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Musical celebration for a life of service

Four months ago co-managers of the NZ Hymnbook Trust John and Gillian Thornley received an invitation from Tauranga’s Wesley Church presbyter Janet Marsh.

It was to attend the congregation’s October 9th service, which was billed as a great musical event, not to be missed. The service was to be an anniversary celebration of the 30 years Jeremy Whimster has served as Wesley Church’s organist and choirmaster.

John says, with Jeremy at the helm the event turned out to be a celebration of three centuries of church music. He and the choir guided the congregation through a selection of congregational hymns from the early 18th century to the late 20th century.

They ranged from ‘This, this is the God we adore’ to Colin Gibson’s ‘These Hills’. Choir offerings included Psalm 150, the Magnificat, a John Rutter hymn setting, and a Shirley Murray hymn of benediction. And naturally there was a Charles Wesley hymn in the mix, ‘Love divine all love’s excelling’.

Three instrumentalists, Alan Withy on clarinet, David Ansell on horn, and Rebecca Short on oboe, accompanied throughout. Alan and David played a duet during the offering.

“After the worship Jeremy received words of thanks for his service. Speakers highlighted his work as both organist and choir leader, his partnership with a number of presbyters, his commitment to a choir item every Sunday, and his skill at balancing the best from contemporary and traditional material in church music.

“Listeners were reminded that Jeremy’s offering was as a lay person not a professional musician. Thanks were given to his wife Viv and the family for their support in this unique ministry,” John says.

“One speaker made special thanks for the voluntaries that are always played at the end of worship, at which point ‘every one usually walks out’! On this occasion it was the famous Toccata in D Minor by Bach, and Jeremy was given a round of applause.”

In his own words of reply, Jeremy touched on the tricky issue of introducing new material, observing that often the initial response is negative. ‘I then found that if the same material is shelved for a time and brought out some time later, the reception can be just the opposite, with the new song taken up with enthusiasm.’ Such is human nature.

Long time member of Wesley Choir Pat Payne says under Jeremy’s leadership the choir has grown both in numbers and in ability.

“Jeremy has a God-given talent for bringing out the best in us ordinary singers and lifting our sights to greater achievement. Many of us have learned so much, and the choir supports the very responsive congregation in making the beauty of music an integral part of our worship week by week.

“October 9th was a time of great celebration for our church family and for choir members past and present. We have all enjoyed and valued Jeremy's leadership for 30 years and look forward to the continuation of his input in years to come, and for the opportunity to make music together to the glory of God.”