Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Charles Wesley Singers - If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments

Video courtesy of Mary Faith James.

Video from St Andrews Church, Oxford England

2011 Tour - Day 8: The New Room and Bath

Our gracious hosts returned us to High Cross Church where luggage was loaded onto the buses and a section check was held.  We were amazed to be introduced to a remarkable man and his wife, Michael Wesley Cross and Audrey Cross.  On his mother’s side of the family, Michael is the great-great-great-great grandson of Charles Wesley.  Musical ability is a gift that has been present through the generations, as there have been many Guild Hall music teachers and performers through the years.  Even now, nearly everyone in the family plays musical instruments or sings.  Michael and Audrey have grown children involved in music – their son lives in Los Angeles and has written music for the Shrek movies.

Once on the bus, breakfast became the topic of conversation, especially what people in England eat on toast in the morning.  We have seen orange marmalade, fruit jams in curious flavors (rhubarb and butter), lemon curd, Marmite (a yeast extract that is loved or hated), Bovil (a beef extract that appeals to fewer people than Marmite), Nutella (hazelnut and chocolate), and chocolate spread (Seriously, this is simply spreadable chocolate!).  Only a few of our youth have been adventurous with unusual foods.

Alexandra and Bryn brought back a sampling of “Squashed Flies” from their host home – a flat baked sweet treat containing dried black currants that is aptly (albeit disturbingly) named.  They also told us their host was going on a picnic to be held on a 60-foot long picnic table, which seats 100 people and was cut from one big tree.

We drove to the city of Bristol where lunch was “on your own” with £8 in an urban setting that gave us lots of options.  Primark, the local department store, even had a cafĂ©, much like Macy’s at home.  There was time for a little shopping.  The local M&S (Marks & Spencer) market was interesting to explore for sweet and salty snacks we can’t buy in the US.

A highlight of the day was visiting The New Room, which was built in 1739 and was the first Methodist church in the entire world. John Wesley established the Methodist faith with an emphasis on personal and social morality.  Philip Carter, who is the Music Director for both The New Room and Totterdown Methodist Church (where we have a concert planned for tonight), greeted our youth. Walt announced that our Charles Wesley Singers, a liturgical choir, is the only ensemble in the world named after Charles Wesley. Charles Wesley wrote over 8000 hymns in his lifetime, and the choir filled the balcony upstairs to pay him tribute and give their best to God.  They sang several numbers, including two by Thomas Tallis (“Tallis Canon,” and “If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments”) as a beginning.  Walt played the organ in this colonial chapel as the choir sang pieces written by Charles Wesley: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “And Can It Be,” and “Love Divine.”  Where Walt leads, the choir will follow.  With many visitors taking in the gorgeous music, Walt asked the choir to sing “Love Divine” to a completely unfamiliar tune that is relatively common in England.  The choir came through beautifully, and the sound was rich and strong.  Methodist or not, we can all appreciate the beauty of music sung in glory to God.  The informal program ended with the entire congregation standing to hold hands, saying The Lord’s Prayer together in a spiritual bond.

Today, The New Room looks as it would have appeared in 1748 when the church was rebuilt.  Living quarters for John Wesley and his assistants are upstairs, and most of the furnishings are original.  John used The New Church as a springboard for the Methodist movement to engage in missionary work.  He also preached against slavery at a time when that was not a popular position.   John convinced his brother Charles to move to Bristol and raise a family there.  Charles was prolific in writing music, but he was also an evangelist, a theologian, and a scholar.  We were blessed to have our youth from the New World have an appreciation of people and events from the Old World.

We made a side trip from Bristol to visit the town of Bath, another World Heritage Site and truly a man-made wonder.  When the Romans occupied Britain in the first century AD, they built a palatial compound of baths around naturally occurring hot springs. (These are the only hot springs in Great Britain and the bubbling water still pumps out over 15,000 gallons of water each day.)  The Romans built a temple of worship to celebrate their sun goddess Sulis Minerva, and they named the settlement in her honor. Foundations and relics from the original buildings still exist, dating as early as 76 AD.  An altar where cattle were sacrificed in the temple has survived through the centuries.  Other gods were worshipped as well, including a water god and a moon god.  Only the temple priests and the Roman rulers were worthy enough to use the baths. Even in those ancient times, the main bath had a vaulted ceiling.  Roman society was advanced enough to have a room with rocks heated from the hot springs to use in therapeutic massage.

History shows that the Romans left Britain and the town was renamed Bath.  During the Victorian era the baths were fully functioning as a spa that was touted to have healing qualities.  A second-story walkway was built in recognition of past Roman figures, decorated with statues of great Roman leaders such as Julius Caesar.

The weather was warm and sunny this afternoon, and many of our group opted to enjoy shopping in town.  Bath has a huge abbey that was open to the public and had an orchestra rehearsing.  Many of our youth lingered in the central square, enjoying ice cream and live music from street musicians.  The spacious town square, the warmth of the sun, the music, and the casual crowds made this feel very much like a Roman plaza.

We had dinner at Preview Buffet as a scheduled stop en route to our evening concert.  This restaurant was able to accommodate our large group easily with a wide selection of meats, vegetables, salads, and desserts, all in a short time.  Parents, rest assured your children are eating!  Back in Bristol, we arrived at Totterdown Methodist Church and the buses pulled up next to a bright yellow poster advertising our performance.  We were greeted again by Philip Carter, having met him earlier in the day at The New Room.

Totterdown Church was built in 1875, and it is a large church with a rounded ceiling that makes for a wonderful concert.  Our youth sang and played beautifully for a very appreciative audience.  As with other performances, the Haydn mass was amazing.  Tonight the sounds of the horns and the timpani in the final movement were especially compelling. The concert program closed with sincere appreciation from Philip Carter.  He said it was especially nice to see young people so engaged and performing like an accomplished adult group.  He described the choir as having fully developed voices and the orchestra as having absolutely superb string tone.

Our concerts typically have an intermission, which is announced as an “interval” to British audiences.  The ladies of Tottendown Church served home-made tarts, cookies, and cakes along with tea, coffee, and cold drinks.  The cakes were so good that recipes were requested of parishioners Ann and Derek Rees, who have run a catering business for over 30 years.  They are responsible for the food at their annual Totterdown Church Bazaar, which is the equivalent of a DUMC Turkey Oyster Dinner.  At the Church Bazaar, they typically offer a selection of main courses such as chicken pie, casserole steak, cheese and potato pie, and faggots (a dish from sheep liver, intestines, and heart.)  They are known for their desserts of apple pie (America does not have the market on this!), cheesecake, trifle, and chocolate profiteroles.  Thanks to Ann and Derek, English Tiffin (chocolate) and Coffee Walnut Cake are sure to show up at a DUMC potluck dinner in Maryland!

We left the church happily knowing we would see our new friends again the next morning at their Sunday service.  We left the church and stayed this night in a hotel, Holiday Inn Express.  With everyone finally settled into rooms, we were one tired bunch by the time the 11:00 PM curfew check gave us a knock at our door.

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