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On Friday, I wrote about Sheffield’s Nine O’Clock Service, a cause célèbre in 1995, adherents of which are now seeking financial compensation for the psychological abuse they endured.

I cited two articles from The Times as sources.

However, I have older Nine O’Clock Service (NOS) sources which present more nuanced information about the group which had between 300 and 500 members.

The first is an article in The Independent. It is dated 2011, however, the wording in it — e.g. ‘last year’ — indicates that it is from 1996.

The article contradicts some of what The Times alleged last week.

Brain’s resignation

For a start, The Independent reported that the then-Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Revd David Lunn, wanted Chris Brain to stand down as vicar immediately when the scandal broke in August 1995 and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from carrying out priestly duties (emphases mine):

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn, demanded Mr Brain resign after he confessed to having sexual relationships with young women in the congregation.

He quit last November after initially refusing to bow to the criticism heaped on him when the scandal broke.

The Archbishop of York had already banned Mr Brain from acting as an ordained priest.

Brain was quite fragile at the time and sought treatment:

Within days of the revelations Mr Brain checked himself into a psychiatric ward of Cheadle Royal Psychiatric Hospital, Cheshire.

Meanwhile, the women who were his victims could ring a telephone hotline:

Women who were manipulated by him and called a telephone hotline were told the matter would almost certainly be dealt with within the church and only be passed on to the police if there was an allegation of rape.

The Wikipedia entry for the NOS says that the Diocese of Sheffield tried to help the members — and Brain — to recover:

The Diocese of Sheffield, through a seconded pastoral team led by Rachel Ross, the Reverend Andrew Teal and the Reverend Peter Craig-Wild, attempted to manage the pastoral care both of Brain and members of the community wounded by the scandal.

Brain was originally a musician who played in night clubs. He then got involved with St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield and was ordained for his success in leading NOS.

By early 1996, he was ready to re-establish his previous career:

In February, Mr Brain’s solicitor announced the disgraced clergyman had left Britain for America, where he was hoping to make a comeback in music and the media.

NOS resurrected on Easter Day 1996

The Independent‘s article reported that the NOS held a service on Easter in 1996.

Members of the NOS were still getting together, even after the scandal broke.

The service was held in a chapel in Sheffield:

The Easter service was moved from the city’s Ponds Forge complex, where priest Chris Brain once orchestrated rock concert-style gatherings in a basement room.

It was staged instead in a simple chapel in the city, without the lasers and rave music popularised by Mr Brain. The Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven Stephen Lowe, conducted a “meditative service”.

There were doubts about restarting the group eight months after the Church of England was rocked by scandal when Mr Brain was accused of sexually abusing more than 20 women members.

Yesterday’s congregation was drawn from remnants of the Nine O’Clock Service which broke up after women complained about being assaulted by Brain.

Diocesan communications officer Canon Roy Arnold said: “I can confirm that former members of the Nine O’Clock Service met together in a Sheffield church for a celebration of the Holy Communion. It was a quiet, meditative service.

Since the activities of the Nine O’Clock Service came to an end last August following the disclosures about their leader Chris Brain, a number of members have continued to meet together for worship and other matters.

They now have an elected church council and the Diocese of Sheffield is at present in the process of appointing a chaplain for the group,” he said.

There were hopes at the time that the NOS could return to its original style of service without the psychological trauma:

Mr Arnold did not rule out the possibility that the rock-style services could be re-introduced. “The scandal was about Chris Brain and not about reaching out in a new and exciting way to a generation lost to the church,” he said. Members of the Nine O’Clock Service have vowed to distance themselves from the controversy last year and have devised a new service.

Last month, alleged victims of Mr Brain held a bonfire ritual to help them overcome the trauma. They lit a fire in the middle of a church hall and set off fireworks in a “releasing ritual”.

An advert in the Church Times for a chaplain for the group has drawn applications from all over the country. But according to churchwarden Alan Gibson, Mr Brain’s successor would not be allowed the same powers he had enjoyed.

“We are not looking for a leader, we are not looking for a guru. We are looking for a facilitator who will tie us more closely with the Church of England,” Mr Gibson said.

Wikipedia says:

A remnant of the community continued to meet, under different leadership, for some years afterwards in Sheffield.

The evolution of the NOS

Sometime in the 1980s, a group of 10 people from St Thomas’s Church began organising NOS services. From there, it grew enormously.

