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Feasts of Love and Other Stimuli

Do you have a favorite Lovefeast memory? A song, a reading, distinctive flavors, your children at a certain age? Do the services instead blend together in your memory, forming a likable swath in your tapestry of Christmas traditions? Across the years, Lovefeast at GPPC has been the same but different. Always there are readings, music, and The Feast – but attendees from the previous century may recall the choir singing much of the service from the chancel “down front”. For the last decade or so, the choir has mostly remained in the balcony; though this year, Doug is confronting his self-admitted “chancel phobia” and will bring the choir there for more than a passing visit. Another recent feature is music centered on a single composer: Bach last year, Mendelssohn a few years earlier, and next Sunday – John Rutter. And Lovefeast 2014 will have, it has been told, some family-friendly components for those of us with young children.

My own Lovefeast memories are mostly blended, but a service ten years ago continues to stand out. It was Doug Brown’s first at GPPC, having arrived as music director earlier in the year. Yes, we are a welcoming and accepting congregation, but you might say the pressure was on – and Doug responded with an exciting program. Our new tenor, Tyler Rackley, torched the somewhat odd and show-tuneish “Still There is Bethlehem”, a piece that returned for several more Lovefeasts, perhaps mostly on the strength of Tyler’s ability to deliver. A master of understatement and the occasional surprise, Doug had casually introduced during choir warm ups a “visiting friend” who would sing during the feast itself. His friend happened to be a soprano soloist and voice teacher with whom he’d worked in Stamford, Connecticut, and her visit was very well timed. I still remember a lot around her performance.  As the choir had a break during the feast, I sat downstairs with my wife and two sons, the younger one sleeping peacefully at seven weeks of age. Doug launched into the familiar arpeggios of “O Holy Night” and Teresa began to sing beautifully – in French!  I always experience that piece with excitement and tension, hoping the soloist can handle the high note near the end of the verse in at least a respectable fashion. Outside, thunder rumbled. Teresa delivered the first verse masterfully, including and especially the peak of pitch at its conclusion. Then Doug, the surprise master, raised the key a half step higher – a fresh wave of tense anticipation for me. The thunder built, clearly audible inside. As heads turned reflexively, we could see even through the semi-opaque sanctuary windows the outline of falling snow. Teresa once again assayed the full verse without incident. And then Doug raised the key again! I felt like I was on a roller coaster with my whole family in the car. We could now see the snow falling hard. And would Teresa really make the high note of the finale – a step and a half higher than the others? She did, of course – owned it, in fact. It was amazing. We lit our candles, sang “Silent Night”, and walked out to find everything covered by a wet inch of “thunder snow”.

This post was mostly laid out in my head last week when word came of the sudden death of Robert Knox, son of Ann and Bob, father of three of their young grandchildren. I wondered, first, how to write about a happy event like Lovefeast in the midst of such shock and sadness. And then I wondered if there were connections. One came easily and instantly: Bob reading from the Bible at Lovefeasts past. The sound of Bob’s voice reading Christmas Scripture is like moonlight on frozen snow. I once told Ann if Lovefeast were only Bob reading the lessons and a cup of warm water, I’d still show up. Another connection feels tenuous and difficult, but it has come and decided to stay: Robert’s death does not make sense to us – I tried at first to make the news mean something else – we make feeble attempts to understand, and we can’t. It is a mystery. Jesus’ birth is a mystery, too. So much there we can’t completely comprehend, including the enormity of the gift itself. What we try to believe, without fully understanding, is that God is in both of these mysteries. God is with Jesus in his coming here, and God is with Robert in his going home.

I hope you will come next Sunday for love and comfort, and some mystery of the season.

Our Moravian Lovefeast is offered Sunday, December 14, at 6:30PM in the sanctuary. Youth and adult choirs and a variety of instrumentalists will perform the music of John Rutter. There will be readings of the season and congregational hymns, and sweet treats and warm beverages served in the pews. Candles are lit and held high to conclude the service, with glo-sticks for younger folks. Alfred Walker, who contributed this blog entry, is neither soloing nor singing in French, but will be at his station of many years in the choir’s bass section.

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