Sacred Places Journal
23 September 2001: St. Paul's, St. Paul's, St. Paul's
Harvest Festival. For years I've wanted to attend one in England. Today it happened. "It would be very different in a rural parish," the vicar explains. "There, the windows, font, everywhere would be decked with sheaves of corn, pumpkins, baskets of apples . . . But we have to be who we are, so everything comes from the shop." Still, the enthusiastic procession to "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" and certainly no less colorful than in any pastoral setting. Rather the reverse, I'm sure, as the bright dress of the Afro-Caribbean community mingles with clerical vestments and the beaming smiles of children. The steps to the altar are laden with gifts for the poor.
Choral Evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral where prayers from the Day of Remembrance for America a week ago Friday still echo in the evening liturgy: "Give peace in our time, O Lord; because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God." And we pray that we "being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness . . ."
The rector, visiting from nearby St. Paul's, Covent Garden, tells of being in New York on the Tuesday. Except for having slept in, he would have been in Lower Manhattan. He was going out the door when a friend called. "Don't go," he said. The first plane had just crashed.
"God hates waste," the rector said. "We must not sink into a thankless existence. We can find ourselves in a world with a lot to live with and little sense of what to live for." We were urged to compassion and tenderness and to avoid racism. Unfortunately, we were not told of the empowerment the Holy Spirit offers to achieve such worthy goals.
St. Mary's, Balham
Evening Prayers, St. Mary's, Balham. The first lesson is from Ezra 1, as at St. Paul's. When I had sat under Christopher Wren's great dome at St. Paul's that rose from the rubble of the Great Fire of London and then 300 years later triumphed through the smoke and destruction of the blitz, I had thought there could be no better place to hear God's instructions for the building of his temple. Now, in an obscure parish church which suffered a devastating fire three years ago, surrounded by scaffolding and plastic sheeting, I think, "This is the best place to hear this reading."-until I think of home and Epworth Chapel on the Green and our enormous effort to put a new roof on our church . . . and so does God's Word speak around the world.
And then before bed, the evening news shows the Prayer for America from Yankee Stadium and people praying in yet another St. Paul's-this the New York church nearest to ground zero. And finally, the flag-raising, marking the end of the official period of mourning. Please, Lord, let it be. ". . . and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers . . ."