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Guest Roffensis

I wanted to ask other Organists and Choirmasters their opinions on the subject of modern cathedral musical requirements. When you think about it, fifty years ago, the standard cathedral choir was an all male preserve, with the tone "set" or typified by such standards as Ernest Lough. Although hopelessly(?!) outdated it seems, I actually train my all boys choir in that old tradition, with a fair bit of subtle to obvious vibrato , which works well in the very resonant R.C. church where I am. In our major churches it has been slowly replaced by a more reedy and chest like tone. Kings under Willococks and Kings now are two very different sounds. Vocal production and diction are just not the same. In some places, the term used is "continental", even if there is no real choral tradition on the continent(!), which makes us here pretty unique. As a result of this, I feel that girls have become more acceptable, as the divide between voices is not so marked. Try to get a girl to do a Lough, it isn't really going to happen, but boys can be made to sing like girls. Some cathedral choirs actually do. The truth is, I think, that while decades back the differences between boys and girls were very obvious, now they are not. It all comes down to training styles. The same applies to repertoire, and these days the staple diet of Stanford et al has been enhanced by many modern composers. Leighton, Mathias, and so on. Because of these changes, surely the needs of the cathedral organ per se have also changed. As much as I make myself no part of it, I am not blind to change. I can see that the church cannot stay in a given style forever. So what of the organ? are we seriously going to say that the spikey registrations needed for Leighton, and other moderns can be met by a Harrison, for example. What of that chiffy flute needed here and there?. It can be a bit like trying to play Bach on a Hammond, and I suppose this in part is what led to the 60s alterations, typically to our choir organs. It really is an interesting subject when you sit and think about it, and I have to admit in all honesty that I do think it very wrong for all our cathedrals to sport exactly the same sounds, traditions, and yes, organ styles. I feel there is a need for our cathedrals to encompass everything they possibly can. I am happy to keep my choir and organ in a "golden age", and the choir love it. But really, there is also so much room for variety in our country, both in singing styles, and also in organs. From that point of view I have to admit, even reluctantly, that I can see another pendulem swinging.

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I wanted to ask other Organists and Choirmasters their opinions on the subject of modern cathedral musical requirements. ....  I feel there is a need for our cathedrals to encompass everything they possibly can. I am happy to keep my choir and organ in a "golden age", and the choir love it. But really, there is also so much room for variety in our country, both in singing styles, and also in organs.  ...

 

And also (dare I say it on this list?) encompassing other non-traditional styles of music.

 

EVery Blessing

 

Tony

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And also (dare I say it on this list?) encompassing other non-traditional styles of music.

 

EVery Blessing

 

Tony

 

Dear Reverend,

 

Of course this is another debate. I understand the churches want to "go towards the people the way they are", not the reverse.

This was tried in the belgian RC church in the seventies, and ended up as a disaster.

For the organ, but for the church too.

The young people finished by preffering the dancings, while the senior people stayed at home since long.

Now the churches are emptier than ever.

Be sure I never pass before an english church without enter!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Dear Reverend,

 

Of course this is another debate. I understand the churches want to "go towards the people the way they are", not the reverse.

This was tried in the belgian RC church in the seventies, and ended up as a disaster.

For the organ, but for the church too.

The young people finished by preffering the dancings, while the senior people stayed at home since long.

Now the churches are emptier than ever.

Be sure I never pass before an english church without enter!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

 

I do not advocate scrapping the old and replacing with the new - it seems to me that the better way - for most churches anyway - is a blending of styles. The real challenge is that whatever we do needs to be done well. In my view, the organ still has a very real role to play, both for traditional elements, and also as part of musical ensembles for leading more contemporary worship styles.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I do not advocate scrapping the old and replacing with the new - it seems to me that the better way - for most churches anyway - is a blending of styles.  The real challenge is that whatever we do needs to be done well.  In my view, the organ still has a very real role to play, both for traditional elements, and also as part of musical ensembles for leading more contemporary worship styles.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

The adoption of services (and therefore music) of different styles has created a change that has been going on for many years in the cathedrals in England, or at least those that are alive to encouraging more people to enter them for worship as well as tourism.

 

That is why perhaps conversations about soft solo reeds and 32' + strings registrations as the most crucial elements of a good cathedral organ are actually missing the point. The reality is that musical utility, subtlety and versatility are the essentials. I am sorry if I disappoint the traditionalists but the hard facts are that choral evensong is but one of many different and equally valid services that take place in the cathedrals of the twenty-first century.

