St Mary’s service to mark the Centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth.Published on 31st October, 2014
On 26th October 2014, the eve of the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth, St Mary’s Church, Whitchurch, held a benefice Evensong service to celebrate the life and work of the poet.
The service was devised by our Lay Reader, Ruth Coombs, and included, as well as prayers, hymns, and celebratory music, readings of Thomas’s poetry and prose, and a ‘sermon’ by guest speaker, Professor Damian Walford Davies. We listened to Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, ‘And Death shall have no Dominion’, ‘The conversation of prayer’, and the beginning of ‘A visit to Grandpa’s’. A beautiful setting of Thomas’s ‘Lie still, sleep becalmed’ by the emerging local composer, Nathan James Dearden, was sung with extraordinary passion, skill and sensitivity by the combined choirs of the Benefice.
The culmination of the service was Professor Walford Davies’s ‘sermon’ on the poet. He recounted the story of a visit to a rural Oxfordshire church by Dylan Thomas and a friend who were intent upon exorcising a ghost, which the poet did by climbing into the pulpit and reading John Donne’s sermon ‘Death inevitable’; and then, upon the urging of his friend, ‘Fern Hill’, the poet’s own response to the news of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Professor Walford Davies’s readings of the sermon and the poem brought Dylan Thomas’s historic pulpit performance movingly to life.
The closing blessing was given by Archbishop Barry.
After the service, members of the congregation enjoyed a glass of wine and, in tribute to the poet, whisky-flavoured Welsh cakes, prepared according to Rector’s Warden Jill Evans’s special recipe!