Opening Sacred Song Service focuses on peace, reconciliation, reflection

Joshua Stafford, the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and Director of Sacred Music, turns to direct the audience during the Sacred Song Service July 23, 2023, in the Amphitheater. BRETT PHELPS/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Before the bustle of a busy Chautauqua week and a celebratory season takes hold, the first Sacred Song Service provides a time for prayer and reflection. “Join Hands, Disciples of the Faith: Prayers for Racial Reconciliation” is the theme for the opening service — taking place at 8 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater — of the Institution’s 150th anniversary year.

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Chautauqua’s senior pastor, will preside. Vice President for Religion Melissa Spas is the reader. The Chautauqua Choir will be under the direction of Joshua Stafford, the Jared Jacobsen Chair for Organ and Director of Sacred Music, with Jon Tyillian providing accompaniment on the Massey Memorial Organ. 

Music for the program will include the traditional opening and closing hymns “Day is Dying in the West,” by Chautauquans William F. Sherwin and Mary A. Lathbury, and “Now the Day is Over,” by Joseph Barnby and Sabine Baring-Gould. Other songs include “In Christ There is no East or West,” an African American spiritual set by John Oxenham; “Precious Lord, take my hand,” by Thomas A. Dorsey and William F. Sherwin; and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Welsdon Johnson — commonly known as “The Black National Anthem.”

The Chautauqua Choir will sing another spiritual, “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” arranged by Moses Hogan, and “Healer of our every ill,” by Marty Haugen and Ken Medema. They’ll be joined by the congregation to sing “Servants of peace,” by K. Lee Scott with words by James Quinn after “A Prayer of St. Francis.”

Reflections in the service will include “Prayer,” from Prayers for a Privileged People, by Walter Brueggemann, “A Litany for Those Who Aren’t Ready for Healing,” by Yolanda Pierce; a reading from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness; and a reading from Luke 25-37, the good Samaritan. Other prayers and reflections have been written by the Chautauqua Department of Religion staff.

The service would not be complete without the playing of Handel’s “Largo,” from his opera Xerxes. Played since 1907 at the end of the Sacred Song Service, “Largo” allows the congregation to contemplate what has been sung and said. 

When it is over, the congregation leaves in silence to allow the peace of an evening at Chautauqua to settle into one’s soul.

Tags : Eugene SuttonJoshua StaffordSacred Song ServiceThe Chautauqua Choir

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.