Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Monday, August 31, 2009

Worshipping amid Gothic splendor

YORK, England--Your peripatetic columnist went to church here on a recent Sunday. What’s so unusual about that? Some readers will say they usually go to church on Sundays.

But this was not just any church. No, it was the architectural marvel of the York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.

It was built between 1220 and 1472 with two towers and chaste lines.

The ceiling of the nave is 200 feet from the floor. Stained class windows glow from five panels on the walls of the nave. The Great West Window completes this glorious setting for worship.

The voices of the chorus at the Anglican service were powerful, soaring. The Bible reading was from Ephesians 4:1-16. The theme: unity, unity of spirit and unity of faith.

Canon Jonathan Draper in his sermon spoke eloquently about gay marriage. He cited love, compassion, understanding and being faithful to Christ.

“Paul says, ‘one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and the Father of all,’ ” Draper said.

But I was disappointed that he did not flat-out urge his listeners to accept gay marriage. My wife said it was not Anglican custom to do so, that it would divide rather than unite the church.

I vehemently disagreed. Churches should lead their congregations, not follow them. A church without moral leadership is a weak church.

As President Kennedy often said: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” (The quotation comes from Dante only by the most imaginative translation.)

Disagreement aside, it was a throat-tightening moment to see my wife take communion in such a magnificent setting.

York wall

One of the highlights of a visit to York is a walk on the Middle Ages wall surrounding the city. Short walks from two bars (gateways), Bootham and Monk, provide fine views of the Minster.

Being atop the wall also gave this ham actor a chance to emote those wonderful opening lines of Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.” (Shakespeare lieth. Constant rains pelted us in York.)

York, after the hurly-burly of London, provided rustic delights. Near our hotel just outside the wall was a bowling lawn with studious bowlers. On an adjoining greensward, croquet players enjoyed whacking away the opponent’s ball.

We were staying so far out in the country that I saw a middle-aged couple walking up a muddy country lane wearing Wellies, those high rubber boots so essential for country folk.

‘Tam O’Shanter’

One of the drawbacks of frequent visitors to Britain and France is that they seldom mingle with the locals. Someone interesting like the Scots miner, vacationing in York, who reeled off from memory lines of “Tam O’Shanter” by Robert Burns.

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,” he quoted in the original Scots dialect. “You seize the flower, its bloom is shed…No man can tether time or tide.”

Then with a smile he continued: “Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! What dangers you can make us scorn! With ale, we fear no evil. With whisky, we’ll face the devil!”

His reading made me realize that Burns was more than a mere poet who gave us wise sayings about mice and lice and the melancholic “Auld Lang Syne.”

In the same hotel, coming home after dinner, we stopped at the piano bar to listen to a young woman playing Beethoven. God, how I love Beethoven! The sounds of Beethoven in what seemed like the most unlikely place, as if they emanated from the moors just north of York.

The pianist was playing “Für Elise.” I could hardly believe it. Here I had been starved for classical music for three weeks so I reveled in the memorable notes. “Für Elise” may be the most wonderful bagatelle ever composed.

But I still wanted more so I asked her to play it again. She did. I gave her a five-pound tip ($8), the happiest gratuity I ever have ever given.

The incident reminded me of a play I saw on returning to the Lower 48 after having been exiled to Alaska for a year. It was a performance of Shaw’s “Saint Joan.”

Not a great play but a good play about putting conscience before Roman Catholic dogma. Above all, I was moved to tears to be in civilization again.


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