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'Mad' vicar is music to churchgoers' ears

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The Rev Mary Harwood raised more than £2,000 after playing her entire hymn book in eight churches over a weekend

A MINOR miracle by a “mad” vicar was music to Downlands churchgoers' ears, after her charity efforts raised enough to purchase a new audio system for eight churches.

The Rev Mary Harwood, associate priest for the West Downland Benefice, played 628 hymns, her entire hymn book, in eight churches in over the weekend of November 20 and 21.

With the help of a previous article published in the Newbury Weekly News, she raised over £2,000, enough to purchase Hymn Technology, a high-tec audio, pre-stored system which can play about 3,000 hymns, songs, introductory music, and recessionals though speakers.

She sat behind the organ at the following churches: St Mary, Fawley; St Mary, Great Shefford; St Stephen, Shefford Woodland; St Swithin, Wickham, and then on Sunday at St Gregory, Welford; St James, Leckhampstead; All Saints, Brightwalton, before completing the last leg of the epic challenge at St Andrew, Chaddleworth.

“You go along with the idea and convince yourself this is what you can do, the reality of it can be very different. It's been great though,” she said.

“It's not just church people, after the article people have been coming up to me in the street and in shops and thrusting money into my hands. It's been well worth it.”

She said that despite thinking her fingers would suffer the most, she said her hands were fine, but her back and legs were another story.

“My shoulders and back were aching on the Sunday, you forget when playing a service just how much it takes out of you.”

Out of all the hymns in her book, her favourite hymn to play was ‘Thornbury', by her namesake Dr Basil Harwood.

The roots of the epic effort began at her arrival in the Downland area in January.

To give a timely boost to the efforts of Les Hedges, who had been playing the organ in local churches for 62 years, and with some volunteer support, Ms Harwood set out a plan to ensure music would be played in all the Sunday services in all of the eight churches of which she is associated.

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