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21 March 2014

By Sister Rosemary


Meeting of minds

WHEN I was a child, my father was hardly ever at home in the evening. In this, he was continuing a long-standing family tradition. His grandfather, so the story went, was usually to be found contributing to the profits of the local public house. His son, my paternal grandfather, reacted to this by becoming a teetotaller and a pillar of the community, deeply involved in the affairs of the Baptist Chapel and local politics.

This preoccupation with good works and democratic involvement continued down his lineage. Two of his daughters, with his enthusiastic approval, marched with the suffragettes, while my exasperated mother once calculated that my father belonged to 17 different voluntary organisations, each of which required him to attend meetings and bring work home.

And now the mantle has fallen on his daughter. I like meetings. My first venture out of the convent after being ill last year was to a PCC meeting. I enjoy studying papers, getting to grips with an agenda, arguing a case, working out policies, and helping to get things done. Inexplicable as it seems to me, not many people share my tastes.


Be in it to win it

THE season of annual parochial church meetings is upon us. In the next few weeks, churchpeople will be choosing those who will represent them in decision-making. It may not be difficult to find people to serve on the PCC; after all, the effect of its decisions in the life of the parish church is very evident, and the congregation has an interest in maintaining that life in a healthy and congenial way. But the words "deanery synod" cause many of the company to shrink into invisibility.

Yet worshippers in many other churches envy us our capacity to make the voice of the laity and the grass-roots clergy heard in this way. The deanery synod is the next tier of representation, which enables democratic participation in an area wider than the parish, and consultation outside the bounds of our particular brand of churchmanship.

Furthermore, many churchpeople do not realise that lay members of deanery synods form the electorate for the General Synod's House of Laity.

As I said in my last column (31 January), the decisions of the General Synod sometimes seem to have little effect at the local level. Sometimes, however, the impact is noticeable, as in the alterations in parochial fees, and in the recent widening of qualifying connections for marriage in a particular church.

And, in November 2012, in the vote on the women-bishops legislation, we were suddenly shocked into being aware of the effect of electing a General Synod that did not accurately reflect views on the ground.

We have the General Synod that we elect. And the process of election starts now, with the deanery synod.


Day of wrath

THE choir that I sing with is deep in rehearsals for Verdi's Requiem. This is an experience like none I have had before. Verdi does not go in for British understatement. To be part of massed voices raised in the dynamic extremes of Italian operatic style is both exhilarating and exhausting; I certainly sleep well on choir nights.

But if the Walter Mitty soprano in me loves it all, the priest and mission Sister has theological qualms. It is musically understandable that the section of this work most often heard is the Dies Irae, with its terrifying picture of the punitive wrath of God. But is this the idea of God that I should be promoting? And is abject grovelling an appropriate response to the prospect of meeting God?

A little corrective mission-preaching would, I feel, be in order. The trouble is, I do not think I could convey my message as powerfullyas Verdi conveys his.


Words with meaning

THEN again, my appreciation of the work has been entirely transformed by a recent television programme about performances held in the concentration camp at Terezín (Theresienstadt).

A group of Czech prisoners there included a young musician who had managed to carry with him a piano score of the Requiem. He recruited and rehearsed a choir of prisoners, teaching them each part by rote.

The composition of the choir was constantly changing, as new people arrived at the camp and former inmates were dispatched to Auschwitz. Performances were given from time to time, by permission of the guards.

Perhaps they did not realise the significance for these particular singers of the words, "Day of wrath! When God shall sit in judgment, when what is hidden is uncovered, nothing forgotten, nothing unpunished!"

Survivors from the choir testified how singing together had lifted their spirits and given them the strength to carry on in their almost intolerable circumstances. The attempt to exterminate them had failed, and their memories were a memorial to those who had died.

"Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them."

The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.


Wed 17 Aug @ 03:06
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