WHILE crowds thronged the City of Westminster for the Coronation procession, the City of London seemed to be as empty as it usually is at the weekend, without the office workers who populate the streets around Farringdon throughout the week (although the lamps in the Church Times office burnt well into Saturday evening).
Smithfield Market was damp and deserted; but, passing through a gatehouse and into the medieval cavern of St Bartholomew-the-Great, one was transported into Westminster Abbey: “Our help is in the Name of the Lord,” the Archbishop of Canterbury declared. “Who hath made heaven and earth,” the congregation responded, as if he were standing there, at the altar.
More than 300 people had gathered to watch and take part in the Coronation service, which was being shown on a screen at the front of the church.
“I thought people might want to come together and watch it, and might want to take part in the service remotely,” the Rector, the Revd Marcus Walker, said, after the service had finished. “It felt like a service, though I was able to tweet through it, which probably wouldn’t have felt quite right if I’d actually been in the Abbey.”
Fr Walker estimated that about two-thirds of those who attended were newcomers to the church, who joined about 100 regular members of the congregation. The size of the gathering took him slightly by surprise, and he had to print some more orders of service.
Miyu, who recently moved to London from Japan, was one of those who had never been in the church before, but came with some friends to watch the service.
“We wanted to experience the Coronation, but knew it would be too crowded at Buckingham Palace. And we also wanted to experience the actual service, because that’s the main part of the event,” she said. “Attending the service was a very uniting and inclusive experience, with everyone all together and saying the same words.”
Harry Cowd, Patrick Hardy, and Thomas Giles, three members of the regular congregation, had also joined the service, after hot-footing it from the Mall, where they had watched the procession to the Abbey go past.
“Something about coming together seems to me to encapsulate the mission of the King in his statements about bringing people together, continuity, and caring about different elements of society,” Mr Cowd said. “It felt like a service; yes, we were watching TV, but to be able to imagine the priest and the communion was there, as it will be tomorrow, was very powerful.”
Mr Hardy agreed, and said that, for him, the eucharist felt like the holiest part of the service — more so than the anointing, because the familiarity of the liturgy gave it an added resonance.
Everyone I spoke to at St Bartholomew-the-Great expressed their gladness at the way that other denominations and faiths were included in the service. “It didn’t feel cynical: it felt very genuine,” Mr Giles said, before heading up the tower to watch the Red Arrows fly over, the colours of the Union flag billowing from their tails as they made for the Mall and Buckingham Palace.