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‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby


For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’  was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton who used their considerable talent and insight to comprehensively demolish the pretensions of the ‘establishment’ as part of the satire boom which also produced the still surviving magazine ‘Private Eye’. As such it was part of the movement which destroyed ‘deference’, one of the elements which has changed the Church of England over the past half century and more as identified by the authors of this entertaining book and which has contributed to its current existential crisis, where lack of direction, different visions of the future, ham-fisted leadership and illusory expectations combine both to alienate the Church from the people and offer most people nothing which will sustain them outside the material world in which most live these days.


Andrew Brown is a distinguished journalist, well known for his writings in both the Guardian and the Spectator, not the most likely of bedfellows. His press column in the Church Times is where I turn first when I get my weekly copy. Linda Woodhead joined the staff of a theological college and was so appalled by what she saw that, in order to understand what was happening, she retrained as a sociologist of religion and now spends a lot of time telling the Church things it doesn’t want to hear and getting scarce thanks for it.


One of the temptations when reading a book of joint authorship is to try and discern who has written what. Here it’s quite difficult. What unites the book is a rather racy style which may well emanate from the journalist in Andrew Brown. The exposure of the outrageous, hypocritical and mendacious behaviour of church people, both lay and ordained, alongside the cool statistical and sociological analysis makes for an entertaining romp while at the same time painting a picture of a Church in deep and probably terminal crisis. Indeed it’s really necessary to read this book twice, in order to separate out the two elements and in order to appreciate the depth to which the Church has sunk.


The book has much in common with ‘A Church at War’ by Stephen Bates, published in 2004, covering much of the same ground, in particular the disastrous Lambeth Conference of 1998. Conservative evangelicals, amply funded and prepared for by US money and manpower simply out gunned and out manoeuvred the more liberal and inclusive Anglicanism of previous generations when, with their African and third world allies, largely bankrolled by US dollars, they pushed through the notorious resolution Lambeth 1.10, which, along with ‘Issues’ has become the touchstone of ‘orthodoxy’ amongst too many Anglican leaders across the worldwide Communion. The farcical scene of the Revd Richard Kirker being exorcised of his homosexuality by an African Bishop only underlined the sense that this had been a coordinated and authorised lynching of gay people within the church.


It’s a pity though that the book seems to stop not much after the installation and the first year or so of Justin Welby’s episcopate. There is nothing about the Church’s reaction to civil partnerships or same sex marriage and the quadruple lock it engineered in parliament to save it from the embarrassment of having to itself prohibit same sex marriage. There is nothing about the disastrous ‘Valentine’s Day Statement’ or indeed the cack-handed reactions of Bishops to the fact of same sex marriage amongst the clergy and their indifference to the laity who wish for the Church’s blessing on their own marriages.


Surrounding this is much anecdote and informed gossip, which makes the book such a romp. (I would love to know what led to the first printing having to be pulped because of the threat of libel action. Just who is it who didn’t want their words or actions disclosed?) The hypocrisy of too many church people, the don’t ask don’t tell culture which gradually became an authorised intrusion into the private lives of honourable men and women, and the compromised and temporising behaviour of too many closeted gay men (and they are almost all men) both clerical and lay was and is a betrayal of all that Anglicanism and especially the Church of England is supposed to stand for.


Two Archbishops particularly get it in the neck. George Carey, chosen by Mrs Thatcher because she liked the alternative even less, presided and connived at Lambeth 1998. Having already decreed that there would never be another bishop like David Jenkins, he presided over an ineffectual so called ‘Decade of Evangelism’ which sent clergy scurrying around for good ideas to get more bums on seats and had no effect whatsoever. Rowan Williams, a good man, perhaps the most spiritual Archbishop the Church has produced for at least two generations and more, chose to put unity before truth, betrayed his friend and his principles. Having failed to prevent exactly the division he feared he retired with relief from the fray, leaving behind an even more fractured, unhappy and divided church; the sacrifice of his friends being to no avail in the end after all.