Young, unchurched origins

Wikipedia states:

Beginning as a simple alternative format service under the leadership of Chris Brain, the group responsible for it developed a leadership structure that was endorsed by the leadership of St Thomas’ Church. The average age of the members was 24 for much of NOS’s life. The membership was significantly from non-church backgrounds.

Starting with about 10 people who worked on designing and creating the services, the congregation grew to almost 600 members while resident at St Thomas’ Church. Main themes included care for the planet and concern about its abuse, simple lifestyle and development of relationships with non-churched people.

By 1988, Bishop Lunn authorised the group’s move to Sheffield’s Ponds Forge Rotunda, a sports complex that can accommodate 2,600 people.

The Planetary Mass

One of their big services at Ponds Forge was The Planetary Mass, also known as the Rave Mass:

The Planetary Mass at Pond’s Forge was marked by both bold liturgical experimentation and naive hopefulness.

An unorthodox Dominican-turned-Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox, found out about the service and was eager to bring a form of it to San Francisco.

Matthew Fox also had his problems with the Church. He had been a professor at several Catholic colleges in the United States. When Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he began delving into Fox’s writings and asked the Dominicans to investigate. The Dominicans found nothing objectionable, even though Fox was not propagating Catholic teaching. However, because Fox did not believe in Original Sin, Ratzinger forbade him from teaching for a year. By 1993, the Dominicans changed their minds about Fox and dismissed him from the order for ‘disobedience’. He became an Episcopal priest in 1994 and still practises in the Episcopal Diocese of California. He developed the Techno Cosmic Mass — now the Cosmic Mass — which made its debut in San Francisco and has since been performed 100 times since.

Before creating the Techno Cosmic Mass, Fox scheduled a performance of The Planetary Mass in 1994 in San Francisco.

The Christian Research Institute has an article about it. Fox invited 35 members of the NOS to fly in and participate.

The format is environmentalist and pagan:

Inside, at the center of the room was placed an oversized circular altar and a smaller crescent table. Surrounding the tables were a series of concentric circles, tracks marked off in tape, around which the Rave Mass team would walk and dance. Atop the eclipse altar sat a chalice, protected by a clear Plexiglas pyramid.

Above the eclipse altar was an impressive screen — a large sphere of white cloth onto which the organizers projected images of revolving planets, decaying forests, human pulses, and faces.

Several young people emerged from the shadows carrying small flames.

“These people are not pyromaniacs,” said Matthew Wright, 31, who served as a liturgical emcee. “As you can see, they’re using the flames to pray and invite the Spirit into this place.”

Wright encouraged people to approach the flamebearers and use the flames to pray. The flamebearers held the flames inches from people’s faces, slowly lowered the flames to foot level, then slowly raised the flames back to eye level. Some people gently waved their arms at waist level, almost like charismatic Christians. Others stretched their arms high above their heads, then bowed fully before the small flames.

A scantily-clad Briton led a dance piece:

The music cranked up to a pulsating dance beat. The 35 young Brits — including one young woman in a short skirt and a negligee top — led the room in energetic dancing to this bouncy anthem:

Now we feel your lifeforce rising

Raise the passion 10 by 10

Now we breathe you, Christ, inside us

Feel the freedom pushing on!

Chris Brain was also in attendance to celebrate the service. This would have been before the scandal broke in Sheffield:

A young woman read an unspecified passage of Scripture, listing some of the evils that will exclude people from the kingdom of God, including adultery, uncleanness, lust, and sorcery.

Then a video set the Scripture reading in a corporate context. For adultery, the video portrayed the contrast between Third World debt and Third World aid. For lust, it showed images of pollution. For sorcery, it showed the creature almost everybody loves to hate: a TV preacher begging for donations.

The organizers also adapted a reading from chapter 1 of the Gospel of John through the Cosmic Christ filter. The reading repeatedly referred to “the Word” as “it” rather than “he.”

“This is the Word of Christ,” Rev. Brain said.

“Thank you, Eternal Voice,” the congregation responded.

This was how the Communion part of the service went:

After Fox’s homily, Brain celebrated communion — of a sort. Women dancers in four corners of the room turned in circles repeatedly throughout the prayers and communion. Assistants presented fire, water, and soil. Brain immersed his hands in the soil, saying he was washing them. He thanked Mother God for the gift of air.

Brain repeated Jesus’ words about partaking of communion in his memory. Otherwise, Brain spoke no words of consecration, which may not matter to those Protestants who believe the Lord’s Supper is a memorial service, but matters immensely to Anglicans, who affirm what is called consubstantiation. Most Anglicans do not believe the bread and wine literally become the flesh and blood of Christ, but they do believe in a “real presence” of Christ in the elements of the sacrament.

