Lessons from St. Thomas’ Church
Following on from my recent about webcasts from St.Thomas Church, New York, I’d like to draw some interesting lessons from their example.
Using the Internet to reach a ‘virtual congregation’ provides an interesting model for some of the major cathedrals in the UK in terms of mission and outreach. Choral foundations are expensive to fund, yet comparatively few people attend services, especially during the week. Conversely, visiting choirs replace the resident foundation during the school holidays when cathedrals welcome a high proportion of their tourist visitors.
Webcasting would enable more people to enjoy the high standard of music offered in our cathedrals. The Choir of St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, has already followed the lead set by St. Thomas’. There are, of course, cost implications, including recording hardware, software and increased website hosting costs and broadcasting fees for underpaid lay clerks but, potentially, this could be offset by be offset by commercial sponsorship or even listener subscription. St. Thomas’ encourages its virtual congregation to contribute via its annual ‘Every menber counts’ appeal.
Independent cathedral webcasting diminishes, to some extent, the rationale for Choral Evensong broadcasts by the BBC. A weekly outside broadcast is quite an investment and the audience served, although fiercely loyal, is not huge. Thanks to St. Thomas’ and St. John’s, losing the programme would not mean that it becomes impossible to listen to Choral Evensong at home, but it would further diminish the raison d’etre of the BBC as a public service broadcaster and reduce the profile of further-flung provincial cathedrals.
St. Thomas Church, like the Choir of Romsey Abbey in which I sing, comprises boys and men. It provides an environment in which boys compete safely with each other to drive up standards. They gain a valuable education, both musical and religious, at an early age, as well as learning to concentrate and lead. It saddens me that so few boys get the chance to benefit from this adult, masculine environment nowadays. Society is the poorer for it.