 

My worry for all this is exactly in the blending of styles. In my experience the most successful acts of worship are those that have a sense of integrity, including music, rather than those which are a patchwork quilt of styles and fashions. These are the very services that often leave no-one satisfied.

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The same could be said to occur at parish level where if I am not careful my Rector (whose musical taste is generally beyond reproach) could have me leaping up and down between the organ in the chancel and a keyboard at the head of the nave depending on the musical leanings of particular parts of the service. Anything that involves the 'auto rhythm backing' he plays himself however!!

AJJ

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My worry for all this is exactly in the blending of styles. In my experience the most succesful acts of worship are those that have a sense of integrity, including music, rather than those which are a patchwork quilt of styles and fashions. These are the very services that often leave no-one satisfied.

Of course, much the same could be said about organs, in that it is surely preferable to have an instrument that has an honesty and integrity about it, e.g. New College, Oxford and St Mary Redcliffe, both uncompromising in their own different ways. As opposed to something which tries to be all things to all men, e.g. Tonbridge School Chapel or, dare I say it, St Albans Cathedral!

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Of course, much the same could be said about organs, in that it is surely preferable to have an instrument that has an honesty and integrity about it, e.g. New College, Oxford and St Mary Redcliffe, both uncompromising in their own different ways. As opposed to something which tries to be all things to all men, e.g. Tonbridge School Chapel or, dare I say it, St Albans Cathedral!

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

Are you saying that the organ here in St Albans lacks honesty and integrity? My experience tells me quite the opposite, which is why it works. But it is also musically versatile perhaps in ways that even Mr Downes did not envisage.

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The same could be said to occur at parish level where if I am not careful my Rector (whose musical taste is generally beyond reproach) could have me leaping up and down between the organ in the chancel and a keyboard at the head of the nave depending on the musical leanings of particular parts of the service. Anything that involves the 'auto rhythm backing' he plays himself however!!

AJJ

 

Hi

 

In my experience, if the music is fully intergrated into the service, the whole act of worship has a unity - and varying styles work well together. In some ways, it's no different to combining plainsong with, say, an anthem by William Matthias. I still play for services quite frequently - these days usually with our "music group" - and I will use whatever (keyboard) instrument best suits the particular item, in the context of the particular service - sometimes organ, sometimes piano or electronic keyboards.

 

It's not necessarily the musical style that gives an act of worship its integrity.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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It's not necessarily the musical style that gives an act of worship its integrity.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Absolutely, but does a worship song (like, say, Make me a channel of your peace) in a BCP choral evensong sit comfortably in that format? And is it a satisfying experience for the worshipper who chose to come to a cathedral evensong?

 

We too have a flourishing music group, use music from Taize and sing worship songs but are careful to tailor the music to the expectations of those attending that particular service. A solemn choral celebration of the Eucharist is a different animal from the Parish Eucharist, for example. Yet a cross over of style can take people by surprise (in a good way) and refresh that service, whilst the Cathedral Choir attending the Parish Eucharist helps avoid reinforcing the stereotypical reaction that choral music is elitist and unapproachable. (It also incidentally introduces the children attending the service to traditional choral music of the church - we have recruited a number of our choristers through that route.)

 

This site being about organs, I am just making the point that cathedral music has moved on to another place, whether we like it or not, from the first three quarters of the twentieth century. Contemporary worship and its music is no longer persona non grata in cathedrals today, and quite rightly so. Therefore choral evensong accompaniment plus the odd large diocesan service are no longer the only primary tasks of cathedral musicians and by association their musical instruments.

 

There is a requirement that organists (and organ builders) are open minded in their approach and versatile in the execution of their respective crafts. Some organs will be better at being flexible in services as well a concerts and recitals (many church buildings double up as local concert venues too).

 

I'm all for preserving good instruments and agree that New College and Redcliffe are superb instruments in their own right. The way forward is not necessarily obvious and when I read some of the posts on this site it can seem impossible to reconcile the differences between preservation and future development (e.g. Worcester). Some of us are fortunate to have situations where hard decisions have already been made (or the institution doesn't have to address them) or have the resources to be flexible without fundamental change. I am posting this in the hope (perhaps vain) that it helps some understand that there is a little more to cathedral music than perhaps seemed to be the case some years ago.

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Are you saying that the organ here in St Albans lacks honesty and integrity? My experience tells me quite the opposite, which is why it works. But it is also musically versatile perhaps in ways that even Mr Downes did not envisage.

