St. James the Least of All – May 2023

The Revd Dr Gary Bowness continues his tongue-in-cheek letters from ‘Uncle Eustace’.

The Rectory
St James the Least

May 2023

My Dear Nephew Darren,

I am afraid we shall have to agree to disagree on yet another topic – although I suspect the list of items that we agree to agree on would be considerably shorter.  I like to think my appreciation of hymns resembles a connoisseur of fine wines savouring a grand cru claret; yours seems to resemble a Russian female tractor driver who is a Hero of the Nation.

We at St James the Least are more than happy with Hymns Ancient & Modern – the original 1861 edition, naturally – the later editions display a dangerous tendency towards modernism.  Sadly, St. Paul was not able to sing Onward, Christian soldiers, but I am sure he regretted the fact that it had yet to be written.  The hymns our grandparents pretended to sing when they were in church are quite good enough for the ones we pretend to sing when we sit in the same pews.

At least when we come to the last verse, we know that we can then sit down, mission accomplished.  The last time I attended your church, just as I saw the last words and therefore the finishing line of one of your choruses coming into sight, we were told it would be splendid to sing the thing another three times.  At least it gave me another analogy to use when I next preached on eternity in hell.

And your method of singing would plunge our congregation into an existential crisis.  What do they do with their hands when they don’t have books to hold and are obliged to look at a screen?  To be deprived of being able to hold a book in church is like a smoker who is trying to give up being unable to grasp a cigarette when in the pub.

The ladies do not know whether to clasp their handbags, which then makes it look as if they suspect the rest of the congregation of theft, or to hold some flowers, which looks a little too matrimonial.  The men experiment with putting hands in pockets, which they then realise looks scruffy, so they try to hold on to the pew in front, which is inevitably too low, so they have to adopt some form of half crouch, which makes them look as if they have recently had hernia operations.

Your choral tradition – if I can flatter it with such a description – also seems to require half an hour before the Service spent singing for our congregation, that time is more usefully spent discussing Government incompetence, livestock prices and why Miss Threlfall always wears a red felt hat with her tangerine coat.

Should we ever have a joint Service, I can’t imagine how we’ll all get through the first hymn together!

Your loving uncle,


Jan van Eyck – The_Ghent_Altarpiece
WikiCommons (P.D.)
Pieter de Jode II (Flemish, 1606–ca. 1674)
Ten Men and Four Boys Singing in a Church
17th century Flemish, Etching and engraving;
WikiCommons (P.D.)

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