A unique and historical service amid the scaffolding…
Ever since St Bride’s joyously and with great ceremony reopened its doors in 1957, the Cathedral of Fleet Street, as journalists affectionately know it, has hosted many historic occasions. Among them there have been Royal visits and memorial services for the fallen, especially those men and women who gave up their lives to bring us news.
Saturday June 25 2016 saw a new chapter created in St Bride’s history, when 200 enthusiastic and devoted cathedral and church music lovers poured into the church in tribute to the priest who almost single-handedly rescued cathedral and church music from threatened extinction. On 2 June 1956, a stiflingly hot day, lovers of church music joined Canon Ronald Sibthorp, a gifted priest and sacred church music aficionado. His letter to The Times a few months earlier had begun the process of setting up a new organisation, The Friends of Cathedral Music.
At the June 1956 meeting, the church, which had risen from the ashes following World War II bombing, was still partly shrouded in scaffolding. And, coincidentally, at the 25 June 2016 Diamond Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving for the Friends of Cathedral Music (FCM), much of the interior of the church was again splintered with scaffolding as the first major restoration and decorating programme for nearly 60 years continued.
It was fitting that at the start of the service, James Macmanas, managing director of The Times Literary Supplement, stood at the lectern and read out Canon Sibthorp’s letter. In the spiritual home of journalists and the media he praised the work of an extraordinary organisation, helped at its initial stages by one of the great newspapers of the world.
The service was led by the Rector, Canon Dr Alison Joyce, who welcomed the former Archbishop of Canterbury and patron of FCM, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, as the preacher. The FCM story from its early beginnings up to the present day was related, reflecting a truly cathartic journey from a group of enthusiasts who are passionate about cathedral and church music and determined to ensure that the great British tradition of sung church music remains the envy of the world.
Special candles were lit by and ceremoniously placed in the body of the nave by various members, some of whom had held important posts in FCM, including Michael Cooke, who attended the inaugural meeting in 1956 and later went on to become secretary of FCM.
Much of the music at the service was written by former FCM Presidents Martin Shaw (1956-8), Herbert Howells (1953-83), George Guest (1983-2002), Christopher Robinson (from 2004, the outgoing President now succeeded by Stephen Cleobury), and FCM Chairmen Christopher Dearnley (1971-90) and Alan Thurlow (1990-2002).
More than £3m has been handed out to cathedrals and churches at home and abroad since 1956, and in the Diamond Jubilee year a record £600,000 was distributed. FCM, through its Diamond Fund for Choristers, has launched an appeal to raise £10m by 2020 to relieve hardship, fund bursaries and provide other support to choristers from the least well-off choirs and families.
Professor Peter Toyne, FCM Chairman, had high praise for the service and its historical importance and for the St Bride’s choir for its excellence under its director, Robert Jones.