 

It is one of the few organs that I have ever just sat down at ('visiting choir again - sometime ago now) drew the stops I hoped would work for some before the service music and found that they did! Having been in and out of St Albans now since the late 1960s either a member of the above visiting choir (from about as far south in the diocese as one can get) or because of a Godson as ex Head Chorister there (his father is still amongst the tenors) I can vouch for Mr Lucas' sentiments - in the right hands the H & H there can be a fantastically versatile and exciting musical instrument. Try visiting the Organ Festival to find out!

AJJ

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''It's not necessarily the musical style that gives an act of worship its integrity.''

 

Yes but sometimes the more so called 'contemporary' music is decidedly trite - I hope I'm not a musical snob and indeed in my other job in charge of a secondary school music dept. I necessarily have to have a broad approach including working with some very accomplished and serious rock musicians but some so called music groups and their repertoire make my toes curl! :blink:

AJJ

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Absolutely, but does a worship song (like, say, Make me a channel of your peace) in a BCP choral evensong sit comfortably in that format? And is it a satisfying experience for the worshipper who chose to come to a cathedral evensong?

 

 

Hi

 

It can fit - if the context is right - and it's hardly "contemporary" any more! OTOH, if it's just put in to try and be trendy, it won't work.

 

In my service planning, I sometimes find that, to fit with the theme, readings, etc., I've chosen all traditional hymns - sometimes it'll be all contemporary - but most times it's a mix of both.

 

Liturgical services are a different matter - and much will depend on the expectations of the congregation. As I see it, choral evensong is based in a very traditional mould - and I would expect mainly traditional Anglican music - just as our "traditional" communion service at Heaton Baptist Church uses probably 95% hymns from the hymn book.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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''It's not necessarily the musical style that gives an act of worship its integrity.''

 

Yes but sometimes the more so called 'contemporary' music is decidedly trite - I hope I'm not a musical snob and indeed in my other job in charge of a secondary school music dept. I necessarily have to have a broad approach including working with some very accomplished and serious rock musicians but some so called music groups and their repertoire make my toes curl! :blink:

AJJ

 

Hi

 

I agree - but then some hymns are pretty trite as well! Look at any old hymnbook - and see what's fallen by the wayside. There are some very well-written and challenging worship songs out there - and they are the ones that will survive. The dross will, eventually, fall by the wayside (but, most likely be replaced by another mix of good and bad!)

 

Also, as you're obviously aware, stylistic criteria is different for different musical genres.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

I agree - but then some hymns are pretty trite as well!  Look at any old hymnbook - and see what's fallen by the wayside.  There are some very well-written and challenging worship songs out there - and they are the ones that will survive.  The dross will, eventually, fall by the wayside (but, most likely be replaced by another mix of good and bad!)

 

Also, as you're obviously aware, stylistic criteria is different for different musical genres.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Point taken - I agree here!

AJJ

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Hi

 

It can fit - if the context is right - and it's hardly "contemporary" any more!  OTOH, if it's just put in to try and be trendy, it won't work.

 

In my service planning, I sometimes find that, to fit with the theme, readings, etc., I've chosen all traditional hymns - sometimes it'll be all contemporary - but most times it's a mix of both.

 

Liturgical services are a different matter - and much will depend on the expectations of the congregation.  As I see it, choral evensong is based in a very traditional mould - and I would expect mainly traditional Anglican music - just as our "traditional" communion service at Heaton Baptist Church uses probably 95% hymns from the hymn book.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

But we are talking about different places and expectations. This thread is about cathedral music and in the context of cathedral evensong with BCP words (though usually modern translations of the bible readings - sometimes in itself a mixed blessing) my experience has shown that mixing 'easy listening' contemporary music with traditional choral music is difficult to pull off and achieve a successful outcome.

 

Parish services are different. On the whole a mix is helpful because then the whole experience is inclusive rather then exclusive. Horses for courses...?

 

(The danger for parishes might be that the choirs and organists who insist on only making music that remains firmly within a traditional mold could eventually end up being ousted altogether by a forward looking, and often younger, congregation. That perhaps leaves the traditionalists and older members out in the cold ... precisely where they were prepared to leave the younger element ... but this is developing into a thread that is perhaps well outside the remit of an organ website!)

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Guest Roffensis
But we are talking about different places and expectations. This thread is about cathedral music and in the context of cathedral evensong with BCP words (though usually modern translations of the bible readings - sometimes in itself a mixed blessing) my experience has shown that mixing 'easy listening' contemporary music with traditional choral music is difficult to pull off and achieve a successful outcome.

 

Parish services are different. On the whole a mix is helpful because then the whole experience is inclusive rather then exclusive. Horses for courses...?

