A new song

It was a Friday evening in January, and the voices of the choir resounded in the shadows of the fan vaulting of St Michael’s Parish Church. Thomas Sibson, the Director of Music, winced as the sopranos sang their semiquaver passage too slowly. It was untidy and unnecessary; he was, after all, conducting them. Rapping his baton on the music stand, he stopped the singing.
“Sopranos, you were behind the beat.” He scanned the rows of faces, making sure he had everybody’s attention. “How many Musical Directors does it take to change a light bulb?”
The choir knew the answer, and chorused it. “Nobody knows, because nobody was watching.”
He nodded. “Geoff, from the top again if you don’t mind.” The assistant organist obliged, and the choir tried again. Tom looked at each of them as he conducted.
Gill was staring earnestly at him as always. Fay didn’t seem to be watching, but she was exactly in tempo; he didn’t know how she managed that. He could hear her voice, which was beautiful and true despite her three score and ten years. The basses were, at last, concentrating. They were the weakest part musically; only Ralph and Jeremy had any formal musical training. Tom didn’t know how he’d manage if either of them left. And John, in the tenors, seemed to be worried about something. He must talk to him later.
This time the music met Tom’s exacting standards, and he was satisfied.
“Well done everybody. That’ll do for tonight. If you sing like that on Sunday we’ll wow them.” He drifted in John’s direction, gently delaying him so they could talk privately.
“Thank you for your contribution tonight, John. I could hear you inspiring the tenors – as usual.”
“You’re too kind, Tom. In fact, I wanted to talk to you about my voice. I’m eighty, you know, and I’m losing it. The top notes have almost gone; I can’t go above G, and even that’s a struggle, and as for stamina…” He shook his head. “Still, I mustn’t grumble. I’ve sung here since I was eight years old.”
“As long as that? Well done! Look, I don’t want bully you into singing once it stops being a pleasure, but at present you’re an asset to the choir.”
“Well, I’m not sure about my voice, but if you say it’s good enough…”
“Shall we agree that I’ll audition you when you’re eighty five?”
John grinned. “Sounds fair enough to me. Thanks, Tom.”
They walked together down the chancel steps, through the darkened church towards the vestry.
“Good evening, Tom. I hope you don’t mind; I eavesdropped the last fifteen minutes of your rehearsal.”
Peter Wright, the new vicar, left the place in the pews where he had been sitting and approached Tom with a friendly expression. He offered his hand to shake.
“I know you’re a busy man, Tom, but could you spare me a little time now? I’d like to hear your thoughts about the parish’s musical life.”
Tom glanced at his watch. It was already eight forty. There was a television programme he wanted to watch at nine o’clock. Never mind. The music must come first.
“Of course, Vicar. I am at your disposal. I’ll just disrobe.”
“Oh, please! Call me Peter; everybody else does.”
Peter followed Tom into the vestry. Most of the choristers had left. Gill was chivvying a couple of the youngsters about putting away their robes properly. “Watch how Mr Sibson hangs up his robes,” she instructed.
Tom kept a straight face, and tidied away his cassock with particular care.
“I thought we’d have our chat in the vicarage. That way we can have a coffee and stay warm.”
The diocese had sold the old vicarage some years earlier, replacing it with a smaller, modern house that occupied a part of the original large garden. It was easier to heat, more convenient, and had raised much-needed cash. A few of the oldest parishioners regretted the change, but even they agreed that it made sense. The vicar’s study, where Peter and Tom sat with their coffee, was comfortably warm and pleasantly furnished.
“You have a fine choir, Tom. You must have worked very hard with them.”
“Thank you. The choir will be pleased to hear that you appreciate their efforts.”
“I expect you have something special planned for Holy Week?” Peter smiled. “Or do I presume too much?”
Tom returned the smile. “We usually sing a Bach chorale between each of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. We always sing a substantial anthem on Easter Sunday, of course. It’s not chosen yet. Do you have a favourite that you would like?”
“Thank you. I’ll leave it to you, though; I’m sure your choice will be better than mine.”
Tom bowed his head in acknowledgement. Of course his choice would be better; how could it not be? He knew the repertoire, the choir and the tastes of the congregation.
