When it comes to blow-out church services, the Anglicans can sure put on the dog. I’ve been filing stories for the past three days on the constitutional convention for the Anglican Church of North America, the emerging 39th province of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion. The big party to end it all was Wednesday night (it’s 1:14 a.m. as I type this on Thursday) and it was a splasher.
The site was a Texas megachurch called Christ Church in Plano, a north Dallas suburb. Although I got lost getting there from Fort Worth (first ended up in Garland somehow), I knew when I finally drove up that this was the place. Talk about huge. Buildings everywhere and the sanctuary was cathedral-like in its vastness. All that was missing were side chapels and votive candles. The decor is a bit stark - no Christ on the main cross above the altar which goes along with low-church evangelicalism Texas-style.
Fortunately they got fancy with the music. Some 60 bishops and 323 clergy had to process in, so they needed something sprightly to move these folks in - long robes, mitres and academic hoods and all - rather quickly. What they came up with, composed by trombonist John Wasson was a variation on the hymn “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” combined with African march-style music in a 4/4 beat. Sounds awful but it was stunning - and beautiful.
Now before that, there was a ton of intro choral and organ music - the brass quintet and organ were the best in a list of very presentable offerings. I don’t think this is ordinarily a church that probably doesn’t do the smells and bells of a more Anglo-Catholic service but they learned fast because of the huge variation of visitors there - people from around the globe coming to celebrate Archbishop Duncan’s installation. The haunting “Veni Creator Spiritus” is very rarely done - usually for the consecration of bishops - and often it’s played in a deadly fashion. At this church, the organ pounded it out in grand style. And fortunately the music director - Mark Snow - had the sense to choose the lovely “Missa de Sancta Maria Magdelena” for the Communion chants.
I’ve been doing this religion writer thing for more than 30 years and in the course of my travels, I’ve done Rome and Canterbury and Jerusalem; ordinations, installations and consecrations of everyone from Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl to New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson. I’ve done papal Masses all over the country with two popes. But I’ve rarely been in a service where every single piece of music was beautifully done at top level during a 2 hour+ service involving 1,500 people. During Communion, a pianist whipped out a movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2. Even hymns I can’t stand, like “Fairest Lord Jesus” got gorgeous arrangements.
I am running out of adjectives here so must go to bed. OK, I do play piano, guitar and harp, but I am no music critic. I was told most of the musicians are home-grown although for big occasions, the music director borrows folks from Dallas symphony and opera orchestras plus a few college music professors. There were other parts to the service that were memorable: the new archbishop joking about his bushy eyebrows; the colliding lines of all the visitors wandering to and from the Communion rail not to mention the party afterward outside in a hot and soupy Texas evening.
- Julia Duin, religion editor