Alongside this is perhaps the more interesting though more difficult discussion of what went wrong. Church attendance has been declining for the past century and more and no one seems to know what to do about it. Linda Woodhead identifies four linked causes, all basically related to the changes in the society in which the Church is supposed to witness.


Firstly is the decline of deference or paternalism; the idea that there is someone above you who deserves your respect and to whom you instinctively defer. In a society where the individual is king and everyone’s views are equal to everyone else’s, authority figures lose their place. This can be seen in politics and other areas of civic life as well as in the Church. Moreover, against the moralising trend of much of the Church, western peoples have made up their own minds on the issues of the day such as divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same sex relationships and abortion and the strictures of clerics have had little effect. Linda Woodhead seems to ascribe this decline to societal changes in the 1970s and the onset of Thatcherism and the politics of self-interest. I think it goes back much further, to at least the First World War and the bloody sacrifice of the working class soldiery by their political and military masters. Such attitudes also flourished after the trauma of World War 2 was abating; teenagers, teddy boys and then the satire movement all helped. Who can forget the scornful laughter when the judge asked the jury at the Lady Chatterley trial whether this was a book which their wives and servants should read? Or indeed Alan Bennett’s sermon in Beyond the Fringe, text ‘Now Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man’ and the immortal line ‘Life is like a tin of sardines, you are always looking for the key’. This was rather too near the bone to be dismissed lightly.


Secondly, the Church has become increasingly cut off from wider society. The parson is no longer the ‘person’. The more the belief of the religious becomes separated from the society in which it finds itself the more such belief and practice is alien to the majority. Over the years much of the church has become more strident in what it demands in the way of belief. This is particularly evident in churches following the conservative evangelical line and amongst some traditional Anglo Catholics too. Holy Trinity Brompton with its enormously popular (though debatably effective in the longer term) Alpha franchise is an example where commitment and the direct debit might appeal to certain elements amongst the white middle classes and students, but which many find alienating precisely because of its requirement to sign up to its own creeds.


The third element which Linda identifies is ‘theology’ which she defines as ‘how you explain what you are doing, both to yourself and to others’. She doesn’t go into much detail, preferring to say that this is the least important of the three elements she identifies. But I think that this is crucial and I wonder why Linda relegates it to the also ran. My personal view is that it is impossible to be a conventional Christian in the 21st century and that agnosticism is the only honest approach. There is a dichotomy there which should be acknowledged. Scripture and the prayer book contain some lovely language and I believe that Choral Evensong is one of the highest art forms yet devised. But I have to ask what does it mean? Do we honestly believe what the words of the Creed mean? (I always think that it better to sing the Creed as the words take one naturally over the more difficult bits) What is salvation? Indeed what is ‘sin’ apart from a fairly obvious attempt at social control inherent in the Judeo/Christian heritage? In an age lacking deference how can God be the big man in the sky, usually angry and always judgemental? How on earth does anyone of any sensibility believe that the death of Christ on the cross is designed to avert God’s anger from us? ‘Cosmic child abuse’ said Steve Chalke, who instantly became a persona non grata amongst his fellow evangelicals. I almost fell out with a friend on Facebook recently who, attending Evensong for the first time in years, queried why the violent words of a certain psalm set for the day could be used. My attempts to explain history and context failed. Now my friend is the same age as me and has been through the same sort of educational process, but he honestly ‘doesn’t get it’, and indeed why should he?


Fourthly and perhaps as importantly as all the others, is the loss of women. Women have kept the church going, they always have. Away from the high politics of the men it was always the women who kept the show on the road, not only keeping the place clean, organising fetes and sales of work but also in working for the church as missionaries, church workers, teachers, in health care, with children and the vulnerable. They also prayed.


Two things happened. Firstly the welfare state, for which the church had argued and largely supported, removed many of these roles from church affiliation and were secularised. (The same happened with religious orders too of course.) Alongside this, as more and more women entered the workplace so the time and opportunity they might have had for extensive voluntary work became more limited.


