Andrew Hammond gives us a personal view of the cathedral’s preparations for the royal occasion
‘Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive’
(from the 2011 Christmas Broadcast by HM the Queen)
A church on a hill
Here at St Paul’s, a big church on a little hill, we do have the occasional big service. Our detractors (for they exist) think we only exist for such things, that we are a bastion of bombast and a theatre of the posh. This is nonsense of course, and even quite a few of those who camped at our doors over the winter found this out as we got to know each other, especially those who ventured into church or were visited and helped by our pastoral team. Still, we do do big now and then, and none bigger than when the Queen came to give thanks to God for the Diamond Jubilee of her Accession.
When we are expecting the monarch, the preparations are appropriately magnified in concentration and in time spent planning and rehearsing. By ‘appropriately’ I mean ‘exponentially’, if truth be told.
Almost every department of the cathedral (and we have about two hundred staff) is involved; the key players from whom then have to work in close, detailed and lengthy co-operation with the Palace, the police and security services, and eventually the press. We also have to do a fair amount of fielding (or fending off) genuine inquiries, mad requests and subsequent letters in green ink. ‘Exponentially magnified’ also applies to the passion of some of our correspondents.
I had the delicious joy of being able to attend the service (‘robed and in his stall’, as it would have said in the Court Circular, had that not been true of at least fifty of us) without being involved in any of the planning. My only contribution, other than helpful simpers across the desk to my senior colleague who was very much at the heart of it all, was to be one of the small team of embargo-trustworthy proof-readers of the order of service. I did daringly point out one or two infelicities, to mixed effect.
Getting it right
When the sovereign is to be present, the rehearsals the day before are done in legendary detail, and everyone comes, barring the Primate and members of the Royal Family (all well represented though, naturally). My own experience of this was earlier this year for our service for the Order of the British Empire, whose Chapel we have here. At the rehearsal were the Lord Mayor of London, many of the Knights and Dames Grand Cross (including the Governor of the Bank of England) et al. And it lasted a good couple of hours. I also had the madly exciting joy of being introduced, and received the knuckle-squeeze (HM’s way of shaking hands, which is rather beautiful to experience. The keen-eyed reader may spot that I am smitten).
We closed to the public (paying and praying) from the Sunday evening before, to get ready. There had already been much titivating and more heavy-duty preparation – replacing some cracked marble tiles in the floor, dusting normally-unreachable surfaces. There is still etched into the consciousness here the time when the Queen came to a service to celebrate the completion of the interior restoration/cleaning project: as she left she said, roughly speaking, ‘I see you didn’t manage to dust the top of the pulpit’. She misses nothing!
The Hat Question
While the final preparations and rehearsals were going on, a thirty-six hours of feverish focus, the main topic of conversation in our household was whether my mother would wear a hat. My folks had been tempted up from their country fastness for the service, with seats in the Minor Canons’ Closet, but the information sheet said ‘Dress – Ladies: day dress, no decorations, hat’.
My mother, who is otherwise a model of rectitude, an avid lover of the monarchy, a stalwart of early morning BCP Holy Communion and all-round Top Mum, drew the line. ‘I haven’t worn a hat since your graduation’, she declared, and that’s long since gone to Oxfam. I cannot wear a hat.’ There are moments when my mother gets a bit Aunt Agatha-like and it’s best to concur. But we did secretly tie ourselves in knots of anguish, thinking ‘will they actually refuse entry to a lady not wearing a hat?’
In the end another redoubtable mother came to our aid. Who should I meet at those wretched DIY tills in M&S but the wife of a well-known local bishop, who assured me in robust terms that not wearing a hat would not be a problem. On the day, when I caught sight of her in a front row, I saw why she was so confident on the subject.
But seriously, folks
It was a total joy. As the commentators had, interestingly, been saying, this for the Queen was the culmination of her Jubilee extended weekend. For her, giving thanks to God was what it was all about. That is why I quoted from the last Christmas Broadcast at the head of this. Because our Monarch is not just the most extraordinary example of service, duty, stamina and devotion, and anointed to the role; she is also a believer. We (the Church) might try a little harder to deserve her as our Defender, dare I suggest?
So, here’s to the Platinum… ND