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- Page 8

  • All Souls

    This phrase stirs within me two very different, but equally clear memories.

    The first is a scene from the novel Far From The Madding Crowd, one of the set works for our 'O'-level English literature syllabus.  Early in the story a mix up occurs when Fanny Robin is due to marry Sergeant Troy, but due to a mix up goes to the wrong church, one being All Saints and the other All Souls.  Hardy's character names in this novel are carefully chosen - here is nominative determinism at its best.  But what strikes me, and to a degree resonates, is the confusion of 'all saints' with 'all souls', because I'm not sure I know the difference, unless I take the premise that 'saints' are officially recognised by the Church, and 'souls' are 'just' ordinary people.

    The second is that All Souls, as in the church at Langham Place, London, was one of the churches where I worshipped as a student.  I enjoyed the buzz of a huge congregation and what was, then, high tech and creative use of images and music.  I valued the skills of the All Souls orchestra.  I loved listening to John Stott, one of the finest expository preachers of our time.  There was a gentle, and lovely Jewish convert priest (vicar) whose face I recall but whose name escapes me (and google fails me!).  I enjoyed Michael Baughn, Richard Bewes and even, most of the time, Roger Simpson and his successor Andrew Cornes.  That thirty years on I recall (most of) their names must have some significance.  That odds and ends of sermons stick in my mind, that songs/hymns take me back to that place, to the balmy summer evenings when the wail of sirens cut the stillness...  And I also recall the, then, small Baptist congregation of which I was also part. The huges echoing, damp, cold, smelly building where the faithful few gathered week by week.  The minister Edwin Robertson (former nuclear physicist and respected Bonhoeffer scholar) who, with his wife, Ena, invited the students (all three of us) to their tiny manse flat for tea... and I can still taste the cream chesse and pineapple sandwiches on thin white bread with the crusts removed!

    Time moves on, these are old memories of times and places past, of 'saints in the making', of people now dead, of people who have moved from my 'world'.  All souls - they are, all of them, souls.  And today I am glad to have known them, to have been shaped by them, to have recalled them.

    Eternal God,

    Thank you for creating each of us in your image and with our own spark of eternity, the imperishable soul.

    Thank you for these souls I have recalled, and for those I have forgotten, each showing me a glimpse of you.


  • All Saints

    Among the old hymns I enjoy singing, not least as it has a great tune, is this one:


    For all the saints, who from their labours rest,

    Who Thee, by faith, before the world confessed,

    Thy name, oh Jesus, be forever blessed,

    Alleluia, alleluia


    A song that gives us permission to celebrate those who went before us, and who perhaps have influenced us in our own faith story.  I find it good, now and then, to pause and call to mind the 'saints' I've met along the way, some still with us, others in God's everlasting arms.

    Another favourite from childhood day's is "I sing a song of the saints of God" with its refreshing earthy-ness.  And I like this contemporary re-write by sone friends in Manchester:


    I sing a song of the saints of God,
    Patient and brave and true,
    Who toiled and fought and lived and died
    For the Lord they loved and knew.
    And one was homeless, and one was old,
    And one was a traveller in the cold:
    And with God by my side all the way I'll be bold,
    For I mean to be one too.

    They loved their Lord, who gave his life
    And his love made them strong
    And to follow his way was their delight
    Though they sometimes got it wrong.
    And one was a minister, and one was a nun,
    And one was a child whose life was just begun,
    And with Christ before, the race I'll run
    For I mean to be one too.

    They lived not only in ages past,
    There are hundreds and thousands still;
    Though the road may be rough and the workers few,
    Who seek to do Jesus' will.
    Yet still they are here and they urge us on
    Whether young or old, whether here or gone,
    For the saints of God look like you and like me
    And I mean to be one too

    ┬ęClare McBeath & Tim Presswood, 2006


    All saints - all of us, walking with Jesus, best we can, let's take a moment to celebrate that too.