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God knocks off

God knocks off

by Richard Rice-Oxley

One Spring Sunday morning clergy all over the country had a shock. Arriving at their churches for morning worship, they found a note on the door which read: ’Sorry, can’t make it to the service this morning- God.’ No reason was given, so the clergy started to ask around for an explanation.

Some people had heard that God had got company. Apparently St Peter was waiting at the pearly gates for a delegation from Virgin Galactic, who were seeking the franchise for jet tours to heaven. As a result, God, not knowing what time they would arrive, was unable to commit to coming to church that morning.

Others thought that it was because of the weather. In the West it was cold and wet. Apparently God was fed up with turning out in the rain. In the East the sun was shining, and people in those parts had heard that God liked a spin in his Godmobile on Sunday.
Other people were convinced that God had gone shopping. They had heard that he was so busy answering people’s prayers from Monday to Saturday that he reckoned he only had Sunday left to make his weekly visit to Tesco. Others thought that God really preferred a Car Boot sale or Sunday Market, where he could pick up harps for the heavenly choir at bargain prices.

Others thought that God was getting interested in sport. The cricket season was starting, and it was rumoured that God fancied himself as a demon bowler .Or maybe God was supporting a charity event. God is known to be a keen backer of charities, so perhaps he had decided to get himself sponsored and take part.

Some of the people questioned took a different tack. They said the reason that God had sent his apologies that morning was that he didn’t enjoy the experience. They had heard that churches were always cold, the congregations unfriendly, the music tedious, and the ministers inaudible. In fact they were amazed that God had stuck it for so long. They themselves wouldn’t be seen dead in church on Sundays. Funerals left them cold, they only went to Christenings to ‘wet the baby’s head’ afterwards, and to weddings to look at the hats.

Returning despondently to their churches, the clergy got another shock. As they approached, they heard the sound of laughter, and found another note on the door which said: ‘Only joking! Of course I’m coming this morning. My time with all of you each week is always the first thing in my diary. Love, God.’

Roots and Shoots

Roots and Shoots
Revd Richard Rice-Oxley
April 2016

Let us begin with a tree. A tree needs roots, roots that go deep enough to feed the tree with nutrients, and to enable it to stand in the face of a storm. But it also needs shoots, first of all branches that spread and grow, and then leaves, blossom and fruit, that tell us what sort of tree it is, and express its life and beauty. The tree is a parable of the human life. We need roots that receive nourishment for our minds and spirits, roots that will keep us inwardly secure when life’s trials batter us. These roots grow through receiving love and affirmation, support and care. Where this is lacking, our inner being can wither and die. For the Christian, the greatest affirmation, and so the greatest support for our human roots, is to know ourselves loved by God. But we also need the shoots. Life is not just about stability through receiving. It is also about adventure, and new life, about reaching out and going on, about showing to others the fruit of our rootedness. Again, for the Christian, the shoots symbolise the call to venture out, to experiment, to do good, to offer love, and show how a rooted personality can spread sunshine and hope in a dark world.

Esther de Waal expresses well the importance of these two life dimensions If I stand still without moving on I am in danger of becoming static, of failing to grow, possibly even of fossilizing. If I journey on without remaining still in my innermost being I am in danger of becoming a wanderer, someone who is endlessly searching. (Living with Contradiction pages 62-3.)

In the Gospels, roots and shoots are expressed primarily by two words – abide and follow. In John’s Gospel and letters, the word abide is commonly used to express the rootedness which comes from belonging to Christ. In John 15, the writer uses the image of a plant, the vine, the express the vital importance of being rooted in Christ. And he links this with the shoots. It is only as we are rooted and abide in him that the branches will bear fruit (verses 4-5).