Secondly was the battle over women priests and then bishops. The polarization this brought within the Church is difficult to underestimate. While polling showed that there were large majorities within the laity for the ordination of women, for years the activists in synod blocked any movement. While women came to participate fully in social and civic life; so the Church often cruelly and cynically kept them marginalised. The denigration of women was sometimes extreme. I remember being in a disreputable gay bar near London Bridge Station twenty years ago listening to leather clad gay clergy describe their ordained fellow women clergy with contempt and hatred. The result is that the church has lost the next generation of women. Those who remain have failed to bring their daughters and grand-daughters with them. The consequences are extremely serious.


Alongside this is the clericalisation of the Church and the exclusion of the laity from any sort of meaningful participation in the governance of the church by the undemocratic and unrepresentative structures of the Synod. We now have a caste of Bishops lacking vision and indeed theology, whose main aim seems to be to keep the lid on the boiling pot. They cannot act either prophetically or in any progressive way, fearful of leadership because of their fear of the strident opposition of the small minority, and who thus fail to do what they know to be right.


What is to be done? The authors describe some of the attempts made over the years, all to no avail. Carey’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’ along with what they describe as his ‘voodoo’ management changes seems only to be replicated in our current decade by the arch-managerialist Justin Welby. There is no evidence at all that importing discredited management techniques from the oil industry coupled with the development plans which every congregation and diocese is clearly under pressure to devise and implement, will have any effect whatever. The inevitable failure will only further the alienation of the faithful. Furthermore there is no evidence that plans to massively increase the number of the ordained will have anything like the effect desired either, whatever that is.


The majority of the English now have no religion. This doesn’t mean that concepts of spirituality have disappeared. The authors make the very good point that practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and Tai Chi are now part of everyday life. Numbers studying religion in schools have rocketed. It is organised religion to which so many are hostile and it is organised religion, as shown in our own Church of England which has lost the English people. Those who would do something about it seem to be planning to turn the Church into a sort of well managed HTB sect. In doing so they will kill it off forever.



That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People. Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead. Bloomsbury 2016

“The Church of England still seemed an essential part of Englishness, and even of the British state, when Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979. The decades which followed saw a seismic shift in the foundations of the C of E, leading to the loss of more than half its members and much of its influence. In England today religion has become a toxic brand, and Anglicanism something done by other people. How did this happen? Is there any way back?”



I am indebted to Richard Ashby for this review. He was formerly Head of Libraries and Archives in Bath and North East Somerset. He now lives outside Chichester and is active in the Cathedral there. He is a lifelong member of the Church of England but has spent much of that life clinging on by his fingertips.



Rediscovering The Psalms In Our Churches: David Lee


How long, O Lord, will we forget?

We all know the theory. That all scripture is inspired by God for teaching truth and for refuting error, so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Those of us from evangelical or non-conformist traditions place a very high emphasis on the supremacy of scripture. While most of scripture is basically God speaking his message to us, the Psalms by contrast are the very model of our imperfect message to him: of Christian worship, praise and intercession.

But when we plan our routine weekly service patterns and when we debate our choices of hymnbooks and songbooks for our churches, is our uppermost thought how we can use scripture’s own such resource, the Psalms?

What fraction of our churches today make a conscious effort to sing from the Psalms in some form, any form, in all their variety, on a planned, weekly basis? The typical local church in recent decades seems almost entirely to have let slip their systematic use: an alarming contradiction penetrating right to the heart of the life, worship and mission of our churches, which ought to worry us profoundly.

Why are Psalms no longer regularly sung in today’s churches?

Why do Christians, who love singing hymns and songs, so astonishingly fail to use scripture’s own provision? On those occasions when we do use the Psalms, is not our choice heavily biased towards the “nice” ones, those of obvious and overt praise and worship, the “triumphalistic tendency”? What about those of anguish and despair, which so naturally reflect our human condition? Despite our ideals of theology, our experience is often of the perceived absence of God, a dichotomy which the Psalms directly and realistically acknowledge and address.

