On November 21, 2009 members of the SDG NY/SW CT Chapter participated in a dance vespers service to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order. This “Dance Vespers of All Franciscan Saints” took place at All Saints Church in Harlem, New York City.
SDG member Betsy O’Neill and her former pastor, Rev. Neil O’Connell OFM, coordinated this vespers service. The idea for this service grew out of a similar event, a Thanksgiving Dance Vespers Service in November 2008, celebrating the Bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York, which was also coordinated by Betsy and Father Neil.
The fifteen ministers of dance included both SDG members and non-members. In part, this was an effort to increase awareness of SDG and to promote new memberships. Another goal was to promote community among sacred dancers by praying, creating, and dancing together.
The traditional form of a Catholic vespers service was followed. Father Neil presided. Sister Chala Marie Hill of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary was the reflector and Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee of the Franciscan Society of the Atonement read.
In the opening procession the dance ministers carried evocations of the four traditional elements of nature: blue scarves for air, water sprinkled from a ceramic vessel for water, red streamers for fire and a large globe for earth.
Psalm 141 “Incense Prayer” (choreography by Mary Kasakove) was danced as Father Neil offered incense. Betsy led the congregation in sacred gesture for the refrain of Psalm 24 “O God, this is the people that long to see your face…”
As a response to the Gospel, the dance ministers danced the Prayer of Saint Francis “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” (choreography by Linda Telesco). Most of the service was danced choreography by Betsy with contributions from the other participating dancers. In addition to Betsy and Mary, dance ministers included Jean Ando, Sister Ona Bessette, L’Ana Burton, Barbara Fahringer and Wesley Yarbor.
The New Evangelization Network, a recently inaugurated Catholic cable network videotaped the vespers. The service may be viewed on our SDG website (click on “Headlines” and then on “Franciscans Celebrate 800th Anniversary”