 

(The danger for parishes might be that the choirs and organists who insist on only making music that remains firmly within a traditional mold could eventually end up being ousted altogether by a forward looking, and often younger, congregation. That perhaps leaves the traditionalists and older members out in the cold ...  precisely where they were prepared to leave the younger element ... but this is developing into a thread that is perhaps well outside the remit of an organ website!)

 

I'm very lucky in having a very level headed Priest, but basically my own feelings are these. Where a choir exists, whatever it's form, it should have a definite role and place in any church.I have witnessed choir stalls ousted and the space used for "sacred dance" only to have this thrown out later.All that had been achieved was the loss of a good choir, and the stalls. Music groups coversely do not really like organs or choirs.....It's wrong to mix a common prayer service, the BCP words fit the music and vice versa, and the ridiclous excuse that modern language should apply never convinced me. The many new fangled settings of even crimond make me shudder, and bowlderlise some very beautiful language use. It also presumes we do not understand old language. My own choir relish Latin, and thats fine. Modern music has its place, but it is often not suitable for a four part choir, and the organ writing equally poor. It is not possible to get boys to sing a tenor B flat, or even A (I watch the sunrise), which are way too low, meanwhile other hymns are just way too irregular and have clearly been dreamed up on a pc. with little care for vocal range. So that's the choir, hopefully being allowed properly written music, within the context each week, and give them something to do. Mixy matchy services are very common in the non conformist churches, and also the evo churches, but they rob a choir of duty. Choirs are worth holding onto, they bring men into the church, and take a long time to build up. The answer clearly lies in different services at different times, not having the organ for everything, having worship groups et al and thats great, but do not compromise what isn't broken. The enthusiasm of boys to be in a choir, to learn the organ is still there. I know this. I have proved it. But the tradition should not be watered down, but enhanced by other service times, or alternating times. A mixed service does not generally work. Thats my experience, and Masses/choral evensong remain still the very backbone of our cathedral music. Where it can be done well at parish level it should be, and never undermined.Its all far too precious. My original posting concerned the changing fashions within choral and organ matters full stop, and that point sadly seems to have been missed.

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I'm very lucky in having a very level headed Priest, but basically my own feelings are these. ....

 

Hi

 

If I had a choir, I would use them - but not all the time! With care, some contemporary music can work chorally - other pieces are more suited to solo singers leading.

 

Mixed services do work - given care in planning, and an open-minded congregation. As I said before, I have limited experience of traditional liturgical worship, but I have heard contemporary music used well.

 

The main reason that music groups are anti-organ, in my experience, is the intransigent attitude of many organists!

 

The danger of seperate services is that you end up with effectively 2 groups that have nothing incommon, except using the same building - and I don't think that's helpful in the Body of Christ - but we're straying into theology rather than organ matters!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Church choristers, whether children or adults, normally commit much more time week in week out to their church than almost any other group from the congregation. In return for this they do like, and deserve, to feel appreciated. They do not take kindly to being told that "an anthem is not needed this morning" for example, if the trying-to-be-trendy (but usually failing) vicar wants to try something different. When Rev. Newnham says "If I had a choir, I would use them - but not all the time!" it seems not surprising that he doesnt have a choir.

 

Of course there is nothing wrong in having different types of service at different times which do not involve the choir, but the choir and organist will often not react well if they feel they're being messed around.

 

Andrew Lucas's comments "That is why perhaps conversations about soft solo reeds and 32' + strings registrations as the most crucial elements of a good cathedral organ are actually missing the point" may refer back to an earlier post from myself which I was well slapped down for! But I certainly didn't suggest soft reeds and 32' pedal stops are "most crutial", but they do still have their place and can in my opinion enhance choral accompaniment.

 

Its great if any organ is able to accompany Leighton or more modern styles of music, but its a tragedy for a cathedral organ NOT to be able to accompany Stanford, Elgar, Howells and Bairstow for example (a famous HNB instrument of 1969 just down the road from me being a case in point!)

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Church choristers, whether children or adults, normally commit much more time week in week out to their church than almost any other group from the congregation. In return for this they do like, and deserve, to feel appreciated. They do not take kindly to being told that "an anthem is not needed this morning" for example, if the trying-to-be-trendy (but usually failing) vicar wants to try something different. When Rev. Newnham says "If I had a choir, I would use them - but not all the time!" it seems not surprising that he doesnt have a choir.

 

Hi

 

For your information, we don't have a choir because this is a very small church, and there aren't enough singers t form one! There was a "singing group" at my previous church, who sang at various special occaisions during the year (the situation I inherited) and I made good use of them.