In the English language the texts of the Psalms, whatever the translation, are in irregular patterns. They do not marry well with any of the sorts of music we encounter day by day, whose patterns are almost always regular, whether baroque or hard rock, classical or country, symphony or soundtrack.

The Psalms have come down through the ages to us in words-only form. We have no original music. But this is to our advantage: it gives us the opportunity to create a vehicle of direct relevance to our own expressions of praise, despair, frustration and worship. Yet still we try to be “churchy” even with these most human scriptures, the Psalms, wanting organists and chant forms which are respectively unavailable and culturally alien. When the pious-music bathwater has drained away, we find the Psalm baby has gone.

How may the Psalms be recovered in our local churches?

If we are to own the Psalms, we need to root their use firmly in our own cultures. For our western society we therefore need to consider versions of the texts and styles of music that are congruent to our own literature, poetry and theatre and even to magazines, television, cinema and video.

If they are to be recovered as part of our regular, weekly pattern of gathered worship, we need to recognise and respond to their variety. This requires a large number of tunes. It would clearly be a Herculean and impractical task for a small congregation to learn an entire new setting each week, but it is vital that the typical congregation usually take some active part in the Psalm singing.

Most of our churches today are quite small; their musical resources are limited. A responsorial form of psalm singing gives the congregation a short, highly singable and quickly teachable tune as a refrain. The singers and instrumentalists handle the more intricate work of the verses, learned in their regular practices. This form effectively employs the complementary strengths of each party.

The settings given here are specifically intended for the modest resources of the small church, for the average church pianist, organist or guitarist and a singer leading the congregation. Of course much larger resources may be used if available. They are unashamedly biased towards music-group rather than organ and four-part choir. That said, most can be adapted to many styles to suit local resources.


Copyright © David Lee, 1998


David Lee (b. 1956) was brought up in Didsbury, Manchester, and sketched his first hymn-tune while at primary school. He has been active in church music since his early teens, accompanying the local Crusader (now “Urban Saints”) youth group, and playing the piano and organ at All Hallows Church, Cheadle, Cheshire. During summer months in 1975 and 1976, he was Abbey Musician at Iona Abbey, which provided a sharp contrast to, and widened outlook from, his earlier largely conservative-evangelical background.

While an undergraduate at Durham (1975-78) he was a founder of the music team at St. Nicholas Church under its vicar, George Carey. Following a postgraduate year at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (M.Sc., Computing Science) he returned to Durham to work in the University’s Computing Service, and rejoined St. Nicholas where he later became deputy leader of the music group…

…In 1995 the family settled at St. John’s Church, Nevilles Cross, Durham, where these strands and ideas of writing were actively encouraged and began weaving together. In particular these included recovering the psalms (which, worryingly, are almost entirely lost to corporate evangelical and charismatic worship) in ways sympathetic to music-groups and small churches, but still teachable with minimal liturgical intrusion, week by week.

In 1998, he was invited to present a paper Top-down or bottom-up: restoring the balance to the World Church Music Symposium in London, pleading for a recognition of the importance both of the “small church” and also of a range of music for all churches.

Following that, he was invited to join the Durham Diocesan Liturgical Committee music subgroup (and the local RSCM education group) where he is fostering a short course to give “small church” musicians a basic confidence-building grounding in music for worship.

David is a member of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and from 2007 is serving on its executive committee. He was also an early encourager of the Christian Songwriting Organisation email group.

Various periodicals (e.g. Deo magazine, Stainer & Bell’s Worship Live and MWF’s Sing a New Song) take some of his settings from time to time. Recent entries in the St. Paul’s Cathedral Millennium Hymn Competition and RSCM competitions have been highly placed. More formally, he has had tunes published in Stainer & Bell’s Sound Bytes and was among the major contributors to the Methodist Wesley Music for the Millennium project. In 2006, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod published his new tune Elvet Banks in their new hymnal. In 2011 the Methodist Church published four tunes of his tunes in the new Singing the Faith hymn book and in 2012 the combined Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and Reformed Church in America (RCA) published seven tunes in their Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.