“Actually, what I wanted to talk to you about was more general than the Easter services. I wondered what your view was on contemporary liturgical music?”
Tom was silent for a minute or two. “I take it that you mean guitars and noise rather than Lauridsen and Whitacre?”
“Yes.”
“I’m not a fan.”
The vicar stayed silent, and eventually Tom spoke again.
“This congregation is…pretty traditional. I think guitars would drive many of them away. And, if you want my personal opinion, I think almost all such stuff is entirely devoid of musical merit.”
“I won’t debate the musical merit; I’m not qualified to argue with you over that, Tom. But, you know, it is the musical language of today. It forms the backdrop to peoples’ lives. They understand it, and respond to it.”
“I’m inclined to think that we should offer our best and most beautiful music to God. People will listen to that and respond to it, whatever their daily experience. We have an opportunity of lifting their souls above the mundane towards the transcendent.”
Peter contradicted him gently. “I’ve seen popular music used very effectively to draw in young people, and we badly need to do that in this parish. You’re the Director of Music, Tom. Will you help me do that? No, don’t answer now; take it away and think about it, please.
Perhaps read a little about it, too. Here, borrow this; it’s quite a good description of how contemporary music can inspire a congregation. If you have time, I’d like to discuss it again with you before the next PCC meeting; we’ll be focussing on evangelism, and music will be an important part of that.”
February’s PCC meeting was well attended, despite wintry weather and an FA cup replay live on the television. The members of the PCC wanted to see their new vicar in action. He seemed a nice chap on Sundays, but Tom had muttered about guitars in church, and Nigel, the Treasurer, had spoken darkly of ‘unacceptable changes to church furnishing’.
Tom and Nigel sat next to each other, Tom flanked by Ralph, and Nigel by Peggy Latimer, the formidably organised lady who arranged distribution of Bible reading notes, and who ruled the flower arrangers with a rod of iron. All four had arrived early. Sue Smart, the Vicar’s Churchwarden, looked pained by the way Tom and Nigel seemed to be ganging up. Her friend, Cheryl Unwin, the PCC Secretary, was too busy making sure that everybody had copies of the minutes of the previous meeting to notice the seating.
Just before 7:30 p.m. the vicar entered.
“Ah, Nigel! You’re Treasurer. I need you up here at the front, please, with me, Sue and Cheryl.”
Nigel raised one eyebrow but complied.
After the routine business, the Vicar stood up and said, “I don’t want to keep you for too long, but I want to share with you the vision that I have for St Michael’s Parish Church.” His manner was open and friendly.
“I’d like to start by saying how impressed I’ve been with the expertise of the church’s officers, and the commitment of the volunteers whose efforts enable our work and our worship to proceed so smoothly. In my first month here, I’ve noted particularly the spotless building and polished furniture, the wonderful music, the beautiful flowers, the timely delivery of bible study notes, the fact that we’re solvent and pay our Parochial Share, the weekly prayer meeting and the crèche for the Sunday Sung Eucharist.”
He smiled again. “It’s usually a mistake to mention groups by name, because you always leave someone out. If you feel you’ve been missed out, please accept my apologies. I’m sure I haven’t been comprehensive.” He glanced down at the notes in his hand.
“I want us to build on your achievements. You see, we’re none of us growing any younger – even I am forty-eight, and I’m younger than most of the congregation. We cannot escape the conclusion that if this church is to survive, we need to bring in more young people. We have a crèche. Wonderful. But we could have a Sunday School covering all ages from toddlers to teenagers. They are the future of the church.
More than that, on the new housing estates that have sprung up around us during the last eight or nine years, there are people who are suffering spiritually. We have the answer to their needs; we have Jesus; we need to go out and tell people about Him.”
He spoke fluently. He spoke briefly, fifteen minutes in all, and concluded, “I don’t want any response now. I would like all of you, please – all of you – to think and pray earnestly about this. I’ve spoken about flexibility in how we use our facilities. We will need flexibility from our congregation too, especially from you, the members of the PCC. Over the next week or so, I shall speak to each of you again. It would be lovely to think that you will be full of bright ideas as to how, without compromising what we already have, we can reach out to all those people who need our message of hope.”
There was silence, broken by Nigel.
