A Musical Journey: Holy Week and Easter

by Jesse Ratcliffe, Choirmaster

for a schedule of worship services in Holy Week, click here

The days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are laden with emotion—the catch-breath of joy as we celebrate the triumphant entry to Jerusalem; the sorrow and heaviness of the crucifixion; and ending with the bliss of Easter Day. As a church musician, conveying these emotions through music can often prove to be challenging. The task is governed by the balance of musical language and text with listener approachability. At Saint James’, each service will be filled with some of the most poignant pieces of choral literature.

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Message from the Choirmaster: March 2017

Jesse Ratcliffe is Saint James’ director of music. He can be reached here

The Great Vigil of Easter (April 15)

Easter Vigil is one of the most beautiful services of the church year as we segue from the reflective and somber atmosphere of Lent into the joy of Easter. The choral anthem for this service, Alleluia, composed by Randall Thompson conveys all the emotions of this holy day.

Thompson, born in 1899 and died in 1984, was an American composer who taught at many prestigious schools, including the University of Virginia (1941-1945), whose compositional style is regarded as “distinctly American”. Alleluia was composed in five days with the text being two words: “Alleluia, Amen”-with the latter being sung once at the final chord which spreads the choir into seven parts. This composition was a reaction to the war, especially the fall of France.

Continue reading “Message from the Choirmaster: March 2017”

CONNECTED Capital Campaign: Music

We are CONNECTED by music.

February 19, 2017

Corporate worship lies at the heart of Saint James’ spiritual life, and music plays an important role in almost all of the worship services that we offer. It is the mission of Saint James’ music ministry to aid the congregation in offering up praises to God.

Members of the Saint James’ Youth Chorale rehearse in the music room before a performance in February 2016.

As Episcopalians, we have a musical heritage that is one of the world’s richest and most deeply spiritual. For over 500 years, Anglican church music has sought to tell the Christian faith with authenticity and truth. Our music is an extremely diverse and multi-layered art form that celebrates and encompasses many different traditions. You might be interested, when singing hymns, to read the small print below each one and note the many and varied sources of the poetry and the music.

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Message from Jesse Ratcliffe, Director of Music

Festival Eucharist in May 2015

“How often, making music, we have found a new dimension in the world of sound, as worship moved us to a more profound Alleluia!” When in Our Music God is Glorified … Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)

During the last three years it has been a privilege and a joy to watch and hear the music at Saint James’ develop into a robust extension of our liturgy. The adult choir has grown into a vibrant and supportive group of folks who love each other and love to sing. The Saint James’ Youth Chorale began two years ago with only five members and now has tripled in size, and the choristers have brought home a trophy from an adjudicated event! The fun-loving handbell ringers have adjusted to my direction and are eager to learn more music and ring at more events inside and outside the church. Lastly, as I’ve said before, it is the strong and full-voiced congregational singing that makes our services so special.

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Music Ministry Updates from Jesse Ratcliffe

To the people of Saint James’, I give my sincere thanks for the vestry resolution presented to me and the music program last month. It is an honor to serve as organist and music director at Saint James’. I am most grateful for the hard work and dedication of everyone in the adult choir, handbells, and youth chorale as they lift their talents to God to provide inspiration and encouragement to the member s of Saint James’ and beyond.

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Ministry of the Month | Adult Choir

The Saint James’ Adult Choir invites you to join us in a ministry of music and praise.  We’ve heard you singing in the pews, and we’d love to have you join us in the choir loft!  While the ability to read music is a plus, it is certainly not a requirement.  All you need is a joyful heart and a willingness to share your talents with the people of Saint James’.

