anyway, on to the hymn. If you’re interested in using it, please be in touch with me for permission at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you so much for reading this hymn.
commissioned by Eric Osborne and St. James’ Anglican Church, Dundas,
the Venerable Jim Sandilands and the Reverend Bill Mous
Well, folks in this area will be able to hear me reading from the Marmot stories at an event called Vinyl Church at St. James in Dundas. We’ll have a hip jazz combo with a sultry singer (Sara. my wife) and I’ll do some readings from the Marmot canon.
Now, I know you’re thinking that it sounds like a rather popular CBC radio show, nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, I’ve never heard of Vinyl Cafe – oops – what I meant to say was, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Yes, that’s it!
The date in late February will be announced here on the blog shortly.
Now, I take my handy-dandy Moleskine journal with me on my journeys, but in days gone by I often had to write on whatever came to hand.
I was at a recital of Bach’s entire Little Organ Book, put on by the local centre of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, and the idea for a new hymn celebrating organs and their use in worship came to mind. I thought I’d only sketch out the ideas in rough, but the poetry came quite easily that afternoon in Port Nelson United Church, Burlington, where a good friend, Rev. Michael Brooks, is now the senior minister.
This hymn has been used at many organ dedications and celebrations, but to me it always brings to mind this purple concert programme and that afternoon when I just kept writing. If you look closely on the scans, you might even decipher the words:
The Moving of Elm Street Baptist ChurchPennies from Heaven are one thing, but rain actually drenching the Pastor during the sermon is quite another. Dr. Richard “Richie” Robinson was just about to done Part IV of his sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are the peacemakers, when the roof above him gave way just a little, and the good Reverend was soaked from head to foot. This was tragedy enough, one would think, but it was Pentecost Sunday, and Richie was trying to follow the liturgical calendar. Just for this occasion he’d asked his wife to make a new red stole – and the colour ran. Elspeth had used the best of materials, but didn’t think about the dangers of damp. His white shirt was now crimson, and the cream coloured carpet of the pulpit area was a livid pink.
The building committee met the very next night to consider their options. As repeated by Kerry Driver, editor of the Marmot Shopper-Express, “the chair of the Building and Music Committee, Mrs. Stewart (Isabelle) Evans (63, of Pierre Street in the New Subdivision), put forth a motion that ‘the Elm Street Baptist Church be moved to a new location, more suitable to the good works it has always tried to do.’ The motion was carried by a large majority.” The Shopper-Express went on to speculate at length as to where the new site would be and what particular part of Marmot would be more suitable than the current location.
It should be noted that Elm Street Baptist Church had more than a leaky roof. On Sundays when a baptism was planned, the Sunday School was cancelled since the grade 2-4 and the grade 6-8 rooms were flooded. The tap in the baptistry had to be left on throughout the service to maintain a certain depth, and the citizenry came to think of the sound as if it were a lovely fountain. Miraculously, the grade five classroom remained dry, but it was a former broom closet, so it was of little practical use for the majority of the students.
The choir loft had such squeaky pews that newcomers thought it was a ‘progressive’ congregation, with drums and electric guitars. That sound was only the tenors fidgeting mightily during the sermons. Dr. Richie was well loved, but he could bore at an Olympic level. When the choir did sing, they were made to sing into microphones that must have been donated to the church by Noah himself, having finished with them on the ark. This lent a tinny and spectacularly annoying tone to a group who were already no Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The list of problems went on and on.
Mrs. Evans and her husband Stewart went around Marmot County, seeking tenders for the moving of the church. Trifficanti Brothers, the largest construction firm in the area was very interested, and met twice with the Evanses to look toward a mutually beneficial future. Stewart Evans was the Technical Head at John Graves Simcoe High and Vocational School, where he taught advanced carpentry and intermediate electrical work. He was no fool, therefore, when it came to the business of construction, he would pepper his conversation with titbits like “fuse” and “dado”. Gianni Trifficanti was no doubt impressed beyond words when Evans asked if they would be using Robertson or Phillips head screws in the work on Elm Street Baptist. They entered into a conversation about the theology of screw heads, and while that elevated discussion went on, Isabelle Evans was inspecting various patterns of carpeting for the Ladies’ Parlour. There was a dusky rose she liked very well. It had a forty year guarantee and was supposed not to stain even under the most severe circumstances. This appealed to Isabelle, since she knew of the staining power of the purple grape juice Mother’s Corner served at their Tuesday morning meetings. The Ladies Guild had been forced to comb the second-hand shops of Marmot county seeking out more furniture to cover the offending stained areas. By the time they were done, the Ladies’ Parlour of Elm Street Baptist was a second-hand shop for furniture. You could hardly walk.
