REVIEW: First Flight Feathers

Added about a month ago by Sacristy Press

Christopher Idle reviews First Flight Feathers in Congregational History Society Magazine

Irony, paradox, parable and humour are all found in Holy Scripture, but may not sit so comfortably with our Sunday morning mixed congregation. Imagination, question, suggestion, creativity can be friendlier words, but even these are abstractions, scarcely doing justice to the flesh-and-blood people and events we find in this enterprising collection chosen from the former periodical Worship Live.

The book has a clear Congregational/URC flavour, with a good dose of Methodism, reflecting the fact that these traditions have a higher proportion of quality hymnwriters per hundred members than any other. Not that all these 91 items are hymns; some have music printed alongside, but verse and even some prose is included. How would ‘I wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole’ (no. 42, not to be sung!) fit in between a hymn and the prayers?

Men and women contributors are equal in numbers (healthy but rare), plus a happy sprinkling of children. Many had their work first published in Worship Live. Shirley Erena Murray is among those from beyond the United Kingdom. Wisely but possibly uniquely, each writer is limited to one contribution; the editors tell the story of their origins, often at a weekend, workshop or conference specially focused on pushing the boundaries. Many names are well known, from Fred Pratt Green downwards; from the Congregational/URC stable we are not surprised to find Albert Bayly, Basil Bridge, Colin Ferguson, Alan Gaunt and the main co-editor Janet Wootton. Lilian Butler’s ‘Wondering’ caught the eye, one of several insights into the mother of Jesus that seem closer to reality than many more ‘catholic’ traditions. I declare an interest in having a poem of mine included.

It is interesting to see some well-known names that didn’t make the cut; more discussion here, perhaps! But I was especially glad to find Marjorie Dobson’s and Sue Gilmurray’s work made known to a wider or at least a different readership. Texts are in alphabetical order of first lines, and there is full indexing. The length of entries varies between four lines and two or three pages.

Any church with this as a resource alongside its regular book will be enriched by the availability of some mind-stretching and surprising additions to its regular diet. If sometimes the desire to include unlikely ‘outsider’ ideas inevitably makes others feel excluded, the church should have space for some lively debate around such apparently marginal issues. Some are clearly prompted by contemporary events (the London bombings, the Drop the Debt campaign); others are more generally applicable. And the title? See no. 27, thanks to Maggie Norton.

Christopher Idle
Congregational History Society Magazine, Vol. 10, No 5, 2024 221 (reproduced with permission)

First Flight Feathers (edited by Gillian R. Warson and Janet Wootton) is available now from Sacristy Press and all good Christian bookshops.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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