A View from the Methodist Manse

You might have guessed from my previous contributions that I like animals, nature and wildlife. When my sister and I were children, our parents bought a Ladybird book of Wild Birds to keep us occupied on long holiday walks in North Wales. Spotting birds and looking them up distracted us from aching legs and feet.

I have kept my interest in wild birds as an adult although it is difficult finding time to get out and about birdwatching in my current role. However, I do enjoy watching the birds that visit my garden to feed. This year I hope to take part for the first time in the Big Garden Birdwatch organised by the RSPB over the weekend of 28th – 30th January. This involves recording the number and type of birds that come into your garden for a designated hour of your own choosing and submitting your findings online. Further information on this can be found on the RSPB website if you are interested.

All this reminded me of one of the most popular hymns remembered from childhood, once sung in school assemblies and Sunday school classes up and down the land. ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ was written by Cecil Frances Alexander an Irish Poet and author of many well known hymns. Married in 1850 to William Alexander, the Protestant Bishop of Derry, Cecil had four children and with the help of her family established a school for ‘deaf and dumb’ children (not a description that we would use today of course).

It is easy to understand why All Things Bright and Beautiful became such a childrens’ favourite, as the words vividly describe the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Here’s the first verse and refrain, just to remind you:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Each Little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

Thankfully, many hymn books dropped the most politically incorrect verse (by 21st century standards) a long time ago, referring to the ‘Rich man in his castle, the Poor man at his gate’.

Now and then this hymn is chosen for a funeral service which sometimes seems to me an odd choice. Essentially it is all about life and the beauty of creation and perhaps sounds a bit too cheery for a funeral. But it is a hymn that certain generations feel at home with in worship and its joyous simplicity gives people a sense of being uplifted at a very sad time. The words give us permission to smile and be thankful for the beauty of nature, enabling us to count our blessings in times of loss and not just when everything is going well. When I am feeling fed up and frustrated, (Yes, it even happens to Ministers) something as simple as watching the birds and seeing their bright colours makes me smile and provides a welcome distraction from the challenges I may face.

Leave a Comment