While looking at this superior type of floor covering, however, her mind wandered to the upcoming cruise she and her husband were planning to take: The Mediterranean & the Holy Land – led by Pastor and Mrs R. Robinson. People of the church had lined up to get their tickets, and several had been sold the Anglicans, and even Presbyterians, no less. Friday morning the group flew from Pearson Airport in Toronto to Rome for a night, and from there on to a two week adventure aboard The Holy Sea – a ship owned in fact by Holland-America, but run by the Catholic Church. Local ministers were encouraged to take their flocks along by offering free cruises for the clergy and their spouses (if any). The ships were always full.
On Wednesday night, a new piece of land was bought, but there were problems. Some folks didn’t like the spot, and others hated it. What prompted the swift action was the low price, and the assurance from the realtor that the church could sell the land any day for twice what they paid. With the cruise coming, the lot could have been sold from under them, and the committee decided to buy the land with the money in the savings account of the church. They prepared for their cruise very satisfied with the decision which would at least be a super investment, and excited about the work ahead when they returned home.
Almost everyone who was anyone in the Elm Street Baptist Church was going on the cruise – deacons, vergers and the lot. They had almost thought of shutting down the church altogether, but retired Professor Jonathan Able-Wax offered to take the services and keep going in the regular Pastor’s absence. With everything seeming to be in hand, the happy travellers packed and set off for this journey of travel, religious discovery and new experiences.
Sunday morning, Professor Able-Wax took the pulpit and preached a fire and brimstone sermon on the job of every Christian to take a role in the running of the church. He told them that although the committee chairs were mostly away, the committees should still continue to act. He quoted the resolution of change as it had been repeated in the Shopper-Express; “that the Elm Street Baptist Church be moved to a new location, more suitable to the good works it has always tried to do.”
“The land”, Able-Wax shouted, emphasising the last syllable of the longer words, “The new land is purchased, free and clear! We have our direction from the resolution! Let us set about today to move this great church so that when the Pastor and his group return, they will find a building and congregation renewed, stronger and better prepared to face the challenges ahead!”
“I urge all of you to rise up today and work hard to move this historical edifice: ‘Faith without works is dead!’ We must carry on – we must look forward – we must do the Lord’s work in this great town of Marmot! We have a call – hear the call – listen to the voice – and respond!”
The electric and dazzling sermon, preached in the basso-profundo voice Professor Able-Wax reserved for great occasions, stirred the people to such an extent that even those who never considered serving on a committee were moved to action. Before the day was out, a plan for the moving was in hand.
You know, really, that this was the chance many Marmot Baptists had been seeking to put themselves in the drivers’ seats, to have some say and power. As at most churches, there is a select group who run things. In this case, the worm had turned, and it would be a lesson for everyone. Those who undertook this mammoth job learned that church work can be very hard and disappointing, as well as rewarding, and those who were usually in charge learned not to be too glib in the wording of motions at meetings. Whereas they really meant to rebuild a new church with only the possibility of a new site, they had actually said “move the church”, and that is what the people, fired up by Professor Able-Wax, did.
They hired a prominent firm of building movers and had Elm Street Baptist Church moved, lock, stock and baptistry to the new location on the corner of Victoria and Maple Streets. I’ll spare you the gory details of the two weeks that made up this remarkable and Herculean labour. It only needs saying that Professor Able-Wax was never asked or allowed to preach again.
Kerry Driver of the Shopper-Express had a heyday taking pictures and getting interviews. A special section was planned and executed. It was so excellent, in fact, that the Shopper-Express’ parent company, Beaverpond Communications ran all or part of the special reports in their affiliate papers across the country. Try to imagine Dr. Richie Robinson’s surprise, then, on their flight home, reading the complimentary National Globe-Express, when he saw a photo essay of some of his flock moving, actually moving their – his – church. Copies of the newspapers were given to all the passengers, and as the Elm Street Baptist group got to page eight around the same time, there went up somewhat of a collective gasp.
