Sunday, March 7, 2010

Singing with the Flatirons as a backdrop

He died on Calvary
To atone for you and me
And to free us from sorrow's great load.

Despite the problems that I currently have, this morning I had the pleasure to sing in the choir of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado. During a year-long job detail in Boulder in 2006, I was a regular member of this choir. This is a small church with a small staff--the ones who were visible today were the pastor, choir director, organist, and youth minister. The only one of those who had not changed since I was last there at the very end of 2006 was organist Kristina Eller. Choir members had given me gushing reviews of director Jim Myers, however, and I was not disappointed. Jim leads the choir with great energy and precision, in terms of rhythm, diction, and phrasing. With regard to phrasing, at one point, he told the choir that they sounded "tick-tocky." With regard to diction, he said, "Gotta hear the words." He helps the choir to achieve these aspects of musicianship, and through the contagiousness of his energy, gets the entire congregation to participate heartily in the liturgy and hymns. That this is one of the most participatory congregations that I've witnessed is a credit both to Jim and to the people in the pews.

The Flatirons, referred to in the title of this post, are a rock formation (large foothills of the Rocky Mountains) that are emblematic of the City of Boulder. In the photograph, they are obscured behind the clouds.

One of the interesting things about the decor of the church, that I really didn't remember from my longer time there previously, is that there are five support posts near the north wall that are hung with narrow banners in each of the colors of the liturgical seasons that are used by many Christian denominations: white for the joyous festivals of Christmas and Easter; red for some other festivals, such as Pentecost and All Saints' Day; blue for Advent, the season of anticipation of the coming of Christ; purple for Lent, the season of repentence and penitence; and green for the seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost, the times of general discipleship, praise, and learning. These different aspects of faith are a part of the idea of a balanced diet of religious activity that I alluded to here, and for me, it is interesting that the seasons of the church calendar tie together with the seasons of nature that are so important in my occupation as a climate scientist. While the chancel of the church was dominated by purple for the current season of Lent, all of the other colors were still on display in a smaller way to remind us that those are also aspects of faith that we will concentrate on in another part of the year.

There were three featured musical performances. At the opening of the service, a small ensemble of women performed "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." Later, the choir performed "Saw Ye My Savior," arranged by D. Johnson, featuring a solo by Shaun Steavenson, a baritone channeling his inner tenor; it also featured Jen Merrill on the flute. Later, Mr. Stevenson performed "Consecration," arranged by C. Courtney and accompanied on the piano by Mr. Myers. This was very well performed and drew applause from the congregation, but I honestly can't remember whether applause is a usual thing in this church. Shaun is a student at the University of Colorado who makes occasional appearances at Mount Calvary.

This fairly small congregation has a "high church" tradition, and a complete liturgy, but it is all handed out in one printed bulletin, including words and music for all of the hymns. It included an extended sung Kyrie, with church member Melissa Johnson leading it as the assisting minister/cantor.

Pastor Kevin Mayer delivered first a children's sermon and then a sermon on a text from Luke 13 about a fig tree that had not yet borne fruit. The theme of this was forgiveness and repentance. The patient steward of plants keeps on tending them until they bear fruit. One of the things that struck me in the liturgy, and which I don't remember hearing before, is that after pronouncing forgiveness of sins, the pastor said, "Live in newness of life." This indeed is a promising message within the dark time of Lent.

The congregation were collecting food for the hungry within the community, and had a lot of it prominently and very neatly displayed around the altar. I'll even say that it was displayed symmetrically, as each end was topped by a case of refried bean cans and then a large 2-pack of peanut butter on top of that.

Another feature of this church that I found interesting and that is never seen in Michigan is this. The sanctuary has no air conditioning, but does have an evaporative cooling system, often known as a "swamp box." This blows air over a pan of water, so that the air is cooled by evaporating the water. It also moistens the air, and is not very effective when using Michigan's already-moist summer air. In a dry place like Colorado, though, it is effective, especially when used only once a week. Apparently this system is noisy, though, and they only run it before the service on Sundays during the summer.

For those not interested in my personal story, you can stop now. For those interested, here is the preamble to an earlier draft of this blog post:
When I post this, I'm back at home (see the warnings about this), but as I make a draft of this, I am still in Denver after travel problems. Four sources of information said that my flight was delayed by 1 hour and 10 minutes. Then when my back was turned and I was eating, it was moved back up by 50 minutes, they boarded and closed the door just before I got back to the gate. Out of a capacity of 66 people, they left 30 passengers behind. United Airlines offered abject apologies and mea culpas, plus hotel vouchers, free flight vouchers, and a new set of flights. I am now in a hotel room with Internet access, but without the notebook with the things that I wrote down about this visit, and also the camera on which I shot a few photos. These are now in storage at the Detroit Metro Airport, since they went on the flight that I did not get on.

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