WHEN writing a hymn for Remembrance Day — a task she set about “with fear and trembling” — the Revd Ally Barrett’s thoughts turned to a wedding that she had conducted for a groom who had severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his experience in combat.
“I realised that this really significant and widespread issue wasn’t reflected proportionally in the liturgy,” she said this month. “I wanted to make sure there was at least a verse of a hymn for people whose battle scars were not visible but were life-altering.”
The result of her efforts, “Hope for the world’s despair”, won first prize in Jubilate’s competition, Hymns of Peace, and, with those suffering mental scars in mind, contains the line: “Ease for the troubled mind In endless conflict caught”.
The hymn will be heard at Remembrance Day services in St Paul’s Cathedral and York Minister in November. It has been recorded by Jonathan Veira, and released as a single, featuring members of the All Souls’ Orchestra, conducted by Noël Tredinnick. It is set to the tune of “Love Unknown”.
“A good tune can buy you a lot of good will,” Mrs Barrett said. “It’s not just a vehicle for words: it communicates incredibly powerfully on a number of levels.”
She described “Love Unknown” as “an absolutely fabulous piece of music”, and believes that, because it is often used during Holy Week, “something of that theology of sacrifice and friendship with Christ and the love of God . . . clings to the tune and forms a background to the new words.”
The competition, which was launched in January with the support of Hymns Ancient & Modern, invited hymn-writers, published or unpublished, to write a “congregationally singable song with lyrical substance, a metrical scheme, and a clear harmonic structure”. It had to be “Christian in content, on a theme of peace, and appropriate for Remembrance services”.
Among the judges was the Precentor of York Minster, Canon Peter Moger, formerly the national worship development officer for the Church of England, and chair of the Liturgical Commission.
Mrs Barrett, now a tutor at Westcott House, with hymns among her many published works, served for 11 years as a parish priest in an area with strong ties to the RAF.
She was conscious of the challenges that Remembrance Day brings: “There is a massive responsibility that goes with saying anything, whether writing a prayer or preaching a sermon or choosing hymns.” There may be “a whole range of emotions going on”, and many different stakeholders in the congregation, she said.
“Sometimes, people’s needs contradict each other. I’ve been aware that right words in the right order [for this] really, really matter — more than on other days of the year.”
She wrote a first draft of her hymn in two hours, “and then tinkered”. Unable to share her work with others — the competition demanded secrecy — she found the writing a “slightly weird and lonely process”, and felt “reassured” by the presence of a judging panel, who later provided a degree of “finessing”.
Her best lines, she said, were “ones I have borrowed from elsewhere”. “If there is any skill in what I have done, it is connecting people with those resonances, whether scriptural or in other hymns.” She pointed to the reference to Philippians in “peace beyond all thought” in the penultimate verse.
On Remembrance Sunday, she will not be at St Paul’s, or York Minster. “The whole point is that it is not about me, but about those whom the hymn is for. I will sink into the shadows, probably, and hide.”