Highways and Byways of Hymns

January 1998

The Twelve Winners

THIS COLUMN CAN now exclusively reveal three things. First: in the year after next, we should enter what is called a new millennium. Second: people all over Britain have been furtively writing hymns about it. Third: the official booklet for nation-wide use will contain the following compositions.

1 Two thousand years, two thousand years. We didn’t need twelve hymns giving the number, but it could be a helpful reminder. Edmund Hamilton Sears started it all in It came upon the midnight clear with “two thousand years of wrong”, which for 1849 was cool.

2 O mother God whose fruitful womb. It was important to express feminine images of God, for the sake of other marginalised groups. To counter mutterings about “the other integrity” (the Christian faith) someone suggested adding a quaver to the tune to make it “O mother of God”, which satisfied our Orthodox friends, including the EEC – Evangelicals in Eastern Churches. However, following objections to both versions, half the selection committee resigned at this point.

3 Anno, Anno Domini. A moving three-line song, repeated fifty times, inducing prayerfulness. During proof-reading, somebody noticed that it was all in Latin: by then it was too late.

4 Guess who will show the path to go. A song with an Essex folk tune, which does not actually mention God. This makes it ideal for school assemblies and the next coronation. Half the remaining members left when this was approved.

5 The cries of littered streets and lotteries of crime. This strong Celtic text earths out our celebration in real life. It covers Eurostar, the Euro, AIDS, BSE and Manchester’s fourth runway, while courageously exposing the church’s own hypocrisy.

6 Jesus your clouds of fire have soaked this land. A Restorationist blockbuster by Ken Graham – no relation of Billy, George, or A A Milne. Its two-word refrain employs 29 bars, five key changes and a tea-break. Further resignations followed, but the minutes indicate “if we don’t print it, others will”.

7 Stars and suns shall sing Hosanna. Some tribute to the late Princess of Wales was desired; this provides a neat rhyme in line 2. Tune by Dysney Crater.

8 Thou sempiternal Potentate of Covenant Ineluctable. The Welsh evangelicals are represented here; with minor tinkering this goes to CWM RHONDDA. A line in verse thirteen caused a further 50 per cent to make their exit, pretending not to understand “whithersoever thou wouldst nor couldst”.

9 I’d love to be slimy snail who cannot tell the time. This lovely lyric by five-year old Esau Betjeman Wesley represents the next century’s generation. It also gives a voice to the liberation of our smaller, messier friends.

10 Now is the moment to number the centuries. A brilliant hymn whose first verse almost fits SLANE, the second WOODLANDS, and third, BUNESSAN. The chorus suits CRIMOND or AMAZING GRACE. We shall enjoy rhyming “energy” with “Greenwichy”. Some others left the group here, pleading burnout.

11 All we offer, all we proffer. As the Chairman was taking the corrected proofs to the printers, he realised that no hymn included the words “bread and wine”. He jotted down some lines down on his bus pass, so they just squeezed out a paraphrase of the combined 23rd, 90th and 119th Psalms.

12 O heaven help our land. A new national anthem and Christmas chart-topper. One of the two remaining members reported sick.

No; all this is confident prophecy rather than hard news. If it highlights the opportunities facing the Millennium Group, it should also alert them to the need for a biggish committee.

Christopher Idle is Associate Minster of Christ Church, Old Kent Road in the diocese of Southwark.