by Anthony Antolini, Music Director
St. John Baptist, Thomaston
originally published in the October 2015 edition of The Antiphon, St. John’s monthly newsletter
We’ve had a remarkable number of parishioners pass away in recent months. I cannot remember a time when I’ve played so many funerals in close succession. All this has reminded us of the importance of filling out the Funeral Wishes form. Without this form, the family, Fr. Peter, and I have to guess what hymns and organ voluntaries would be appropriate for the departed. You know much better than we what you’d like, so please fill out the form! To make the chore less daunting I’ve decided to devote this month’s column to some observations that may help you with your decisions.
First, let’s agree that making these decisions is a lot more entertaining than writing a will. And yet it’s a kind of will because we have in writing what you think a proper funeral would be for you. Secondly, bear in mind that you can update the form if you change your mind. So, let’s get started.
Funerals don’t need to be lugubrious. Choosing hymns you don’t like to sing because they’re somber is clearly a mistake. So perhaps the first thing to do is to make a list of your favorite hymns. Some may be able to do this by memory. Others may need to borrow a hymnal and look through the Index of First Lines (page 954 and following) for ideas.
Don’t leave your family and friends out of this process! Picture that they will be the ones who sing and listen to the music you choose. They may have favorites that would mean a great deal to them at the time of your memorial. Another approach might be to share your completed Funeral Wishes form with them before handing it in at the office. They may have other ideas to suggest or opinions you need to know about.
The Hymnal 1982 has hymns categorized by topic. A short section is entitled “Burial” and is not where I’d suggest you start. It begins with Hymn #354 “Into paradise may angels lead you.” This is a lovely plainsong translated from the Latin In paradisum deducant angeli. In my nearly twenty-five years at St. John’s we’ve never sung it. Unless you love Gregorian chant or are a choral musician, it’s unlikely such a hymn would appeal to you. And here we see another important consideration:
Don’t choose hymns for your funeral that nobody has ever heard before! Those who attend your service won’t sing them.
Occasionally, people want the Commendation (Give rest, O Christ, to your servant…”) chanted. This beautiful Kievan chant is Hymn #355. The words are in the Book of Common Prayer and are usually read by the priest. But if chanted, the melody is from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Service and is usually sung by a choir in four parts. At St. John’s I usually chant it alone. An interesting alternative to this is Hymn #358 – a rhymed version of the Commendation Prayer set to the familiar tune “Russia.” Most people know this tune to the words “God the Omnipotent” (Hymn #569). Somebody ought to try this!
For one funeral this summer (where Peter and I had to choose the music) I decided to sing an unaccompanied song that is in the hymnal but seldom sung: It’s Hymn #692 “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest.’” The melody is familiar to classical music lovers from the orchestral piece Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The words of the hymn are by Horatius Bonar and have no connection to the melody by Thomas Tallis, but they fit a funeral beautifully.
Here are some hymns from the Hymnal 1982 that are frequently sung at funerals. Though not in the “Burial” section of the hymnal they are very suitable:
Hymn #208 “Alleluia! The strife is o’er, the battle done” (Easter)
Hymn #287 “For all the saints, who from their labors rest” (All Saints)
Hymn #410 “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven”
Hymn #508 “Breathe on me, breath of God” (Frequently sung at confirmation.)
Hymn #517 “How lovely is thy dwelling place” (Psalm 84 paraphrased)
Hymn #645 or #646 “The King of love my shepherd is” (Psalm 23 paraphrased)
Hymn #655 “O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end”
Hymn #657 “Love divine, all loves excelling”
Hymn #680 “O God our help in ages past” (Psalm 90 paraphrased)
Hymn #376 “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” (Hymn to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th)
There are also some appropriate hymns to consider in the green hymnal, Wonder, Love & Praise (WLP):
WLP #810 “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord” (AKA “On eagle’s wings.”)
WLP #811 “You shall cross the barren desert”
And the black, red and green hymnal, Lift Every Voice & Sing (LEVAS) has some stirring hymns from the African-American tradition. Here are some favorites:
LEVAS #60 “How great thou art”
LEVAS #103 “Steal away to Jesus”
LEVAS #106 “Precious Lord, take my hand”
LEVAS #181 “Amazing Grace”
Of course, those who do fill out the Funeral Wishes form sometimes do request hymns that strike the rest of us as dated or even unpopular. A recent funeral featured two hymns that I’ve been told by other members of the congregation never to play! They are “Onward, Christian soldiers” and “Rock of Ages.” A funeral is a special occasion and if the departed wanted them, we sing them!
Other musical parts of the service offer an opportunity to include music that isn’t in the hymnal but may be a personal favorite. These are the prelude and the postlude, played on the organ. Since Fr. Peter began promoting the Funeral Wishes form I’ve deliberately played several pieces that are excellent choices for these parts of the service. Here is a brief list of such music:
J.S. Bach: Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Jean Sibelius: Theme from Finlandia
Antonin Dvorák: Theme from New World Symphony (“Going home”)
Gabriel Fauré: Pie Jesu from Requiem
Johannes Brahms: O world, I must now leave thee
Georg Frederick Handel: Come unto Him from Messiah
Domenico Zipoli: Festival Postlude
Perhaps you have a favorite composer but can’t think of what he/she wrote that would work well on the organ. That’s not a problem! Just list the composer’s name on the form and I’ll try to find something by that composer that would fit a prelude or a postlude.
Funny things do happen with regard to funeral music, usually unintentionally. One family requested the mardi gras tune “When the saints go marching in” as a postlude. I didn’t feel it was something that would turn out particularly well on the organ so I used the melody in an improvisation that led into Brahms’s “O world, I must now leave thee.” No one complained.
