The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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May 2017

The Vicar writes

Jeremy Fletcher

As a choirboy, decades ago, I was keen on passing the tests set by the Royal School of Church Music so that I could wear the different coloured ribbons you could attain. As I look back I realise that the foundations of my Christian understanding were laid there. At the time I thought it was a bit tiresome to have to learn about St Barnabas, but that was the dedication of our church, and you needed to know that his name was actually a nickname (‘the encourager’) and that he sold a field and gave the proceeds to the apostles.

Nine of our choristers took similar tests at the end of April, and I was asked to talk to them about ‘music in context’. We looked at different kinds of psalm, the shape of the Communion service, and how music helps people to pray. The most fascinating question was ‘what inspires you to sing in worship?’ Mr Moore said that the wrong answer was ‘being paid’, and I hope that our candidates remembered. I found our conversation inspiring. All our young choristers talked about the value of working together, and of being able to serve the whole church by leading our singing.

The answer I will treasure came from one of the youngest people in the choir. It was along the lines that, though there is lots of music which is good to sing, and almost all of it is fun, church music is ‘important’, because it is about more than the music itself. Church music is directed towards God, and it helps us pray and believe, especially when our own words run out. The music of worship is more than the sum of its parts, because it is about God, not just human creativity.

I’ve put a few words into the mouth of our young chorister, but it was their honest answer to the question which inspired the subsequent conversation, and I hope they had the chance to say something it to the examiner during the test. It is worth a ribbon on its own. Writing this during the great 50 days of Easter it has made me reflect on the nature of our belief in resurrection. It is surely about so much more than being convinced empirically of the event. The quality of the music of worship is about so much more than the words and harmonies and intervals and keys and scales. It is about the use to which all that is put.

So too with our belief in Jesus risen from death. There are many ‘proofs’, and it’s important to look at things carefully. But the life of the resurrection is about the experience and action of the church. It is about the use to which the belief is put. The proof of the resurrection is the people of God living in its power, and looking to bring and to be hope, life and light, in any and every situation. That will apply in the next days of the election campaign too. We are an Easter people. Our belief needs to be enacted. Otherwise it remains only on the page. And the new life of Christ is about so much more than that,

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