A Pilgrim’s Song performed by the Space Arts Trust last month beautifully and powerfully told the story of the partnership between composer Vaughan Williams and Anglican vicar Percy Dearmer.
Made more poignant by the absence of Broadbridge Heath playwright Hugo Ellis, who died in January 2011, the play showed how Dr Dearmer (Colin Carter) worked with Dr Williams (Nigel Hills) to produce The English Hymnal - a new hymn book which aimed to revitalise sung worship, but also divided opinion throughout the Victorian Church of England.
For a drama set a century ago, it is amazing how little has changed. The role of women in the church and the tensions between traditional and liberal and were themes throughout.
The Church of England’s decision on women bishops happened during the week of the performance and there were ripples of laughter in the audience as Mabel Dearmer (Rachel Ellis) and Maude Royden (Fiona Kennard) showed their passion for mission was as alive as any man’s.
Watching was Bishop of Horsham the Rt Rev Mark Sowerby.
He said: “A Pilgrim’s Song was fascinating from an historical perspective, touching upon the production of The English Hymnal and the manner in which it was received by those in authority at the time.
“There was also a touching ‘historical snapshot’ of the frustration experienced by Christian women, and Anglo-catholic clergymen in the early years of the 20th century.
“We were reminded that the church’s life in any age is never without tension or frustration but that within those constraints there is nonetheless fruitful ministry and Christian witness.”