Friday, November 13, 2015

Excellence in Worship and Music Continues As a St. Mark's Core Value

It has been 2 ½ years since R. A. Colby Organ Builders came from John City, Tennessee to begin the expansion project on St. Mark’s 1984 Zimmer pipe organ. The number of stops and colors brought the 13 rank organ up to 36 ranks. John Parkyn, our organ consultant, managed the project which several local organists say resulted in one of the finest pipe/digital instruments in the city.

Because of the expansion, the small console had to be replaced with a larger one that could accommodate three manuals (keyboards) and other controlling devices.  Per the original agreement, the Zimmer console became the property of R. A. Colby.  Shortly after the new organ was completed, the old console was loaded into a truck and taken to Johnson City.

The console recently to Jacksonville!

The Rev. Mary Holladay is the Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church in downtown Jacksonville.  A couple of years ago, she decided she wanted to have a pipe organ for practice and pleasure in her own home.  Mary’s new organ was built by James Freeman who also takes care of the organ at St. Mark’s.

To read more about the expansion of St. Mark’s organ, look at my original blog post here:

Since that time, more work has been done.  The swell shade engine had to be replaced and the “Petite Trompette” was removed, cleaned, regulated, and replaced.  A new sequence recorder was also added.  All of this work was done by James Freeman and his associate, Chaz Dewsbury.

St. Mark’s has identified “excellence in worship and music” as one of our congregation’s core values.  Maintaining a fine organ is an important part of that task.  May this beautiful instrument inspire our worship for many years to come.

Top Photo: John Parkyn overseeing the installation of a new speaker
Bottom Photo: Rev. Mary Conley Holladay seated at her new console

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Giving Thanks for Creation: Blessing of the Animals Saturday, October 3rd at 5:30 p.m.

I love stories that begin “Legend has it. . .”  That’s how I might begin speaking of St. Francis of Assisi, for legend has it that he had a special relationship with animals, sometimes calling them his brothers and sisters.  One story goes that he was preaching in a small village.  The people listened intently but Francis couldn’t be heard over the noisy nest-making sounds of a group of swallows.  Francis addressed the birds as his sisters and asked them to be quiet for it was his turn to speak.  According to the story, not only did the birds fall silent, but they listened intently to the rest of his sermon.

My first question is why would a saint talk to birds?   Then I think about the many conversations I have had with my cat, Sandbakkelse.  (OK, she talks. I obey.) I think St. Francis had better luck than I do.

Francis came from a wealthy family, but he renounced his inheritance and became “wedded to Lady Poverty.”  Remembered for his acts of charity, the prayer that begins “Lord, make us instruments of your peace,” and the great hymn “All Creatures Worship God Most High,” his commemoration has become a day to bless animals and give thanks for all of creation. (The prayer is on page 87 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the hymn is no. 835.)

Please join us at St. Mark’s for our Blessing of the Animals on Saturday, October 3rd, at 5:30.  The service will be held in the courtyard, and all of your animal friends are welcome: cats, dogs, snakes, birds, chickens, hamsters, and the entire menagerie.  (Yes, you read that right.  Even the snakes are welcome.)  We will also be accepting dog food and cat food to be delivered to the Jacksonville Humane Society.

Top Photo: Sandbakkelse, Her Royal High and Mightiness
Bottom Photo: Bill and Punkie with their friend at a past Blessing of the Animals service

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Call For Singers: Bach Vespers 2015

All singers are invited to participate in a Bach Vespers service presenting a cantata of J. S. Bach in the context of an evening prayer service.

Bach Vespers is in its 25th year at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jacksonville.  An orchestra of players from the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and well-trained soloists assist with this unique worship service which includes psalmody and hymns. 

There is no fee to participate.  The rehearsal schedule follows:

Saturday, October 31-10:00 a.m. – 12:00 
Saturday, November 7-10:00 a.m. – 12:00 
Saturday, November 14-10:00 a.m. – 12:00 
FRIDAY, November 20-7:00 p.m.  (Dress Rehearsal /orchestra)
Sunday, November 22- Bach Vespers Service

There is no fee to attend this unique worship service.  An offering will be taken to help cover costs for this and future services.

This year’s cantata is BWV 177 – Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ – composed for the fourth Sunday after Trinity. All voice parts are welcome! There is no audition, but singers need to have had good choral singing experience.

For more information, contact Tony Cruz at

St. Mark’s is located at 3976 Hendricks Avenue.
Photos: Top is the Good Shepherd Window from St. John's Ashfield, via Wikipedia
Bottom: A past Bach Vespers Service, photo by Bill Daugherty

Friday, September 18, 2015

Canticles of Praise and Hymns of Lamentation

Our Christian faith begs to be sung.  From “Glory to God in the Highest,” to “Hallelujah,” we have a canticle of praise or a lamentation for every moment.  We have hymns that instruct and hymns that compel us to live lives grounded in the gospel.

