A fascinating insight on Brown Edge life from Vicar Sturdee
THE REV. EDWIN J. STURDEE, Vicar of Brown Edge, Sloke-on-Trent. 1902
NOTES FROM A COLLIERY PARISH. OUR SERVICES.
I AM afraid that our “Sydenham” neighbours, to say nothing of those in the next parish on the other side, have the whip hand of us (if a sporting phrase may be allowed) in the matter of
services. Well trained choirs have their excellencies as well as their defects, and a well-trained choir means a well conducted service. Alas, for our parish, it has no choir, well trained or otherwise. Why we have no choir is a mystery which is kept as secret as the installation of a Freemason. We have choir seats it is true clustered round the well-placed organ, and these seats are more or less occupied, but as there can be no army without drill so there can be no choir without a practice. And yet in spite of these very serious drawbacks our people are delighted with the service, and some have been heard to declare that it is equal to any in the Potteries, which is saying a good deal, for with us “the Potteries” stands for public opinion of the responsible kind.
Our services are congregational. Be it remembered that we are fond of music, and boast of two brass bands and any number of trained singers, who at Christmas and other times parade the parish with the hearty appreciation of the inhabitants.
Our services are also choral, not “fully choral,” which is the correct form of expression, for “fully choral” includes the clergyman, but they are “fully choral” as regards the people. Barnby’s Ferial responses are in use, being more easily joined in than the Festal Tallis. The hymns are selected with great care, preference being given to swinging tunes. No hymn is sung as a rule more often than once in eight weeks, so that no one tune is ever likely by its frequency to kill any old cow in the neighbourhood of the church. The same rule applies to the chants, all taken from the Cathedral Psalter. New tunes and chants are learnt by the children, then brought out for the morning service, and when well seasoned are allowed a place at Evening Prayer, which is our church parade. The sermons are always “understanded” of the people. If they were not, the church would soon empty, for we are honeycombed with chapels of the Wesleyan type, served mostly by local preachers of local fame or the reverse. “I can understand every word,” was the delighted comment of a very occasional worshipper, who, being “no scholar,” was surprised that he could discuss the merits of the discourse with his more educated neighbour. Some time ago a Vicar from the Potteries preached in our church. His own service is so well “rendered” that to invite comparison would be folly, but his remark to a member of our congregation was the highest of all possible commendation, “When I stood in the pulpit I felt there is religion in this Church.” Non nobis Doinine.
Our congregation is not large. It might be much larger if all who came up to the church door would enter, but an incurable shyness seizes some of our lads, who have been known to take to their heels when invited to come in, unless they can see a seat close to the door into which they may pop unobserved. Perhaps this shyness is at the bottom of the disinclination to form a choir, and submit to the publicity of a choir practice. We have a week-evening service. “Of course you do,” would have been the remark twenty years ago, but nowadays the week-night service seems dying out, like the double church attendance on Sunday on the part of the upper and middle classes. The week-evening service is held on an off-night so far s the Wesleyans are concerned, so that some of them come to it, and thereby keep in touch with the church in which most of them were baptized, many were married, and where their bodies will be brought for the last service of all.
Speaking of this leads up to the subject of funerals. It used to be the custom in our parish for the Vicar to go to the house of mourning and conduct a service. Instead, he now meets the body at the churchyard gate, and confines his ministrations to the church and churchyard. All the mourners are invited to join in the Psalm and follow the lesson. Books and leaflets containing the service are handed round. Sometimes we sing a hymn, sometimes a ‘little address is given. All the service, save the committal and last collect, is, as a rule, taken in the church, not only on account of the climate, but also because usually the interest shown in the actual interment is of such an absorbing nature that devotion at this period is flung to the winds. A Sunday or two after the funeral the party come to church, and expect some notice of the bereavement from the pulpit. The system of compromise has to be stretched to its fullest extent in order to spare the feelings of the mourners, and also of the congregation, who, if critically disposed, are apt to resent references to the deceased, which, in some sad cases, are as much out of place as allusions to the gentleness of a Nero, or the kindness of a Caligula.
It would seem, on reference to the first rubric in the service for Public Baptism, that time was no object to our forefathers. To baptize infants “when the most number of people came together” means an addition of some twenty minutes to an already fairly long service. Of course the sermon might be omitted, but no true pastor and no right- minded congregation would consent to this form of excision. And so it has come to pass that the Baptismal Service has been made private instead of public, it being frequently held in an empty church, and as it usually takes place either before a week- night service or, if on a Sunday, when service is over, and there is all too little time to spare before tea, the rite has lost much of its solemnity, and a great deal of its realism.
Latterly we have tried to improve matters in our parish by having baptisms on one Sunday in the month and as part of the children’s service. After the lesson we all turn towards the font; every one has a prayer book and. the sponsors a card. The service proceeds with organ to accompany the Amens, and all take part in those responses which are for general use. As soon as the rite is administered, we sing the well-known hymn “In token that thou shalt not fear,” an interpolation which it is to be hoped will be allowed by Episcopal authority should it ever be called into question. Each child receives a memorial card with space to fill in dates of Confirmation and first Communion. These cards are highly prized, and have often been framed by their owners, though this has not been the case up to the present in our parish. The children’s service and public baptism combined is well attended. Great interest attaches to the number of babies presented so far, seven has been the record but we hope to beat that as time goes on.
The system of having cards of the service for what is called “surplice duty” is a great means of teaching our people that the Prayer Book is not a mere form. At what threaten to be disorderly weddings the attention of the bridal party is frequently centred on the service card, in order to be ready for the responses, so that all passes off well. On one occasion the gloss placed by a witty bridegroom on his endowment of the bride with all his worldly goods (“ I haven’t got any”) failed to rouse the expected laugh, so intent were the party on following the service.