There’s supposed to be a “real presence” in the Rave Mass, too, but it’s the presence of the Cosmic Christ as lifeforce, not the personal historical figure who died on a cross and rose again.

Bishop Swing from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral attended. By then, one Planetary Mass had already been performed inside the cathedral:

At a news conference, Swing described the service as “the church singing a new song.”

Enough said. How I wish we had St Paul with us today. He would have read them the riot act, straight out of 1 Corinthians.

How the NOS was organised weekly

In Sheffield, organising the weekly NOS began early in the morning and ended late at night.

The University of Huddersfield Repository has a link to an abstract called ‘The Nine O’Clock Service: Mixing Club Culture And Postmodern Christianity’.

Rupert Till’s abstract presents the difficulty in using St Thomas’s Church and explains how the group had to use Ponds Forge:

8. The church service before NOS would end at about 8.15pm, giving NOS about half an hour to clear the church, remove seats, set up equipment, and prepare. They would rehearse services in the afternoon, take everything down and then set it up in the gap between services. Although St Thomas church were regarded as generous in giving NOS time on a Sunday, NOS had to work within heavy constraints, and eventually moved to their own building where they would meet at 8:00 p.m.

 9. As were all of the band for most of the time, carefully situated as they were in dark lighting in the right-hand corner of the church.

11. Members of NOS would record television shows that might have interesting video images. Useful clips would be transferred to new tapes and looped so that a short clip of clouds passing would become a five-minute tape of clouds passing. NOS had a large room with walls covered in shelves full of these tapes of deconstructed decontextualised video images with loop tapes, source tapes, documentaries, and recordings of services. The sampling of secular music and images was a key feature of NOS arts, a deliberate process of reclaiming secular developments in the arts for sacred purposes.

12. A typical NOS Sunday began at five in the morning. A trucking team moved 10 tons of equipment to the church from storage to the empty sports hall. A crew of about 30 would appear by seven to set up the equipment. Late in the morning, some of the artistic team would appear to begin preparing for rehearsals. The ‘performers’ would arrive later to rehearse. After the service, perhaps 10.30 p.m., a team would begin to take down equipment, which would be returned to storage by 3:00 a.m. Unseen would be the hours of rehearsal and preparation midweek, with the highest of standards maintained.

Rupert Till says that the congregation varied in age but were solidly middle class:

17. Despite trying to project an image of authentic, underground, club culture-influenced young people, NOS members were largely aged 18–40, white, middle-class and well educated, and many were generation X Christians dissatisfied with conventional church. DJs and club kids were supported by barristers, theologians, teachers, doctors, and social workers.

The 1995 scandal, he says, involved a subgroup of the NOS:

16. It is perhaps no accident that sex was the organisation’s downfall, choosing as they did to investigate postmodern sexuality in a secretive subgroup, knowing that this was one area that the Christian church would not allow them to explore openly.

I hope this type of church service is dead and buried in the Church of England.

However, I fear it will make a comeback, especially as senior Anglican clergy seek to revamp their denomination post-pandemic. That’s a whole other topic for another time.

In 1995, a Church of England scandal made national news.

Reading an update on it this week reminded me of the Corinthians, whom St Paul reproved for becoming debauched. Their carnal attitude permeated their church services: babbling nonsense ecstatically ‘in tongues’, which was part of pagan worship, and drunken Communion services.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, something similar happened to a church in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there were no senior Church of England clergy to censure the vicar. As it happened, they encouraged a programme about which they knew little.

This week, The Times recapped what happened at St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield at what was called the Nine O’Clock Service, or NOS.

The NOS was held every Sunday.

A young Christian rock musician — and ex-nightclubber — Chris Brain, led the NOS, which The Times describes as:

a radical mix of rave culture, social and environmental campaigning and religion that drew queues of black-clad young followers for its weekly gatherings.

Instead of reminding Chris Brain of pertinent chapters of 1 Corinthians, the clergy wanted to extend the NOS throughout the United Kingdom (emphases mine):

The hierarchy was buzzing at the prospect of a vibrant model of service that might be copied around the country to attract new congregations.

Chris Brain, the charismatic young Christian rock musician who had emerged as leader of the NOS, met Dr George Carey, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later recalled: “He said to me, ‘I’d be very happy to see an NOS in every town and city in the UK’.”