 

I try to encourage the musicians in my church - even though for some of them, their technical ability is limited - they are working to improve - and I certainly appreciate their ministry. I certainly would not "dump" something that the choir had prepared - if an anthem (or anything else in the service) is the norm, and there's a particular reason for not doing it, then I talk to the people concerned in advance.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Dare I say the english "traditionnal" church music is extremely highly regarded

my side of the Channel?

 

Would we have something like that! go on the french forum to read the

guys talking about absolute nightmares (so-) called "modern church songs"

like Akepsimas and the like.

There are some islands (Taïze, etc) in this ocean of "pop-music".

 

Maybe it's better to have children accustomed to good music (from 4 years old not more) than to try to run behind bad tastes.

If we place Drums and guitars and Standford at the same level, we have a problem!

 

And maybe discussing about details of organ's styles ( Would a Voix céleste better suit

a Pink Floyd's lover taste than a Tierce) could really end up with guitars everywhere while we should still be discussing about the matter.

 

And we should protect historic organs at the same time. Well, a big job!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Dare I say the english "traditionnal" church music is extremely highly regarded

my side of the Channel?

 

Would we have something like that! go on the french forum to read the

guys talking about absolute nightmares (so-) called "modern church songs"

like Akepsimas and the like.

There are some islands (Taïze, etc) in this ocean of "pop-music".

 

Maybe it's better to have children accustomed to good music (from 4 years old not more) than to try to run behind bad tastes.

If we place Drums and guitars and Standford at the same level, we have a problem!

 

And maybe discussing about details of organ's styles ( Would a Voix céleste better suit

a Pink Floyd's lover taste than a Tierce) could really end up with guitars everywhere while we should still be discussing about the matter.

 

And we should protect historic organs at the same time. Well, a big job!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

 

Hi

 

I think we are in danger of missing the point! HOW we worship God isn't really that important - it's the fact that we worship - and the attitude of the worshippers that really matter. Given the will to be open minded, God can be worshipped equally well in a Choral Evensong and a contemporary, full-on "Praise and Worship" setting! (And I'm happy to worship in either). There are grave dangers in trying to insist that our own personal taste is the only appropriate worship music!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Dear Mr Newnham,

 

My aim was certainly not to hurt, and I want to apologize for that.

 

I realize we see that matter from very different points of view. I am just a collector of facts, numbers, names and dates,nothing else, besides a deep interest for the organ and its music.

Fact, is, a vast majority of these instruments obtains in churches -this is even more the case in continental Europe-; I agree in such places the worship has to have the very first priority, no doubt nor discussion.

 

The question is to know if we must understand art as a kind of prayer or not; to my view, but maybe this is a sin, musicians like Standford, Howells, Wesley(father and son), Tournemire (etc not to forget Bach) and the builders of a vast majority of the organs we see in churches today did all what they did as an act of Faith. Have they been "right or wrong" is another debate I won't enter into.

 

So now we sit down on a huge heritage that our ancestors passed to us.

If "to like" things like that is a "personnal taste", this means other musics,other instruments, whose roots are elsewhere (I don't mean from a geographic point of view only of course) should be considered pieces of Art and as well suited to worship.

There is then no "hierarchy", no dedicate place for each "cultural product" that obtains on earth.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

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Dear Mr Newnham,

 

My aim was certainly not to hurt, and I want to apologize for that.

 

I realize we see that matter from very different points of view. I am just a collector of facts, numbers, names and dates,nothing else, besides a deep interest for the organ and its music.

Fact, is, a vast majority of these instruments obtains in churches -this is even more the case in continental Europe-; I agree in such places the worship has to have the very first priority, no doubt nor discussion.

 

The question is to know if we must understand art as a kind of prayer or not; to my view, but maybe this is a sin, musicians like Standford, Howells, Wesley(father and son), Tournemire (etc not to forget Bach) and the builders of a vast majority of the organs we see in churches today did all what they did as an act of Faith. Have they been "right or wrong" is another debate I won't enter into.

 

So now we sit down on a huge heritage that our ancestors passed to us.

If "to like" things like that is a "personnal taste", this means other musics,other instruments, whose roots are elsewhere (I don't mean from a geographic point of view only of course) should be considered pieces of Art and as well suited to worship.

There is then no "hierarchy", no dedicate place for each "cultural product" that obtains on earth.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre Lauwers.

 

Hi Pierre

 

Sorry if you thought I was "getting at " you - my comments were general.

 

I have mixed feelings about the heritage issues. I agree that it's important to retain our heritage - but on the other hand, the Church is not a museum, it's a living, changing organisation. This leads to all sorts of dicotomies!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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