So many times someone has mentioned a hymn and I’ve exclaimed, “That’s my favorite!”  Most of my choirs have simply laughed when they hear me make that claim because they know I’ll probably claim another as a favorite in just a few minutes.  Usually, if someone asks me what my favorite hymn is, I’ll answer, “The one that I’m singing right now, of course!”

But this post is not about MY favorite hymns.  I’ve invited some guest bloggers to talk about their favorite hymns today.  People of St. Mark’s, you will know some of them, perhaps all of them.  In the comment section at the end of this blog post, I invite all readers to respond with stories of your own favorite hymns.

“Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Redeemer” is my daily prayer for living God’s will – not my will.  I pray to follow God in my thoughts and actions.  I ask “Thy will be done” even though I want my way instead of God’s way.

My mother, Margaret Jeneva Yost Johnson, taught me when I pray to ask for God’s will to be done, not what I want.

Margaret Walker

“Amazing Grace”
I find the lyrics so very uplifting and the history behind the composition very moving. The only questionable phrase would be "saved a wretch like me," which I believe is often misunderstood. It isn't referring to a miserable individual, but rather the challenges we all face - and He is there to save us, redeem us.

This was my father's favorite hymn. When he died unexpectedly it was the first music that came to mind - a day when the earth stood still for me. And I was comforted. At his memorial service I wanted to sing this hymn - it was feared that I wouldn't be able to do it...that I would break down in tears. I not only sang all verses, but did so with a smile on my face and gladness in my heart! Every time we sing this hymn I think of my dad and I am joyful! 

Jane, a member of the Festival Choir, St. Mark’s Ringers, and Alleluia Ringers 

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

When my mother was 20 years old (1922) her father sent her to a lumber camp with her husband and newborn baby, to be the cook for 40 men!  Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the winter- snowed in for months- she said that singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is all that kept her going!  Whenever I hear it, I have memories of her and tears in my eyes. Can't even imagine that kind of work- no electric stove and 3 full meals a day to prepare!  Thank goodness times have changed and women can say, "No thank you- I'll pass on that opportunity!"

Jill, a member of the Festival Choir

Franz Josef Haydn composed THE CREATION in 1798.  At the end of the first of three parts of the composition is “The Heavens Are Telling”…the Glory of God.  This is a harmonious anthem that I learned while singing in the Touring Choir at Grove City College, where I met my future husband.  Whenever we went to his home, his mother would sit down to the piano and start the introduction.  Instantly the entire family would gather around her to sing the parts.  I was welcomed so warmly by all of them, but especially when they learned that I could sing the alto part of this song.  Even after we were married, this ritual continued for years.  Every time I hear or sing this song, my thoughts return to these moments uplifted by the spiritually triumphant harmonies of the family’s blended voices.  And someday I pray to hear the heavenly choruses lifting their voices in joyful praise, singing “The Heavens Are Telling.”
Lynette Weber

Among dozens of favorite hymns, one has always stood out as particularly meaningful to me—“Beautiful Savior”.  I remember singing this wonderful text from an early age in church and also listening to the iconic choral arrangement by F. Melius Christiansen.  I was privileged to have a choir director in high school in the early 1960’s who had been a soloist at St. Olaf College under F. Melius many decades earlier.  Dr. Dryden always ended each of our concerts with Beautiful Savior, just as all of the choirs at St. Olaf have continued to do for over a century.  What a special tradition!  I have been able to attend six St. Olaf concerts over the years and each time, hearing this incredible hymn tune has been a highlight of my life.  This heavenly music will continue to inspire me and cause grand goosebumps whenever I hear it!
Mark Weber

“Living for Jesus”
This is a favorite of Rev. Dr. Donald R. Pederson who grew up in the 40s and 50s “amongst farmers and laborers.”

Most of us were relatively on the poor scale, making just enough to live on and get by.

For leisure time, since we did not have much money at all. We did a lot of singing.  Bible camps were especially helpful, and we learned a lot of new songs.  In fact, that is where I learned this hymn “Living for Jesus.”

The chorus, that is, the refrain, summarizes all the other verses.  It focuses on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It focuses on the atonement. It focuses on the exclusive nature of one’s relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ.  It focuses on the fact that we live for Christ alone.

It stresses themes of the environment in which I grew up, which was the Scandinavian pietistic environment: living a life that is true, striving to please him, yielding allegiance. . .

Verse four is a grand verse:
            Living for Jesus through earth’s little while,
            my dearest treasure – the light of his smile;
            seeking the lost ones he died to redeem,
            bringing the weary to find rest in him.*

Now, what are some of your favorites and why?