Currently, we meet to rehearse on Thursday nights from 7:00 pm until 8:30 pm. There’s plenty of time on Sunday mornings to have breakfast with your family in the Café prior to our 9:15 am warm-up before the 10:15 am worship service.  Continue reading “Ministry of the Month | Adult Choir”

Resolution to the Saint James’ Choir

requiemmass-4This past Sunday, Senior Warden Bill Turnure presented the resolution to Jesse and the music program in gratitude for their exceptional service

Resolution of the Saint James’ Vestry: December 15, 2015

Whereas the choir of Saint James’ Episcopal Church under Music Director Jesse Ratcliffe’s capable and inspired leadership have ascended to new heights musically;

Whereas the choir’s tireless dedication demonstrated by untold hours of rehearsal stands as an icon of committed ministry;

Whereas the liturgical year at Saint James’ Episcopal Church, especially Holy Week, Easter, and Christmas, has been immeasurably enhanced by the choir’s freely and beautifully offered gifts;

Whereas the choir has provided the people of Saint James’ Episcopal Church the opportunity to experience a myriad of worship services from Choral Evensong to a Bluegrass Mass, from Taizé to Morning Prayer, from a Longest Night healing service to a Celtic Eucharist, from an outdoor service at the Cathedral Shrine to a Requiem Mass;

Whereas the Christmas Concert beautifully wove together the considerable gifts of our Junior Chorale, Bell Choir, and Adult Choir;

Whereas many families and friends have been comforted by the remarkable participation of the choir in laying to rest both beloved parish members and relative strangers;

Whereas the music program of Saint James’ Episcopal Church will gracefully lead us in our bicentennial celebrations;

Now therefore, be it resolved that we, the wardens, vestry, and clergy of Saint James’ Episcopal Church, commend with abundant gratitude the faithful ministry of our Choir, and Jesse Ratcliffe, Organist and Music Director.

Be it further resolved that this resolution be presented to Jesse Ratcliffe as representative of the entire Music Ministry, a copy of this resolution published in the Weekly News of Saint James’, and recorded in the minutes of this vestry;

Given under our hands at a regular meeting of the vestry of Saint James’ Episcopal Church, Warrenton, Virginia, the Diocese of Virginia, on December 15th, 2015.

Humans of Saint James’: Chris G

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You may have heard of “Humans of New York,” a photoblog by photographer Brandon Stanton which has let us glimpse into the stories of ordinary New Yorkers.

At Saint James’, we believe that community is one of the most important functions of the church, and that by this we help promote and “respect the dignity of every human being” in the words of our baptismal covenant.

And thus follows this second post in our new series: Humans of Saint James’.

While it may not match the scope or sophistication of Stanton’s work, it is no less important – as we hear the stories of fellow parishioners, we are allowed to glimpse another piece of the story of Christ in the world, in Warrenton, in Saint James’, and in each of us.

§ § §

Chris grew up near Buffalo, NY and went to college in Rochester on an ROTC scholarship. He spent his 20s as a Navy pilot and has been a commercial pilot since 1997.

His spiritual journey began at home in upstate New York. “I wouldn’t say we were [practicing] Roman Catholics, but we identified ourselves as Roman Catholics [culturally].”

He attended Catholic grammar school and went through some of the motions, but he never really engaged with the Church, and as a teenager he stopped going to services altogether.

“It was my first rebellious, independent act, when I announced that I was no longer … interested in going to CCD.”

Though he mostly stopped attending church for the next several years, he felt he had a lingering desire to find God. “I always kinda had this latent spirituality, but it was kinda a guilty spirituality, instilled by the nuns in the [schools] of my youth.”

While he was doing flight training in Mississippi, he met and married a woman who had grown up in the Southern Baptist Church. He started going to church with her and her family, and got more involved with that church when they had kids.

“That’s when God started talking to me again – or when I started listening, I should say – when I had kids.”

It was the beginning of a powerful spiritual journey for Chris.

§ § §

In 2000, after he left the Navy, Chris and his family moved to Warrenton. He heard about Saint James’ when looking for a preschool for his son. He and his wife decided to check out the church as well.

“I think initially what struck me was the actual building … I guess that’s kinda shallow. But we said, ‘well, we gotta go somewhere.’”

