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Vespers with the American Guild of Organists (AGO)
July 5 and 6, 2022


     The Vespers liturgy suggests a homily at this point, but it strikes me that one more homily might be a bit of a put-off for people in your line of work. Let’s be honest: you are treated to more than your share of homilies, so perhaps this evening you will be happy for something more in the nature of a welcome….

      It is a joy and a privilege to welcome you to this cathedral, this holy place that, for 115 years now has - along with a few other churches - been the very heart and soul of Christian worship in this city of Seattle, this ‘left coast’ city, this city at the far edge of the continent, this city that is on the cutting edge of so much that is happening in the world today.

       I called this place holy, and so it is. And sacred music is one of the things that makes it holy, and sacred music is one of the defining characteristics of this cathedral church. We make music in this place – a lot of music (there are over 850 liturgies with music celebrated here each year). We make music in this place, beautiful music, but I would quickly want to add that music makes us, too! We make music, even as music makes us.

       Let me preach to the choir for a moment. Let me belabor the obvious because it’s apparently not all that obvious. Music is no incidental add-on, no luxury to be purchased only after all the bills are paid for buildings and their maintenance and upkeep, or after all the educational programs for children, families, and, adults and all the outreach ministries to the poor and the needy are funded. No, music is integral to everything we do as church: music forms us and shapes us, it uplifts and consoles us, it gladdens our hearts and revives our drooping spirits. Music gives us a glimpse of heaven, and it greatly enhances the entire human landscape which is a barren wasteland indeed without the beautiful. Speaking for this cathedral of St. James - but I’m quite sure I speak for your churches, too - I can honestly say that we would never be the community we are – never be the Christians we are called to be -- without the beautiful music which we make here day after day.

      I have long believed this to be true but, believe it or not, the pandemic – upending everything as it did - proved it for me. We, like every other Church in the world, were incalculably diminished by the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, including the silencing of choirs and the elimination of congregational singing. Happily, organs were not transmitters of the virus, so all was not lost! Here at St. James our wonderful organs helped to compensate for the loss of so much that was familiar, so much that was beautiful. And then came that memorable Sunday when there was at last something approaching a critical mass of people in the pews and the congregation was finally allowed to sing – albeit through our masks. After a particularly rousing hymn of praise with full organ—I believe the tune was Nettleton -  we all broke into spontaneous applause!

      For the first time in over a year, we were really fired-up: energized for our mission. Why? Well, because the prayers we pray and the music we make in this Cathedral have everything to do with what happens when we leave here. You know this well, but let me say it anyway: there is a connection, a vital connection, between worship and service. And communities that celebrate the liturgy well tend to be communities that are alive when it comes to serving the poor and needy, and advocating on their behalf.
At the base of the oculus over the altar of this cathedral—not so easily read now, with the Pentecost hangings still in place - are words of Jesus taken from Luke’s Gospel in the twenty-second chapter, “I am in your midst as one who serves.” These Last Supper words proclaim the presence of Jesus in the midst of the assembly whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. But they also proclaim the truth that the Eucharist really comes alive outside these walls – in the service we do when we leave this place, especially service of the poor.

      Which brings me to that wonderful passage from Ephesians we just heard, which reminded us that we are not “strangers or aliens;” no, we are “fellow citizens of the saints, members of the household of God, a building, a holy temple, dwelling places for God in the Spirit.” It is in places like this cathedral, and in your cathedrals and churches, that we receive the divine anointing to do what Jesus did, “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

      Without good liturgy (which of necessity includes good music) this committed proclamation of the gospel of love and service simply will not take place. Or if it does take place, it will be weak and diluted, lacking in truth, lacking in integrity. I cannot prove this for you (and I doubt that you need me to!), but I deeply believe it, and there is more than ample evidence to corroborate it.

     Many people have come here over the past 115 years to bless this place, and since the completion of a major renovation in 1994 we have made a concerted effort to invite just about every person and group imaginable to come here to bestow their own unique blessing as they engage in worship or enjoy the wonderful array of musical concerts and performances which take place here through the year. These people have, I feel sure made this holy place even holier by their presence.

      I hope you, the members of the American Guild of Organists, will consider yourselves a part of this ongoing blessing of St. James Cathedral. Your presence here this evening is a tangible blessing, I assure you. The mosaic in the stone floor of the west narthex proclaims this place to be the House of God and the Gate of Heaven. It is that, of course, and it is also the house for God’s people. And it is surely an even holier place today because you are here. Welcome!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303