Alton Webteam: March 2016
Whenever I visit a Methodist church I recall how, as a 16 yr old evacuee from Birmingham, during the Second World War, I was cared for by an elderly couple in Ashby — de — la — Zouche, Leicestershire.
The husband was a signalman and worked long shifts. One of his sons, Herbert, a postman still lived at home which was a railway cottage next to the level crossing.
They were all staunch and faithful Primitive Methodists. I was a Baptist but they welcomed me warmly into their home. Herbert was a local preacher, serving on the Methodist circuit. I would accompany him to local village chapels. We would go on our bikes or walk. Sometimes he asked me to read the lesson, once he asked me to preach. On the way home he gently told me how to improve but he also said I had preached for 21 minutes which, he said, was 'just right!'.
When he was called up, even although I was a Baptist, I was asked to take on his preaching appointments not as an accredited Methodist preacher but as a 'Helper'.
The first of Herbert's appointments took me to the mining village of Netherseal. The chapel was small but the congregation was faithful. Their organist was called Edith. She rarely smiled, wore dark clothes and a broad brimmed hat. She played the harmonium with a row of 'stops' above the key board. It was pumped by the player's feet and a knee-operated swell pedal increased the sound.
No one warned me about Edith. I announced the first hymn and she piped up ' I canna play that one! Its got four sharps, pick another!'
The next time I went, I made very sure that Edith could play what I had chosen. All went well until the final hymn. After I had announced it she piped up yet again ' we dunna know that one, pick another!'
Believe it or not, for the third time I was invited to Netherseal. I was ready for Edith this time!
But no Edith turned up. She had a bad cold. Who would play the harmonium?
No one volunteered so I played, as well as preaching and leading the Service. All went well but there was still no room for self satisfaction, Oh no!
I went to the door to shake hands with the folk as they left. So there was no escape from the frank comment of one dear old boy: ' Thee be a better organist than thee be a preacher, m'lad! '
Later in life I resolved to serve the Lord as an organist, not as a preacher. And so it was that I played the organ in a church in Basingstoke for some 27 years.
Arthur Harvey Recalls edited by Helen Jesty
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