In the Synoptic Gospels there is more emphasis on movement and growth. This is often expressed by the words of Jesus Follow me. The call of the first disciples, Andrew, Peter, James and John, was a challenge to a radical change of life, an invitation to adventure, an opportunity for the shoots to spread, blossom and grow. The early disciples set out on a journey to an unknown destination, a roller-coaster ride of great highs, with miracles and amazing teaching, and lows of rejection by the religious authorities. The shoots of their discipleship were given an opportunity to grow when Jesus sent them out to act as they had seen him acting – preaching, teaching, and casting out demons. These shoots flourished with greater scope and confidence after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts.

This same model of roots and shoots can be applied more widely. Churches need to embrace it. We need our churches to be firmly rooted – secure and confident in biblical doctrine and practice, valuing prayer, eucharistic worship, and the wisdom of past generations. But these same churches need also to develop shoots, growing, developing and experimenting, open to new forms of group life, following Christ’s lead into new areas of ministry and mission. The Fresh Expressions movement has tapped into this vision. But my contention is that every church, while maintaining its rootedness and stability should be seeking its own expression of ministry and mission, in order to be faithful to a Christ who constantly says Follow me. Esther de Waal’s warning about the individual could apply equally to churches. A church whose sole emphasis is on stability, the importance of orthodoxy and of doing things the way they have always been done, is in danger of fossilizing. The church which spends its whole time striving to be up-to-date, and where no one has a clue what is coming next, can feel confusing and lacking in direction and purpose.

A church’s liturgy needs the same double dynamic. As Anglicans we have a rich heritage in the Book of Common Prayer. Its sense of the sovereignty and majesty of God is expressed in language which points clearly to the rootedness of our life in Christ. Modern liturgies, with their greater variety of both thought and expression enable the Church to also express the shoots – new and varied approaches to the Eucharist, a Service of the Word, and the Occasional Offices. It is not a case of either or, but both and. While most churches, rightly in my view, major on the modern, it is good to have on occasion the rootedness, the solemnity and tradition, which the Book of Common Prayer provides.

Church music, too, needs both roots and shoots. Time was when the English Hymnal or Hymns Ancient and Modern ( Ancient and Moribund as it was sometimes disrespectfully called) were the only hymn books open to the adult Anglican worshipper. Of course, these collections contained a great variety, translations of ancient texts, the great George Herbert, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, to name but a few composers. But they all took a traditional metric form. Then in the 1960s came Sydney Carter. He was followed by an outpouring of new worship songs, many associated with charismatic renewal. The shoots have continued to flourish with a vast amount of choice on offer. The chants of Taize, the new words set to Scottish folk tunes by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community and the World Praise Collections assembled from the Worldwide Church, have all enriched the worship of God’s people. However, we should never think that any of this new music can replace the traditional hymn, or indeed Cathedral chant, psalm and hymnody, which increasing numbers of people are coming to appreciate.

Finally,there is the church building. Most Anglican churches except the very modern, proclaim their very rootedness by their construction. They are built of solid stone or brick. Many have towers, which seem to say We serve a God who is dependable and stands the test of time. The truths we proclaim are permanent. Though society may change, our God is unchanging. Once inside, the visitor finds solid pillars and fixed pews. The font is fixed at the back of church and the pulpit and the altar at the front. Rootedness is well served by such a building. But if it is to be faithful to the Christ who commands to his disciples both to abide and to follow, the building should reflect our double dynamic. In general, there is not a lot that can be done about the structure – unless it succumbs to fire, as happened to Eastwood Church where I served my curacy. But maybe it is time to join some churches in a radical rethink of the interior. If the structure is stressing roots, maybe the interior should major on shoots. So perhaps most if not all of the fixed pews could be removed. Different parts of the church could be opened up to the community – for play groups, youth, mid-week cafe, etc. A few rural churches double as the local Post Office! The worship area, in addition to lectern, pulpit and altar could embrace colour (banners), movement (liturgical dance and drama), and a mixture of music. Whatever is done should be an attempt to express a dynamic, adventurous, outward-looking God, served by a dynamic, adventurous and outward-looking people.

