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Paul Vallely: Faithful service on air for 90 years

05 January 2018

Paul Vallely is grateful that Lord Reith relented


IT WAS a wet wintry morning, but there was a real buzz of excitement in the foyer of the Philharmonic Studio in MediaCity, Salford, on Tuesday, as a couple of hundred people gathered to celebrate the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio’s Daily Service. Individuals who had never met before were soon engaged in lively conversation; for they were not strangers, merely members of a community who happened not to have met before.

The Daily Service, the longest-running programme of its kind anywhere in the world, was an early example of listener power. In 1926, Kathleen Cordeaux, from Bushey, Hertfordshire, began what turned out to be a two-year campaign of letter-writing to the BBC’s founder, Lord Reith, asking for a short religious service “to comfort the sick and lonely”.

On Monday 2 January 1928, the first broadcast, from a studio in Savoy Hill, prompted 7000 letters of support. It has been broadcast daily ever since. Today, hundreds of thousands of listeners tune in every day to the 15-minute slot of hymns, psalm, reflection, and prayers of intercession.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the beginning of Tuesday’s service, its listeners are given not just strength and blessing but “a sense of belonging to a big community”. The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, developed the idea, reflecting: “Saying my prayers on my own, even if I’m reading from the same service booklet many others are using, is not the same as worshipping as part of a congregation.” Christian worship is both an individual and a shared experience.

The forms of prayer and styles of music of the Daily Service have altered over the years. The titles of the service books produced in conjunction with the programme over the years reveal that. The first, in 1929, was This Day, followed in 1932 by Where Two Or Three, and then, from 1936, New Every Morning, which had various editions over the decades.

What does not change is the way in which broadcast worship at its best — as with the conversational directness of Dr Walker’s prayers — coupled on Tuesday with the calibre of the uplifting music from the Daily Service Singers, under their director, Andrew Earis — can convey the presence of God to those who feel very much alone.

“Where God is, there is community,” Canon Angela Tilby, the most long-standing of the slot’s 25 presenters from various denominations, said in Wednesday’s service. The presence of “other people, other listeners, the wider Church, and the fellowship of all people of goodwill” brings that home to us.

Of course, there are Radio 4 listeners for whom the Daily Service is of no interest, much as there are for Test Match Special, Gardeners’ Question Time, or the racing tips and business news on the Today programme. But a sizeable number of licence-fee payers cherish this daily act of worship which, morning by morning, brings strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. It was uplifting to see that virtual community made flesh in a studio in Salford this week.

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