The Vicar has organized a series called Sundays at Six as part of our church's summer programme. Last night it was An Evening with Rachel Mann, Priest, Poet and Rock Musician.
In his introduction, the Vicar described how earlier he had been listening to Rachel rehearse the ballad, Who knows where the time goes? and it had nearly brought him to tears. We also learned that he had discovered her in Manchester, where she is a priest-in-charge at St. Nicholas Burnage. If you want to read more about her life and work I recommend her website and her blog,
Rachel is an elfin creature with the voice of an angel and a touch of the imp. I am no expert on heavy metal or hard rock, but what I loved about her performance was her intensity and the way the sound filled every corner of the church -- not in a loud threatening way, but in an explosion of commitment and love. For me the most moving and hauntingly beautiful were her acapella versions of two anti-war songs, Tom Waits, The day after tomorrow moved me beyond words -- in fact I could not move I was so close to tears -- and at the end, The Band played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle.
As enjoyable and moving as her singing was, however, equally enjoyable was her poetry. Rachel was, in fact appointed Poet-in-Residence at Manchester Cathedral for three years. She started with The dreams of Briar Rose, The Sleeping Beauty. In the poem she imagines what her dreams must have been like over 100 years ... Here is the first verse: (As you will read, Rachel has a very interesting sense of humour!)
I blew forty years’ worth getting blitzed on Special Brew,There is so much to tell about this extraordinary woman -- from her rebellious teenage years and experimentation with drugs, to her teaching of philosophy at Lancaster University and atheist convictions. How did she find faith and how did her faith lead her to become an inner city Anglican priest? She says that in the midst of her atheism, she began to feel a urgent need to pray and that from this need she began to feel that God was chasing her until she finally acquiesced and gave herself to Him.
dancing the merengue ‘til my toes bled,
drinking debutantes under the table
taking sweaty cabinet ministers (a bit of rough) to bed.
For fifteen years, I just wept – that ‘finger prick disaster'
replaying, like a schlock horror movie, in my head,
the spinner woman, that old crone, morphing between
Xena the Warrior Princess,
Queen Victoria, Hitler and Clark Kent;
I brained her with the sewing machine,
caused her GBH with a telescopic mallet,
chinned her Glaswegian style, sliced her in half
with the Kung Fu Buddhist Palm. (More)
In closing I give you a film of Rachel Mann reading her poem about Uncle Joe. A tongue-in-cheek, but thoughtful and imaginative take on Joseph Stalin ...