Photos top to bottom:
Margaret Walker
Jill's Mom (left) and Jill (right)
Mark and Lynette Weber
Rev. Dr. Donald R. Pederson

My apologies for the white background.  This is a known blogger issue that hasn't been fixed.  Since I get to use this service for free, I won't complain!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Falling Into Rhythm and Melody

There are many opportunities to share in the ministry of music at St. Mark’s.  During our summer period, several singers have participated in our summer choir.  Thank you to those who have continued to sing and help lead the music of worship.

It won’t be long, though, until the summer heat gives way to fall weather – and the fall schedule!

The St. Mark’s Ringers will hold its first rehearsal on Wednesday, September 9th, from 5:30 -6:30.  This is so we can play for “God’s Work – Our Hands” Sunday on September 13th.

On Wednesday, September 16th, the regular Wednesday rehearsal schedule will resume:
St. Mark’s Ringers 5:30 – 6:15
Vespers Worship Service 6:15 – 6:45
Alleluia Ringers 6:45 – 7:25
Festival Choir 7:30 – 9:00

Following is a description of our musical ensembles.

Festival Choir – This group’s primary responsibility is to lead the hymns and liturgical music at the
Sunday morning 11:00 service.  In addition, we prepare a musical offering from a repertoire that spans nearly all periods of church music history – including music being written for the church today.  Rehearsals are on Wednesday evening from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. and Sunday morning at 10:30.  The ability to read music is helpful, but not required.

Matins Choir – This ensemble does not have a midweek rehearsal and provides musical leadership at the 8:30 service.  We meet at 8:00 to rehearse the hymns and liturgical music, and then we prepare an anthem for the musical offering.  The ability to read music is helpful, but not required.  Most of the music we sing is somewhat familiar and/or easily learned by anyone who can grasp a tune quickly.

St. Mark’s Ringers – Our advanced handbell ensemble has ringers who have played handbells for more than 20 years.  The repertoire varies, covering everything from classical repertoire to hymn-based selections.  The ability to read music is required and previous handbell experience is preferred.

Alleluia Ringers – Our entry-level handbell group focuses on building music reading skills and mastering handbell techniques.  We have plenty of space available in this group!  This is your chance to put those piano lessons from your childhood to use! If you don’t already read music, we will teach you how.  For complete newbies, we may need to schedule a couple of private lessons before rehearsals begin.  If you are interested in playing, please let Tony Cruz know.

LOL (Loving Our Lord) Choir – Our youth choir meets after the 11:00 service each Sunday.  We sing in worship a few times each year.  New singers, grades six through high school, are always welcome.  As we add singers, I hope that someday we will be able to take this group on tour.
Questions? Please contact Tony Cruz, St. Mark’s Cantor.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RareSong - Music from 16th Century Spain on Sunday, October 4 at 7:00 PM

At the beginning of Spain’s 16th century, Charles, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabel, was the
King of Spain and became the Holy Roman Emperor. Religious suspicion against converted Jews and Muslims, exploration and colonization in the New World, and difficulties with France were all part of Spain’s political and social identity.

In the midst of all of this, instrumental and vocal music flourished.  A reflection of Spain’s recent past when there were five separate kingdoms, the music is a mixture of moods and languages, sacred and secular, tempo and color.

Some of this music, including villancicos (secular and sacred Christmas carols), church music, and instrumental solos will be heard in a concert at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sunday, October 4th, at 7:00 p.m. 

Patricia DeWitt is the artistic director of RareSong, a group of musicians she has gathered to perform this early music.  Other performers include: Lynne Radcliffe, Tony Cruz, Lucinda Mosher, Barrie Mosher, Marcy Brenner, and Peter DeWitt.

Instrumental pieces include recorder ensembles, viola da gamba, the sackbut, harpsichord, and music for the pipe organ. Composers represented include Juan del Encina and Francisco Guerrero.

The concert is free and all are invited. St. Mark’s is located at 3976 Hendricks Avenue in Jacksonville.

This short video is a preview of the type of music you can expect to hear.


Top photo: A Young Charles V by Bernard Van Orley via Wikipedia
Second Photo: The Viola da gamba Player by Bernardo Strozzi (ca. 1630-1640) via Wikipedia 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's My Funeral. . .

So, I’ve been thinking about my funeral – not when it will be, but how it will be.  Specifically, I've been thinking about the physical space (it must be in a church and not a funeral home), the liturgy, and the music.

Many people don’t know I was baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church. When my family moved to Florida in 1980 and I started working as a church musician, I never had any opportunities to be in a Lutheran setting.  It was when I started working for the Episcopalians that I rediscovered my love for the cycle of the church year and liturgical expressions – but, coming to St. Mark’s was like coming home.  As a result, I sometimes call myself a Lutheran with an Episcopalian aesthetic.