“Thank you, Vicar, for addressing us so eloquently. I’m sure that we’ll all be praying hard about your vision for our church.” He paused for emphasis. “I take your point about not making an instant response, however I think I must say that those of us who are officers of the PCC must make sure that our responses are practical. We won’t be able to let our hearts rule our heads.”
“Well, is there any other business?” exclaimed Cheryl, brightly. “No? Then let’s close with the Grace.”
* * *
A few weeks later, the vicar started a House Group. It would be agreeable but mistaken to imagine that all those who attended the first meeting were solely motivated by a desire to study and pray together. Nigel and Peggy were there, and Fay, Sue Smart and a new young couple, Martin and Linda Grant, and Ralph; with the Vicar leading them. Ralph had offered to host the meeting, and the vicar had asked him whether he had a piano.
“Yes, Peter. I’ve got quite a decent upright.”
“I wonder, Ralph, if you would be willing to play a few choruses for the meeting?”
Ralph hesitated. “I’m afraid my playing isn’t very good, and I’m not used to the idiom. I’ll give it a go if you like, but don’t expect miracles.”
Peter clapped him on the back.
“Good man!” he said.
Martin and Linda were the first to arrive.
“I’m so glad you could come this evening,” said Ralph. “I’ve noticed you in church for a couple of weeks now. Which church did you attend before you came to us?” Martin beamed at him, “It was another St Michael’s, in Stockwell.” His West Indian accent was pronounced. “It was a lovely congregation but not such a beautiful church as this one.”
Ralph had set out twelve chairs. When everybody had arrived he served coffee and biscuits, and then sat himself next to Martin. The seat beside Linda was vacant too.
Linda leaned across her husband. “We just adore the choir! You sing with them, don’t you?”
Ralph felt pleased. “Yes, I do. We’re very lucky in our Director of Music, Tom Sibson.”
“Those high voices! I’d sure like to hear you all sing some gospel!”
Ralph grinned sheepishly. Gospel! Tom would have a fit!
Peter brought them to order, and started the meeting.
“Welcome, everybody!” I’ve prepared a study on Micah, chapter 6 verse 8.”
There was a quiet ‘A-men!’ from Martin, and everybody jumped and looked at him.
“Oops, sorry people! I guess you’re not used to that here!” He grinned.
“That was lovely, Martin,” said Fay. The others stared at her. She wriggled and hunched her shoulders. “Well, it was!” she exclaimed.
“Martin, do you know that verse?” enquired Peter.
“Sure. It’s one of my favourites. ‘He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’”
“A-men,” said Fay, quite loudly, looking with shining eyes at Martin.
“A-men, sister!”
“Good,” said Peter. “This week, we’ll be looking at ‘to do justice’; next week we’ll consider ‘to love kindness’; week three we’ll think about ‘walking humbly’; and in week four we’ll discuss how the three actions fit together.”
The study went well. Peter was assiduous in encouraging everyone to speak, and Nigel and Peggy found they had plenty to say about ‘doing justice’. And then Fay spoke up.
“I don’t want to be argumentative. That’s not me at all. But doesn’t Christian justice include quite a lot of mercy? There’s that story in – John, isn’t it, Vicar?” She turned towards Peter.
“Do you mean the story of the woman taken in adultery? ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’? Yes, that’s John, chapter 8.”
After the study came the choruses. Martin and Linda gave a strong lead, and Ralph discovered that the music in front of him was slightly different from what they were singing. By the end of the third chorus, he was red-faced and perspiring with embarrassment.
At the end of the meeting, Peter lingered to talk to Ralph.
“Thank you ever so much for your hospitality.”
“My pleasure,” murmured Ralph.
“I really appreciated your playing the piano for the choruses tonight. I think next week, if you don’t mind, we could try practising them together for a few minutes at the start. Would you mind doing that?”
“Well, vicar, I…”
“That’s settled then. Thank you, Ralph. Music is so important in worship, isn’t it? I’m deeply grateful to you for your efforts.”
Tom’s phone rang at 10:30.
“It was a long meeting then, Nigel?”
“I’m only just home.”
“Was it as bad as we feared?”
