23 January 2010

Hymns

Yesterday, a murky rain-soaked Friday, we went to a funeral. It was for Shirley's Uncle Arthur who had just passed his eighty third birthday. This man lived and worked all his life in the north Nottinghamshire village of Misterton, apart from a brief period between 1949/51 when he completed his National Service - travelling to such faraway places as Jordan, Egypt and Palestine. He was a machine fitter and gave forty eight years of his working life to the same small engineering company during which time he and his late wife Madge raised a family of five daughters.

There were three phases to the funeral. Firstly, the cremation at the Woodlands Crematorium in Scunthorpe, then a memorial service at Misterton's imposing Methodist church and finally a social gathering or wake in the social club attached to Arthur's old engineering works. A poignant discovery was that Arthur's wake would be the very last event to be held in the social club which is due for demolition next week. He had been there at its inception and for many years was the club's secretary and chief steward.

Misterton Methodist Church

At the crematorium we sang the rousing "Abide With Me" by Henry Francis Lyte (1793 - 1947), a hymn which is always sung on FA Cup Final day followed by "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" by William Williams (1717-91) with the familiar first verse ending:-

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven

Feed me now and evermore

Feed me now and evermore

Two emotional and memorable hymns that everybody felt comfortable singing. Then on through the January gloom to Misterton.

In the chapel, the grim reverend preacher was dressed like a vicar from Dickens. His loud and superior enunciation cut you like a knife as he gazed superciliously over his horn-rims. The prayers and the blessing were delivered without any illumination from the light of the Lord but like bitter instructions to a firing squad. During one of the hymns, he seemed utterly detached even bored, polishing his spectacles then adjusting his microphone while peering from his wooden Victorian pulpit under the organist's even loftier perch. However, the hymns were once again worth singing - old and familiar.

Praise my soul the King of heaven!
To his feet his tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven
Who like me his praise should sing?
Praise him! Praise him!
Praise him! Praise him!

Praise the everlasting King! (again by Henry Lyte)

And the final hymn by John Ellerton (1826-1893) - "The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended":-

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren 'neath the western sky
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high

The hymns were well-chosen for singing goodbye to Arthur. A couple of them I hadn't sung since, at the age of fourteen, I resigned as a choirboy from our local church. Strange how the tunes came back to me straightaway - as if they were imprinted in my genetic program. Those hymns emerged from a God-fearing world in which churches were filled on Sundays and few doubted the creed that said there was a better world beyond this if you could just learn to be good and live a pious life. But Arthur will know no other life. His heaven was here on earth with his wife, daughters, grandchildren, friends and workmates. Why would you want it any other way?

5 comments:

  1. I am not familiar with the last hymn, but I do know the other three. The American ending of that verse of "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" is

    Feed me 'til I want no more;
    Feed me 'till I want no more.


    Hearing about Uncle Arthur's being at the club's inception and then at its demise reminded me for some strange reason of Mark Twain being born with Halley's Comet and dying with Halley's Comet.

    Pity about the vicar. Shame ono him!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I meant "on" not "ono" which reminds me of Apollo Ono, one of our repeat Winter Olympians. My fingers operate the keyboard with a mind of their own, apparently.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ironically you could have sung 'You're not fit to wear the cassock' to the tune of "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah"!

    Now that would have brought the house down at the church never mind the wake venue...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I used to sing in the church choir - I know just what you mean about the words coming back!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't like the words, but on the rare occasions I find myself attending a church service (and as a confirmed atheist, they are very rare), I rather enjoy the singing and the rythyms of the collects. I like church buildings too. It's just that religion stuff...

    ReplyDelete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.