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Ever since St Bride's joyously and with great ceremony, reopened its doors in 1957, the Cathedral of Fleet Street, as journalists affectionately know it, has hosted many historic occasions. Among them, there have been Royal visits, memorial services for the fallen, especially men and women who gave up their lives in bringing us the news.
Saturday June 25 saw a new chapter created in its history, when 200 enthusiastic and devoted cathedral and church music lovers, poured into the church in tribute to the priest, who almost single handedly rescued cathedral and church music from threatened extinction. One hot stifling afternoon on June 2, 1956, Canon Ronald Sibthorp, a gifted priest and sacred church music afficionado, whose letter to The Times a few months earlier, which he and others had signed, was to save our cherished sacred music.
At the June meeting, the church, which was risen from the ashes following World War II bombing, was still partly shrouded in scaffolding. And coincidentally at the June 25 Diamond Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving for the Friends of Cathedral Music (FCM), much of the interior of the church was again splintered with scaffolding as the first major restoration and decorating programme for nearly 60 years, continued.
It was fitting that at the start of the service, James Macmanus, managing director of The Times Literary Supplement, stood at the lectern and read out Canon Sibthorp's letter. And so here we are in the spiritual home of journalists and the media praising the work of an extraordinary organisation, helped at its initial stages by one of the great newspapers of the world.
The service was led by the Rector, Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, who welcomed the former Archbishop of Canterbury and patron of FCM, Lord Williams of Oystermouth as preacher. It related the FCM story from its early beginnings up to the present day. This reflected a truly cathartic journey from groups of enthusiasts who are so passionate about cathedral and church music and even more determined to ensure that this great British tradition remains, as it does, the envy of the world.
Special candles were lit by, and ceremoniously placed in the body of the nave by various members, some of whom had held important posts in FCM, including Michael Cooke, who attended that inaugural meeting in 1956, and later went on to become Secretary.
Much of the music at the service was written by former FCM Presidents Martin Shaw (1956-8), Herbert Howells (1953-83), George Guest (1983-2002) and Christopher Robinson (from 2004) the outgoing President now succeeded by Stephen Cleobury; FCM Chairmen Christopher Dearnley (1971-90) and Alan Thurlow (1990-2002).
More than £3m has been handed out to cathedrals and churches at home and abroad since 1956, and in this Diamond Jubilee year a record £600,000 has been distributed. FCM, through its Diamond Fund has launched an appeal to raise £10m by 2020 to relieve hardship, fund bursaries and provide other support to help choristers, especially those from the least well-off choirs and families, develop and flourish.
Professor Peter Toyne, FCM Chairman, had high praise for the service and its historical importance and for the St Bride's choir for its excellence under its director, Robert Jones.