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St Andrew’s • Cheam

Craig’s letter for Summer 2020

St Andrew's Church
Revd Craig Bowman

Dear Friends

At the time of writing the lockdown is being slowly relaxed and there is the possibility that church buildings will be open soon. However what we can do in our buildings and who can access them is not at all clear and it will be a careful journey we have to make.

During the lockdown there has been more singing in our house than usual. Louise’s chorus and quartet, like all choirs, are unable to gather together to sing and have been exploring other ways of sharing together and enjoying their hobby. Whilst the quartet have not come round for their occasional rehearsals, Louise has been joining in online gatherings, singing to pre-recorded tracks and recording pieces for her chorus and, on a couple of occasions, for our weekly worship service.

When we gather again for worship it is very unlikely that initially we will be able to join in congregational hymn singing, since it is believed to provide a far greater risk of spreading the virus. This will be hard because it is one of the things that many really enjoy about our worship and it brings people together.

Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts 1674–1748

And yet, was there ever a more contentious subject than church hymns?

In some places a minister may be a bad preacher, they may wear the wrong vestments, forget the name of the baby he or she is baptising, and still be forgiven. However, if they choose the wrong hymns, select ones that nobody knows, or worse still dictate that familiar hymns should be sung to unfamiliar tunes, their position can be very precarious!

No doubt for generations people within the church have complained about ‘new hymns’ and bemoaned the loss of ‘golden oldies’, but maybe we need to remind ourselves that some of the ‘golden oldies’ we now enjoy were new hymns once! I wonder whether congregations 250 years ago complained about the new hymns of Isaac Watts and the loss of some others that were well known to them?

Whichever hymns and tunes a worship leader selects there are always going to be those who don’t appreciate his or her choices, and maybe those of us who lead worship will just have to put up with that, just as members of congregations will have to put up with the fact that ministers are not always going to choose their favourite hymns and tunes.

Most hymns are affirmations or prayers - they are not just sung as a piece of music, but as a collective declaration or prayer of the people of God. The words have sense and meaning beyond just sounding nice, and the music should help to bring out that sense. It is always worth asking, what is the author of the hymns saying here, and trying to get us/me to say? It is probably also worth considering why it is that the worship leader has included that particular hymn at that particular point in that particular service - I try very hard to select an appropriate hymn for each point of the Sunday services.

The desire to select a hymn that fits the service and a particular point in the service has remained during these months when we have been worshipping together via an audio service in our dispersed places. However the range of hymns is far more limited since we can only use those for which we can find a recording that suits our needs. It may be that in time we pick a few more hymns that are unfamiliar but perhaps we could see that as an opportunity to learn something new which may in time become one of our ‘old favourites’?

May God bless us all,
Craig Bowman

The Revd Craig Bowman is minister of St Andrew’s Cheam and Wallington United Reformed Churches