“Kingston, I should have gone to Kingston,” thought Pastor Richie as he realised with horror the full extent of the folly of his flock. Stewart and Isabelle Evans were more shocked than most as they were mentioned by name in the article, and Isabelle was quoted rather indirectly, and incorrectly:
“We’re sure going to surprise Pastor Richie!,” said the Reverend Professor Able-Wax, 78, yesterday as the great edifice of Elm Street Baptist Church in Marmot, Ontario, was moved from its old location to a new footing in an amazing engineering feat. “Isabelle (Mrs. Stewart) Evans made the motion to move the building at the last church council meeting, and we’re carrying out her wishes,” proudly espoused James Rockville, 53, foreman of the works. Mrs. Evans and much of the church body have been on a religious pilgrimage-cruise of the Holy Land and its deserts while the remaining congregation undertook the moving the church building. “Sure it was the Professor Able-Wax’s words as stirred us to action,” said Mrs. Dwight Gilliam, 61.
Upon his arrival home, and after seeing the same old, leaky church on the new plot, the Reverend Dr. Richie Robinson was heard to say, “I never thought it would look like this”. Hearing only what they wanted to hear, the people were pleased.
I have, in many ways, dedicated my life to the organ. As a small child I pointed towards the organist at our church and said, “I want to do that.” Although there have been some bumps in the roads, I have done just that.
I’m playing a little these days, but basically I’m retired from active playing due to physical problems, but my attention to the pipe organ hasn’t diminished. Having a small studio of students, I can watch their progess with great care. Some of my former students are doing great things in the organ world, even as their training stage continues.
As you read this blog, I will refer to the organ often, no doubt. I have published compositions (and several as yet unpublished) for the organ, and I continue to write about the organ. Indeed, if it weren’t for the organ, I’d not have met my wife Sara.
For a few years, I served as Archivist and Historian to the Royal Canadian College of Organists. During that time, Sara was hired as a summer intern for the College’s office in Toronto. We got to know each other as friends, and in due course of time, were married. (This was the Reader’s Digest version of the story)
Our wedding was described by Muriel Gidley Stafford, the Grand Dame of the College as an RCCO royal wedding. So many friends and colleagues came to sing loudly and wish us well. My best friend Paul Grimwood played for us and conducted the choir.
In 2005, the College (RCCO) granted me one of its highest honors – the Honorary Life Membership, of which I’m rather proud. Also, as I was under 40 when I got it, I intend to have free membership for many years to come!
1. We hear our praises echo with love felt round the Earth,
We are renewed, forgiven – God validates our worth!
We’re changed because we’ve been here, profoundly made anew!
We see the world with vision that God’s love filters through.
2. The decades of our mission fulfilling God’s command,
Have changed our singing spirits just as our Maker planned.
The faithful generations have taught in this great land:
“Seek first God’s holy wisdom (kingdom) and righteous, healing hand.”
3. We’ve learned of one who helped on the road to Jericho,
‘Samaritan’ – a watchword for how we love and grow.
We seek to help a stranger, and walk the narrow way –
This place has shown God’s love that we live through ev’ry day!
4. Our babies are baptised here, the young , they hear the call,
And many blesséd unions shine God’s great love for all.
As we remember loved ones whose final prayers were here,
We know that countless people found God’s compassion near.
5. God’s love is still creating, around us every day,
And Jesus calls us closer in words we sing and pray,
We feel the Spirit moving, our hearts and souls ablaze,
Where all our Alleluias sing universal praise!
for the tune Aurelia 7676D
This hymn was commissioned by Anne Stuttaford (my wife Sara’s Granny, whom I love very much) to honour her friend Ellen MacLean, and Elmvale Presbyterian Church’s Sesquicentennial.
Elmvale is a beautiful little town and the Presbyterian church is a wonderful red-brick structure. Ellen has been a great friend to Granny – always so kind and she often goes over and above the call of duty.
Granny stayed with Ellen for a while in early 2009 and I talked to Granny about being commissioned to write another hymn, and she thought of this as a thank-you gift for her chum. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and, using the well-known tune Aurelia, I think most congregations could sing it easily.
If you wish to use this hymn, please seek permission from me at email@example.com. Everyone one in a while on this blog I’ll offer free hymns for churches to use. Please do let me know, though, so I can keep track of their use. If you want to see more of my hymns, check the Hope Publishing web site for their online hymnody section.