29 August 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Monday 29 August 2022

Shipston-on-Stour … a print by Philip Martin. The town gave its name to the tune harmonised by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Patrick Comerford

Today the Church Calendar remembers the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, commemorated with a Lesser Festival in Common Worship in the Church of England.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 14: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Today’s reflection: ‘Firmly I believe and truly’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [29 August 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Firmly I believe and truly’ set by Vaughan Williams to the tune of a Warwickshire ballad which he harmonised and gave the name Shipston.

Shipston, with the meter 87 87, was published in the English Hymnal to a text in The Death of Geontius by Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890).

It is set to Shipston in the New English Hymnal (No 360) but the Irish Church Hymnal (No 320) uses the tune Halton Holgate by William Boyce.

This tune is also used for Bishop George Bell’s hymn, ‘God, whose farm is all creation’ (Irish Church Hymnal, No 41).

Shipston was first included in an English folk anthology by Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929), Honorary Secretary of the Folk-Song Society, who collected folk songs throughout these islands at the end of the 19th century. She inherited her interest in folk music from her uncle, the Revd John Broadwood, an important early Victorian collector and the editor of Old English Songs (1847). Her father had also collected a number of old songs in the 1830s and 1840s.

She heard and noted this tune in a ballad being sung at Halford, near Shipston-on-Stour, about 16 km south of Stratford-upon-Avon. It was then in Worcestershire, but is now in in Warwickshire.

The Church of England parish church in Shipston, Saint Edmund, was rebuilt in 1855 by the Gothic Revival architect, George Edmund Street, who also designed the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London, and rebuilt and restored Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in the 1870s.

The words in the original ballad, ‘Down by the side of Bedlam City,’ or ‘Don’t you see my Billy coming,’ tell the story of a young woman who laments the man she loves, Billy. He has been killed in battle, but she continues to see visions of his ghost.

Vaughan Williams wrote a tribute, ‘Lucy Broadwood, 1858-1929,’ in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (5.3, 1948, pp 136-138), which has since been reprinted in D Manning (ed), Vaughan Williams on Music (Oxford: OUP, 2008), pp 257-260.

Shipston was first arranged by Vaughan Williams for two hymns in the English Hymnal, ‘Jesu, tender Shepherd, hear me,’ and this morning’s hymn, ‘Firmly I believe and truly.’

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as he has died.

Simply to his grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, him the strong.

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings are his own.

Adoration now be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Saint John the Baptist with his severed head, depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Monday 29 August 2022 (The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your servant John the Baptist
to be the forerunner of your Son in birth and death:
strengthen us by your grace
that, as he suffered for the truth,
so we may boldly resist corruption and vice
and receive with him the unfading crown of glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
whose prophet John the Baptist
proclaimed your Son as the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world:
grant that we who in this sacrament have known
your forgiveness and your life-giving love
may ever tell of your mercy and your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for the Province of IAMA as it establishes itself. Let us pray for the Lord to provide resources for its ministry.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Execution of Saint John the Baptist, an early 18th century icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Anopolis, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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