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    A View from the Pew

    Over the Bridge and Through the Woods: A Visit to Cape Cod 

    For residents who live within the parameters of the south coast in Massachusetts, one of the cardinal rules of commuting prohibits a drive to Cape Cod on a Sunday during the summer months. Two bridges that create the passageway from the mainland to this lovely island contains thousands of visitors who vacation in the small and lovely coastal towns that welcome tourists from all over the world. The Bourne Bridge and Sagamore Bridge find travelers in lock down on these roads, and navigating the roundabouts off of the main exits would confuse even Magellan. So when I received an invitation from a Cape Cod music director to visit her parish for a View from the Pew, I actually hesitated. After a lifetime of both working and vacationing on the Cape and finding myself caught in the perils of bridge traffic, I knew what the commute may look like upon returning to the mainland. However, the impulse to respond to an actual invitation won the inner tussle.  I responded that I would brave the summer commute and participate in the 10:00 am Mass in her parish. So over the bridge and through the woods of Cape Cod I went to reach this week’s parish. Both the commute and the liturgical experience reaped a rich harvest of prayerful reflection and deep gratitude from my visit.

    Greeted at the door of the entrance of the church by a minister of hospitality, I could hear robust singing beyond the double doors that opened into the worship space.

    “Did I get the Mass time wrong? Is there a liturgy already in progress?” I inquired with concern. The greeter smiled.

    “Oh no, Mass is at 10am,” the greeter cordially replied. “That’s our choir warming up and rehearsing before Mass begins.”

    Stunned to learn that an actual choir existed on a Sunday morning in the heart of south coast vacation land during the summer months, I walked into the church and saw a choir director conducting an ensemble of approximately 15 singers and accompanied by the organist and music director of the parish and my invitatory connection. Drawn in by the music, I walked toward the choir and found myself warmly welcomed by the director, the organist and the members of the choir. When I expressed my astonishment and delight that a choir sings throughout the summer, one of the members spoke right up. “Oh we love being together and singing together and only taking a few weeks off as a little break.” Spot on. Music makers who love their music community generate community in their worshipping assembly.  

    Not wishing to hold up their precious rehearsal time (every minute counts!),  I located a seat in the fourth row and placed my cushion on the hard word. My injured spine simply will not tolerate hard wood pews any longer; my ‘tush cush’ accompanies me wherever I go!  

    As the choir continued to rehearse I began to drink in the environment of the worship  space. I found myself walking up and down the center aisle to view the magnificent plethora of stained glass windows that frame the walls of the entire church. Having just completed James Martin, SJ’s sterling chronicle My Life With the Saints, I immediately connected with the depiction of the saints whose lives I just finished praying and reflecting upon. The Annunciation, Joan of Arc, Joseph, Francis of Assisi, Thomas More,  Elizabeth Seton and other depictions surrounded me, reminding me that the community of saints accompanies us as patrons and companions on the journey as God gathers us together and calls us to worship. Together, we join with all of heaven to praise God through Jesus, the Christ.

    A lovely window behind the choir chronicled a visual history of the parish. My eyes then fell to a magnificent crucifix located on the center wall of the sanctuary and above the Eucharistic table. A worthy ambo flanked the table to my left and on the opposite wall, in its own niche, the tabernacle. This very prayerful worship space formed what I call “the T church”. Flanked by two side ends and facing the principle worship space, the sanctuary held pride of place with the music area located to the left of the sanctuary and  visible from every perimeter of the assembly. Well lit and inviting, I wondered if the rest of my worship experience would match the lovely visual environment and beautiful welcome that greeted me from the ministers of hospitality and music ministry.  I was not disappointed.

    Music directors on Cape Cod face a particular challenge in selecting music to enable robust assembly song during the summer months, as do all pastoral musicians who direct programs in vacation destinations throughout the world. A transient community appears and takes their place with the parish ‘regulars’, the residential community that sustains the parish. Evoking thoughtful, engaging and familiar music rests on the pastoral, liturgical and musical decisions that the music director will make to create the best possible musical liturgy with an integrated community that creates one Body of Christ through sung worship. Even while the basic standard minimum of any worshipping community should expect strong presidential leadership and a homily that simultaneously feeds and challenges them, pastoral musicians find themselves in the position of nurturing faith by evoking beauty through the music that they issue through with the help of the Three Judgments (see Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship). The gift of song transcends the spoken word and unites a community that expresses the sacramental presence of God to an assembly that gathers to give verbal ascent to the Paschal Mystery. In the case of parishes that sustain ephemeral communities, the music director must consider a wide peripheral view of the people who gather to worship. A daunting task and one that requires a thoughtful approach on a weekly basis, combined with a prayerful sensitivity to the diversity of the anticipated visitors and the parish mainstay community.  I reflected on all of this as I picked up a hymnal and smiled at the family of six young boys accompanied by their parents who sat next to me this morning.

    As I lifted my voice along with a robust assembly, well led by a warm, pastoral presider and accompanied by the deacon who preached well, I thanked God for the music director and her invitation to visit her parish. Her willingness to listen to suggestions inspired me to continue to seek and find those who really desire to grow stronger and better in their ministry. This morning’s music director gets it. She knows that true Christian spirit springs from the living waters of sung participation as we lift our minds and hearts to God. Isn’t that what it’s about?