David Owen Norris: Master of Music, Communicator and Enthuser

Prayerbook: An Oratorio about Tradition and Change

First things first. If you love music, if you love Cranmer’s Prayer Book, if you love the Church of England, I urge you to make a pilgrimage to Romsey Abbey in Hampshire on the evening of 14 September, where you are in for a treat:

my Oratorio-with-a-Difference, Prayerbook. It features a Calypso sung by the Choristers of New College Oxford, and a comedy Fugue sung by the top Barber-Shop Quartet Over-the-Bridge, to words from the back of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer about who you’re not allowed to marry, beginning ‘A man may not marry his grandfather’s wife’. The Waynflete Singers, one of the best choirs in the country, will be accompanied by glittering brass and percussion, by the mighty Romsey organ, and by the prize-winning Navarra String Quartet. The international operatic baritone Peter Savidge is the soloist.

The piece has its serious moments too, of course – it begins with a thought-provoking phrase from 1549: ‘There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted’. At which point the chorus Hisses – the first time this effect has been used.

David Owen Norris

Second things second – is it possible you do not already know of  David Owen Norris? Born in 1953, he studied music at Keble College, Oxford where he was organ scholar; he is now an Honorary Fellow of the college After leaving Oxford, he studied composition, and worked at the Royal Opera House as a repetiteur. As a pianist, he has accompanied soloists such as Dame Janet BakerLarry Adler and John Tomlinson , and his solo career has included appearances at the Proms and performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He has also presented several radio series (his Playlist Series for BBC Radio 4 has recently finished its second series). He has also presented for television, and appeared in a number of television documentaries. He is a professor at the Royal College of Music and also teaches at the University of Southampton, where he is Head of Keyboard.He has also been Gresham Professor of Music and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music (having earlier been a student there). You can read about his career in more detail on his website here.

St Swithun, David Owen Norris and Me

I first had the privilege of meeting David Owen Norris in 2010 when the Lay Worship Leaders of Andover Deanery united to offer a service of our joint devising on St Swithun’s Day, 15th July. David, who lives in the area of the Deanery, kindly agreed to be our Music Director. With exquisite skill, he turned the offerings of a local hymn writer into something that scanned and had real meaning and jollied us all -possessed of only accidental musical talent, if at all, into a team (in other words, he directed much more than the music).

Each lay worship leader took a different aspect of St Swithun’s life – I was responsible for the saint’s remains:

St  Swithun was buried, at his own request, in a simple grave outside the west door of the Saxon church in Winchester so that ‘passers-by might tread on his grave, and where the sweet rain of heaven might fall on it’. In so doing, he unconsciously started a trend. The Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan, famously built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his favourite wife, but his second favourite scored a moral victory in the long run when, in writing her own epitaph, she said:

‘Let nought but the green grass cover the grave of Jahanara, For grass is the fittest covering for the tomb of the lowly’.

And in the 19th century Christina Rossetti wrote:

‘Be the green grass above me with showers and dewdrops wet; And if thou wilt, remember; and if thou wilt, forget.’

It is interesting that the word humility derives, as St Thomas Aquinas points out, from humus, the earth which is beneath us. According to legend, the monks first tried to move the body of St Swithun inside the old Minster some nine years after his death but, when the heavens opened for forty days in succession, the body was returned to the original resting place outside…

Attempt to update a Wesleyan hymn

When I rashly and ill-advisedly attempted to produce an updated version of Wesley’s hymn ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ (Love divine, all loves embracing), I equally rashly thought to ask David for his views. He was kind, he was gentle, but he was adamant. Replying by email, I think to spare my blushes, he gave a reasoned critique which included the unassailable remark:

I think great hymns are as much works of art as Shakespeare’s Sonnets –  and we wouldn’t ‘improve’ them, or tweak them to fit our own preferences.

No. Quite. Lesson learned.

Back to the ‘Prayerbook’ Oratorio

I hope very much you will be able to join us in Romsey Abbey. But if an immoveable physical object such as the Atlantic Ocean makes your presence unlikely, then I urge you to read more about the work on David’s website.

