ST THOMAS’ – BEFORE I FORGET (NO.3)

Dear Friends,

You may be interested to know that St Thomas’ had a major emphasis on music of a choral kind until the early 1980’s.

In fact when I came there was no platform at the front – there was a big space where a choir could stand for special items.

Every Sunday morning there were three services – 8am, 9.30am and 11am – and the third was choral communion. A choir of about 12-15 sang to a congregation of about 12-15.

At the end of 1990 the organist accepted a post at a school in the Southern Highlands and everything changed. He was marrying a lady in the choir and so she (and her two daughters in the choir) were moving on as well. A few of his friends decided to stop and one older lady thought she’d retire so the choir was now about 3-4. What to do?

The Parish Council considered the situation and John Lincoln (a judge) moved that we abandon the 11am service till a new organist came and rebuilt the choir. It was passed unanimously. The only catch was that I must “let Henry and Muriel Gamble know” what was happening – as they were the 11am lay leaders. So I went nervously to meet this couple and when I told him what was happening, Henry said ”fine – we’ll come to an earlier service”. When I asked him if he minded that there would be no choir Henry said “we never liked the choir – we only came at 11am so we could sleep in longer” (!)

The choral service was over with not a word of complaint – but for years I met people who referred to me as “the man who got rid of the choir”.

Since then we have had a steady stream of musicians and singers for whom we are hugely thankful. In fact when we would get singers for an Easter anthem or a Christmas carol most of the ‘Christmas and Easter’ visitors wouldn’t have known anything had changed.

In the early 1990’s with so few people under 35 attending, I began to welcome almost every couple who wanted to get married at St Thomas’ – provided they did the “Christianity Explained” course. It seemed to me that this would teach – relationship, forgiveness, reconciliation, commitment and all the crucial elements of marriage.

So every 8 weeks we ran the course for 4 weeks and I would have 20-40 in the Cottage Hall. Some became Christians and yet all heard the gospel. One couple who locked in their date for a wedding quite soon then refused to come to the C.E. course. What to do? I took the wedding and preached on the “Wedding Banquet” of Matthew 22 when the people made excuses and didn’t come.

The couple were so annoyed at this they sent the “cassette” to the Bishop for his discipline of me. Paul Barnett wrote to them (and sent a copy to me) “it was a good service – well conducted – you would do well to listen to the sermon again”. Just the Bishop you need!

Every Wednesday we ran “Bible means business” from 12.40pm to 1.20pm for the people in the CBD down the road. We offered lunch and message for $5 and though the numbers never grew beyond 50-70 it was a warm and fruitful time.

Sue Johnson took on the lunch part in a masterful way – with a team of helpers – Keith Hughesdon was our distinguished chairman and we worked our way through books like John and Acts and Romans because we were convinced that the Word of God was good for “saving faith” and “growing faith”. There are still people at St Thomas’ who were converted through BMB. Why did it stop? Step by step the ministry changed hands, location and style, it’s hard to know today whether the “lunch hour” meeting is still a draw. But the CBD is still down the road – with 80,000 people between Mon-Fri.

Yours,
Simon Manchester

P.S. This Sunday June 9 I am preaching at all services at the Cathedral as they celebrate their 200th Anniversary.