Please read the first post in this series before proceeding with this.
I have mentioned that I attend Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston, a thing which I am sure will surprise various acquaintances. To me the inclination is no surprise, however, to have found a focus for that inclination has most certainly been a great surprise to me. Those of us who have attained "a certain age" will perhaps remember the Morning Pro Musica broadcasts of Robert J.Lurtsema; he often spoke of, and broadcast the "Cantata Series" of Emmanuel Music. Emmanuel Music was formed by Craig Smith at Emmanuel church to perform Back's cantata's within the context of a worship service as they were originally intended. I encourage you can read about it here.
One day this past October I was walking down Newbury Street and saw a poster on the door of the church announcing the commencement of this season's cycle of Cantatas. I decided to attend the following Sunday. I will now acknowledge a small oversight that makes me chuckle. Despite my vague awareness of the premise of the whole thing I was oblivious to the fact that appearing at the appointed time would require sitting through a church service, but in fact that was what started a series of very pleasant surprises.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic but ceased being observant by the time I ended high school. I attained that status which was called "Culturally Catholic." I don't think it was my realization of my sexual orientation as much as my understanding of the presence of God in the world outside of the church that caused this. For me there is a great privacy in my "Spiritual Journey" to use Emmanuel's phrase, and I came to resent the intrusion of the authority of the church between myself and God. My relationship with God is frankly strange; it is an intensely intimate friendship. As one ought to be with one's friends, I am rather loyal, don't bother Him with petty tasks, we give each other "space" when either of us needs it, and I get very angry when people say bad things about Him. The worst of those people, I'm afraid, are churches of various stripes, and I have been avoiding them assiduously out of loyalty to my Friend.
I do go for the music, obviously, and it has been the case that the distance of the choir and organists has suited me just fine. I like to slip in and out inconspicuously, avoiding the smiles and handshakes of the "Sunday Christians" at all costs, and shuddering at the thought of Coffee hour. I know a woman in the "W Towns," knew her rather well in fact, who frankly admitted that when she moved there she surveyed the churches to see which congregation was most likely to provide good diner parties. I can't say that she made the right determination. I have been inclined to chuckle behind her back. Perhaps what I am saying here isn't all that different- I will leave you to judge.
I mentioned having been surprised that morning, and subsequent mornings. Perhaps the first surprise concerns the congregation; they maintained a balance between a little distance and a sincere friendliness. I am much more susceptible to a reticent friendliness than to the extroverted simulacrum I am accustom to find on these forays, so the reserve suited me well. Another surprise was that the members of Emmanuel Music processed by my seat, with eye contact and smiles, as ones friends might. Their voices reverberating in my head, I was transported, which of course is the point. This is very different from watching performers from a distance.
There were the readings, some of which I happen to dislike- "many are called, but few are chosen." My Friend tells me this is hogwash. What kind of poor craftsman do people think he is that he would be making mistakes all the time. He understands about us, of course, and He says this in amusement, but still, the whole sin and damnation business is very hurtful to him. That's what he tells me, anyway. "And what did I give them those minds for? It was no intention of mine that they should be blathering idiots following any dictate that causes them to fear me. The sheep, after all, are much better sheep! I could have saved myself a great deal of trouble by leaving it at the sheep if that was what I intended." this is what he whispers to me when I make one of my forays into church. You may, at this point, quote Jane Wagner to me. I accept the diagnosis cheerfully.
Well, He was keeping his little whispers to himself that morning, and I was filled with sarcastic curiosity as Rev. Werntz mounted the pulpit to expound on this old saw about behaving oneself. One ear to the Pulpit, one available for Himself- He is very amusing in condescending remarks and I hate to miss any. She commenced the sermon with this prayer:
O God of love, grant us the wisdom, the strength and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will. Amen.
Prayers are funny things. They may be "recited" in a formal way. It seems to me that the reciter forgets altogether that someone is supposed to be listening to their efforts. I've become so used to chatting with my Friend that I sometimes wonder whether that approach has any point at all. Or prayers may be spoken from the heart,"our Father" Abba, Adoni, dad, Mother of us all, whatever. When a prayer is spoken to a real presence it must be less formal, more immediate, more familiar. My Friend wasn't joking under his breath because she was speaking to him sincerely about having the courage to seek for truth,"cost what it will."
No idyll bargain that. She had my respect and attention. That was one of the big surprises that morning. In her sermons she turned that text from Matthew so deftly that She left me speechless.
I had come for the Cantata, and I got, and continue to get the Cantatas. My expectations were exceeded. The musicians of Emmanuel Music deserve a discussion focused on themselves and I hope to provide it soon, but now I want to move forward to this past weekend, and say something about this community that I have joined.