To sum up: I believe the image of a trees roots and shoots provides a helpful model of flourishing. Individuals, churches, liturgy, music and church buildings all need this double dynamic which is presented to us in the biblical challenge to abide in and to follow Christ. The summons is the title of an Iona hymns by John Bell and Graham Maule. Throughout there is a fusion of abiding and following. Here is the last verse:
Lord your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you, and you in me.

NB
This essay has been developed from an original idea by Barack Obama.

Atheism or Christian faith

Atheism or Christian faith

by Richard Rice-Oxley

Which is more likely?

1. EITHER the material universe created itself out of nothing
OR the universe was created by God, an uncreated, non-material and eternal being.

2. EITHER in a purely material world, good and evil are not absolutes but judged to be one or the other by human beings
OR good and evil are distinct and real, light and darkness, and human good and evil are likewise moral realities independent of human judgment.

3. EITHER the theory of evolution is a sufficient explanation of human life as we know it
OR the theory of evolution needs to be set within a wider perspective, that of God’s creation. In particular the reality of disinterested human love, or altruism, can be explained as a reflection of the nature of a living God.

4. EITHER we cannot be sure of the intrinsic value of each human being – their value is dependent upon human judgment
OR every human being is made in the image of God, and therefore has intrinsic value.

5. EITHER belief in rational thought is a matter of faith, since reason is not necessarily the result of a self-generating universe
OR belief in rational thought flows from belief in a Creator who has created reason as part of his creation plan.

6. EITHER belief in the supernatural, including the practice of prayer to a deity or deities, which seems to be universal to all human cultures is a fantasy and animals who apparently show no such awareness are therefore nearer the truth than humans
OR the universal practice of prayer by human beings corresponds to a reality. There is a God and human beings are responding to One who exists.

7. EITHER the vast output of magnificent art, architecture and music, which has been inspired by religious belief, is based on a fantasy, since there is no reality to warrant it
OR these magnificent works are truly inspired. God has given the gifts which has enabled them and each displays something of his nature.

8. EITHER Jesus Christ, whose moral teaching is widely regarded as among the most profound and challenging the world has ever received, was deluded in his belief (a) that he was the Son of God, (b) that his death on the cross would reconcile us to God and (c) that he would be raised to life on the third day after his death
OR Jesus Christ’s teaching flowed naturally from his identity as Son of God, Saviour of the world, and the conqueror of both sin and death through his resurrection.

9. EITHER the first Christians were deluded in their belief that (a) Jesus Christ had risen from the dead (b) that the miracles they performed were done in his name (c) that the lives they saw changed were changed by God
OR the Jesus revolution was real!

10. EITHER there is no God, or God is a monster who doesn’t care for his suffering children
OR there is a loving a compassionate God revealed to us by Jesus Christ. This God showed his compassion when he allowed his Son to be assaulted by the dark forces of evil on the cross. He feels the pain of every sufferer, and prompts the action of those who relieve that pain. Christ’s resurrection shows us that evil will finally be defeated and all shall be well one day.
Which is preferable?

11. EITHER there is no life beyond this life: we are on the road to nowhere
OR this life is a preparation for the life to come.

12. EITHER there is no ultimate redress for the abused and no ultimate judgment for the abuser and wrongs that are not righted in this life remain beyond the hope of change
OR beyond this life there is judgment by an absolutely just God and every human being must given an account of their life to God. Innocent sufferers in this world can be welcomed into a place of bliss in the life to come.

The story behind The Jesus Story

I began writing songs in the early 1970s, soon after I was ordained as a Church of England minister, as an expression of my faith.

My first appointment was to be curate in Eastwood parish.  This was a spiritually uplifting time, and in the spring and summer of 1972 I was inspired by God to write a number of songs.  One of them was The Sea of Galilee. I found myself playing on my guitar two chords, and was fascinated with them. As I played them over and over again, they suggested the sea.  Composing a song about Jesus’s Stilling of the Storm just followed on naturally.  This photo of The Sea of Galilee was taken by Sylvia as part of  her pre-ordination  training in 2008.

