le Chronicle 'THE CHURCH TIMES recently published a nicture of two choirboys in ezissocks ;Ind surplices. playing leapfrog in a London street. Rather enjoyahle, but a very tiny piece of hell broke loose.
Perhaps I should explain that Church Times is an august and serious Anglican weekly. I occasionally write for it myself and I do not do it for the inone They call themselves w ith utter sincerity. Catholics. And when write for them I have to go over my piece again inserting the word "Roman" before even "Catholic". I do not mind h avoids confusion and, anyway. We invented the term ourselves.
But the picture of the choirboys caused puritanical if not Maniehee protest.
The occasion was a cornpetition arranged by Rediffusion Ltd in association with the Royal School of Church Music_ The 16 finalists were chosen out of more than a thousand unpaid singing boys who sing in parish choirs and Cathedrals and produce, at their hest. the best choir singing in Europe.
And do not talk to Inc about the Sistine chapel choir that reedy little whisp of etiolated sound. Though you inight mention Lyons.
So the finalists met at St George's Church in Hanover Square. a fine pillared 18th Centur) church lost Limong the gentlemen's tailors. the antique shops and the meretricious boutiques.
The prizes were 1.1,((1). £250, £1(10_ The money went not to the singer but to the music of his home church. Timothy Anna; won from 13exleyheath and. with Rediffusion in •the offing, of course the photographers were there. And photographers are the means by which you see things that otherwise would be secret.
Of course they set things up. Young Attree was asked in his robes to sit on a pillar box eating a cream doughnut. With £1.000 under his surplice he refused. Two other lads played leapfrog to order. Among 11 letters published I liked those that rejoiced in the gaiety, but rather liked the One that said. "It is not only misguided to play leapfrog in a cassock, but dangerous. By catching on the "frogs hack the cassock could pitch the juniper forwards and cause a 'serious head injury,"
1 sometimes wonder how in these terms we Romans have any choir or altar boys left. Who has not seen the priest come-onto the altar in a gambol of miniature and maddening altar boys. Their genuflections are like the start or a tiny 100 yard race. Before Mass hey come On k\Oil this cruet :aid that in and out of the sacrisi■. as ir they were predicting the weather in a chaotic Swiss manner.
They rustle like old la.dies in their cassocks. Gravity they have not. And many times I have seen the priest, goaded to a sort of Furor .4 Itir , order them to stop their uproarious handshaking at the Kiss of Peace.
Choirboys of every sort of Christianity are no different. I have heard sacristies that sounded like soccer changing rooms wi,thritit the songs and with the voices higher.
It could not matter less. More, it is good that they should be joyful. Once in Brighton in the church where Mrs Eitzherbert is buried, I had to go through the sacristy before a Mass. I'm not sure %.shether they were choir or serer. They were excited. robed For the altar, playing the reasonable fool, the priest I was with shushing them a little and then off they went to continue their part in the Opus. nei.
Seemed good to me. And why shouldn't an accoutred choirboy play: leapfrog? I have known Benedictine monks play baseball
rather badly — tucked up in the conveniently tuckable habits. Church Times was dead right to publish a pleasant picture and — as I said — 1 do not do it for the money. So 1 am not only on the outside, but reasonably unbribcd. A NEW BOOK — sonic small parts of which 1 do not agree with — have touched upon my obsessing subject — the sermon, It is called Here's the Church' and irs by Peter Watkins, who is the vicar of a London church which he shares with a Polish community, and Erica Hughes who lives in the same parish.
What they have done is to dissect the various items ofequipment and paraphernalia that are to be found in a church. So it is not about Early English and Perp. and Pugin. It is about the steeple and bells and organs and altars and — properly to round it ofT — about churchyards.
The title comes from a little rhyme we used to play with our fingers: Here's the church and here's the steeple. Open the door and here are the people. Here's the parson walking up stairs.
And here he is a-saying his prayers.
If you don't know how to do this. I cannot possibly explain it in words and the sad thing is that I have forgotten how to do the last two tines.
Now it is an Anglican book and this shows rather defensively in some interpretations of history and in points of doctrine. You will not endanger your immortal soul by reading it. It is not 'a complicated hook. For example. "In many churches the Royal Coat of Arms sometimes replaced the central Crucifix.
It served to remind everyone that the King (or Queen), not the Pope, was now the Governor or the Church of England." Well, that's frank anyway. I would have wrapped it up a hit.
But he is fascinating on sermons. Before the Reformation the sermon was not Li regular part of the service, There was some doctrinal instruction which was considered extremely boring and Henry VIII thought four sermons a year to be quite enough.