About the space:

I’ve always loved the Episcopal tradition of changing the paraments to white for a funeral, even when that funeral is in Advent or Lent.  I hope the Pastor will think that is okay and that the altar guild won’t object.  I plan to be cremated and request that the front of the church be generously adorned with icons and votive candles. I have a request for flowers: white plumeria.  The plumeria is a flower from my childhood and it always makes me happy to see one. A single lei would be lovely. Individual blossoms amongst the icons and candles would also be nice. (The flowers will have to be ordered from Hawaii or somewhere else.)

Also, my service draws greatly from Evening Prayer so I request that it be held at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening. 

The stage is set – now what about the music and liturgy?

First, the music:

Please include at least one “big” organ piece. Two of my favorites are Walford Davies’ “Solemn Melody” and G. T. Thalben-Ball’s “Elegy.”  Any Bach Prelude and Fugue or other Bach piece would be appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to play it LOUDLY.
Choral Music Suggestions: “Blessed” by Paul Weber, “God’s Son Has Made Me Free” by Grieg, “God Me in My Head” as set by John Rutter or Andrew Carter, anything readily in the choir’s repertoire that would be suitable.

Other voluntaries should be based on traditional Lutheran hymns – that is hymns with texts by Lutheran composers. Anything from “Orgelbuchlein,” and arrangements by living composers is fine.  Please include at least one Scandinavian hymn – as long as it’s not “How Great Thou Art.”

The last piece should be the choral setting (Oregon Catholic Press, publisher) of the assembly hymn, “Holy Darkness” by Dan Schutte. The refrain should be printed for the assembly to sing. If it can be accompanied by guitar, all the better, but piano is fine, too.  (Some of my colleagues are shaking their heads, but I love this piece and after all, it is MY funeral.)

If the Pastor feels the service will be well attended, it should be advertised that thirty minutes of music will precede the service.  If the Pastor thinks attendance will be minimal, then one big organ piece and “Holy Darkness” will be sufficient music before the service.
Now, for the service itself:

The assembly stands. The Pastor (or an acolyte) carries a large lighted candle to the front.  The following dialogue is sung according to the tone on page 309 (Evening Prayer) in ELW.

At the font:
I am the resurrection and the life Ꞌ saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet Ꞌ shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall Ꞌ never die.

From the mid-point of the center aisle:
I know that my Re-Ꞌdeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day up-Ꞌon the earth;
and that though this body shall be destroyed, yet shall Ꞌ I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not Ꞌ as a stranger.

From the front of the church:
Blessed are the dead, who die Ꞌ in the Lord;
even so saith the Spirit, for they rest Ꞌ from their labors.

After the candle has been set down, the hymn is sung.

Hymn: The Day You Gave Us, Lord, Is Ended (ELW 569)

A short silence.

O Gracious Light (S 59 in the Hymnal 1982)
This may be sung by a soloist or the choir, unaccompanied.

Prayer of the Day – the first prayer at the top of page 271 in ELW.

Psalm 121
My preference is for a soloist to sing “A Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.” If that is not possible, any musical version will do. It can be sung by the choir, or sung by the choir and the assembly.  It should not be simply read.

Old Testament Reading TBD

New Testament Reading TBD

Gospel Acclamation: All Who Believe and Are Baptized (ELW 442)

Gospel Reading TBD
No “sharing” from the assembly. I hope they will do that privately.
Use the hymns I have chosen as the basis for a sermon about the hope of the resurrection.  Note that this service includes portions of the Evening Prayer service as found in ELW and in the Hymnal 1982.  The Pastor may wish to say that I sometimes called myself “a Lutheran with an Episcopalian aesthetic.” That will explain a lot about this service.


Hymn of the Day: Abide With Me (ELW 629)
Substitute this text for the last stanza.  It more accurately reflects my own beliefs about what happens when we die.  This stanza was written by me. That should be noted in the bulletin.

Hold, Lord, thy cross before my closing eyes.
Call me by name, and bring me to your side.
When morning breaks, salvation shall I see.
Till then, O Lord, let me abide in thee.


Prayers of Intercession


Communion Hymns
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (ELW 351) If it can be done well, stanza 3 should be sung a capella in four-part harmony.
Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart (ELW 750) For both hymns, please sing all of the stanzas – even if communion has been served to everybody by the middle of the second stanza of the first hymn.

The rest of the service follows as in ELW.

Sending Hymn: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (ELW 631)

I’ve done it.  Not only have I written my wishes down, but I’ve put them in cyberspace for everyone to see.  I may change my mind about some of these things as time goes by.  Hopefully, I have plenty of time to make changes!

I don’t know how these things work.  Probably I will have no idea if these wishes are carried out.  If they are, this is my last chance to share my faith.  It will be my chance to say that death is not the end. It is like going to sleep in God’s care and keeping while we wait for the resurrection. 

“Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The top two photos are from Wikipedia.