Not just for Christmas
A RUMOUR went round the office, at the low point of producing the Church Times Christmas double issue, that we would in future ask the great and the good to name their least favourite carol. I witnessed what verged on a mutiny about Darke’s “In the bleak midwinter” at a choir practice last Advent. But enough of such negativity.
Those who don’t like carols in general — or simply would prefer a lot of talk and explaining, preferably by themselves, to touch on a recent debate — can breathe again for a year, except in the unlikely event that they attend a church where the spirit of G. R. Woodward, Percy Dearmer, and co. lives on.
In such places, no one is safe from carols until after Candlemas Eve (“Down with the rosemary and bays”), and perhaps not until after Corpus Christi: “In that orchard there was a hall, That was hanged with purple and pall. . . And in that hall there was a bed. . . The falcon has borne my mate away. . .” — perhaps there’s a case for a service of Carols and Sermon after all, in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.
As you would expect, the Hymn Society are not of the dissenting party, and their conference last summer went deep into the heartland of the carol phenomenon by investigating carols, hymns, and their writers in Cambridge itself.
The results are collected in an occasional paper, Cambridge Hymns and Carols: Town and Gown in liturgy and life*, which has contributions by Gordon Giles, Christopher Idle, and others, and reminds us that the famous Christmas Eve broadcast from King’s is but the tip of an iceberg constituted by everything from the only rarely catchy John Milton (“Let us, with a gladsome mind”) and the metrically adventurous Henry Ainsworth to the supreme hymnological endeavours of J. M. Neale.
I have just been reminded that 2016 is the sesquicentenary of the composer Charles Wood, who plays a prominent part in The Cambridge Carol-Book, and other aspects of this fenny tale. So I hope we shall hear his Passion of Our Lord According to Saint Mark in a few more churches this Lent. It is another para-liturgical landmark, gently inviting penitence, from the Milner-White era at King’s.
*£6 incl. p&p (cheques payable to The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland) from the society’s secretary at Windrush, Braithwaite, Keswick CA12 5SZ.
NOW that the cards have come down, what to do with the round-robin letters?
Pinking shears aren’t much use for them. “Keep them till next Advent” might be good advice, so that you can refer to them for such things as the names of other people’s ever increasing families. But I had never thought of keeping one’s own (had I written any) for a rainy day.
But this sobering and, indeed, moving reflection comes from a reader, Howard Reeve, in Whitchurch, near Cardiff. He and his wife sent round robins — “I hope we avoided the worst excesses of the genre,” he writes — for many years.
“Following her death 15 months ago, I realised that not only had I lost my cherished life companion, Aileen, herself, but also our shared history of nearly 50 years. Anything I could not recall was irretrievably lost. . .
“However, I have kept copies of our annual letters going back some 30 years, and now they are a rich resource of very happy (and some sad) memories. But I hope when I am in my dotage these letters will then also penetrate the fog of dementia for the pleasure of me and any visitors; I did have a life. I commend the practice to fellow readers.”
This does seem like excellent advice, and indeed makes the whole exercise seem more worth while. It also looks more achievable for busy people, such as many of the clergy, than keeping a diary.
New Year purge
AS THE publication date was yesterday, you can now rush out (or to your online shopping device) and spend any cash that you may still have on a book that came into our office just before Christmas.
The title implied that it was the perfect gift for those people whom, as a churchwarden I know often puts it in his intercessions, “we find it hard to love”: it’s called Detox Your Ego*. Please don’t send in your nominations for recipients (and certainly not on a postcard).
The subtitle, Seven easy steps to achieving freedom, happiness and success in your life, might soften any implied slight. It’s a self-help book by Steven Sylvester, who grew up in the Home Counties with Sir Vivian Richards as his hero, studied psychology, and became involved in consultancy with professional sportsmen and -women after a spell playing first-class cricket for Middlesex and Nottinghamshire.
The book doesn’t seem to have any explicitly religious content, but it addresses the problems that arise from making the individual more important than the team.
Like a Lent book of the modern sort, however, it keeps interrupting itself with questions for the reader; and, as you would expect, its publishers know their market only too well. “What stops you performing at your best?” asks the blurb.
Clearly the line “It isn’t all just about you, sunshine” was ruled out as unlikely to make it fly.
*Headline, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-1-4722-2733-1
Review of 2015
A THOUGHT-PROVOKING moment from last year’s ecclesiastical round. At a Remembrance service I attended, a lesson was read out from an order of service whose pages had somehow got arranged in the wrong order. So we had: “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Make me a channel of your peace. . .”