Elizabeth the First did not allow clergy to preach without a
licence and she had a pretty taste in sermons. But James the First who came down from Scotland to succeed her, a wordy link man himself, in 1603 ordered pulpits in all churches.
am not quoting Mr Watkins, but the Anglicans slowly made the sermon more and more important and the altar in one of their new churches tended to be a low table, closely hemmed in by the rails and used but seldom. Many of them believed this could not be approached without intense and prolonged preparation. After the 17th Century preaching reached its highest point. Written sermons were at first despised and those who gave them were called "bosom preachers" because they kept their texts in the folds of their gowns.
That superb poet, John Donne, certainly wrote out his. He began life as a Catholic and ended Dean of St Paul's. ills mother remained a Catholic. He preached at great length. Read now his sermon against the Jesuits. It is beautiful and no longer stings.
Then there was all the apparatus of a sermon, While tlw gentry sat decently invisible and reasonably comfortable in high box pews,the vicar had often a towering pulpit. This would be a three decker with a sound board on top -marvels of mad carpentry.
The sermon was preached at the top. The scriptures were read from the middle level. The parish clerk made the responses at the bot t Dm.
Or there were even pulpits on wheels that could be moved into the centre of the nave so that the preacher could dominate the whole church, including the galleries. where you get a lower class sort of Christian who needed instruction.
He of course also blotted out the altar. They often had hour glasses which could be turned over if the vicar had not done. Formidable. Some churches had a man to go round waking the people after the sermon. But I expect they left the squire alone.
The Rev Watkins mentions a puritan preacher called Joseph Billio. He was an enthusiast — which the Puritans made a rude word among ordinary Christians.
Ile used to preach with such vehemence and commitment that sve still have the phrase, "Like Mho-. I believe it is now used largely for the performance of race horses.
*Published , by. Julia MacRae Books at £4.95
WENT TO Liverpool last week to cover Mr Michael Foot's demonstration against unernploy ment, against "Maggie", against the state of the realm in her hands, and for some of the people that attended him, against almost everything in the world that is. Fairly comprehensive it was.
It was essentially a vast procession in the cold of an icy sun — right through the city. As a reporter. such demonstrations worry me a little. Are they designed to short circuit the ballot box. to jolt a democracy that prefers a quieter way, to intimidaLe, to teach — though with idiot and ugly slogans — an ignorant electorate or are they large, mass
ego trips where most, having suffered real hardship conic away confirmed in their faith and elevated by the solidarity.
This was not a menacing procession. But the endless line of unidentifiable people muffled in cold weather gear were made a mite glorious with their banners.
Now the trades union movement and the Labour Party grew out of the Chapel. And the Chapel was a rebellion against the alien and imposed established Church which destroyed, doubtless for the most learned reasons, the churchly pleasures of the poor and these were once Virtually their only public pleasures.
almost ih Chapels ab bu ta n kept ed a memory of a distant past which was probably just as beastly to live in but had more beauty. So they took to singing. They also took, on the secular side the making of great banners, secular but holy to be carried in their processions. And that, I think is as nice a piece of generalisation as I have ever achieved.
So through Liverpool there were carried these huge banners and they could have had the Ecstacy of St Theresa on them except that they had superhuman working men greeting each other in a manly way.
But they are beautiful and any procession of muffled figures undecorated, unless it is off to attack the Winter Palace in St Petersburg or the Liver Building in I.iverpool — which this was not — would be as dull as a queue for a Chinese take-away.
But processions fulfil some fundamental social need. Civilisations require them. Christ made a procession of an unsatupon donkey to enter Jervuesnaeleti, iiain
according to thc sweet paintings of Canaletto, used to go in civic procession across their vast piazza and do a U-turn on it even when there seemed to be no-one to watch them.
Our Royals drop into procession almost automatically. The Speaker of the Commons can hardly bear to walk alone. Lord Mayors move like slow and glorious serpents. Priests move two-by-two up to the altar as if into an ark.
And political demonstrators do it. Unless order breaks down and the 1875 town hall with all its glory of marble on a cheap wooden base goes up in flames. So in Liverpool the very angry protestors went in procession and, having control of themselves and knowing the rules, broke ranks only rarely and that for a quick pint.
We used to alleviate the liturgy and and delight the laity with processions. It is years since I have seen anything but a professional job moving up to the chancel. Pity, really. The procession is something that man does with the most dignity he can command to glorify something or someone else. It is an assertion of dignity and communion and demand (or intercession).
In times of great plague whole cities went in procession. Instinctively, but without God, this is what they were doing in Liverpool.