“A mixed bag. Quite a good Bible study; Peter knows what he’s doing there. Some rather odd moments, too. Fay exclaimed ‘A-men’ out loud during the study!”
“Fay?” Thomas’s tone was incredulous.
“Yes, indeed. And I suppose Ralph told you that he was going to play the piano for some choruses?”
“No, he didn’t, but of course he’s under no obligation to tell me, Nigel. Nothing says that the choir has exclusive rights to his talent!”
“It’s the thin end of the wedge, Tom. Before you know it, we’ll have guitars in the Eucharist. Electric guitars!”
“Over my dead body.”
“On the other matter, I managed to have a word with Peggy about the pews. She’s solidly with us on opposing their replacement, and she’s going to make sure that Cheryl toes the line on that one. There’s nothing we can do about Sue, though. She’s right behind Peter.”
“To be fair, Nigel, she is the Vicar’s Warden.”
“Oh, I don’t blame her, Tom; I just wish she would see reason. It would cost a fortune to replace the pews with decent chairs – at least twenty thousand pounds – and what would we gain?”
As Tom replaced the handset, he stroked his chin. He was disappointed that Ralph had played this evening; he felt betrayed. He knew it was irrational. The vicar had asked him whether he would play, and he had declined. He should have realised that the vicar would simply find someone else. ‘On the other hand,’ he thought, ‘I am the Director of Music, and the vicar has no business changing the whole direction of our music without my agreement. We’ve a choral tradition that dates back four hundred years, for goodness sake!’
Tom dropped by Ralph’s house the following evening.
“Do you fancy a beer?”
Ralph glanced at his watch. “Okay, as long as it’s a quick one. I want to be back for ‘Masterchef’”
The White Horse was only fifty yards away, and tonight, as it was early, they were the only occupants of the lounge bar. Tom bought the beer.
“How was the House Group meeting last night?”
“Pretty good actually. Peter led it very well. That new couple, the Grants, were there.”
“I don’t think I’ve met them; what are they like?”
“Very pleasant. They seem to know their bible. They weren’t afraid to join in, either, despite being new. I think they’ll be a tremendous asset to the church, provided they stay.”
“Is there some doubt about that?”
“I think they’re used to a rather more informal style of worship than we offer. Although Linda did say how much she enjoyed the choir’s singing.”
“And how did the choruses go? I hear you played the piano for them.”
“Ah, yes.” Ralph took a swallow of beer and looked appraisingly at his glass. “Do you think they’ve flushed the line properly after cleaning? I think this beer tastes slightly off.” He looked again at the glass, and shrugged. “Yes, I played the piano for the choruses.”
“What do you suppose people see in them, Ralph? I don’t see their attraction at all myself, but plenty of people do. I read an article about them the other day. It seemed very…emotional. Did you enjoy them last night?”
Ralph shook his head “Not really my cup of tea, Tom. Besides, I played them abominably! Even Peter noticed!”
“I have a problem with them beyond my personal taste. If we’re realistic, most of our congregation don’t properly appreciate the music we provide. They don’t understand the value of what we’re preserving here. I mean, think about it. We have records of a four-part choir here in Henry the Eighth’s time. We were still singing when Henry Purcell was composing. Charles Villiers Stanford came here and performed with the choir. I can go to the church archives and read handwritten notes by my predecessors of one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago. If we let guitars into the Eucharist, that will all go. It’s happened in other places.”
“I wouldn’t want to lose that, Tom, any more than you would, but it’s early days. I think there’s probably a place for them in House Groups, and perhaps in less formal services – maybe in the church hall.
Anyway, I think these House Groups are a great idea. They could invigorate us. I want to support Peter with them; I think he’s working on the right lines.”
“Fair enough, Ralph. By the way, if you would like any help with sorting out the rhythm of those choruses, I’d be happy to run through them with you after choir practice. If our church is going to use this music, we might as well make sure it’s right.”
“Tom! Come and play for the meeting! It would be so much better than my efforts, and I really think you’d enjoy the study and fellowship.”
Ralph shook his head and glanced at his watch. “Masterchef in five minutes, Ralph.”
* * *
The evening of the June PCC meeting was glorious, the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows. Peter had taken to holding the meetings in the Lady Chapel, a reminder to all the participants, especially himself, that their work was for the glory of God.
