Copy deadlines meant that events in the second half of May could not be reported until July,: events in the second half of June must wait until September. The sun shone on the Society of Mary’s May Devotion, the previous two years having been cancelled. It was held at St Silas, Kentish Town, with its oddly truncated exterior yet all glorious within. There was a large congregation, larger than some I remembered pre-pandemic, with wonderful sounds from the organ loft and the choir. The setting was Mozart’s Spaurmesse. hymns sung with great gusto, as if a dam had been released. Aves resounded around the vaults. Only one tiny irritant, if services booklets have to include words that the congregation does not need, it is preferable to have the same words printed as those spoken. Fr Graeme Rowlands’ notices were, as ever, a witty highlight but overshadowed this year by two brief moments of divine serendipity. As the Deacon sang the Gospel, at the words ‘bear a son’ a baby’s cry was heard for just a second or two. At the words ‘the child will be holy,’ again a brief cry from the same child. Spines tingled.
To Kentish Town for the second time in the month. This time, the Dominican Priory, the Rosary Shrine, half a mile from St Silas’, for a concert of music by Sir James Macmillan, who was present. Music from a new CD, Consecration, by the superb Capella Nova under Alan Tavener, with Stephan Farr as organist. The Culham Motets had such moving moments and exquisite sonority that one of my companions wept at its beauty. Three other of his works, Until the Day, A Special Appeal (tragically topical with its final line, ‘I beg you, I beseech you, I order you, in the name of God: Stop the repression,’ and more optimistically, Sing joyfully to God. Rather than extol the merits of the music, buy the CD or do whatever you must with technology and hear it.
To St Dunstan in the West, set in what was once the heartland of the national press: monuments to Lord Northcliffe (Daily Mail and Daily Mirror), and J. L. Garvin, (Editor of The Observer). It was the remarkable renovations and refurbishments of the interior that were to be dedicated and the patron saint to be honoured. Much necessary, if unglamorous, work had been completed: repairs to heating, restored doors, decoration, fire detection system, new office space, PA system. But what caught the eye was the spectacular chandelier, an enormous and handsome beast filling the ceiling of the nave, that took the breath away. Stunning music: Colin Spinks (organ), Chantage, the choir under Jonathan Tyack, an outstanding sermon by St Dunstan’s near-neighbour and once Guild Vicar, Bishop Jonathan Baker, made it more memorable, for all the right reasons, than many a patronal festival.
To All Saints’ Margaret Street, and the farewell Mass for a friend of over 30 years, Fr Michael Bowie. He returns to Melbourne, Australia, his native heath, as parish priest of St Paul’s. That triumphant confection of William Butterfield’s genius that is All Saints’ never fails to overwhelm. Probably a stranger to the church, was so awe-struck that he stood at his seat in the nave, cap on head for several minutes, surveying the scene. He proceeded to wander around the church, taking photographs, stroking the pulpit, heading up the chancel steps for more snaps. My fear that he might disturb the preparatory prayers of the faithful was misplaced: many, similarly, were snapping away. Nothing could detract from the liturgy, Vierne, Messe solennelle, appropriately Verdi’s, Va pensiero from Nabucco: “Fly, my thoughts, on wings of gold; / Go settle upon the slopes and the hills, / where, soft and mild, the sweet airs / of my native land smell fragrant”. Fr Bowie bade adieu in a fine sermon and exited to the Sacristy to the jaunty strains of Sousa’s Liberty Bell March.
It was good that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not overshadow the Queen’s celebrations, by letting it be known that they would not overshadow her celebrations. Despite the Queen’s absence from most of the events, due honour was paid to a remarkable reign. One of my earliest visual memories is that of seeing the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in February 1954 on their post-Coronation tour of the country when they came to my native city and their open-topped car drove past the building where my grandfather had his office and he held me up to see them pass. It was good to see Prebendaries Houlding and Rowlands (that man again, this time uniquely sporting Curé d”Ars bands), Archdeacon Miller, and Bishop Baker of this parish all coped in procession on this most ecumenical of Anglican occasions. To begin with Parry’s anthem I was glad was splendid but why arranged by John Rutter? Vivat, vivat regina Elizabetha was not as visceral as that shouted by the Scholars of Westminster School at her coronation, but the sentiment was as true and moving. Owing to the Covid indisposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York stepped up from the substitutes bench to preach the sermon and raised a smile with his references to Her Majesty’s love of horse-racing. He was fortunate that it was the Derby run the next day, not the Ebor Handicap.