Organists and Churches

Those who have been following the discussion about the relationship between organists and ministers may like to see two posts in particular from Dr Huw Clayton’s blog: ‘Organists’, from 23 August 2010, and  ‘Organists and Churches‘ of today, 23 June 2011, which comments on the discussion on these pages:

…Of particular interest is the suggestion that clergy, lay readers and all relevant musicians should actually meet to discuss the liturgy and theme for a service, then try to match the music to it. I’ve been to a number of meetings like that, and they can work.

However, there are snags. They begin when there is no incumbent in the church, or when the incumbent has about six churches (and yes, I do play in a benefice where the incumbent has six churches) and therefore cannot pick the music for all of them except on rare occasions. It then devolves onto whoever is willing and able to do it – that might be the organist, lay reader, choirmaster, even the churchwarden. Moreover, under such circumstances the incumbent doesn’t always have time to decide on a ‘theme’, and you have to second-guess from the lectionary as to what it might be…

It’s rather sad that there is such a clash of egos in so many places that prevents systems like this from working. Perhaps the best way forward is simply to talk more often in a bid to gain mutual trust and respect – with or without full-blown meetings. And if that can’t be arranged, then really, the question should be asked as to whether the organist is right for that church – with or without the desperate shortage of organists at the moment.

(Do follow the hyperlink to read the whole article)

The illustration, which is mine, is by M V Plante, via Flickr and issued under Creative Commons Licence

The Lectionary, Music and Words: The Via Media

‘Mad Priest’ is not so mad after all
The Revd Jonathan Hagger may call himself mad, but he knows a hawk from a handsaw and (despite his tease) a tart from a Tartar. Maybe he is ‘but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly’ he seems to me to have the wisdom of Solomon himself.

As I read Kathryn Rose’s beautifully expressed piece on the point of view of the organist, I saw my own problems with ‘Drisella‘ in quite a different light. She may have been a tiresome woman (she was) but I do begin to see the situation from her standpoint.

Our not-so-mad priest identified in the comments on Kathryn Rose’s post that the problem was chiefly one of communication, together with a little good will.

… the ideal way to plan the music of a church is for the worship leader, organist (or whatever) and, if there is one, the leader of the choir, to come together to decide on the hymns. The worship leader is usually word orientated and meeting together allows a greater number of hymn texts to be used because the musicians will be able to suggest tunes that they and the congregation know when the set tune for a hymn is unknown or just plain bad. At these meetings the worship leader can explain the theme he or she wants to dominate the service (which may be different to the recommended theme). Then I believe it to be good manners for the worship leader to allow the musicians to choose any anthems etc…Both worship leaders and musicians must never lose sight of the fact that they are doing it for the congregation which, if they are not pleased, will not bother turning up again.

This dollop of common sense needs to be circulated to every parish church in the land, in my opinion.

Of course, knowing what the answer is is not the same as being able to apply it. But it is a start.

Thank-you, Jonathan.

The Organist’s View

Note by Laura Sykes, Lay Anglicana.
In response to my post called ‘Can Lay Worship Leaders and Organists Make Music Together‘  I invited the organist, Kathryn Rose, to submit her reactions in the form of a guest post on this blog. She too has a blog, The Artsy Honker.

I am an organist. I think I have a good working relationship with my vicar. For our choir, as well as for my organ-playing skills, it would be inappropriate and unrealistic to choose music on a week-by-week basis depending on what the vicar has decided to preach on. I draw up a music list a month in advance and send it to the vicar, we have a chat about what is required and debate whether there need to be changes. That certainly diminishes any sense of being a human juke-box. I’ve been given a great deal of freedom in some areas, but I remain conscious that the incumbent really does have the last word. I bear in mind that this also means he bears any responsibility for things which turn out to be grossly inappropriate! I’m new to this parish as well as to the instrument and I do value the vicar’s advice as well as acknowledging his legal position as the one with whom the buck must stop. In turn he recognises that I have far more musical training and experience than he has (even if I am relatively new to playing the organ) and does not ask for the impossible or disparage my musical ideas, and that goes a long way toward me being happy to be flexible on some things. I try to be generous, and so does he, and it seems to work out.