“You’ve probably all noticed; attendance is up again this month. Thank you, Peggy, for organising the delivery of over two thousand laminated sheets carrying a map of where we are, the service times, and the contact details of the pastoral team. Every household in the parish has had one. We hope that most of these sheets will be pinned on corkboards or held on the fridge with magnets!
Possibly the best news of all is that twenty children are interested in taking part in Sunday School, which will be launched with an ‘Adventure Week’ at the start of the school holidays. Martin and Linda will be running this. There are still opportunities to help, if you’re keen. Please see Linda to make sure that your safeguarding training is up to date.”
He paused and mentally said a very quick prayer.
“There is another thing we could do to make our church more welcoming towards newcomers and that is replace the pews with chairs. The big advantage that they have is that they can be used flexibly. For a formal sung Eucharist, we put them in rows and they emulate pews. For a family service we could place them in concentric circles, so that people could see each other better.
For a smaller service, perhaps a monthly meditative prayer service, we would put away most of the chairs. For the Stations of the Cross, they would all be put away. I have it strongly in mind that we will need to have services for recent Christians, where they can feel relaxed. I don’t feel we can achieve that at the moment. A dozen people scattered yards apart in the pews is not relaxed!”
Peggy raised her hand. “Vicar, is it true that it would cost twenty thousand pounds?
“Yes, it is, Peggy. We would need a major fund-raising effort. But it should be possible. I’m told we raised £30,000 to refurbish the organ only three years ago.”
“We did, Vicar, but that was essential. The tuner told us that without the work our organ would deteriorate rapidly. We’re very proud of our musical tradition.”
Sue was looking agitated. “These chairs are essential, too. It’s not our tradition that matters; it’s our outreach to others. I organise the Greeters, and they all think that the pews put off people who aren’t used to coming to church.”
“Greeters!” muttered Nigel under his breath. Until recently they had been called sidesmen; he wished they still were.
“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” persisted Peggy. “I don’t think you’d find people had the same appetite for fund-raising that would replace the pews with chairs. We grew up with pews; we like them. What’s wrong with them?”
“I think we should look at this from the positive side,” said Peter. “It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with pews, it’s just that chairs would improve the way we use our church. I am personally convinced that they would help our missionary effort.”
“We must consider the practicalities as well, Peter,” said Nigel. “Removing the pews and installing chairs instead would require a faculty from the diocese. I had a word with my contact in the Diocesan Advisory Committee. He was not sanguine that a faculty would be forthcoming.”
Peter’s face paled and his lips set thin and narrow, but he responded mildly, “We won’t know if we don’t try. My discussions with the Archdeacon,” – and he emphasised the word – “were altogether more positive.”
Cheryl, the Secretary spoke out. “We seem to be divided on this issue. I propose that we postpone further discussion until the July meeting, by which time we’ll have had chance to think more about how we move forward.”
“Thank you, Cheryl, but I would like the PCC to vote on the matter at this meeting. It is my strong and positive recommendation as your vicar that we should seek to replace the pews with chairs. A show of hands in favour, please.” The vicar and Sue raised their hands, and, after a slight hesitation, so did Cheryl. There were nine contrary. Motion defeated.
“Thank you, everybody. We’ll close with the Grace, please.”
As the members were picking up their things ready to go home, Peter said quietly to Nigel, “A word, if you please. In my vestry.”
The vicar sat himself behind his desk. “Please sit down, Nigel.”
Nigel sat.
“You are, of course, entitled to talk to whom you please, when you please, about what you please. But if that discussion is designed to deliberately undercut my position as your vicar, that is, in my opinion, an abuse of your right, and damnably rude into the bargain.”
“I’m sorry you see it that way, Peter. It seemed useful to me to have the opinion of the Advisory Committee.”
“But you didn’t have their opinion, did you, Nigel? I found that the Archdeacon is in favour. In future I would ask you, as a matter of courtesy, to discuss with me beforehand any contacts you intend to have with the diocese.”
“I’ll leave you to deal with the Diocesan Treasurer, shall I?”
“You’ll do your job and you’ll do it properly and courteously, or you can resign. Right at this moment I would prefer the latter, but it’s up to you.”