Carey, who met Brain in 1990, was interested in getting more converts, and rightly so. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he declared the 1990s to be the Decade of Evangelism. He is best remembered for propagating the Alpha Course nationwide. Alpha started at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. It has been an international phenomenon for many years.

Returning to the NOS, in 1989, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev David Lunn, had confirmed 100 people — nearly all NOS attendees — at St Thomas’s. That is an extraordinary number of confirmands for any church at any one time:

It was a moment of great excitement for the church hierarchy because they were almost all young people, usually thought of as being out of reach.

As a result, Brain became a diocesan star of sorts, seen as being ideal for the priesthood:

Brain was fast-tracked for ordination and invited to contribute to the archbishop’s collection of essays on evangelism. Lunn told the BBC that the NOS had a “permanent significance” and was a “new development in the way we understand the Christian religion”.

The church authorities were either unaware of, or happy to turn a blind eye to some more disturbing aspects of the movement.

Brain’s ordination in 1992 was rather extraordinary:

When Brain was ordained in 1992, the NOS borrowed at considerable expense the robes worn by Robert de Niro in the film The Mission for the service.

He became St Thomas’s vicar.

Behind the scenes, however, carnality prevailed with Brain and some NOS adherents, particularly women. It was turning into a cult:

There were allegations of controlling behaviour and followers handing over thousands of pounds while cutting themselves off from their friends and families. Young women were enlisted as “postmodern nuns” in Brain’s Homebase Team. Some allegedly gave massages and engaged in sexual activity when putting him to bed.

Brain rationalised their behaviour, as one woman later recalled:

One member of the group, interviewed by the BBC, said: “He would talk about how we were discovering a postmodern definition of sexuality in the church. It’s just language — language covering up the fact of what was really going on: one bloke getting his rocks off.”

Things started getting out of hand in 1992:

There had been consternation in 1992 when an NOS service at a Christian festival included a troupe of dancers in black Lycra bikinis cavorting in front of 15,000 people.

A few laypersons and clergy complained to church authorities, but nothing was done until 1995:

Church leaders finally listened in August 1995 after disclosures by three whistleblowers:

One woman claimed that there was bullying and people were “blurring boundaries sexually”. She worried about how money was spent. The NOS charity, the Nine O’Clock Trust, recorded an income of £272,000 in 1994.

That amount of money is something an average Anglican church can only dream of.

Church authorities suspended Brain’s ministry. A month later, he tried to downplay the extracurricular activities of the NOS:

In a September 1995 interview with a Sunday newspaper he said that the sexual contact he had with women followers was “heavy petting” but “non-penetrative”. The Homebase Team had been created to help his wife at home because he was so busy with his work. “It was like any other vicarage, you always get ladies helping the vicar’s wife. They set up a rota but the idea of handmaidens is ridiculous,” he said.

Brain added: “These were relationships which began 10 or 12 years ago when I was part of the nightclub scene. When I became a priest, I should have done something about them . . . I didn’t and that was wrong.”

He said that his ordination never should have happened:

He claimed that it was “utterly ridiculous that I was made a priest . . . I was the breakthrough for the church but it changed everything for me. Everyone became dependent on me.”

Yes, congregants depend a great deal on their vicars. They expect spiritual leadership and guidance. He is their shepherd.

The Times is revisiting this story because, after 25 years, former NOS members are now seeking compensation:

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The current Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev Pete Wilcox, said that:

the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

More ex-members could be coming forward:

to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One member explained that the reason for waiting a quarter of a century to come forward was because the Church of England advised them to stay silent:

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The article says that the hierarchy even gave the NOS financial backing.

The ‘postmodern nuns’ wore unusual habits and had unorthodox duties:

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”.

Fast forwarding to the present, Brain is now 63. The article says that he has changed his first name from Chris to James. He is currently:

co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

The Times reported that he did not respond to their attempts to contact him.

The NOS, The Times says, had between 300 to 500 members. A number of them forsook family and friends for the movement, filling its coffers with large sums of money.

At the time the scandal broke, the then-Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Lunn, said that:

the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The current incumbent, Bishop Wilcox, is taking a much different stance:

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

A large law firm, Slater & Gordon, is representing the former members. One of their solicitors (attorneys), Richard Scorer, said:

The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.

I remember when the story broke. It was in the papers for several weeks. Even the atheists I knew at the time expressed their shock and said that priests should not act like that.

The Times has done an admirable job of returning this harrowing story to the spotlight.

I hope that settlements can be reached and that the Church of England learns an important lesson from this.

