St Michael and All Angels Church, Bedford Park

St Michael & All Angels: Organ and Parish Rooms Appeal

Sponsored Hymnathon February 24th & 25th 2012

From Noon on Friday February 24th till 6.30pm on Saturday 25th, the complete New English Hymnal was sung to raise money for our Organ and Parish Rooms Appeal.
Back to the Hymnathon page

From the Clarion, Parish Magazine of St Michael & All Angels:

The Hymnathon by Sarah Lenton

I spent most of the hymnathon changing the hymn numbers and I’m now in a position to say that Norman Shaw, the designer of our hymn number boards, never changed a hymn number in his life. The slit in the frame is on the left, which means that when you wish to change 214 to 215 (say) you have to take out all the numbers before you can swap the 4 and 5. I got quite bitter about it. Fortunately some of the tallest men in the parish took over for an hour or two, (Peter Wolton, Oliver Stirling, Meredydd Howells) and one of the smallest (Joshua Wilson aged 2) who helped me choose the numbers. Margaret Stonborough appeared below, as the sands ran out, to field number cards as the tiny psalms that make up 528-540 began to flash past at lightning speed. 

It was the most splendid event. What struck me most was the unwearied good humour of the choir and their organists, the imaginative provision of pineapple and orange sections at the back (donated by Andreas in the Terrace), and the number of people who came for 10 minutes and stayed hours.

From my eyrie I saw people coming in from the pub (one bloke brought his dog – it joined in Jerusalem), parents and toddlers dropping in after Saturday shopping, the succession of St Michael’s regulars, spare choirs, and a couple of lads who wanted to sing but had never got their heads round a hymn book. “How do you know which song comes next?” They asked our chap on the door. “They’re called hymns” he said, showing them where we were, “and they’ve got numbers at the top which are called hymn numbers...” “Oh, I’ve often wondered what those numbers were...” That was jolly salutary, I’ve always assumed that knowing the English Hymnal was embedded in one’s DNA.

My favourite moment was at 2.30am when the choir decided to stage an impromptu procession round the church. Off they went on a figure of 8, singing harvest hymns, their sole audience me and Kevin Wilson – and Vicky Brooke who’d crept off for a kip, doubtless to escape the We plough the fields and scatter, found that wretched ditty coming nicely through the floor of the Michael Room. Shortly after that Amanda Bradley appeared, warmly dressed in pyjamas and carrying her breakfast into the choir stalls. I’ve never seen a devout Anglo Catholic bow before the altar before while holding coffee and a couple of Brownies...

The servers turned out in force for their slot (11-12 on Saturday morning). I think we were all surprised at how big some of the team are en masse – John Howard, Ian Flatman, Mark Critchlow, Sion HighesCarew, Andrew Jordan (young Holly looked tiny amongst them) – and what an impressive blast of sound we make. We exited on ‘O Worship the King’ and realising we’d missed our favourite, returned at once for ‘Onward Christian Soldiers!’ sung with such brio that I imagine that the musicians in church were not sorry to see us clear off to the pub.

‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ reminds me what a marvellous treasury of half-forgotten hymns the English Hymnal contains. Everything from the swinging processionals, to knotty theology in the Office hymns, limpid lyrics from the 18th century (stand forward William Cowper) and those fantastic Victorian translators, J M Neale of course, but Athelstan Riley provided some excellent moments. I think we all looked forward to the hymns that tried  yet again to find a rhyme for God (‘trod’ ‘rod’ and a carefully placed ‘sod’ about sums it up) and the last section, 500- 542 was practically the best of all. The choir, who had been singing together for 30 hours, were now acting as one musical unit. The plainsong and the sequences were complete magic and Father Kevin brought the whole thing to a close with an inspired request that we all sung the very last section – and Agnus Dei – on our knees, as a fitting prayer to end an epic.

From the Parish Magazine of St Nicholas Church in Chiswick:

Singing The New English Hymnal by Christabel Ames-Lewis

Twenty five years ago, in February 1987, they made history at St Michael and All Angels, Bedford Park, by singing right through The New English Hymnal without a stop. The event was in celebration of the hymnal, first published in 1906, and reissued in revised form in 1986. It wasn’t only the congregation and choir in Bedford Park who sang in this marathon; other groups joined in to take shifts, including St Nics choir, led by our then Director of Music, Peter Beaven, who played for the two hours that the choir sang.

Well, last month, twenty five years on, from 12 noon on Friday 24 February to 6.30pm the next day, the same feat was repeated, organised once again by Oliver West, to raise funds for the new organ which St Michael’s and All Angels has commissioned to replace their inadequate and deteriorating instrument. The response from Chiswick was magnificent; people and businesses flocked to support the ‘Hymnathon’, both by going to sing – as individuals or as part of school or local choirs – and by making donations. The singing marathon was a huge success and the target sum was surpassed.

Going along on the Saturday morning, while my husband was singing, I thought I’d just sit and listen for a bit, unsure what I would make of this strange exercise. The moment I walked into the church I was struck by the sense of uplift and joy, as Charles Wesley’s great ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ rang out round the building. It was extraordinary. I found I just had to join in and sing along; there was no resisting it. From now on whenever we sing a hymn from number 408 to 420, I’m sure I shall remember how it felt to sing it at the Hymnathon.

Coming home I looked at The New English Hymnal anew. We are so used to it, with its green cover, that you, like me, may not give it much thought Sunday by Sunday, as we turn to the numbers given out. I’ve just read the preface to the 1986 edition for the first time and have admired once more the scope of the collection, as it takes us through the Christian Year, Times and Seasons, the Sacraments, the Church and People, as well as providing a large number of General Hymns and a Liturgical section.

Then I turned to the index of authors, and there I was reminded of our debt to poets and preachers through the ages, among them Thomas Ken, George Herbert, F.W. Faber, John Keble, John Henry Newman, Percy Dearmer (one of the editors in 1906) and above all Charles Wesley. I was intrigued to see that John Mason Neale, founder of the Society of St Margaret, of St Mary’s Convent and Nursing Home here in Chiswick, has even more hymns in the collection than Wesley ! And it is thanks to Ralph Vaughan Williams, the first musical editor, that the standard of new settings and arrangements of old tunes was, and remains, so high.

In his welcome to the Hymnathon, Fr Kevin Morris quoted St Augustine of Hippo: ‘Whoever sings, prays twice’. It certainly felt like that at the Hymnathon. I came away with renewed interest in The New English Hymnal.