Without a word Nigel rose and left the vestry.
“Shit!” exclaimed the vicar, sotto voce, after the door closed. “I made a right mess of that!”
* * *
The church hall was full. Children climbed over parents, ran around, and shouted with excitement. Some of the parents knew each other and tried to chat, shouting to make themselves heard above the din. Ralph nervously checked his musical forces; one guitarist, one bassist, a drummer with a set of drum pads, and the keyboard that he himself would play. It was five to six on the Sunday evening at the end of the Adventure Week.
“Okay,” he mouthed, “On four. One, two three, four!”
The chorus ‘Praise Him on the trumpet’ began. The enthusiasm of the musicians exceeded their competence; there were wrong notes in handfuls; but the liveliness gradually penetrated to the congregation. One by one they stopped speaking; some joined in and sang.
As they finished, Peter stood up. He was beaming.
“Have you all enjoyed yourselves?”
“Yes!” chorused the children.
“Shall I tell you a story?”
“Yes!”
He told them the story of the Good Samaritan, which had been the theme of the Adventure Week. As the story unfolded, children came forward in small groups to show their artwork, to act out a short scene, or to sing.
The service was short, only forty minutes, and was followed by coffee and cakes. People were laughing and chatting merrily. One young man, a small boy hanging on his arm, approached Ralph.
“Hi. I’m Sam. I enjoyed the music! Is there any room for another performer? I play trumpet.”
“Excellent! There’s always room for a willing volunteer! We’re going to be having an informal evening service here in the hall once a fortnight, but we’ll be practising every week, Thursday at half past seven. As you could probably tell, we badly need as much practice as we can manage!”
* * *
“Tom, could I come and have a chat with you tomorrow evening about the Harvest Festival?”
“Yes, of course, Vicar. Is eight o’clock satisfactory for you?”
“That will do nicely, Tom. See you then.”
Tom replaced the receiver, and pursed his lips. He had ambitious plans for the Harvest Festival music. It would be of such excellence that thereafter there could be no question of allowing guitars into the Sung Eucharist.
Peter, for his part, sighed and picked up the things he needed for the House Group meeting. Why were people so resistant to change? Thank goodness for Ralph!
The House Group went particularly well that evening. There weren’t enough seats for the eighteen people who attended, and Ralph distributed cushions so those sitting on the floor could be comfortable. They were soon going to need to start a second group.
Although Ralph was the host, it was Nigel making the coffee for them that evening, and Peter joined him in the kitchen.
“The music was lively tonight, I thought,” he said.
“Yes, I enjoyed it. You gave a good Bible study, too, Peter.”
“It always goes well when people are prepared to join in.”
“Can you put some biscuits on a plate, please, Peter?”
The vicar obliged, and said, “Have you seen the attendance figures for the Sunday evening informal service, Nigel?”
“I have. They’re impressive. I went to the last service, as you know, and there was a real buzz. And most of the people there were people I didn’t recognize! The difference shows up in the offering, too. Our finances are looking better than they have done for some time.”
“Nigel, I would really like to get some of that ‘buzz’ into the Sung Eucharist. Do you think we’ll ever win Tom round to that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I, personally, would be in favour, and you’re welcome to tell Tom that if it would help. Now, we’d better take coffee through to thirsty people. Would you mind bringing in that other tray please, Peter?”
Although Nigel was often the last to leave, tonight he excused himself as early as possible. He wanted to phone Tom and it was already late in the evening.
“Hello?”
“Hi, Tom. It’s Nigel. I’m sorry to call you so late.”
“Nothing wrong, I hope?”
“No, nothing drastic, it’s just that the vicar spoke to me about having choruses in the Sung Eucharist. I have a feeling he plans to talk to you about them.”
“Ah!”
“Tom, would it really be so bad to have some of this modern stuff in the Eucharist? It’s not as though Peter wants to do away with our traditional style of worship. He wants to keep mostly classical music but have some choruses as well. The informal services are drawing people in. It would be great if we could do the same for the Eucharist!”
“Nigel, you may be keen to dilute our heritage, but I am not.”
“Tom, what are you going to do if the PCC expresses a view in favour of modern music in the service?”
“Are you threatening me, Nigel? Is that what the Vicar told you to say?”