However, I have a few old bookmarks on the Nine O’Clock Service, which say that Chris Brain’s departure did not end the movement. Furthermore, The Independent reported at the time that Bishop Lunn was quick to demand that Brain resign as vicar and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from performing priestly duties.

More to come on Monday.

While all was quiet in our streets during lockdown, many changes have no doubt been taking place in relative silence.

One of them was Sheffield Cathedral’s decision to disband their choir. The recently hired choirmaster felt he should resign. The choirmaster was not involved in the clergy’s discussions.

It is unclear what exactly infected the minds of the Church of England clergy during lockdown, but some of the ensuing results, such as this, are questionable.

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, The Guardian reported:

In a break with centuries of tradition, Sheffield cathedral is to stand down its choir in order to make a “completely fresh start” with a new team of choristers that reflects and engages with an increasingly diverse city.

A statement published on the cathedral’s website on Wednesday said “significant change” was needed. The cathedral’s governing body, the Chapter, had decided on “a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion”, it added.

Although the cathedral’s music department had been the subject of a review, the closure of the choir was unexpected and is likely to infuriate traditionalists in the Church of England and classical music circles.

Apart from a handful of adult singers, the current choir is drawn largely from schools in the Sheffield area (including private schools) and mainly performs music from the Anglican choral tradition.

Clicking on the link for the Cathedral’s statement produces a pop-up window stating (emphases in the original):

Sheffield Cathedral is your Cathedral

Your Cathedral has seen many adversities throughout history to present time. Now we are faced with overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. 

Sheffield Cathedral is a beacon of hope for the whole community. People have been gathering on this site for nearly 1,000 years. With your support now, people will be able to gather here for many more years to come.

Please help your Cathedral to continue to be ‘A Place for All People’. Thank you.

The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, DL
The Dean of Sheffield

Well, that no longer holds true for the choir or the choir director, it would seem.

The Cathedral’s statement of July 22 reads, in part (emphases mine):

For some years the Dean and Chapter have been looking carefully at the music offer of Sheffield Cathedral. They have come to the conclusion that there needs to be significant change. This is in order to create a Music Department and Choir ready for the exciting future of the mixed urban community in which we live and work.

With the Diocesan Bishop, Chapter are appointing a new Canon Precentor in August, responsible for Cathedral worship and music. They hope this will bring increased creativity and stability.

Following a review of the Music Department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current Cathedral Choir.

This decision has not been easy because it will directly impact several colleagues and indirectly impact us all in our close-knit community. However, we believe this is in the best interests of the long-term mission of the Cathedral

For some time, Chapter has been considering a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion. They recognise that this will require flexibility, imagination and experiment …

They look forward to working with our partners throughout our City and Diocese to make this renewed vision a reality under God.

Dean Bradley told The Guardian:

“We need to be engaging with people who are part of this changing city. We believe strongly in equality and giving as many children as possible the opportunity to sing at the highest level.”

The appeal of church music was wide but sometimes “presented in a way that can be seen as elitist”, he said.

Bradley acknowledged the decision to close the current choir would “cause genuine grief”. He hoped that some of the existing choristers would become members of a new choir, which will be formed after the appointment of a new canon precentor this summer.

The new choir will continue to perform music from the Anglican choral tradition but will broaden its repertoire, he said.

“This sort of change in our sort of institution can be immensely painful, but that’s not a reason not to move forward. My view is that many cathedrals will be making similar changes over the next few years.

“It’s going to be a bit torrid for us, but we’re not going to sit in a bunker.”

You can see photos and biographies of the men who made the decision here. Perhaps they should consider making a ‘new model’ — borrowing their words — for cathedral leadership themselves. Given their own logic, they could resign.

But I digress.

Back to The Guardian, which says that one professional vocalist who had sung at Sheffield Cathedral was deeply disappointed by the decision:

James Bingham, a former member of the Sheffield cathedral choir who now works for the Irish National Opera, said he was appalled by the cathedral’s statement, tweeting: “It implies that the Anglican church’s rich choral tradition is to blame for its declining influence.”

“Choral music is one of the great cultural legacies of the Church of England,” he told the Guardian.

The idea that classical music was elitist was misguided, Bingham said. “At Sheffield [cathedral], they’re making amazing music on a daily basis in the city centre that is free to everyone.”

As a student at Sheffield university, Bingham had sung as a choral scholar five times a week for three years. Choirs were strong communities bound together by frequent performance and rehearsal, he said.

