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Westminster Abbey

Having not been to church for two weeks because of transit, I gave today over to God.

And some transit and sightseeing.

But mostly God.

My end-of-tour hotel was a fifteen-minute walk from Westminster Abbey, so I took off around 9 this morning to walk by the Thames, over Lambeth Bridge, and then up by the park and the Houses of Parliament. Arriving at the Abbey by 9.20, I was one of the very first in line for seats for the morning services.

One of the joys of attending the Abbey is the chance to be seated in the Quire, very near the singers, under the organ pipes, within breathing space of the Precentor and Lector. I was in the last seat of the second row, immediately adjacent to the Lantern, for both Mattins and Holy Eucharist.

One of this morning’s sermons was splendid. The liturgy was faultless, perfect in allowing the worshipper to give him- or herself over to the inner meaning and beauty, and to adoration and true worship.

Add to that the music, with works by three dead white guys who were each buried just yards from where I was seated. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Purcell, Frank Martin, Hassler, William Walton — all were represented this morning.


Of course, the great jewel of the British choral tradition in cathedrals and collegiate chapels is Evensong. After moving from the tour hotel to an inferior model close to Paddington, I made my way by Tube back to the Abbey for that service. I arrived to find a huge queue; high summer tourist season is now, coupled with the ‘Valediction of the Choristers,’ the formal end to the school and church-music year when the 8th-grade boys are sent away to another school, to sing Treble no more.

I chose to sit in the nave, rather than back in one of the transepts. And here’s a play-by-play:

–the Purcell introit was evening more lovely and aching this evening. There’s just something about singing in front of the Quire Screen at the Abbey that concentrates sound.
–The psalm was fine, to a Barnby tune I didn’t know.
–Howells’ Gloucester Service has that goosebump moment in the Gloria on ‘As it was . . .’ and I goosebumped right on cue. What glorious music this is!
–Parry’s ‘Blest pair of sirens’ has never sounded more beautiful, or more perfect for the setting, as it did today.
–The Dean preached a magnificent sermon about music and the boys and family & fellowship. He set up perfectly what was to follow.
–I choked back tears on ‘The day thou gavest,’ the most perfect and quintessential of all Evensong hymns.

Then we get to the Valediction. Seven choristers, most of them heads taller than the rest of the boys, stepped forward to be given a send-off by the Dean. They were each named individually. Prayers and blessings were said. And then the service was over.

Imagine this, though: the seven boys were then at the end of the final procession, surrounding the Dean in a special place where they will walk only once, at this particular service. Most of them were in tears. They’ve spent the last four . . . five . . . six years singing nearly daily in the Abbey — eight services a week, nine months of the year. They have toured the world on the Abbey dime. They are among the elite of the elite, singing a prodigious amount of music to incredibly high standard, educated in one of the finest private schools in the UK, meeting kings and queens and Popes and more dignitaries — in one year — than I will meet in a lifetime.

And then, just like that, on July 14, they walk out for the last time. The robes, the music, the friends, the in-jokes, the splendour and beauty of that place — it’s all over. 

I’d cry too.

And I did, when I looked behind me and saw all the rest of the clergy greeting the boys, all gathered in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resting in his grave lined with dirt from the French battlefields of World War I.

I said to Fr. Jamie, who preached so magnificently this morning, “What a blessing and joy it must be to serve in this holy place.” He assured me it was.

One final note: some years ago, I was at the Abbey on a day when four new choristers were admitted to full choir membership from probationary. I think I blogged about that at some point. Well, today, the circle was complete. At the end of each service today, ten short little robed boys, each of them seven or eight years old, walked solemnly into the Quire before the service, and exited at the end, two by two. The probationers are watching and learning. Among those ten are the seven who will step up at some point next year, and say “With the help of God, Sir, I do” when summoned by the Dean to full membership.

The Lord giveth, and The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of The Lord.

London Day #4


  • up early for travel to Victoria Station
  • breakfast at a quick restaurant
  • walk to Westminster Abbey
  • tour the Abbey; I also was anointed by a priest, in the Islip Chapel, in the Anointing of the Sick
  • up Whitehall to Ben Franklin House
  • tour Benjamin Franklin House (something I wouldn’t do again, except on their one-day-a-week architectural tours, but it was fun to think that I was walking on the same floors and stairs where Franklin himself walked over 250 years ago)
  • then a spa day!
  • and finally dinner at a Brasilian restaurant near our flat, then a walk back to the flat with some groceries.

I am doing whites in the small washer/dryer right now, and attempting to deal with school emails.

July 4 = Paris!