Galilee boat

In 1973, I became Youth Adviser for The Church Missionary Society (now The Church Mission Society) and was based at the Headquarters in Waterloo Road, London. The setting of The Beatitudes was composed during a group trip to Taize, a monastic community in the south of France which attracts young people from all over the world.  The community emphasises both social action and personal holiness, a combination we find in these words of Jesus.  Originally set to the New English Bible version, the current translation is now largely my own attempt to convey the meaning of the original.

Dayspring was written in 1977 for a song competition connected with a big youth event at St David’s in Wales.  I didn’t win, but the song has remained a favourite, and has often been sung in parishes I have served.

sunset gallilee

Whilst we were at the Church of St Matthew and St Luke, Darlington, I recorded all the songs I had written up to that point with the help of Simeon Hope. Some of the songs were sung in aid of a Charity. In 2008, the songs were kindly transferred from cassette to CD by Antoine Robinson.

The idea of collecting together songs I had written about the Life of Jesus came towards the end of 2010. Soon afterwards I had a dream in which someone was singing a pop song. When I woke up, I got my guitar and played the tune I had heard in my dream. I changed the words to Hosanna, as I needed a song to cover Palm Sunday!

In March 2011, I joined forces with the kids from the local Primary School in Aldbrough, East Yorkshire, one of the parishes where Sylvia was serving as minister. I was retired by this time, but helping in the Benefice. We made a CD, recorded in Aldbrough Church, which had 18 songs from The Jesus Story. The whole musical contains 24 songs, of which 18 were chosen to be sung at the performances in Corby Glen and Swayfield, Lincolnshire in 2015.

At the end of 2011, I composed Here is Love for Christmas which was sung by the Choir of the Aldbrough Benefice Churches. This is perhaps my favourite of all the songs. In 2012 I set about filling in the gaps in the narrative and wrote some new songs, for example the Healing of the Ten Men and Peter’s Denial.

I compose to the guitar and do not write down music.  I was helped in this by Julian Watson who kindly transcribed the musical between August 2012 and April 2013.  For a year I tried hard to get The Jesus Story published or performed, helped by Sylvia.   But despite a lot of effort (and prayer!) nothing happened.  Then in the summer of 2014 Sue Glover and Janet Roberts agreed to take on the project.  They did all the choral arrangements between them and produced the score.  They also recruited the choir and band members from the local area.   We had generous financial support from my friend Vic Wood who had been encouraging us during the difficult period.

IMG_1284
The musical, which includes a linking narration, received its first performances on Friday April 17th in Swayfield Village Hall and Sunday April 19th in Corby Glen Church Street Rooms under the direction of Janet Roberts. Sue Glover produced all the publicity. The performances were received with great enthusiasm, scrumptious refreshments enjoyed, and we thank God.

Classical Notes

Richard’s Classical Notes

I like music – lots of different kinds of music – including pop, jazz, folk, musicals and even the occasional little old country and western song. I also love Church music, hymns and choruses which I have lived with and enjoyed most of my life, but apart from this it is classical music which has enriched my life most. Classical music, or incidents connected with it, have also given me some of my most inspiring and amusing moments. So, here are my classical notes!

Home

I begin with an experience in the home I grew up in, No.9 Blyth Grove, Worksop. My Dad was a great classical music fan, and he amassed a good collection of LPs of the greats, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. He would listen to his records, mainly in the sitting room, but he had a speaker put into the dining room so that records playing on his precious ‘black box’ record player could be relayed through. One of his records was of the Brahms Violin Concerto. At first I couldn’t get to grips with it. The violin part sounded like a cacophony of discordant scratching. But because I was often in the dining room when dad was playing his records, I heard it several times. Suddenly, one day something happened – the discordant scratching became to me a beautiful melody. What a revelation! It showed me that beautiful music does not always reveal its delights at once. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

School

My love of music was fostered at my senior school, Worksop College. I joined the Chapel Choir and enjoyed much classical Church music especially singing part of Haydn’s Creation and How Lovely are Thy Dwellings from Brahms’ German Requiem. At the age of 15 I was cast as Little Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. The reason was that before my voice broke, I was threatening to leave the Choir and was persuaded to stay on as an alto, since they had fewer practices. The result was that as my voice got lower I retained my top voice and gradually acquired a mellow tone, just right for the part of Buttercup. Unfortunately my physique was all wrong. At one point in the operetta Buttercup is described as a ‘plump and pleasing person’. Despite wearing a corset with lots of padding I was still nearly 6ft tall and as skinny as a rake!

