Skip to main content

Ancient bonds

Coptic Christmas carols, a lawsuit over religious bus ads, and more from New York

Ancient bonds

The Parish of Calvary-St. George's (handout)

A New York moment:

The line to get into St. George’s Church, an Episcopal parish near Union Square in New York, wrapped around the block on Sunday evening for the church’s annual candlelight service of lessons and carols. The church has a rich music history; the church hired Harry Burleigh, an African-American composer, as a soloist back in the mid-1800s. Burleigh was friends with composer Antonin Dvorak, and has credit for influencing some of the melodies in Dvorak’s “New World” symphony.

The church’s current music director, Kamel Boutros, is an Egyptian immigrant and a Christian. He, like Burleigh, is also a bit of a music virtuoso. He led the evening—playing piano, singing, and conducting an orchestra all at the same time. On this evening Boutros also premiered a piece he composed in Coptic, based on the text from Isaiah 9, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Boutros, who previously performed with the Met Opera, sang it. It was gorgeous and a little eerie, as seems right for celebrating an incarnation in the context of our sin.

The rector stood up later in the service, before delivering a homily about the coming of Christ, to note that the piece was meant to remind the audience to pray for Christians in the Middle East, who were experiencing a genocide. As the hundreds in the packed sanctuary squished together between their coats, holding candles and listening to a Coptic song in the historic church, it was easy to imagine a bond with the much more ancient Egyptian church.

This week I learned:

Manhattan’s rats have distinct populations. The uptown rats don’t mix with the downtown rats.

A court case you might not know about:

When famed Supreme Court litigator Paul Clement files a federal lawsuit, you pay attention. He has challenged, on behalf of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, the policy of Washington, D.C.’s transit agency–WMATA–prohibiting religious ads. WMATA rejected the Archdiocese’s attempt to buy an ad for the Christmas season that said simply “Find the perfect gift,” with a starry night sky and an outline of nativity characters. Clement argues the policy violates the First Amendment, both in free speech and free exercise of religion. He adds that WMATA applies its policy arbitrarily, allowing spiritually themed yoga ads and ads from the Salvation Army.

Culture I am consuming:

This year we received the Christmas gift of a new album from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of Woman, even though lead singer Jones died last year at age 60. She recorded these songs before she died. (Jones also has one of my favorite Christmas albums, It’s a Holiday Soul Party.) I’ve been eating up the new album, especially the final song, “Call on God.”

"I made up my mind to be with Him all the time,”Jones sings. "And I won’t let nothing turn me around. To be like Him is what I long to be. And to share His love to eternity. You just call on God and he’ll be your friend…”

Postscript: Metro Minute will be on hiatus next week. Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback.