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Diary

24 May 2013

ISTOCK

How does it go?

THERE has been much amusement in the press recently over allegations that organists sometimes slip saucily relevant bits of tunes into their offerings at weddings, and even funerals.

I must admit, I have not spotted any instances myself (possibly because I would not recognise the tunes, anyway), but I continue to be amazed at the ingenuity with which married couples cope with the fact that neither they, nor most of their friends and family, know any hymns.

The trouble is that the religious ditties that they do know tend to be wildly inappropriate for the occasion. Yes, their friends will know "By the rivers of Babylon", because it was a hit for Boney M within their lifespan; but sitting down and weeping does not strike quite the right note.

Nor, with the greatest respect to the late splendid Sydney Carter, does "Lord of the Dance", unless one omits the verse about it being "hard to dance with the devil on your back". Rugby fans often go for "Guide me, O thou great Redeemer" - but "death of death, and hell's destruction"? And "Give me joy in my heart" is lovely, but I have noticed that when we get to "Give me oil in my lamp", some of those present - mostly young males - find a pretext for unseemly mirth.

My most recent wedding couple, however, had a solution that pleased them, and sent the whole gathering wild with joy. The wedding march at the end of proceedings was accompanied by "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." The wedding party jigged its way down the aisle while the congregation did the clapping and stamping bit.

Not exactly J. B. Dykes, I agree, but the fact was, they were happy, and they showed it. Surely no harm in that?


Tale of two funerals

IN SHARP contrast to all that jollity, I have been struggling with the arrangements for the funeral of a local woman in her 50s, whose life had been almost unremittingly grim. She had eight children - the first when she was 12 - by four different fathers. Her last boyfriend posted a Facebook message on the day before she died, ending their relationship. As her delightful nephew put it to me: "This life's been awful for her; I hope the next one will be better."

Needless to say, there was nothing in the bank to pay for her funeral, and so, for more than two months, there has been a desperate attempt to scrape together from social services and various charities enough money to give her a decent cremation. That should have happened before these words are read.

The first date planned for the funeral - which was abandoned when the funds did not materialise - happened, by an incongruous coincidence, to be the day of the funeral of Lady Thatcher. The great and the good gathered in St Paul's Cathedral to mark with pomp and circumstance the passing of one of the defining figures of the 20th century.

It is not her fault, of course, but I could not help reflecting on the chasm that separated the lives of these two women, etched out so brutally in the contrast between their final obsequies. Nevertheless, I shall take a lead from the Bishop of London, and note that, at the end, we are all the same before our Creator and his appointed judge, the Saviour of the world.


'You 'orrible lot!'

BOB HOLMAN's recent article in the Church Times (Comment, 10 May) evoked mixed memories for me, as it probably did for many who experienced the weird institution of National Service. I did my time as a nursing assistant in the RAF, and out of a whole landscape of bullying drill instructors, tedious and pointless polishing of boots and buttons, and disgusting porridge in the mess, I am glad to say that it is people who stand out in my memory, especially two of them. Bernard was one, or "Taffy" as we called him, because he came from Newport, Gwent. All Welshmen were Taffys, no matter how remote their connection with the river Taff.

He and I were the two resident medics at RAF Andover, and part of our weekly routine was for one or other of us to sit in the ambulance with a driver on the perimeter track whenever flying was taking place. The idea was that, should there be an accident or an emergency, we would speed to the rescue.

Actually, such incidents were disappointingly few, although the Commanding Officer did manage to run a new jet into an adjacent ploughed field. It was nice not to have to salute as we extricated him from the cockpit. Neither Taffy nor I was a regular churchgoer at that particular stage of our lives, but he is now a pillar of the Baptist church in Newport, and we keep in touch.


Cast your bread

I MET the second person again long after our RAF days, when I preached (as a Reader) at a parish church in Fulham, one Sunday in the 1960s. He approached me at the door after the service, with a look of utter incredulity on his face.

"Were you at RAF Halton 15 years ago?" he asked.

I admitted that I was, and he reminded me that I had accompanied him once on a visit to church in Wendover; but, he said, "in my wildest dreams, I never expected to see you in a pulpit."

I gather that he had felt that I was a lost sheep that he might play a small part in bringing back into the fold - and, to be fair, perhaps he did. If he reads this paper, I would love to hear from him.

Canon Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of BBC religious broadcasting.

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