I had also started having violin lessons with a private teacher. This enabled me to play in the School Orchestra, a position for which I was actually not well fitted. The chief music teacher, Mr Martin, once made a joke at my expense outside the music school, hailing me with the words ‘Hoy Yehudi’. This was an ironic reference to Yehudi Menuhin, the outstanding violin virtuoso of the 1950s. I remember sitting in the orchestra behind Mr Thoday, the Biology teacher. He was an excellent violin player. On one occasion I managed to hear a pleasant sound by moving my bow up and down soundlessly while listening to the sweet notes of Mr Thoday’s violin in front of me. My practising the violin at home drove my two younger brothers to distraction. Eventually they forced a showdown – my violin against Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ played on the record player at full volume. After a while it became clear it was no contest – my violin playing was much more raucous and ear splitting that Elvis. My brothers had to concede defeat!

It was at school that I had another special musical experience. The music school had a number of small rooms, which could be used for individual lessons, or for listening to music on a record player. On one occasion I was listening on my own to Bruch’s Violin Concerto, a beautiful romantic piece. There is one phrase, never repeated, whose beauty completely captivated me. It was a magical moment I have never forgotten.

Mr Martin used to take us for musical appreciation classes. One piece I remember him talking about was the Romeo and Juliet Overture by Tchaikovsky. He explained how the composer had chosen his melodies to express the different elements of Shakespeare’s tragedy – for instance, the bitter disputes between the Montague and Capulet families, the poignant love of Romeo and Juliet, a lovely flowing melody, the appearance of the dignified friar, and what he called pot boiling music to link the various sections together. Mr Martin was opening up another area of classical music, in which music is used to illuminate human drama. I have always enjoyed listening to this piece ever since.

Abroad

Monday was C.C.F. (Combined Cadet Force) day. I didn’t enjoy it. But the holiday trips were a different matter. One year we travelled to France for what was called arduous training, mostly hiking in the foothills of the Alps. On the way home we stayed in Paris. A friend suggested we should go to an opera at the Paris Opera House. I think we must have heard Verdi’s Rigoletto, because I can vaguely remember my Dad indicating he had had rather too much opera after I played the record of Rigoletto constantly on my return home! We were dressed in our army kit, and perhaps didn’t smell too good after a week’s hiking in the hills. It was touch and go whether we would be allowed in. Eventually the manager took pity on us and speaking to the lift attendant, who was to escort us up to the fifth floor, pointed at us and said par excéption, indicating that the Paris Opera House had never before entertained such scruffy patrons! It was boiling hot up there, and one of us took off a jumper and the other his shoes. I recall hearing a member of the audience nearby referring disparagingly to les américains! We didn’t put him right about our nationality!

Records

It was about this time that I started to buy records. I bought the recording of Zara Nelsova playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, largely on the strength of hearing his Ninth Symphony. This Concerto has remained a firm favourite ever since, and my CD of Rostropovich’s performance still gets a regular outing. It is a wonderful piece of music! I also enjoyed Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, played by David and Igor Oistrakh, and Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto which provided a tuneful background for my pre-university studies.

University

At Oxford my violin playing was not much in evidence, although for a while I was a member of the Holywell Orchestra. The great attraction of this Orchestra was that no audition was required. If I had had to attend one it is unlikely I would have been allowed to play more than a couple of bars before receiving ignominious rejection. The only thing I remember about playing in the Orchestra is that, when sitting at twelfth desk of the second violins in a run through of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, I managed about twelve notes as the final allegro rattled through!

