Below is how I am describing this Sunday’s service on listserv and facebook. What is not included is that Annemieke McLane will be performing pieces by Chopin and Beethoven that Bill would have loved.
In this installment I provide information about the sermon we are going to hear Bill preach at our community-wide service on Sunday morning the 24th at 10:00 AM. This is a joint service at the United Church of Strafford (on the Common) with the Strafford Unitarian-Universalist Church.
We invite people of all churches and faiths and no affiliation to come savor this experience. A Jewish rabbi has said how regularly he attended Christian services at Yale when Bill was chaplain there. Bill was unabashedly, lovingly Christian, the kind of Christian who is unabashedly, lovingly open to all spiritual traditions and eager to form beloved community across all lines. That is the kind of church both of our congregations try to be. So welcome! Below you can read more about this amazing sermon and the service we are building around it.
First, a quick reminder that you can see the full schedule of the William Sloane Coffin Weekend of Events on our website at https://wp.me/p95Qj3-gR. If you missed the first three installments of this series you can go to our facebook page and find in depth background information on the world-class musicians who will be performing J. S. Bach in our sanctuary this Friday evening at 7:00 (Part One), and on Jim Antal’s William Sloane Coffin Address at 1:30 on Saturday in our sanctuary entitled “He Asked of Us Something Great” (Part Two), and on the film “An American Prophet” showing at 7:00 PM Saturday (Part Three).
So here is Part Four. The sermon we will be hearing Bill preach was recorded at Riverside Church in New York City on July 24, 1983, probably within a month or so of when Jon Gilbert Fox photographed Bill sitting at the piano bench in our sanctuary.
The beautiful coincidence is that Sunday’s sermon is entitled “Preached from the Piano Bench,” which it was. Bill took advantage of the more relaxed summer atmosphere in that austere Riverside cathedral to go down to the piano and talk about music and the hymns for that day. He begins by showing off his virtuoso knowledge of the piano as a highly trained concert pianist.
(Fascinating tidbit: Bill studied piano in Paris under the great Nadia Boulanger, teacher of many of the most famous musicians and composers of the 20th Century.. Annemieke McLane, our church pianist, was a finalist at the Nadia and Lili Boulanger International Competition in Paris, and her teacher was one of those famous musicians that Bill’s teacher taught! And here she is giving a Bach concert this Friday in the sanctuary where Bill gave Bach concerts. I love that!)
The sermon from the piano bench shows many sides of Bill. He shares wisdom about our psychological and spiritual lives, he shares scholarly knowledge of music and hymns and the people who wrote them, he puts in a plug for Bach, and he tells an extremely moving story about coming into our sanctuary alone after his son, Alex, died, and playing one particular hymn over and over on our organ to go deeply into his grief.
I want to warn you about that, and also say we will be singing that hymn after the sermon. Bring hankies. But I hope you will be as moved as I was in a cathartic way to think of this village and this church and this instrument providing this man with such comfort, just as it has for so many others over the generations.
The choir will sing all the hymns that Riverside sang that Sunday, and the congregation will sing “God of Grace and God of Glory,” and “Once Again to Heart and Nation” which is the hymn Bill’s publishers chose for the title of his autobiography (originally “Once to Every Man and Nation”).
Jim Schley had a wonderful poetry connection with Bill, and he will share two of those poems. The Rev. Telos Whitfield of the UU Church and the Rev. Mary Thompson, Bill’s last pastor in our church, will both be speaking. Annemieke McLane will play piano pieces and lead the choir. (All are welcome to sing with the choir, even as a one time appearance, just come to the church at 8:50 to rehearse.)
After the service we will have refreshments followed by a chance to sit down and share our memories and appreciations of Bill and talk about what we feel his spirit calling us to do now, in this challenging time.
We will also give out two of Bill’s books that he autographed, donated by Jon Gilbert Fox.
I hope you will join us for this big day!Please email me if you have any questions.
Pastor Tom Kinder