One “Funeral Wishes” form specified a piece of music that required a concerto for orchestra and harp soloist. The funeral was in a matter of days. There was no budget for an orchestra or harpist. I played something else by the composer of the requested concerto.
In planning your funeral music please try to be practical and realize that your music director often has to put this service together in just a few days. If in doubt about something, let’s chat about it. I welcome such discussions and would enjoy talking to you about your wishes. I’ll play pieces that you think you’d like to include. We might come up with a really splendid service!
Finally, if you’d rather not deal with details, please just write on the Funeral Wishes form what you really don’t want and then state, “Let the music director decide.” When Yogi Berra was asked what his burial wishes were, he replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you surprise me?”
by the Rev. Mary Lee Wile, Deacon
St. Paul’s, Brunswick
My very first auditory memory involves lying on the wooden pew in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, listening to the sound of the liturgy wash over me. I’ve spent my life as an Episcopalian, and now serve as a deacon here in our diocese, so you’d think I would have a pretty good sense of what the Episcopal Church is all about.
But I have to admit that my understanding has been stretched and liberated and challenged and energized, first though taking part in General Convention this summer, and then by attending the recent Installation of Michael Curry as our 27th Presiding Bishop. In his sermon at the National Cathedral, Bishop Curry said: “God has not given up on the world, and God is not finished with the Episcopal Church.” I would add that he made it clear that God is not finished with any of us as individuals, either.
The comfortable, crowded suburban church of my childhood gave me a solid grounding. I think of my participation in that church as a safe, meandering journey to the center of a labyrinth. Standing in the line that wrapped itself around the National Cathedral on the morning of the Installation, I thought again of that image of a labyrinth, this time with the Installation itself as the center – the centerpiece – before we would all head back out into our own separate lives, challenged and changed. To mix metaphors, the Cathedral breathed us in, held us, and breathed us out again.
What was so exciting was knowing, even as it was happening, that in that center, in that held breath, the Episcopal Church was being reborn. As Bishop Curry said, “The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st Century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.”
That was his challenge. That is our call: of course to stay grounded in this Church that we love, but to take our love of God and our decision to follow Jesus out into “the sanctuary of the streets.” He spoke with passionate eloquence about evangelism — not a comfortable word for a lot of Episcopalians, he admitted, but an evangelism that involves “sharing good news…deeply grounded in the love of God…listening and learning…helping others find their way to a relationship with God without trying to control the outcome.” In other words, we’re not to try to “catch” or “create” more Episcopalians, but to follow Jesus and serve our neighbor, and leave the rest to God.
I loved being there, surrounded by thousands of Episcopalians as well as ecumenical and interfaith leaders (and members of the press, hanging over high balconies), singing together, praying together, and sensing a seismic shift as this extroverted, passionate, evangelical bishop became our 27th Presiding Bishop. As a deacon, I’d been delighted by his focus on the word “GO!” in his sermon at General Convention, his injunction to go into the world beyond our red doors to share our good news and take compassionate action. With the Most Rev. Michael Curry as our leader, our encourager, our role model, more of us might just do that.
(And that’s what he and I were talking about after the service – “go” – be willing to make the journey out of the labyrinth – go out and share the good news. – And in case you can’t tell, I think Michael Curry’s leadership of the Episcopal Church is good news, indeed!)
by Lisa Meeder Turnbull
Diocesan Stewardship Consultant
Like all good things, the gift of “an extra hour” raises a fundamental question of stewardship: How will we spend it?
Many of us, of course, will take advantage of some extra sleep, or maybe indulge in staying up late on Saturday night. Inevitably, and no matter how well we plan our clock changes, there will be those who arrive early for morning services.
Why not make this an opportunity for moments of grace?
- Recruit a few greeters to intentionally arrive early, prepared to spend time with early comers. This isn’t just for newcomers or recent members; long-time members and life-long friends enjoy unhurried conversation, too.
- Invite! If you are one who arrives early for Altar Guild, Coffee Hour hosting, or Church School, invite the early comers to keep you company, pitch in, and be a part of things. You might find new gifts in your midst!
- Create a small chapel space. Some early comers might appreciate an unexpected time of quiet, prayer, and reflection.
- Plan into it. For the last month or so members of my congregation have been writing favorite hymns on a list posted to the bulletin board. We’ll use our “bonus time” for a half-hour hymn sing before the service begins.
What else might our congregations do with an extra hour? How might we fall back with hospitality? Share your thoughts in the comments below—let’s see how creative we can be with this gift of time!
Questions for Lisa about your church and stewardship? Please be in touch with her at email@example.com.
In his sermon at Good Shepherd, Houlton, on Sunday Bishop Steve Lane preached on the rich young man who decides he can’t give up his wealth and status to follow Jesus. He had this, in part, to say:
The real issue here may be that we are dealing with very different definitions of wealth. For the rich man and for the disciples, material wealth and security is what it’s all about. And treating your neighbor fairly. For Jesus, wealth is being surrounded by one’s brothers and sisters secure in God’s love and willing to give fully of oneself for the sake of another. That’s what the kingdom of God is all about. That is the vision of true wealth Jesus is offering.
With Bishop Steve Lane and all deputies safely back in Maine, the 78th General Convention is history as well as historic.
House of Deputies News has a comprehensive round-up story titled “Deputies sprint to the finish” here. We offer a last few photos of Convention:
[Editor’s note: I promise to not divulge the identity of the deputy who snapped the photos of his or her fellow deputies at the airport as they slept and/or prayed for their red-eye flight home.]
Below is a video of the Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry’s sermon at the closing Eucharist of the 78th General Convention. The text is available here.
Also, below is a video of the Presiding Bishop reading a letter of congratulation sent to Bishop Curry from President Barack Obama. Here is a link on White House letterhead.