“No, Tom, of course not! You and I have been friends for decades; you know I wouldn’t do that. But I think the vicar might ask the PCC’s opinion, and I’m just forewarning you.”
“And where will you stand, if this opinion is sought?”
“Well, I have to say, Tom, that I can see benefits from doing it, and very few downsides. I’d have to speak in favour.”
“Traitor!”
Tom slammed down the receiver and stood shaking with rage. How dare they? How dare they? All his work. All the work of generations of musicians, going for nothing!
Needless to say, his meeting with the vicar did not go well.
* * *
The weather was cloudy on the evening of the August PCC meeting.
The committee quickly completed the routine business and then the vicar rose to his feet. He was pale and tense. He knew what he was about to do and he hated it.
“Over the past few weeks, you’ve all attended at least one of the informal evening services. You’ve seen how the style of worship there is accepted and welcomed. You’ve seen that we have gained many new members and that they are actively participating in our outreach.
I’ve proposed to our Musical Director that we should experiment with a less formal style of worship in the church, not abandoning traditional music but augmenting it with some in a more modern idiom. He does not believe that this would be a good idea.
I ask him now to put his point of view to the PCC, and when he has done so I am going to ask the PCC for their decision as to how we proceed. There will be no further discussion – this issue has already done enough damage – there will simply be a vote. The choice will be do we retain purely classical music? Or do we introduce some chorus-style worship with appropriate instruments? I will abide by the result of the vote without complaint whichever way it goes. I hope that everybody else will do likewise.
Tom.”
Tom stood. He spoke of tradition. He spoke of beauty. He spoke of how the very best music could inspire the soul to look beyond the finite to the mystery of the spiritual. He was not eloquent, and yet his clumsy words were probably more powerful than eloquence. Nevertheless, it was not enough. He could see on the faces of the PCC that it was not enough.
The vote was thirteen to two against him; only Peggy had backed him. He held his face stiff and struggled not to weep.
“Then I must tender my resignation with immediate effect,” he said. From his leather music case he pulled out a smart cream envelope containing a hand-written letter. Its calligraphy was immaculate. His self-control wavered, and nearly cracked. “I cannot work in a place where my professional expertise is disregarded. I’ve spoken to Geoff. He will hold the fort until the PCC is in a position to make a permanent appointment. If you want my final recommendation, you should appoint him; he’s a fine organist and musician.”
He turned, handed the envelope to Cheryl, and walked out. As he passed her, Linda Grant stood up and went with him. “I am so sorry you feel like this,” she said, taking his hand. Gently, Tom detached her hand from his. He took out a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
“Thank you,” he said, and left.
* * *
That year, the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass was packed; people were standing at the back. The choir’s ensemble was a little less good than hitherto, but only Geoff noticed; he made a mental note to be quite sure that he recruited a deputy as soon as possible so that he could conduct whenever necessary. The music group were noisy and lively; the congregation joined in with enthusiasm.
It was the end of the service, and time for ‘O come all ye faithful’. The musical forces combined. The choir sang a descant for verse five, and, during the chorus, the flute from the music group played an obbligato. The last verse started a little more quietly. High over the melody, two trumpets sent their silver tones into the fan vaulting. Then, for the last line, Geoff used full organ, and Ralph turned up the amplification.
“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” The building shook.
* * *
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3 thoughts on “A new song

  1. Thanks for inviting me (and others) to read your story. I enjoyed this, and you captured the way the C of E works very well. My only critique is that of course the possible ‘target audience’ would be limited – but then so is mine! Many people are just so prejudiced against anything ‘religious’ or ‘churchy’ that they don’t want to know about it even in fiction. At one point, I wondered if you were also slipping in some ideas about ‘Brexit” but I decided that youweren’t – it was a story about how the C of E is indeed a Mighty Tortoise, and here, it progress has a happy (ish) ending.

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    • Hi Mari! Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. While the story is indeed about the C of E (and the Methodists), you’re right that there are overtones reminiscent of Brexit. That’s not because I wrote it with any parallel in mind, but because I took pains to make both sides of the divide decent, sympathetic people. We humans are appallingly bad at handling differences of opinion!

      Like

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