My violin did provide a couple of amusing incidents. One day I was cycling along with it under my arm, when my bike missed a stroke and deposited both my violin and me in the road. As people came up to see how I was, for once in my life I managed the perfect bon mot: Don’t mind me, what about the violin? On another occasion I was hitching home carrying my violin. I was picked up by a lorry whose driver found great amusement from confessing some unspecified fraud You’re on the fiddle – I’m on the fiddle. Ho Ho.

Two of my friends, David and Vic, were both musical. They used to play duets, mainly Mozart as I remember, on David’s piano. That piano provided another amusing episode. Vic hid a block of cheese in it, unknown to David, and it gradually got riper and riper. Poor David was driven to distraction. He just couldn’t work out where the smell was coming from. He found it eventually and got his own back by hiding it in Vic’s room.

In 1964, the three of us went on a wonderful holiday to Greece. In Athens we heard about a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, which was due to be put on in an open air theatre in the city. The tickets were far too expensive for us students, so we sat on the bare rock of the Acropolis for one and a half hours. At least we could hear this glorious music even if we couldn’t see much. Apparently, King Constantine and his fiancée were among the audience.

In the car

Many years later, I was listening to the last (choral) movement of this Symphony and was so moved that I found myself filling up and had to stop the car as I couldn’t see to drive! It is amazing to think that this immensely uplifting and inspiring music was written by a man so deaf that he had to be turned round to see the applause of those attending its first performance.

Another experience of listening to music in the car is rather less serious. It goes back to the time when there were still petrol pump attendants who filled your tank for you, probably in the 1970s. I was listening to Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, the most exciting moment for me is when the composer brings back the majestic opening theme at the end of the First Movement. This point in the Symphony came just as I was pulling up at a filling station. Leaping from the car, I greeted the attendant who was approaching me with his hose with the words Listen to this – it’s one of the most exciting moments in music. History does not record whether he became a Schubert fan from that time on but I can’t say I am convinced of it!

Overseas

On leaving Oxford, I went to Tanzania as a volunteer teacher at Chidya Boys’ School. Classical music was not particularly in evidence although I could pick up the lunch time concert from South Africa on my radio. The dining hall had a few records including some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. My most powerful memory is of a time when I was staying at Ndanda, a Roman Catholic Boys’ School about 30 miles from Chidya. I was there to mark exam papers, a tedious business at the best of times and extremely tiring in the heat. It was towards evening and suddenly I heard a familiar sound wafted on the still tropical air. I left my exam papers and followed the sound to a hall where boys were watching a film. I have no idea what the film was about, but the sound track was belting out the most magnificent notes of Brahms’ Second Symphony – a wonderful tonic to a weary exam marker.

Back home

There are several musical occasions whose dates I can’t remember, but I think they must have been in the 1960s or early 1970s. One evening I attended a concert with my Dad at my old school Worksop College. It took place in the Chapel in which I had sung so often. The work was Haydn’s Nelson Mass, a setting which had I believe been recently rediscovered after years of neglect. The opening kyrie is a powerful piece with a soaring soprano solo. My Dad and I were quite blown away by the impact.

Dad’s parents, my Granny and Grandpa, lived in Ipswich and we often went there on holiday. One day we went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah in my Grandparents’ Church. All went well until we came to The trumpet shall sound, which features a solo bass and a solo trumpet. The trumpet was being played by a young lad who was clearly very nervous. His rendition was all over the place. The bass was an older man and he manfully kept his part going despite the distraction of the wayward trumpet. I am afraid to say that we found it rather amusing.

Many years later, I sang in a do-it-yourself performance of the Messiah at St Nicholas Hornsea where I was vicar. You practise the piece in the afternoon and perform it in the evening. I had sung tenor back in the 1970s and so took on the tenor part. Unfortunately I hadn’t kept up regular singing of the tenor high notes and so, carried away by the music, I sang far too loudly and seriously strained my voice. I am a bit more careful of it now.

