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All the stops

for Margaret Creasy

Some of us have a timely gift: a well-
learned and hard-practised craft which serves
the ones who make up our community.
The skill itself is not remarkable:
it’s being there which makes the difference,
to do the thing that only you can do.  
Others might say the necessary words,
or be the one to have the big idea:
you played the organ. Pulled out all the stops.
Sunday by Sunday faithfully you came
and at the moment chosen for the hymn
slipped into your place. And so we stood,
with hymn books in earlier days, and now
eyes raised up to the screen in supplication,
the tunes well-loved and suitable, or else
playing the game of guess which note comes next,
while you wrestled with the half-a-second lag,
eyes in the mirror for a clue or cue
in case you’d counted up the verses wrong. 

Without you, we’d have lost our memory.
Those centuries of words and melodies
that shaped our spirits—Love Divine,
All Loves Excelling
; And Can It Be;
or Praise, My Soul; Ride On In Majesty
unrivalled Wesley, Watts, poor tortured Cowper
moved by his God in such mysterious ways—
and the great tunesmiths, Mendelssohn and Bach—
fruits of their genius denied to us
except your gift could bring them back to life.
Your playing joined us with our past, scored in
the patterns of a faith not glibly won
by narrow dogma or by easy words:
testimony that stands the tests of time.
 

Hymns have their form: you know what’s coming next—
how many verses, when it’s f or p,
when to play rit. or largo, finally
to pull out all the stops for us until
the last crescendo thunders to its end.
Life’s not so pre-disposed: we never know
how many verses may be left to sing.
Poco a poco advancing through the piece,
the last page turn comes with sudden surprise;
yet in this coda you have given us
another gift, you and your family—
you’ve shown us how to pull out all the stops
of love and unity, to make a grace
of such an undesired conclusion.
For every note you played, for all the hours
teaching our children—scale by painful scale—
and for this, your finest lesson at the end,
thank you. No more repeats: you’ve come
to all the stops. We’ll sing the notes and words
but you know better, now you cast your crown
before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise.


Read to Margaret during her illness in May 2011, and at her thanksgiving service at St John's West Ealing on June 22nd. 

St John's ceased to have a robed, formal choir in the 1970s and introduced a contemporary worship band, which I have led or played in since the late 1980s, but would normally include at least one hymn accompanied by the organ in the morning service. The practise was discontinued after Margaret's death as there was then no regular organist, and the cost of maintaining the pipe organ is becoming prohibitive. The organ is stil used occasionally at weddings, funerals and the carol service, but "all the stops" and manuals no longer work.