Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: Simple service mixing past with present a fitting farewell to gentle soul Lyra McKee

Mourners outside St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast city centre for the funeral of Lyra McKee yesterday
Mourners outside St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast city centre for the funeral of Lyra McKee yesterday
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Many Anglican cathedrals are not known for their simple liturgy - their public worship - especially on big occasions.

However, the liturgy for Lyra McKee's funeral at St Anne's Cathedral yesterday was a model of simplicity.

It was an attractive blend of the old and the new, with two ancient but still widely popular hymns interspersed with more modern pieces performed by Gareth Dunlop, Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre.

The opening praise How Great Thou Art was derived from a poem by the Swedish poet Carl Gustav Boberg.

It is technically a Gospel song with a refrain that was made popular by George Beverly Shea during the great Dr Billy Graham's religious crusades.

It was voted the UK's favourite hymn in the BBC's Songs of Praise, second only to Amazing Grace, which was included by the US magazine Christianity Today in its list of best-loved hymns of all time.

Amazing Grace was written in 1779 by former slaver John Newton, who later became a Christian and was ordained as an English cleric.

This magnificent hymn of forgiveness and redemption is reckoned by experts to be sung millions of times each year.

Amazing Grace was the closing hymn in yesterday's service, at which Father Martin Magill gave one of the most powerful speeches ever heard in St Anne's as he pointedly challenged the senior politicians present to do something to end the violence. After doing so he was given a standing ovation.

The other parts of the service were also right for the occasion, with the cathedral choir, under music director David Stevens, singing Howard Goodall's version of Psalm 23, better known to millions as the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley.

Lyra’s partner Sara Canning
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The short readings from the Gospels of St Matthew and St John brought reassurance and hope in the midst of death, while the tribute to Lyra by Dean Stephen Forde, and also the brief prayers, conveyed a great deal in a few words with the maximum effect.

At the end A Gaelic Blessing, written by contemporary composer John Rutter and sung by the choir, was gentle and comforting in such an intense and emotional atmosphere.

The final organ voluntary, played by Jack Wilson, was an improvisation on the great 17th century hymn Now Thank We All Our God by the German Lutheran cleric Martin Rinkart.

It provided a fitting musical background as Lyra's coffin was carried on its final journey.

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