The Bach Choir

When working in London in the 1970s I was privileged to sing in the Bach Choir under the direction of (now Sir) David Willcocks. Attending an audition with Mr Willcocks, I was asked whether I was tenor or bass. When I confessed that I was uncertain, he asked me to sing a few notes and immediately declared me to be a tenor. Most choirs have more difficulty in getting tenors than basses and probably that’s the reason I got in! The Choir provided many memorable moments, and it was wonderful to sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion in the Festival Hall and Family Carols in the Albert Hall. One of these last occasions was televised, and I found I was the odd man out – the only one to bob their head from side to side to the music! Sylvia tells me that she was able to point me out to her parents as the one moving his head. I was pleased that my Mum and Sylvia came to see one of these performances. The quality of the Choir was amazing, and I was just carried along by some superb singers. There was a chap in the tenors called Freddy Steyn. I just made sure I stood next to Freddy and followed his lead and I had no fear of going wrong!

One thing that David Willcocks was a stickler for was intonation. I remember one occasion when he suddenly stopped the practice with the words There is a soprano singing flat. Out of about 40 sopranos there was just one who was out of tune and he could hear her! If he had worked out who she was, I am afraid she would almost certainly have got the order of the boot.

I used to tag along with a group who went for a meal after the practice. I was usually very much on the edge of the conversation, but one evening I got a word in. One of the ladies suddenly said I feel a wreck. To which I replied Never mind Dorothy, remember that wrecks sometimes contain treasure! Another time in the summer I was invited to a picnic. I think it was in one of the group’s garden. For some reason, I took my specs off and one of the girls managed almost a compliment. You know, Richard, without your specs on you’re really quite good looking. Note to the reader, my wife thinks I am quite good looking even with my specs on. Incidentally, I came a bit of a cropper about this time when courting Sylvia. We were attending a concert together, and wishing to impress, I confidently told her what to expect for the first piece. When it started, I had to whisper Sorry I got that one wrong. For the second piece, I did the same, and was wrong again. They say that pride comes before a fall, and after the third time of getting it wrong, I suppose I gave up!

Although the Bach Choir sang sacred music nearly all the time, I remember only one occasion when I had what I would call a spiritual experience. The Choir used to practise on Monday evenings in Westminster Cathedral Hall. One evening we were practising the Sanctus from Bach’s B Minor Mass. Suddenly I felt as if I was being lifted up to the ceiling, almost an anticipation of being lifted towards heaven. It happened just once and never in a performance, but it is something I won’t forget. I believe that Bach’s music is a powerful argument in support of the existence of God. Bach wrote that music should be for the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. And it isn’t just his sacred music. There is for instance the majesty of his organ music, the tender tunefulness of the Air on a G string, and the exuberance of his violin concertos which I find a real tonic. Michael Ball, the former Bishop of Jarrow not the singer, once declared They’ll only play Bach in heaven. This was an exaggeration, no doubt, but you can see where he is coming from.

London

Another moving occasion, during my time of living in London, was attending a performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius which tells the story of a man’s journey through death to Purgatory (Elgar was a Roman Catholic). This followed shortly after the death of Charles Tett, a stirling worker for the Church Mission Society, the mission society I was working for at the time. I just seemed to identify Charles with the subject of the Oratorio and that made it particularly moving.

Chamber Music

Classical music provides such a variety of sounds – from the majestic splendour of a full orchestra playing symphonies or concertos to the intimacy of chamber music or a piano or violin playing a sonata. Some of my favourite music is small scale. Both Mozart and Brahms have given us clarinet quintets of melting tenderness, Schubert’s C Major String Quintet has a sublime slow movement. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata never fails to bring me pleasure.

