Friday, June 16, 2006

A strange day

Well, what a day that was!

In my job there is a certain amount of black humour (can you still use that term?) and I have what I think is a healthy cynicism when it comes to what is described in a Peter Aston anthem (I think it's called "so they gave their bodies") as "The stuff of other men's lives". Add to this the years of experience (thirty years, since you ask!) singing in services ranging from the most mundane, to baptisms, weddings, funerals and memorials where the choir has to detach themselves from what's going on otherwise there's no way they could conduct themselves in a professional manner, and I think I've just about got it nailed when it comes to keeping my emotions under control.

Not today though.

The funeral service of Ian, the 24 year old son of a close work colleague, who died last week in a motorcycle accident, was the hardest thing I've done for a long time. The church was very full, and you could almost taste the emotion in the atmosphere. His father, also Ian but known to all as Spider, spoke at the end of the service and how he did it is beyond me. He was on the very edge of being overcome, and it broke me up. I didn't know his son, I only met him briefly a few weeks ago in the pub where we had gathered because Spider had come to the end of his time with us and was moving to another department, but I felt deeply for Spider as he addressed the congregation, telling us how Ian had been a wonderful young man who had packed a lot of living into his short time, and who will be greatly missed.

Leaving aside the emotion, as far as the actual nuts and bolts of the service were concerned, I couldn't stop myself comparing how the cathedral would have done it, and I have to say there's no comparison! It was a Roman Catholic church, and judging by the number of people who actually received communion I'd guess that less than half of the congregation were Catholic. However the order of service listed the very bare outline of the service, even though the congregation was expected to make the correct responses to some of the priest's spoken bits. Obviously some people knew what to say, but I think the majority probably felt, like me, excluded. OK the service follows the same sort of structure as an Anglican one, but the words aren't exactly the same so there was no real way of joining in. When it came time for communion the priest announced that only Catholics could receive it but if any non-Catholics wanted to come up for a blessing then they could, as long as they indicated clearly that this was what they wanted when they got up there. To be fair, he stopped short of asking us to announce our approach by wearing bells round our necks and having "UNCLEAN" tattooed on our foreheads!

And don't get me started on the music! A wobbly mezzo-soprano sang (or rather swooped around) the cantor part of various responsorial Taize type rubbish, and about three of the congregation half heartedly joined in. To be fair the soloist had a decent voice, but not, in my humble opinion, for singing in church. All of this was accompanied on an electronic organ, apparently using full Leslie tremolo. Hurrah, Jon Lord lives!

The high spot musically was as the coffin was being taken out and Ian's choice of music was played. It was the CD version of "You're beautiful" by James Blunt, and because it was the CD version and not the edited-for-radio-and-tv version it's possibly the first time in a Catholic church that the phrase

Yeah, she caught my eye,
As we walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was,
Fucking high,

boomed out of the sound system! Perhaps a moment of light relief in an otherwise sombre occasion, but I don't know if the priest and those devout members of the congregation saw it that way!

So how would the cathedral have done it differently? Well leaving aside the hymns and singer, the main things would have been that the words would have been available to all, not just those who know them off by heart. It must have been obvious that the congregation was going to be made up of Ian's colleagues in the RAF, and his friends and neighbours (not to mention about a dozen of Spider's colleagues) so there was always going to be a chance that a fair few wouldn't be Roman Catholic and wouldn't know the script, but that was apparently ignored. I think the cathedral also welcomes anyone to receive communion if their conscience allows them to. The phrase "if you are in good standing in your own church" rings a bell, but that's a distant memory so I don't know if that's still the rule.

I know in the past I've been slightly cynical about things at the cathedral sometimes, particularly what I perceive as too much political correctness for its own sake, and false "inclusivity" because it's fashionable, but I think I'd rather be associated to an inclusive church like ours than one which makes half the people there feel left out. Not deliberately unwelcome, just excluded because we weren't in the club.

Anyway, a strange day.

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