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Word from Wormingford

13 June 2014

Ronald Blythe exhorts members of the congregation to sing

JUNE, and Pentecost. I scythe some of the orchard growth to give the Rambling Rector roses a bit of light and freedom. Tied to greengage trees, they have grown apace. Nesting robins fly around in distress; so I give up. I am invasive. In church, the Flower Festival takes over - plus, of course, Songs of Praise. The new priest, John, has a good voice; so has everyone, at this moment. "Sing out!" I say, encouragingly.

Every year, it is strangely affecting, this ancient building bursting with hymns, the high sills filled with blooms, the scent, the tower clock going tick-tock in the spare silences, the trapped bee or butterfly, the all-too-soon blessing. For, having got into our stride, we should have sung till midnight.

They asked St Augustine,"What is a hymn?" "A hymn", he replied, "is the praise of God by singing. A hymn is a song embodying the praise of God. If there be only praise, but not praise of God, it is not a hymn. If there be praise, but not sung, it is not a hymn. For it to be a hymn, it is needful, therefore, for it to have three things - praise, praise of God, and these sung."

The hymn-singing faces on the screen, when not over-rehearsed, are holy and absorbed. I sometimes think of the 18-year-old Thomas Hardy at evensong in his parish church.

On afternoons of drowsy calm
We stood in the panelled pew,
Singing one-voiced a Tate-and-Brady psalm
To the tune of "Cambridge New".

We watched the elms, we watched the rooks,
The clouds upon the breeze,
Between the whiles of glancing at our books,
And swaying like the trees.

So mindless were those outpourings! -
Though I am not aware
That I have gained by subtle thought on things
Since we stood psalming there.

The "swaying" is interesting. Hardy's continued churchgoing after he had renounced his faith worried his friends. The beat of the Anglican liturgy sets the timing of his great poems. And it still sets the timing of our days for many of us, faint as a heartbeat though it may be. A great or a not very good hymn will set us going, as it were.

When Charles Wesley was in Bristol, he was told about a little girl who dreamed that she had gone for a walk with Christ. "While we were walking, he said 'Sing!'"

"What shall I sing?"

"Sing praises unto the King of this place."

The summer windows are wide to the dawn chorus. I hear it at about five. Then it stops - like a hymn. Reaches its conclusion.

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