I am fortunate in that the vicar does have musical taste that is similar enough to mine that I am not often asked to play something I loathe, and that we understand each other fairly well in theological terms. I am sure that in a parish with a very evangelical worship style I would be deeply unhappy! Context is very important. Similarly, in some contexts it might be appropriate for the minister to choose hymns the day before, based on the sermon — though I suspect that is rare and that in many places where this is routinely done the quality of the liturgy suffers because the musicians have not had adequate preparation time.

I think a lot of friction between ministers and organists is due to unrealistic expectations on either side, not recognising the reality of the resources available or the needs of the congregation.

For me, this is a labour of love, and a ministry. I am doing work that is liturgically important, theologically important, having had no formal theological training. I am responsible, to a degree, for pastoral leadership of the choir though I have no formal pastoral training. My musical training (which started in childhood) was not paid for by the good old C of E the way most ordained ministers’ theological training is, my work as an organist prevents me taking more lucrative work elsewhere, both because of the specific times and because of the ten to twenty hours per week I put into parish work. I am paid on a per service basis for playing, but it is very much an honorarium, and my impression is that this is the case in most parish churches. There are many places where the organist comes in and “makes a fist of it” while working a full-time day job (and in some cases this is appropriate — again, context is everything!), but that doesn’t really change the fact that there are a good number of organists for whom this work is a vocation, not a job, and who apply considerable professional and personal resources to serving God through leading the choir and congregation in musical aspects of worship.

So, being an organist can be a ministry, and it can be a lonely one. I am blessed to have a good working relationship with my vicar, but I know there are ministers who somehow cannot take an organist’s ministry seriously. The congregation I work with is mostly supportive — there will always, always be people who complain about any music they “don’t know”, but I also get positive feedback, which helps a lot. Sadly that is not the case everywhere. The choir are small but mighty and they are absolutely wonderful in terms of trusting my leadership and encouraging one another, which is absolutely crucial as most of them do not read music at all; I have known of choirs which undermine rather than support their organists, or situations where someone in the choir will try to play the vicar and organist off against one another. I can easily see how in a less supportive situation it would be easy for an organist to feel taken for granted, or to feel that the others involved in leading worship simply do not care about the liturgy. That’s a heavy burden for anyone. The church provides little or no support for organists, the RSCM provides some training but without a supportive church it can be unaffordable and it is always fairly technically focused (which is great, but offers little recourse for an organist who feels undervalued). Organists are likely to get frustrated, bitter and controlling in such situations, and though some can be particularly difficult I would encourage anyone with “organist trouble” to take a step back and look at what systemic factors may be contributing to such distress. In the case of an organist who has outlasted several clergy this may be very difficult to determine but I think it is worth an honest effort.

“At the same time, members of both professions normally enjoy being centre-stage and have a flair for performance — and in churches, as in any other theatre, there can generally be only one star.”

Perhaps the reason we manage as well as we do at St Andrew’s is the deeply held conviction that indeed there can be only one star at church, and that is not me, or the vicar, or a visiting priest or preacher, but God. If that is forgotten then I respectfully submit that a parish may have much worse problems than organist trouble.

Kathryn Rose, Organist.

Can Lay Worship Leaders and Organists Make Music Together?

The relationship between the clergy and the organist is laid down in canon law:

B 20 Of the musicians and music of the Church
1. … the functions of appointing… and of terminating the appointment of any organist, choirmaster or director of music, shall be exercisable by the minister with the agreement of the parochial church council…
2. Where there is an organist, choirmaster or director of music the minister shall pay due heed to his advice and assistance in the choosing of chants, hymns, anthems, and other settings, and in the ordering of the music of the church; but at all times the final responsibility and decision in these matters rests with the minister.
3. It is the duty of the minister to ensure that only such chants, hymns, anthems, and other settings are chosen as are appropriate, both the words and the music, to the solemn act of worship and prayer in the House of God as well as to the congregation assembled for that purpose….

