By Katie Fallon
Sixty singers from one local church choir are currently experiencing the chance of a lifetime by helping to commemorate a historical milestone in two of Europe’s most sacred attractions.
On July 24, the choir from Buckhead’s Cathedral of St. Philip departed on a two-week choral odyssey that will include multiple performances in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral and London’s famed Westminster Abbey.
The trip to Westminster Abbey is particularly noteworthy for two reasons. First, the services will mark the choir’s return to the venue after having performed there several times over the years. Historically speaking, though, the St. Philip’s choir will help Westminster Abbey commemorate the United Kingdom’s abolishment of slavery 200 years ago. The bicentennial celebration will take place on July 30.
The choir, whose members range in age from 10 to more than 70 years old, also has the honor of performing at the final resting place of William Wilberforce, the British politician who was an instrumental part of the parliamentary campaign against slavery in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
Bruce Neswick is the Music Canon and Choir Director for the Cathedral of St. Philip. He said the honor of performing on such an occasion, particularly considering Westminster Abbey’s tie to a leader in the abolitionist movement, is a unique opportunity.
“On this day, when the church remembers Wilberforce in its calendar and not coincidentally in the year of the release of the film about Wilberforce entitled ‘Amazing Grace,’ we will have the privilege of joining with a packed congregation in the hymn Amazing Grace,” Neswick said. “Written by John Newton, who himself had been a slave-ship captain prior to his conversion, this hymn sums up for us the mighty works of a God who does indeed save us.”
The St. Philip’s choir will have a total of eight separate performances at Westminster Abbey and an opportunity for a guided tour of the cathedral, which has served as England’s coronation church since 1065.
“A visiting choir at a place like Westminster Abbey is but a mere slice of history,” Neswick said. “We are there simply to help these historic churches keep on keeping on. There is an undeniable feeling that, even with the ebb and flow of church life, daily worship is at the heart of the Christian life.”
The choir started its trip with four performances, which began on Thursday and will end with an early afternoon performance on July 29, at St. Patrick’s in Dublin. The significance of performing at St. Patrick’s includes the cathedral being the largest church in Ireland. Built in the 13th century, the church is also unique in that it is part of the Anglican Church of Ireland while located in the capital of a country that is majority Roman Catholic.
Neswick said the trip, which includes opportunities for some sightseeing activities, offers a chance for a performance with both religious and historic significance.
“One cannot come away from a choir pilgrimage to Europe without a deep sense of having entered into a centuries-old tradition of worship,” he said. “For us moderns, who live so much in the now, it is broadening and humbling to be reminded also of the God who was in the beginning and ever shall be.”
For more information on the choir or the Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Rd, visit www.stphilipscathedral.org.