Our community has been hit with a terrible loss and I feel I can be silent no more. I would like to share this letter from Naomi Castro, on learning the news that John Renke will be leaving St. Andrew’s Cathedral:
If you haven’t heard the news already, it is with a heavy heart that I bear this message to you. On October 9th at 5:30pm, Canon John Renke will direct and play his last service. Not only will that be John’s last Evensong service, but it will be also be the last service that the Cathedral Choir (as you know it) will be singing. The program will cease to exist, in the way Hawaii has come to know and love, after this service, and because of that I feel a deep and profound sadness.
I feel like a piece of my soul is being ripped out. I’ve grieved and mourned the loss of friends, lovers, and relationships, but never have I mourned the loss of an entire music program that I’ve come to call my family. Because that’s what a choir is: a family. Words cannot describe the utmost gratitude and respect I have had for a choir of such caliber, under the direction of John Renke. He has become such a dear and personal friend and mentor that I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to him. I am so fortunate to have been accepted as a Choral Scholar at the beginning of 2016 and have enjoyed learning more about being a stronger singer, musician, and leader. The ensemble could not be what it is–soon to be what it was–without the leadership, care, and utmost love of John. His guidance and presence not only at the Cathedral, but in the St. Andrew’s Schools community and the music community in general, will be so sorely missed.
Karen Sender wrote, “Dear, Sweet, and most beautiful Naomi, thank you for sharing our spirit and sadness. We have been part of a very special, very spiritual community with not just each other, but all the faithful in our congregation. Let’s keep them, John, and each other in our hearts and prayers. We sang for God and our Lord and our Queen. They can’t take that away from us.”
Susan McCreary Duprey, daughter of the late John McCreary who was the Organist/Choirmaster of St. Andrew’s Cathedral for over many years, wrote: I ache. I ache for many reasons. This hurts. This hurts for many reasons. I still can’t express all that is going on in me right now. I grieve. I grieve for the legacy of my father, John McCreary. I grieve for the legacy of John Renke. I grieve for the heritage of a church that gave me my faith. It was in the music of the Anglican tradition that I found my strong faith.
I myself am so grateful to John for so many wonderful musical experiences together. If you remember, John was an important part of Carl Crosier’s last year (2010-2011) at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu — who can forget when the bridge on the theorbo broke at the Monteverdi Vespers, and John had to jump in and play on the lute stop on the harpsichord while I played continuo on the organ? John also played harpsichord at the monumental Mass in B Minor— And what about those special Joint Evensongs with the LCH and the Cathedral Choirs?
I also want to acknowledge the comfort that John gave me as he sat with me for hours at Carl’s deathbed two years ago, and for spearheading the music and playing the organ at Carl’s funeral.
On John’s behalf, Mike Lee wrote: As so many have graciously said. he’s had such an extraordinary impact on so many—elevating the congregation’s worship with his organ playing, liturgical arrangements and choral leadership. He welcomed the broad and rich music community back into the stunning setting of the Cathedral, forged creative and organizational collaborations throughout the City and inspired colleagues with the depth of his knowledge and application of liturgical and classical traditions. It was common for dignitaries and clergy to seek John’s involvement for key functions at the Cathedral. To hear John’s playing of Louis Vierne’s Carillon of Westminster on the Cathedral’s 5,000-pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ or to witness his direction of Cathedral’s Choral Scholars’ Gregorian chant at Evensong are fond memories for us, the congregation and the community. It has been a joyful journey for John and we couldn’t be more pleased for his spirited contributions into a place he put all his joyful heart and soul. We hope he’ll take a well deserved break, smell the roses and enjoy our life in Hawai‘i. Thank you, all.
Tonight was the season opening event for the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and we all resolved to support John by our attendance at his final Evensong on Sunday, October 9th. I hope you all will join us in celebrating John’s ministry to us and for the many gifts he has given our community.
We were all enriched by John’s presence among us these nine years, and now we grieve the loss of his ministry. We are all the more impoverished for this loss to our spiritual life and musical enrichment.
Honolulu will not be the same.