“The cathedral choir still holds a big place in my heart. If this had happened while I was still there, I would be heartbroken.”

I agree. I sang in my church’s choir as a teenager, and it was a very close-knit group of people, young and old, male and female.

This was the Cathedral’s tweet on Saturday, July 25:

Good.

You can read more disappointed reactions here.

Another tweet, by way of reply, posted a link to the petition ‘Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir’. When I wrote this post at the end of July, the count of signatories went up and up as I was reading the petition.

The petition explains that the choir is already quite diverse:

In recent years, Sheffield Cathedral Choir has made great advances in encouraging the role of women and non-binary members among the lay clerks and choral scholars of the choir. It also supported a girls’ choir and a Schola Cantorum, serving university student communities. Cathedral musicians, past and present, led the Cathedral’s outreach work which took music across the city. Notably, this included the Sheffield Cathedral Sing! Project, which worked with 2,000 children from 30 primary schools each year, including children of mixed heritage, disabilities, and of socio-economic disadvantage. Through this work, cathedral musicians connected meaningfully with schools from some of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas.

The petition also takes exception to the accusation about privately-educated choristers:

Regrettably, the Dean and Chapter’s statement also advances a misleading argument regarding the proportion of choristers at Sheffield Cathedral that were privately educated. Over the last 20 years, privately educated children have typically constituted a minority of the choristers at Sheffield Cathedral. In fact, we are aware that the Dean and Chapter were seeking to establish a formal partnership with Birkdale School, a private school in the city this year. These actions seem to be at odds with the Dean and Chapter’s statements.

The mother of one of the choristers wrote a lengthy explanation of the background to the choir situation on Facebook. That post is a copy of a letter she sent to the Church Times. The Master of Music — choirmaster — who has since resigned was a recent hire. Excerpts follow.

See what changes lockdown can produce:

This is my understanding of what has happened, from my vantage point as a choir parent since 2011:

There was a very short review (perhaps two days?) last summer, but changes were made and the choir went from strength to strength from September 2019 to March 2020, evidenced in Chapter’s unanimous decision to appoint Joshua Stephens as Master of Music, taking up his post on 8th March to everyone’s great delight. However, with the onset of coronavirus, Mr Stephens was furloughed and the cathedral failed to communicate this to any of the choir. Mr Stephens allegedly experienced harassment from the cathedral management and silence from the clergy while furloughed. This was not unusual behaviour for the cathedral as others have experienced the same in the past, but lockdown sharpened the focus and made it more evident. I made a formal complaint but little action was taken, and Mr Stephens resigned at the end of June stating that he was not compatible with the prevailing culture in the cathedral. Chapter accepted his resignation without talking to him to understand his motives. Lay-clerks, parents, and choristers were distraught and begged Chapter to initiate mediation. But instead they decided to close down the choir and start afresh, with no encouragement to ex-choir members to be part of the new vision.

The lady posting on Facebook said that the choir had been considering a tour in Berlin, a wider recruitment programme and a means of providing continuity for boys whose voices were changing.

The clergy apparently did not care too much about the choir during lockdown, although the choristers’ parents did their best to maintain morale:

The choir was energised and optimistic, but during all the pressures of lockdown as well as the fire at the Cathedral Archer Project, the clergy admitted that the music department had “slipped through the net”. Nevertheless choir parents and layclerks kept up morale amongst the choristers with zoom parties on the theme of different composers each week, but there was no communication at all from the cathedral to the choir from the last choir rehearsal before lockdown until 24th June when the Dean talked about bringing Mr Stephens back off furlough and preparing to start up again.

BUT:

Mr Stephens was not copied into that email and he resigned the following day.

HMM:

The fourth Director of Music to leave Sheffield cathedral in five years.

His departure precipitated other resignations:

The cathedral’s Head Steward has also since resigned in protest, as did the leaders of the 100-strong Toddler group last year, and as has one of the choir chaperones, stating that she feels unsafe and unsupported.

Wow.

The first the choristers and their parents found out about the disbanding of the choir was through the media:

Indeed the press heard about it before even the choristers did!

Something is very wrong with the Church of England. They have used coronavirus to make rather unwelcome changes. Our churches are now becoming increasingly politicised.

Instead of offering succour to those who had a hard time getting through lockdown and the loss or illness of loved ones, they have turned their attention to the prevailing cultural movements of the day, rather than to our loving Saviour and merciful God our Father.

How un-Christian. How unbiblical.

I hope to post an update when I find out more news.

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http://martinscriblerus.com/

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