By Alan Hayes
Published: February 2008
Thanking a bishop who is about to retire is a rare event in the history of a diocese. It's almost exactly as rare as welcoming a new one.
So I didn't want to miss going to the Cathedral on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, for a service of choral evensong which merged into a presentation to Bishop Ralph Spence and a very jolly reception before his retirement in February.
Chairs had been added in the aisles to accommodate the crowd. The room was packed. A good attendance would be expected for any retiring bishop, but Ralph Spence has been extremely popular, and he will be very much missed.
Crowd at evensong
The service was exactly right for the occasion. I don't personally know how decisions were made, but I can imagine that Ralph didn't want a special event in his own honour. So this was, from one point of view, simply the usual monthly Cathedral service of evensong. It's just that it was more crowded than usual.
After a grand procession, the first hymn, "Christ whose glory fills the skies," was perfect for Epiphany. Psalm 96, "O sing unto the Lord a new song," and psalm 100, "O be joyful in the Lord," nicely encapsulated Ralph's creative, hopeful, and faithful approach to episcopal ministry.
The setting for psalm 96 was indeed a new song; it was an upbeat Anglican chant with some stunning harmonies by David Hurd, professor of church music at General Theological Seminary in New York. Brent Fifield and the Cathedral choir (naturally including its very faithful member Carol Spence) sang this and all the music so very beautifully, as always.
The Nunc Dimittis, like the Magnificat, was sung in a setting by Herbert Sumsion, the late organist at Gloucester Cathedral. Joining in the song that Simeon sang when he finally received what God had promised him, and prepared to enter into rest, was particularly poignant on this occasion.
The preacher, the bishop of Toronto, had the impossible task of saying something about the Scripture readings, something about the feast of the Epiphany, and something about Ralph. His sermon led to the conclusion that the gifts presented by the magi, whom we particularly remember on Epiphany, can be interpreted as symbols of Ralph = s own ministry: gold for his generosity of spirit; myrrh for his suffering on behalf of his diocese; frankincense for his life of worship and praise. That synopsis rang true.
The anthem, the evening hymn "Te lucis," was entirely appropriate for evensong, and the rich harmonies and romantic texture of the score by the Anglican composer Henry Balfour Gardiner (d. 1950) was lovely.
There followed a procession down the centre aisle, up the north aisle, and down the south aisle to the singing of "Lo! The Pilgrim Magi" by Walter MacNutt, the late organist of St. Thomas' Anglican Church, Huron Street, in Toronto. After prayers, the procession returned to the chancel up the centre aisle.
Part of Ralph's effectiveness has been his ability to bring together the best of different Anglican traditions. The choice of the two concluding hymns reflected this. "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" is reminiscent of the Caroline high-church tradition which helped inspire Trinity College, Toronto; and "King of love, O Christ, we crown thee," was written by Charles Venn Pilcher, a professor at Wycliffe College, Toronto, and a descendant from the family that gave us the great English evangelical Henry Venn. (How tiresome it is when people make jokes intended to set these two great traditions in opposition.)...
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