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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rocking the Pulpit

I had a most amazing evening last Sunday night! Not that I am into heavy metal or hard rock or even poetry readings. But that was before I was encouraged to attend an event that included just that -- and much much more. In church!

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.

About 40 of us gathered in the area at the front of the nave, where tables and chairs complete with candles had been set up. Wine and non-alcoholic beverages were available with snacks and so we all settled down for the show.

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,
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)
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.

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 ...


28 comments:

  1. This is so cool! I wish I could find a church like yours with people like this. It puts God in an entirely different light from what I am used to here in fundamental land.

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    1. Our church is very fortunate indeed to have such a forward thinking vicar. I hope some day you do find a church that celebrates an open mind and open thinking...

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  2. 'Sundays at Six' - what a wonderful idea and what a very imaginative and enterprising vicar you must have. And how fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear Rachel Mann who, in the short video reading her 'Stalin' poem, comes across as intelligent, lively and hugely entertaining. We can well imagine that her singing brought her audience close to tears. An experience to treasure.

    Not at all the same, but also very moving, last Sunday evening following 6pm Mass at a local church we were entertained to Handel's St. John's Passion, sung in German by the highly professional Imperatrix Ensemble. Such a joy.

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    1. Handel's St. John's Passion is indeed a great joy. Isn't it a wonderful thing to think how wide the church can be?

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  3. Your vicar must be great to have the idea for Sundays at Six and then to invite such a special woman for the first evening. She is someone you really want to learn more about.

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    1. She is absolutely fascinating and I hope we shall be seeing much more of her. The Vicar has told me he has 'something' in mind! Makes me smile in anticipation.

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  4. How wonderful of your Vicar to invite this special lady into your church so you could all benefit from her singing and positive message. Too bad more churches aren't like this.

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  5. Sounds like a fascinating woman! Having had my own (very long and involved) dalliances with substance abuse, non-belief, heavy metal, and other such things, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it greatly. And Tom Waits is one of the great poets of our age (his words without the musical accompaniment are sometimes stronger than with.)

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    1. Oh, Sully, I do wish you had been there! Yes, I listened to the Tom Waits version and have to say that hearing it acapella was even more powerful -- and the timbre of her voice was perfect for that haunting quality...

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  6. Wow! What an amazing women. I'd love to hear her in person...you had such a great experience. I've never been a great fan of poetry but hers could easily change my mind. And the song The Band Played Waltzing Matilda can have me sobbing with the first chorus. Lucky you!

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    1. Poets don't always read poetry well -- especially their own. But she read hers extremely well -- it was great fun listening to her.

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  7. Dear Broad, what a lesson you've given us today with this posting. It takes us way back to World War I to listen to "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and the remembering of the 50,000 Australians who died at Gallipoli to Vietnam and today's wars with Joan Baez singing Tom Waite's poem "The Day After Tomorrow."

    Listening to the first song, I got tears in my eyes when hearing the words that the young man telling the story had lost his legs at Gallipoli. And all the way through the second song I wondered if the young man telling the story was going to die before that plane took off for the United States.

    You see I'd never heard either song--or at least I can't remember hearing them before. And so sadness settled around me here at the computer.

    And then to learn through your posting of this exceptional Anglican priest who writes poetry and jokes and sings and brings us all together in Oneness. She truly is a woman who talks the talk and walks the walk.

    Thank you. And peace.

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    2. I had exactly the same response listing to The Day after Tomorrow -- and I had never heard that before Sunday, either.

      I was enthralled throughout the entire performance. The C of E sometimes has a reputation of being stuffy and behind the times, but there really are some wonderful things going on and some pretty amazing clergy -- and I'm glad to say especially in the inner cities. I love what you say about 'brings us all together in Oneness.'

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  8. Sounds like your vicar is really on the ball. The church needs more like this.

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    1. There are many wonderful vicars out there -- just not enough of them ...

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    2. There are many wonderful vicars out there -- just not enough of them ...

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  9. Great to find someone who can give a new spectrum on life in such a passionate way.

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    1. The more I learn about her the more amazing I discover her to be.

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  10. Oh Broad, Rachel is such a delightful soul. I wish I could have heard more. And I wish we had someone like her around here. I'd have her (or him) in the sanctuary on a regular basis on a Sunday evening.

    Your vicar with his "Sundays at Six" seems a truly delightful soul. We tend to do things around sevenish here, more classical stuff than anything else. With being so close to the University, I should think we could have a lot of fun if we tried.

    Thanks for this post.

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    1. We too offer a lot of classical 'stuff' -- however, this vicar has a very 'catholic' love of music, so we have broadened our scope the past few years -- and it's been a good thing.

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  11. A fantastic post, Braid! Thank you so much for introducing me first to Rachel Mann, who is a remarkable woman by any standards and then to two songs which I have inexplicably missed and which moved me deeply. Your vicar is to be congratulated and cherished as the progressive and imaginative man he obviously is.

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    1. No doubt about it we are very lucky to have him.

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  12. What a fascinating person and I really enjoyed listening to her. Rachel is certainly getting her message across and reaching out to other 'unliklies'!

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    1. I really am looking forward to seeing her again. I had some great feedback from a review I did for the Parish magazine!

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  13. Sunday at Six, what fun, wish I had a fast enough connection to play the video :-( Diane

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    1. Oh, Diane, I wish you did, too! But at least you do have a connection -- we have none at our house ;-(

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