Morning in London

At 8.50 a.m., I’m back from Westminster Abbey.

Let me just say: there’s nothing quite like leaving your hotel, rounding the corner onto Bridge Street, and seeing the Clock Tower housing Big Ben two long blocks ahead of you.  Every day this week, I’ll walk that mile, past the old County Hall, over the Thames on Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament, and to Westminster Abbey, at least once and sometimes twice a day.

So the rhythm of the day is already set.  Up at 6, breakfast at 7, walking to the Abbey by 7.40.  Breakfast is a wonderful full English, altho I skip the baked tomato and the beans.  Scrambled eggs, potato, ham, a croissant, fruit, jam, coffee . . . this is my breakfast of champions.  And as I eat, I read the paper, and I listen to the melange of languages all around me.  No city in the world is as relentlessly cosmopolitan, and dare I say ‘worldly,’ as London.

Now it’s time to plan the rest of the day.  I’ve been here often enough that I don’t do the intense planning any more.  I purchased a 2012 guidebook to give me Web addresses and current information, and off I go.

Today, by the way, is the Feast of St. Theresa of Avila.  We celebrated her life and works and writings at Eucharist this morning.


The Feast of the Dedication of Westminster Abbey

I was privileged yesterday to attend Evensong celebrating the Feast of the Dedication of Westminster Abbey, an annual celebration on the Sunday after October 13.  That latter date is important because it is the date on which the remains of St. Edward the Confessor were translated to the Abbey in the 12th century.

Present yesterday at Evensong were the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayors of the London Boroughs, all in formal state garb — fur-trimmed robes, tri-cornered hats, gold chains of office, lace and finery — accompanied by chaplains carrying the mace of each borough.  Reading the first lesson was Sir David Brewer, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London.

This was quite the Evensong!

The hymns were standard favorites, top 40 hits, really; the canticles were Stanford in A; the Responses, Tomkins.

For me the best single moment of the service was the introit.  Bruckner’s “Locus Iste” was sung by the choir from the west doors, and rang and rang in peace through the vast church.  I was seated in the north transept with a great view of the south transept windows.  I was transfixed by the splendor and majesty that our forebears created in that place.

It’s now not quite 7 a.m.  I’ve slept the night through and should be on London time.  I headed down to breakfast, and then on to the Abbey for 8 a.m. Eucharist.  I’ll return there today for Evensong as well.

Westminster Abbey bells

After arriving four hours later than planned, I was still able today to attend Evensong at the Abbey.  I’ll have a full report in the morning, as I’m already starting to fade today and it’s only 5 p.m.

[Random fact:  I love the UK tuna and cucumber sandwiches.  And paprika chips.  So that was my lunch.  At 2 p.m.]

Here is the sound and sight from outside the Abbey after the service:

Brussels, unexpectedly

One never knows what adventures one will find when traveling the world.

I expected to be in London some time ago.  And instead . . . I’m on a 757 on the ground in Brussels!

(Thanks to the miracle of wi-fi, and a Boingo roaming account, I am updating from seat 10A on this flight.)

Our flight from Dulles left an hour late.  Then, at least according to the Captain, clouds socked in London and we were put on a 45-minute hold over the Midlands of England.  With not enough fuel to hold that long and have the right safety margin, we diverted to Brussels.  I saw some lovely landscape as we approached the airport.

So we are on the ground.  Fuel is streaming into the jet’s holds.  A United rep is on the way to the jet to talk through connections for those who are now clearly missing their London outbounds.

As for me, I had only three church services planned for today, all at Westminster Abbey. I shall be fine.  As AJ once said to me, “You’re in London.  You’ll have a hard time being grumpy.”

How right he was.  I’m in Europe, in a manner of speaking, and I’ll be walking the sidewalks of London soon enough.  All is well.


Now, having said that, a couple of quibbles.  United has cut back on the food they provide weary travelers.  We used to get a piece of cheese and a couple of water crackers with our dinner.  And free wine or spirits.  That has gone away.  And we used to get yogurt with breakfast.  That too is now a memory.

I’m also reminded of how much I dislike 757s.  They’re just a bit  uncomfortabler that wide-bodies on these international flights.


A brief update, now at 3.09 a.m. body time (10.09 a.m. local time): we are expected to depart from here in about 2.5 hours.  We are not amused.  And the flight attendant just told me that once we reach two hours on the ground, we are handed granola bars.  We are even less amused.

My friend D wrote an impassioned letter last week to an airline’s customer service department.  I, like him, am surprised at times at how a company can squander the good will we have toward that company.

We are not the only flight that has been bumped over to the Continent.  But . . . . grrrr…..