In the Great Hall of Crowcombe Court, an eighteenth century country house located in the lee of the Quantock Hills, Somerset, some eighty people are transfixed as three nationally acclaimed musicians treat them to little-known music by well-known composers and unforgettable music by forgotten composers. Trios by Beethoven shared the programme with a stunning piece by Ignaz Moscheles, who was born in Prague but spent most of his life in London, some of it as appointed pianist to Prince Albert. A descendant of Moscheles was present at the concert and hoped that this performance of his ‘Trio in C Minor’ would mark a revival of this piece, not performed publicly for over a century.
These uplifting events have taken place since 2001. Two performances (afternoon and evening) happen twice a year. So, every year gatherings of 350 people make a pilgrimage to the Great Hall in Crowcombe Court to have their hearts, souls and minds fed, moved, enlarged and transformed by beautiful music. This is, indeed, the mission of music. Furthermore, it happens in a welcoming atmosphere. All this is the fulfilment of a vision caught from St. Bartholomew’s, Rodhuish, a small fifteenth century church (originally a chapel of ease) nestling in a hamlet in the hills of Exmoor some five miles from Minehead and ten miles from Crowcombe Court. The warm welcome and generous refreshments are provided by the congregation. The vision was put into practice by two worshippers at St. Bartholomew’s, one of whom, Oliver Davies, is a renowned concert pianist who organises and arranges the Crowcombe concerts. With two equally renowned and talented friends, Robert Gibbs (violinist) and Adrian Bradbury (cellist), the trio travel to Somerset and perform at Crowcombe Court, giving their time freely to raise funds for St. Bartholomew’s. The generosity of their giving has enriched and brought joy and light to thousands of people over the years. It has also brought to the fore forgotten works and forgotten composers whose time for renewed prominence may otherwise be overlooked
Rodhuish Church, like so many rural churches, serves a small community and, apart from major festivals, would only have a few people in church twice a month. Looking at the church from a managerial, utilitarian, financially-led perspective may lead to the conclusion that it is unsustainable. However, looking more widely and deeply points to another, very different conclusion to which I shall return. But first, three brief reflections on the Church’s relationship to community and mission are required – and by the ‘Church’, I mean here the people of God (also referred to as the Body of Christ) rather than the building in which they worship.
The first reflection comes from William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury. Temple wrote that the Church is the only organisation established for those who are not its members. To take Temple’s statement one step further, it is possible to assess whether a Church is faithful to its calling by the way it regards and treats people who do not attend. In other words, how do the children of God within the Church regard the children of God outside? Do they view them simply as people to be drawn in or do they view them as fellow pilgrims walking a different journey. Do they view them as sisters and brothers or do they view them as ‘poor’ and ‘lost’ souls? Is the door of the Church open unconditionally to those outside or are there heavy loads to be placed on all who enter?
Secondly, the Church is called to be a pointer to God, providing an environment which encourages people to be open to an encounter with God so that their hearts, souls and minds can be fed, moved, enlarged and transformed. However, such an encounter does not always need to take place in a church building.
Thirdly, over the centuries, music has been a great ally and catalyst in people’s encounter with God. Music, ancient and modern, classical and contemporary, sacred and secular, has raised people to the heights and been with them in the depths. It has provided expression which is inexpressible in words and, wrapping them like a cloak, has helped people forge personal and national identities. Music has given courage and brought comfort. Music touches more powerfully than words and penetrates more deeply – when speech and memory have gone, so often music and song remain. Music is a ladder to the mysterious. And so, we return to the second conclusion.
These concerts embody the mission of music and show Rodhuish Church engaging with the mission of God. Considering the handful of people who attend the Church, the outreach is amazing. Thanks to the vision caught from St. Bartholomew’s, to the trio who perform such wonderful pieces and to the congregation of Rodhuish who provide both the welcome and the welcome refreshments, the whole experience creates an environment for personal encounters with God. It will never be possible to measure the effectiveness of the encounters at these concerts, just as it will never be possible to measure the effect that the Feeding of the Five Thousand* had at the time of Jesus Christ, but there can be no doubting the faithfulness of the congregation in maintaining these well-attended concerts for so many years and the fact that they are creatively engaging in mission.
Image 1 – Steve Buissinne on Pixabay
Image 2 – Rodhuish Church
Image 3 – View from Rodhuish Church