“My wife wasn’t opposed to stepping outside the Baptist tradition, and this was comfortable for me, from my youth with the rite, the liturgy and the Eucharist, and so we started coming here. We met Larry Murphy, the rector at the time, and you know I’m a Navy guy so I kinda had a connection with him.”

Chris and his wife both liked Saint James’. They came a lot at first, less often after a while. They never got too involved. About the same time, their marriage suffered, and they started attending church regularly again in an attempt to strengthen their relationship.

Chris’ son was in 8th grade at this time, and sang in his school’s choir. “And we were sitting [in church] … and the choir was up there and I was like ‘dude you should sing in the choir!’ And he’s like ‘no way, Dad – church music?’”

Chris mentioned to his son he would sing in the choir himself if he wasn’t so busy.  

“So we went to have coffee and we were sitting in the parish hall over there and guy who was in the choir at the time waltzes up to us … and said ‘can you sing?’

Chris asked if he had overheard them talking about the choir. 

“No, no, we just had two guys quit and we’re like hurting for men [to sing in the choir],” said the man.

Chris resisted. He was busy. He travels a lot. No matter, said the chorister. Show up when you can.  

He waited for the lighting bolt.

“‘This is weird!’”

He eventually relented. “I thought about it and I said, you know, why not?”

The choir has been a central part of his spiritual journey ever since.

§ § §

Chris’ marriage continued to struggle. Eventually he and his wife separated and divorced. It was an extremely hard time.

“Saint James’ was really important to me at that time … and I found solace in the community here.” Singing in the choir especially helped. “It gave me something to take my mind off what was going on. And so I kinda just pressed on.”

It was not an easy time, for him or his family. “I was a trainwreck for a couple years.”

“As I was coming out the back end of [my personal struggles] the outgoing senior warden asked me if I would consider being on vestry.”

“My first inclination was not only ‘no,’ but ‘heck no!’ ‘Do you know what a basket case I am right now?’

He went home and prayed.

“This to me was a Holy Spirit moment, where God was reaching out to me and saying it’s time, it’s time for you to move. and step out of your comfort zone and grow.”

Again, he eventually gave in. “And I think it was a couple weeks later they said ‘hey, do you wanna be the junior warden?’ And my initial response was not only ‘no,’ but ‘heck no! – like what do I know about [being jr warden]?’”

“So it was kinda the same process and so I went home and prayed about it and I felt like there was a pattern here.”

He agreed to become junior warden.

“And this is a recurring thing to me [over the last decade] – this idea of … personal and spiritual growth and stepping out of your comfort zone, kinda like the choir thing.”

§ § §

Over the next three years, Chris became more deeply involved with the parish.

“My experience with Saint James has been defining for me. There were early parts of my life – we talked about being a naval officer and that was kind of a defining thing for my character in my youth.”

Not any more.

“It’s interesting – Scott Christian gave me this book a couple years ago, talking about the two halves of your life – wherein the first half you’re building the vessel, figuring out who you are and what you are. And the second half is where you are filling that vessel.”

“I believe I’m in the second part now. There’s not a whole lot else to do [outwardly] – I’m not gonna change jobs, I’m not gonna change my outward appearance or my outward projection, so it’s really about what’s going on inside now.”

“[Saint James’ has been] an anchor and also a goad, to some degree … I feel – especially the relationships at Saint James’ have been … a prod for me to move.”

It’s important to Chris that he isn’t ever complacent. He feels the Holy Spirit has moved him especially in times where he had no inclination to act on his own. Now is no different, and he thinks Saint James’ will play a role.

“The other parts of my life away from Saint James’ have calmed down and have grown, and I’m entering a phase of my life spiritually and I’m being asked, I think, by God to take another step, to step out of my comfort zone.”

Join the choir this Sunday!

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This Sunday, August 23, is the last installment of our “Join the Choir” program this summer.

Always thought it would be fun to sing in the choir? Now you can! Just show up on Sunday morning at 9:15, and Jesse will get you set up.

We’ll be singing “Be Thou My Vision” this Sunday. Click here to listen.

Questions? Email Jesse.