Hugh Otto found himself strangely warmed at the consecration of Andrew Burnham
I was seated in the South Transept in St. Paul’s on St. Andrew’s Day and the Sermon had just begun; it promised to be a good sermon. I had given up sighing inwardly at the irreverence and Philistinism of present-day Anglicans (How could they chatter -and so loudly -while that marvellous Bach was being so splendidly played on that magnificent Willis: every cadence, every modulation, every note Ad Majorem Del Gloriam?); I had recovered from the Archiepiscopal tone of Listen-with-Mother amiability – making God seem believable, but perhaps not all that worth believing in: after all, my neighbours, like me, were old-fashioned enough to bow at the Divine Name, to cross themselves, and to think that the first thing to do when in Church is to kneel and pray. I did not see the very beginning of the event.
One of the Cathedral Stewards had quietly collapsed and was having to be supported. At length, a chair was brought and he was sat in it: his face was waxen and bedewed; a kind neighbour found a handkerchief and wiped his brow. I could just see his face in semi-profile, and could see his jaw drop as he appeared to breathe his last and his head began to roll: one of his colleagues held both his head and his upper body. By now blankets had been brought, and thinking that some prayers were needed, I slid along my row and joined those of us who were kneeling on the pavement; a policeman arrived and felt for a pulse, and felt again. The silent, motionless form in the recovery position looked far from being about to recover.
From two or three rows behind, another Priest came forward proffering a silver Oil-stock, I moved out of the way and he anointed him, whispering prayers into what seemed to me to be a more-than-deaf ear; he returned to his seat, while I remained on my knees – unable, in any case to return to my place as the way was blocked.
One of the men who had been helping, grasped the man’s hand and to my amazement at least, life was beginning to return, to the extent that he was not only clasping the hand back, as asked, but demanding to know where he was, obviously protesting about lying down, and determined to get back to his task of stewarding!
An Ambulance had by now arrived and the South Transept doors opened admitting a considerable quantity of November air as well as two of the crew with a wheelchair and other equipment and, before long, the Steward was in the wheelchair, wrapped in a blanket, held safely by straps and wheeled out. Before returning to my place, I went back and murmured to the Priest, ‘The Anointing certainly worked.’ To which he replied with a smile, ‘Yes: isn’t it marvellous.’
Well, I know post hoc non ergo propter hoc and it would be as unwise to say that the Steward revived because of the anointing, as to say that he died because of the Bishop of Sheffield’s Sermon – parts of which (I speak as a Curate) were excellent, viz, the parts that I was able to attend to.
I know too, that it is possible that the Steward never quite left this life. But I have to say that the look on the face of the Policeman who felt – and felt again – for a carotid pulse implied otherwise. Besides, First-Aiders had brought oxygen-cylinders and all sorts of other gadgets, none of which they had attempted to use.
Afterwards, I found that I could find out nothing about him: his colleague said he came in very rarely and was not expected to come in that day; he did not seem to know him at all well, not even to know his name. I expect that a London Hospital may have a record of a gentleman having been brought thither on Nov. 30 at about midday and notes of what the medics made of it all – and, of course, they know all there is to be known about life and death.
John Wesley found his heart ‘strangely warmed’ at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate (I should know, we’ve just been ‘doing him’ for R.S. AS Level); I found my heart ‘strangely warmed’ at the top of Ludgate Hill by this event – almost as warmed as by the encouragement the ‘main’ event gave, as did another recent appointment, to those of us who are otherwise made to feel contra mundum: almost warmed enough to forget the banal crassness of applause – and unspontaneous applause at that!
Francis Otto is Chaplain of Heathfield School, Ascot.