Highways and Byways of Hymns

Of Breakfasts and Baptists

Full English breakfast served all day, says the sign on the pavement. See through the window the egg-and-bacon enthusiasts polishing off their porridge or tucking into toast and marmalade. It’s fast approaching 4.30pm!

So where’s the problem? Air travel makes eating routines more flexible; mealtimes are not yet governed by euro-directive, and I may yet be tempted to join the breakfasters at a simply wicked hour. Such thoughts flit through the brain as my fingers find the hymn which has just been announced, that gloriously affirmative No 229, Jesus Christ is risen today. No problem here either – except that today is the Third Sunday in Lent.

Double exposure

Good Catholics like ourselves can benefit enormously by joining a non-liturgical congregation, at least for a time, not necessarily at the cost of abandoning the Real Thing. The times may vary enough to allow double exposure. Choose the right dissenting conventicle with proper hymnals, and we can share their fine singing, listen to uncensored Scripture reading and hear some unapologetic preaching. We give as well as receive; our presence is warmly welcomed; we may even get converted!

The downside is that you have to live with the All Day Breakfast mode of choosing hymns. Even more extreme than a mid-Lent Easter was our mid-Easter Christmas; while surrounding parish churches were still revelling in their alleluias, we dutifully found No 166. That, we discovered, was ‘Christians, awake, salute the happy morn’, and I am not making this up. We were away at Ascensiontide, but returned in some trepidation on Trinity Sunday, fearing we might be required to sing ‘We three kings’. No, it’s not in the book.

Even a temporary change of Sunday culture has many bonuses. In new surroundings you appreciate what you discover; even more, perhaps, you value what you have left behind. There is after all something about breakfast, a breaking of the fast, which tastes decidedly better in the morning. Rather than saying what a shame it is that some hymns get wheeled out only once a year, it gains added piquancy when Palm Sunday, or Maundy Thursday, is the only possible day to sing it.

Excellent sufficiency

Is it too much to expect dual attendance, even for a while? For many, yes. The family may rebel. You may be the vicar. But the white-robed army of Nigerians round the corner enjoys its five hours on Sunday and several more mid week. A century or so back, two or three services would be normal for many. Why, when I was a lad, etc. So I close, as the preacher says, by recalling one Saturday in June just gone, with its four happy hours at two back-to-back services totalling 18 hymns.

One was a Methodist bonanza commemorating a life of 96 years; the Fred Pratt Green Thanksgiving. You are relieved to hear that the large choir was in the sound hands of a Cathedral Precentor and Abbey Sacristan. At the keyboard sat a Minster organist; in the pews, an orthodox Bishop and Canon.

The second service, a brisk walk away, celebrated a mere decade; the 10th birthday of the Cornhill Training Course which now operates across the road from our Diocesan HQ – just to show them, as it were. Sermon by a Prebendary.

I declare my interest, since my main work is divided between time Pratt Green Trust (hymn research) and the Cornhill course, with whose students I study the Bible on Tuesdays and hear sermons on Fridays. At the end of the day, we are all on the same side. And at the end of the day, I go home to my cornflakes.

Christopher Idle finds nourishment in the Diocese of Southwark.