In ‘Weary and Ill At Ease‘, Robin L D Rees wrote in 2001:

In recent years, many have written of a breakdown in relations between clergy and organists. While still organist at Exeter Cathedral, Lionel Dakers [later director of the Royal School of Church Music] was already expressing his concern:

There is something in the make-up of clergy and organists which on occasion impels them to behave both irresponsibly and irrationally. Obvious to all are the repercussions of two apparently responsible adults, both in prominent parochial positions, being unable to see eye to eye. Much harm can be done to the cause of the Church by the inevitable tongue wagging which accompanies such incidents.

Ruth Gledhill wrote in The Times on 22 September 2005:

Too many clergy use organists as “human jukeboxes”, demand impossible working hours and refuse to bow to their superior musical knowledge…Now two leading organists have produced a guide…Robert Leach… has written the book with Barry Williams…[they] estimate that two thirds of the country’s organists refuse work in churches because of problems relating to the clergy…

The book, Everything Else an Organist Should Know, gives advice on what to do when relations break down with the vicar…

And they urge organists to be realistic about the abilities of their choirs. “Four old ladies, three children and a grumpy old man cannot sing the Hallelujah Chorus.”

At the same time, members of both professions normally enjoy being centre-stage and have a flair for performance — and in churches, as in any other theatre, there can generally be only one star.

“The minister must not treat the organist as a human jukebox, and the organist must recognise that the minister has final authority in matters of worship,” Mr Leach says.

In our illustration, St Cecilia looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but she also looks as if she were taking her instructions direct from the Almighty: if it takes a brave incumbent to intervene in this cosy conversation, for a lay worship leader to do so is brinkmanship of a very high order.

The first organist I encountered on becoming a Lay Worship Leader was called, shall we say, ‘Drisella’. (The alias is necessary to protect the -possibly litigious- guilty). She had seen off many priests in her time, and presumably anticipated I would present no problem. A month in advance, I emailed Drisella (very politely) with my choice of hymns for the service I was due to take. The reply was instant, and deadly. She would make her choice, based on the theme and hymns suggested in the Royal School of Church Music’s ‘Sunday by Sunday’ booklet.

You will immediately detect the flaw in this arrangement: any theme that I might glean from the lectionary readings might or might not coincide with the RSCM’s interpretation. Although the theme is occasionally obvious, it often isn’t, and there is the added difficulty that, as a lay worship leader, I did not want to fall into the heffalump trap of expounding on doctrine. I appealed to the priest-in-charge, who saw my point and agreed to back me. His sole condition was that it would fall to me, not him, so to inform Drisella. I took a deep breath, and (perhaps rashly) telephoned her. The reaction was electrifying, if ungrammatical:

‘You’re trying to get one over on me with the vicar!’

She then refused to play at any service taken by me. Luckily, at that point my dear husband (and churchwarden) intervened. Although the last time he had played the organ had been in Dacca Cathedral in 1971, he would fill the gap. And so he did, for the next three years, the lovely man. At that point, a new priest-in-charge arrived: to the relief of all, Drisella did not survive the initial conversation about their future relationship.

We moved to a rota system, whereby a series of local organists took on, say, ‘the third Sunday of the month’. There was no ‘Prima Donna’, only a foursome who took it in turns to play in various benefices in the deanery. All that was needed was a little good will, with no jockeying for position. Harmony was restored. All for the greater glory of God. Amen.

1. The main illustration is ‘Organist und mesner’ by an anonymous Italian painter, 18th c via wikimedia. ‘Mesner’ = sacristan. The two seem to be to be eyeing each other distinctly warily.
2. The second illustration is ‘Saint Cecilia’ by Simon Vouet c. 1626 via wikimedia.
3. You can read Ruth Gledhill’s story in full if you click the hyperlink, as it was written before the pay wall.
4. Kathryn Rose, of the Artsy Honker blog, has been invited to post with her reactions at The Organist’s View.

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