Putting things in order

by
13 October 2009

Orders of services are usually considered disposable. Not by one man, as Ed Beavan discovered

IT IS not surprising that Dr James Thomson describes himself as “a bit of a squirrel”: he has accumulated about 340 Order of Service booklets from St Paul’s Cathedral, in a collec­tion that spans more than 50 years.

His hoarding is not just confined to service booklets; he has also amassed a collection of London Un­der­ground pocket-maps dating from 1934, as well as a large collection of London bus-tickets and railway maps.

A former consultant surgeon at St Mark’s Hospital in Northwick Park, Middlesex, he is now Master of Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse in central London, and oversees the 40 male pensioners who live in the his­toric complex, which was originally a Carthusian priory, and is now a Church of England foundation.

Dr Thomson comes from a Free Church background: his paternal grandfather was a Church of Scot­land minister, and his maternal grand­father was a deacon in the Con­gregational Church. He first ex­perienced the Book of Common Prayer at Gadebridge Park School in Hemel Hempstead, and at St Mary’s, in the town.

Dr Thomson comes from a Free Church background: his paternal grandfather was a Church of Scot­land minister, and his maternal grand­father was a deacon in the Con­gregational Church. He first ex­perienced the Book of Common Prayer at Gadebridge Park School in Hemel Hempstead, and at St Mary’s, in the town.

The different style of worship appealed to his logical mind, he says. “I was taken by the liturgical aspect: at school, we used to learn the collect and the Gospel, or part of the Catechism; that was a great foundation.

The different style of worship appealed to his logical mind, he says. “I was taken by the liturgical aspect: at school, we used to learn the collect and the Gospel, or part of the Catechism; that was a great foundation.

HIS COLLECTION started after his first visit to St Paul’s Cathedral, on 29 September 1958, for an ordina­tion by the Bishop of Lon­don, Dr Montgomery Camp­bell.

“It was the ordination of Brian Rice, Curate at my parish church, St Paul’s, Winchmore Hill, which I attended until 2001, and where I was a server for 45 years. I just decided to keep the order of service. I valued the experience of going to St Paul’s, and went on several occasions. Natur­ally I’m a bit of a squirrel.

“I think one of the things that attracted me to the Church of Eng­land was the orderliness of the liturgy. Service sheets assisted me, as you know what is going to come next, and they also serve as a reminder of the service. I do dip into them now and then.

“I also find it interesting to com­pare the sheets, to see how they have changed over the years; and they are also a reminder of history, which is interesting.”

“I also find it interesting to com­pare the sheets, to see how they have changed over the years; and they are also a reminder of history, which is interesting.”

Dr Thomson, who was an honor­ary consultant surgeon at St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy for 29 years, and also vice-chairman of its coun­cil, attended more than 300 services at St Paul’s Cathedral, all of which he has sheets for. The rest were given to him.

In 1962, he attended a service com­memorating the 300th annivers­ary of the Prayer Book. “I was rather sur­prised to get into that service, as I just wrote in for a ticket, although a lot of services at St Paul’s are open to the public. The Queen attended, and Arch­bishop Michael Ramsey preached; it was a memorable occa­sion.

“The service sheet is particularly interesting, because some of the rubric was printed in red, which was rather splendid.”

“The service sheet is particularly interesting, because some of the rubric was printed in red, which was rather splendid.”

ANOTHER memorable occasion for Dr Thomson is the bicentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons, in October 2000, a service that he helped to organise with a former Minor Canon of St Paul’s, the Revd Gordon Giles.

The service booklet was much bigger than that of today, and is A4-size rather than the A5-size that is now more commonplace. The sheet from the first service Dr Thomson attended, in 1958, was just one double-sided sheet, smaller than A5 size. The paper on which service booklets used to be printed was quite thin, whereas orders of service today are much chunkier.

On 14 May 1961, Dr Thomson attended a service at St Paul’s, at which Archbishop Joost de Blank, a great campaigner against apart­heid, preached the sermon. “This was a very memorable occa­sion. I remember the text of his ser­mon was ‘Fear not little flock’, from Luke 12.32.”

The order of service from this occasion used the Times New Roman font, which is still used today but is now printed slightly larger. “They didn’t print the words to the Nunc Dimittis back then, as people knew the words or brought their BCPs with them. Now, they print out the liturgy in full.”

The order of service from this occasion used the Times New Roman font, which is still used today but is now printed slightly larger. “They didn’t print the words to the Nunc Dimittis back then, as people knew the words or brought their BCPs with them. Now, they print out the liturgy in full.”

AS ONE might expect, Dr Thomson has grown fond of St Paul’s. “I love it. I always value going there. The music is something which means a great deal to me. I think it’s a wonderful place, and it’s helped me on my spiritual journey considerably. You can go there and not be smothered when you arrive.

AS ONE might expect, Dr Thomson has grown fond of St Paul’s. “I love it. I always value going there. The music is something which means a great deal to me. I think it’s a wonderful place, and it’s helped me on my spiritual journey considerably. You can go there and not be smothered when you arrive.

“If you go to a church, there’s a group of people who attend regularly: St Paul’s has different people every time, and you can go in and come out anonymously. That’s valuable for people at certain times, whereas at other times it’s better to belong to a church.

“Also, it’s great to go on occasions of the diocese, such as ordinations.”

One of his most unusual exper­i-ences was to hear a sermon deliv­ered in Latin by William Chadwick, Bishop of Barking, in January 1965, at the opening service of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury.

Dr Thomson now produces the service booklets for the chapel at Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse, where he is Ordinary of the Chapel. He often incorporates the colours of the church year into the design, and sees the work as a great privilege. Orders of service, he feels, are a way of proclaiming the gospel, and are of “huge spiritual value”.

“Service sheets are works of art, and, if they assist people in the liturgy, then that’s the whole inten­tion.”

He adds that it is “worth sparing a thought for the person who compiles the order of service. You seldom see mistakes, and it’s quite a laborious process. The printers also need to do their job well, and then there are the people who hand them out. The pro­cess is to be appreciated and valued.”

Dr Thomson has orders of service for the enthronments of five Arch­bishops of Canterbury up to the present one, and, although he did not attend the services, he has observed how the enthronement service has changed over the years.

He also has an order of service from 29 May 1982, when Pope John Paul II came to Canterbury Cathed­ral, an event that Dr Thomson watched on television.

Dr Thomson was awarded a Lambeth Doctorate of Medicine by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in 1987. He is now secretary of the Lambeth Degree Association, and still regularly attends St Paul’s.

It seems likely that Dr Thomson’s collection could nudge past the 350 mark in the not-too-distant future.

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