Recently, as I stepped into a ‘new world’, for me, of creating a YouTube Channel called ‘Sing of God and Science’, I reflected on the long path that led me to this point. Once again I marvel and give thanks for the many steps on the way which, at the time did not seem to be particularly directed toward any specific destination.
Let me unfold the story for you.
Singing in a church choir was clearly an early influence on the way this project would ultimately come about. The rhythms, the tunes and the metrical forms settled in my mind with their accompanying messages of the faith of the family that surrounded me with its love.
As a young man I then became a zealous (maybe over-zealous) young banker, a job effectively chosen for me by my father who wanted the security for me that such a career offered at that time. My combination of A levels gave no hints as to what to choose - Divinity and Chemistry! But maybe they were a pointer (as Pam, my wife reminded me when she came to read this story). So, in the absence of any alternative enthusiasm or ambition, I settled to that my father’s ideas and was fortunate to be offered a ‘fast-tracking’ programme, though it had no such whizzy title at that time.
In a while, I was made an offer I could, in career terms, not refuse: a six week residential course for the bank’s promising young men (as we all were at that time). In retrospect, I should have been brave enough to refuse the offer, as my first child was due to arrive just two weeks ahead of the start of the course. That and my subsequent over enthusiasm for my career was, in time, a major contributor to the breakdown of my marriage – but first, back to the course events.
The course material was delivered in what I now recognize as very didactic terms. We were there only to be told how the bank did things, and our opinions did not, frankly, count for much. In that situation there was little room for individual expression – until the inevitable end of course ‘review’. In wondering what to offer, I realized that I could have some gentle fun by writing about the various tutors’ traits to the tune of ‘While Shepherd’s Watched’. It was appreciated by everyone including the tutors and a latent enthusiasm for verse-form was uncovered.
Several years later this migrated into a somewhat curious form. By then I was a Deputy Assistant Manager in the bank’s largest branch (a title that has long ceased to exist). As such, it was my rôle to say farewell to those retiring who had not managed to make it as far as departmental manager, despite often very long careers. It struck me forcibly that these men (again, all men at that time) had given their lives to the bank and usually the farewell speech was a little more than a catalogue of the branches at which they had served followed by, what seemed to me, a somewhat hollow expression of thanks. And, when I made the speech - from a man half their age. However, because I was located in the Head Office branch, I was later able to ask in Personnel Department if there had been any incidents in the leavers’ bank lives – and turn those into simple songs. It rapidly became clear, the ‘recipients’ loved this. I had accidentally discovered how to make them feel special and a copy of the song could be handed to them as a memento to show friends and family afterwards.
This practice had one totally unexpected outcome. One morning I was summoned to the Chief General Manger’s Office; an unheard-of and somewhat daunting occurrence for a young man on the bank’s ladder. ‘Thorn’, he said, ‘I hear you write songs’. With trepidation I admitted to the charge. ‘In two weeks,’ said this bluff Yorkshireman, the General Manager for Agriculture retires. ‘I want a song his colleagues and I can sing to him as part of his leaving ceremony’. You could, as they say, have knocked me down with a feather; but the power of verse/song was again strongly reinforced in my consciousness. For an agricultural banker, what tune could be more appropriate than ‘We Plough The Fields and Scatter…!’
Several years later, I was thankful to leave the bank and go to work for a major charity where the personalized song-writing continued.
From there, my propensity to ‘turn a verse’ helped sustain me through an unhappy time of divorce, when versifying Psalms was a thankful diversion from the unpleasantness which each day seemed to bring.
Several years into my second marriage, now 36 years young, my wife, realizing I had an enthusiasm for things scientific, subscribed to ‘The New Scientist’ on my behalf as a birthday present. This led to a growing body of poetry on the topic of faith and science – not a very publishable combination!
It was a chance conversation with a narrow-boating friend that led me into the world of blogging. John was marvelling that his jottings on boating could attract the interest of people far and wide. The potential of taking that route for ‘publication’ of my material suddenly felt a golden opportunity – and it has been.
Several years later, with a fair sized collection of work published on my blog, a friend pointed me to Prof. David Wilkinson, an Astrophysicist and theologian. I wrote to him and he was kind enough to validate what I was doing and express a hope that it might be possible to build up a collection of hymns and songs of faith and science.
From that sprung an application for a grant from the current ‘Scientists in Congregations’ programme to build up a body of faith and science songs, primarily for use in church primary school assemblies.
A book of songs will be published later this year but in the meantime this journey has unexpectedly led to encouraging nine local primary schools to produce their own science and faith songs – and the remarkable results can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2tZyC8L
Whoever could have imagined those earlier steps were a preparation for such an enterprise? Gods provision is sometimes so extraordinary!
My blog can be found at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.com