Monday, 25 October 2010

Back in the pew (2)

Some of the music at yesterday’s St. Boniface Church Eucharist led me down memory lane.

The choir sang a spirited setting of the hymn “Fight the Good Fight”.  I “grew up” on the hymn in both elementary and high school morning worship. (The school day in the U.K. started with Christian worship – “way back then”).

The hymn has gone out of fashion, perhaps because of the perceived militant tone of the first line.  But it’s not a bad text, based as it on words from Scripture.

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.

Cast care aside, upon thy Guide,
Lean, and His mercy will provide;
Lean, and the trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

The Eucharist ended with another “classic of my youth” -  “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”.  It is another hymn which has gone out of fashion.  I doubt that I have sung it in more than 40 years.  But it was a crowd pleaser for yesterday’s congregation - we sang it with vigour and volume!
I think that I know why this was so.  Almost always when clerics and musicians ask parishioners to pick out favourite hymns, the ones chosen are those from the parishioner’s childhood and youth.  I am willing to bet that at least  57.5% of the folks in Church yesterday grew up on “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”.

The militancy of the text may have been all well and good during the years of Protestant triumphalism in the U.S.A and the U.K.  (say 1850-1914), but the words seem thin in current days when “Protestantism” has all but died, and dialogue between Christians and adherents of other Faiths is the received norm.

My memory bank was most acute as we sang the hymns “How lovely is thy dwelling place”, the first two stanzas of which are based on Psalm 84.  

 The trigger point was the tune - called “Brother James’ Air”

“BROTHER JAMES' AIR” was composed by James Leith Macbeth Bain (b. Scotland, c. 1840; d. Liverpool, England, 1925), the healer, mystic, and poet known simply as Brother James.

I find it to be a haunting tune. 

I first sang it at Eastville Junior Mixed School, Bristol, U.K. when I was 9 or 10 years old.  There it was arranged for trebles and altos.  Later I sang it at Fairfield Grammar School, Bristol, U.K.  in an S.A.T.B. choir. In each case the tune was matched with the words of Psalm 23.

Yet it was not only the tune which seized my memory.  The text of Psalm 84 itself also took me back many years.

In about 1969 I went with my good friend Geraldine Humpidge (a woman who was some 45 years my senior) to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, U.K.:  (see ) to visit the National Motor Museum.  

Whilst we were there we wandered around the Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewly” in England) Parish Church.  

 There we saw and commented on some birds which had made the interior of Church their home. 

Both Geraldine and I were immediately reminded of a few words from Psalm 84 viz:  3Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

Just to think that these three bits of Church music at St. Boniface Church yesterday triggered so many memories.

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