London Journal – Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Today we learned about worship, the Anglican Church, the monarchy and Evensong.
We went to Westminster Abbey.

Walking toward the Abbey on Whitehall Avenue, near the Prime Minister’s residence, we saw people peacefully demonstrating with placards and drums.

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I do not understand all the issues, but the main placards said “Citizens for Sanctuary” and (addressing the Prime Minister, of course) “Mr. Brown, allow Zimbabweans to work and pay taxes.”

The flag above is, of course, of Zimbabwe.

Now we arrive at Wesminster Abbey, London’s oldest and most important church. The present Gothic structure was begun in 1245. Can you imagine?!

This is a royal abbey, not a regular parish church. There are only a few such abbeys in the nation. The Dean, the top leader of the Abbey, is appointed by the Queen and is directly accountable to her. He is not under the authority of the bishop and archbishop, as ordinary churches and cathedrals are.

At least 3,300 persons are buried here, most of them under the floor. We walk on them! Except for the spot where the unkown soldier from WW I is buried. No one, not even the Queen, walks on that marker and burial spot.

It was so significant to me to see who is buried at the half-way point of the center aisle of the nave – missionary David Livingstone.

The organ has 6,000 pipes.

Here is the usual view of the two towers at the main, west entrance.

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And here are the same towers from the side, showing also the butresses that help to hold up the very heavy roof.

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And the north entrance, with its incredible rose window.

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The guided tour lasted nearly two-hours. Our guide was Ian, a verger, who may be 30 years old. A verger is a person on the staff of the Abbey, one who helps to implement and coordinate all aspects of the various worship services.

Then we returned at 5:00 for Choral Evensong, a service of Scriptures, prayers and songs by the choir of men and boys. The boys’ voices are so high and clear – incredibly beautiful.

The service has pageantry, with a procession, robes, several readers and some prayers read by all the worshipers.

Among other texts, the choir sang Psalm 36, which laments the sinfulness of the wicked but then declares:
“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.”

The printed program included this observation on worship and faith: “Christian faith always looks backward to its root and forward to God’s action.”

What makes worship meaningful for you?
More important, what does God look for in worship?
How easy or hard is it for you to look beyond the elements of the service and experience God’s presence?
In worship do you look both backward and forward?

About the Abbey experience in general, despite the grandeur and long history of the place, it was troubling to me to hear the blurring of lines between church and state, and the assumption that military heroes are blessed by God and doing the work of God.

Changing subjects entirely, back to our hotel room, the heating system has come into its own and our room is quite comfortable. So don’t hesitate to come stay at Hollingbury Hotel with us, even in the winter!

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2 Responses

  1. John, you’re in one country I can’t wait to get to and writing about another country I love! Beautiful pictures of the Abbey!

  2. Jeannie and I have been here in London since Saturday last. We’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for you, haven’t spotted you yet. We are enjoying the Tavistock Hotel where we know the breakfast servers quite well by now. We hope before we leave on Saturday, to have some sticky toffee pudding. This is a favorite of Abraham M. pharmacist at Macha Hospital. We highly recommend it to you.
    David and Jean Byer

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