THREE BOOKS, THREE YEARS, THREE WOMEN
WITHIN LIVING MEMORY, the Incumbent of St Paul's Barrow-in-Furness never had to think about next Sunday's hymns. He, and the whole congregation, knew what they would be. The numbers were printed in the Parish Magazine; they were exactly the same as they had been on the same Sunday last year, and the year before, and so back (one assumes) as far as St Paul himself. If you are of his mind, spare yourself the trouble of reading further; what follows is not for you.
I address rather the man, woman or child who may share in deciding which of the trillion zillion Easter hymns your church will be singing on The Day of Resurrection itself - April 4. It may seem a long way off in February, but it's worth getting right for the last one of the twentieth century, as we keep hearing about everything this year.
Easy, you say; they choose themselves, like the Nine Lessons and Carols. Having some sympathy with this position, since I have my own favourites for the big occasion, I still ask you to pause and consider. Just as Christmas has its ancillary moments (what did you sing on December 27?) so until almost the middle of May we are not merely in the Sundays after Easter (BCP) but the Sundays of Easter (The Three Year Lectionary). More telling still, if we had always sung the same hymns since Easter was invented, This joyful Eastertide would never have got a look in; QED.
Choosers of hymns have never had more guidance on hand than we have today. Computer technology has made press-button selection a reality; even those without the dreaded machines can enjoy the lavish productions of those who have them. Do you know Michael Perry's Preparing for Worship (Marshall Pickering 1995), with its handy Scripture Index and its 'Where can I find that song?' lists? Or Stainer and Bell's Hymn Quest: A Dictionary of Hymnody Volume One (1997), with its first-line index covering 220 recent or currently available books? 220! These two resources I use regularly; the second has a CD Rom to go with it.
But they are not what I am chiefly recommending. In 1997, the Canterbury Press Norwich produced Sing His Glory, which steers us through the Three Year lectionary and offers a page of choices for 'The Main Service' in each of the years, from nine main hymnals (including Mission Praise) and selections from others. Hence this month's headline: first up for year A is At break of day three women came - and where to find it. Oh yes, Christ the Lord is risen again is here too; so are all the classics, but sensibly distributed among the appropriate readings. And so on through the year, with additional bonuses for such days as Rogation, Initiation, and Conversion (Paul again).
At this point I must come clean before someone leaks my personal interest and I am hounded from office by the media; yes, I did have some hand in one and a half of the books I have named. I simply cannot imagine anyone regretting buying any of them, or receiving them as Easter presents.
But talking of technology. . . Do we all yet realise that half way through our next Watch Night Service, the millennium bug will vandalise all our automated hymn choices? Moments after midnight AD 2000 we shall find ourselves singing Come, ye thankful people, come; by June we shall be on to See amid the winter's snow, while for Sunday mornings in Lent the Vicar will announce that day's selection from the Metrical Index.
Except, of course, in Barrow-in-Furness.
Christopher Idle is Associate Minister of Christ Church Old Kent Road in the Diocese of Southwark.
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