Long-Serving Organist honoured with Royal Maundy Money

A long-serving organist and director of music in the diocese was honoured to receive Royal Maundy money from King Charles III at York Minster on Maundy Thursday.

Gordon Foster was nominated by Bishop Paul following the completion of 50 years of service at St Simon & Jude’s, Rainworth, and received the thanks of the King as the specially minted coins were presented to him.

When Gordon received the letter, his wife Joan thought it was a joke! He was invited to the service at York Minster along with Joan. Their daughter Helen and her husband Francis also received invitations to the service, although they were seated in a different part of the Minster. The recipients were seated in rows with their accompaniers behind them. Gordon remarked how wonderful it was to hear the choir sing while King Charles presented the money to the 148 recipients (74 men and 74 women to mark the King’s age).

His years of service were subsequently celebrated at a service of Festal Choral Evensong with Songs of Praise at Rainworth, where he championed two new organists to perform in public for the first time.

Gordon’s journey into church music began when there was nobody to play the harmonium for his village Methodist Sunday School – when somebody volunteered Gordon as they remembered he’d had piano lessons in the past.

In his teens he began attending Sunday Evening Service with friends at Outram Street Methodist Church in Sutton-in-Ashfield, where he  was fascinated to see how the organist there was able to express the words of the hymns through her choice of stops. Mrs Marsh inspired Gordon to learn more so he bought a ‘Teach Yourself’ book and gained permission to practise at Shirebrook Methodist Church.

Once he met Joan, Gordon had progressed sufficiently to be included in Sutton Road Methodist’s assistant organist rota which meant he played one morning service a month. He jokes that the Sunday before he and Joan were married, the organist played Gustav Holst’s ‘Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways!’ and looked at Gordon through the mirror with a grin. The organist there failed to follow his own advice, however, and soon afterwards also married, and left the area so Gordon was promoted to organist, where he played an organ which had previously been a practice organ at the Royal College of Organists, and worked with one of the top choirmasters in the area,

After becoming the head organist, he encouraged and supported another young organist too, who later became Organ Scholar at Bath Abbey. Seven years later Gordon saw in the local paper that Rainworth was looking for an organist and choirmaster – he wanted to play the organ after hearing about it, but insisted that he was not looking for a new post.

However, God had other ideas when the then Vicar John Fern offered Gordon the post, not once but twice. Gordon vows to this day that the words ‘I’m coming’ were out of his mouth before he had said them! He changed traditions to Anglican and, as it turned out, when the three Methodist churches in Huthwaite consolidated into one, he would have needed a new position anyway. Some 20 years ago he also took responsibility for the music at St Mary’s, Blidworth, as director of music for the benefice.

Gordon is keen on encouraging others musically; his great motivation comes from the fact there are too many organ stools now unoccupied and organs left silent. Before the pandemic, he invited pianists to try the organ and gradually he is encouraging more people to take up the ‘King of Instruments’, and supported the two beginner organists who each played a piece at his service: Elaine Hughes, who he met last year via social media, from the village of Saxby All Saints in the Diocese of Lincoln, as well as Clare Harris who played for the first time in public who is now the Organ Scholar in the benefice of Rainworth and Blidworth.

Reflecting after his celebration service, Gordon said “My favourite part of the job is playing hymns – I love playing to accompany the choir and the voluntaries – but the hymns are the music of the people, and to encourage a congregation to raise the roof with song as they did last night is very special – you can’t beat it!”

Skip to content