In fact it was a small scale piece that gave me a magical moment quite recently. Not all of the musical occasions I have attended with Sylvia have been a great success. We went to a concert in a large church and were confronted with a double orchestra. The fire power of the brass section in Wagner’s Overture to the Meistersingers left us almost literally blown away! But we had a much more pleasant experience when attending a concert given by a piano trio (piano, violin and cello) at Wassand Hall. Wassand Hall is owned by Rupert and Catherine Russell who attend Goxhill Church, where Sylvia was in-charge. We went to several concerts there and enjoyed them all. On our final visit the group played the Second Piano Trio by Mendelssohn. One movement in particular gave me that wonderful magical feeling that comes all too rarely even when listening to great music.

Swinstead

Since coming to live in Swinstead, most of my listening to classical music is when I am washing up or ironing. I have lots of variety since my own purchases have been supplemented by CDs from my dear Dad’s collection and also quite a few given to me as presents by my brothers Patrick and Andrew.

When we visit Kathleen she sometimes plays the piano for us. Over the last few years we have enjoyed pieces by Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Schubert. I have joined Stamford Choral, a local Choir, and sing first bass. Last April we sang music by Dvorak and Elgar in Peterborough Cathedral. Sylvia, Kathleen, Neil and David sat in the front row of the audience and were most appreciative of the performance. Recently we sang in a presentation to commemorate the Centenary of the start of World War I on August 4th, 1914. Having missed the final practice, owing to a slight bump with the car, I was pleased to manage the event itself. The Choir sang Elgar’s setting of Lawrence Binyon’s poem entitled For the Fallen. This includes the familiar words They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old… Despite being rather crammed together, under an awning on Stamford’s Broad Street, the Choir performed admirably, and I think our rendition was much appreciated.

This year we are due to perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Leamington Bach Choir. It is a lovely work and I am looking forward very much to singing it with the Choir in Peterborough Cathedral.

And finally … an article in the Daily Telegraph last year headed Bach appears to egg them on reported that according to findings by the University of Bristol hens entered their nest boxes l59% more frequently when music was playing in them (no paltry increase)! Also the hens clearly preferred Beethoven and Bach to pop band One Direction. It’s good to know that our feathered friends, like me, enjoy their classical notes.

Richard Rice-Oxley
March 2015

The Jesus Story

The Jesus Story is a musical journey, written by the Rev. Richard Rice-Oxley, through the birth, life ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The choral arrangements have been made by Sue Glover and Janet Roberts.

The 24 original songs are all based on the New Testament, are in different styles, and take a varied approach. Some are a straight retelling of the Biblical narrative; others offer an insight into the meaning of key events, such as Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Day.

The songs are suitable for soloist, duet and chorus (choir and congregation or audience).

Richard hopes that his musical may be widely used by churches and schools.

The Jesus Story – summary of the songs

  1. Dayspring (Based on Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming of Jesus)
  2. Come and worship (Christmas)
  3. See his light (Christmas)
  4. Sleep tight (Christmas)
  5. Here is love (Christmas)
  6. The Baptism (Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist)
  7. What sort of Saviour? (Temptation in the wilderness)
  8. The Beatitudes (Jesus’ teaching)
  9. The Prodigal Son (Jesus’ teaching)
  10. The Sea of Galilee (Miracles of Jesus)
  11. The healing of the ten men (Miracles of Jesus)
  12. Come to me (Words of comfort)
  13. Hosanna (Palm Sunday)
  14. The Last Supper (Institution of Holy Communion)
  15. Peace (Words at the Last Supper)
  16. The moon shines (Gethsemane)
  17. Peter’s denial
  18. Lord, what have they done? (Good Friday)
  19. Blood on his hands (Good Friday)
  20. God has spoken (Easter Day)
  21. Hallelujah (Easter Day)
  22. Face to face (The ascended Christ)
  23. We see Christ (Summary)
  24. Follow, follow (The call to mission)

A selection of eighteen of the songs have been performed by a local choir formed from various churches in South Lincolnshire, under the leadership of Janet Roberts. Recordings made at one of the performances, together with narrative text, are available on this website: Listen to The Jesus Story.

Vocal scores with three-part harmony musical arrangements for the songs are available as pdf downloads from this website: Perform The Jesus Story.