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Day Service, St Paul's Cathedral, London
Photo: Armchair Travel Co. Ltd
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
Church of St Paul the Apostle, London.
of England, Diocese
What to say that hasn't already been said so much more eloquently?
Let me focus instead on the American presence there, since this
was, after all, the American Thanksgiving service. For more
than a century St Paul's has had a special relationship with
America. In 1903, the financial icon J. Pierpont Morgan donated
funds to bring electricity to the cathedral. The Jesus Chapel,
an area behind the high altar, was damaged during World War
II and was rebuilt as a memorial to the 28,000 American men
and women who died in the defense of Britain. General Dwight
D. Eisenhower, in the period before he became President, commissioned
a roll of honor commemorating the dead to whose memory the chapel
was intended as a memorial; the roll is in the form of a giant
book, a page of which is turned each day.
Since so much ink has already been committed to paper concerning
the cathedral and its ministries, let me instead say something
about the American
International Church in London, whose pastor was one of
the guest officiants at today's service. They are an interdenominational
church made up of Americans, Brits, and people from more than
20 countries, and are housed in a Georgian dissenters' church,
Whitefields Tabernacle, on Tottenham Court Road. The church
offers a full program of children's and young adults' ministries,
prayer groups, and an outreach to the homeless and hungry, as
well as other activities such as a vibrant arts program.
St Paul's is located in the City of London, the historic center
of London, the square mile area from which modern London springs.
Home to almost all of the world's major financial institutions,
the City is to Britain what Wall Street is to America, and most,
if not all, major American financial institutions are heavily
represented. In fact, the American banking presence in London
is as large as if not larger than at home because of the UK's
lighter regulatory profile.
The Revd Barry Gaeddert, senior pastor, the International Community
Church, Surrey; the Revd John A. D'Elia, senior minister, the
American International Church, the Revd Canon Mark Oakley, canon
chancellor in residence; the College of Canons; several virgers;
the Hon. Matthew Winthrop Barzun, Ambassador of the United States
to the Court of St James's; a color guard of United States Marines.
The date & time:
Thursday, 28 November 2013, at 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
The Thanksgiving Day Service for the American Community in London.
How full was the building?
I imagine about as full as the place gets for these kinds of
services. Impossible to count, but someone nearby suggested
that there were slightly more than 2500 people there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There was a phalanx of smartly turned out American ladies,
smiling and handing out the order of service booklets, wishing
all and sundry a very enthusiastic happy Thanksgiving.
Was your pew comfortable?
They were the regular chairs in St Paul's, which don't invite
settling in for the long haul. I was lucky enough to be very
near the front, where, much like first class on an airplane,
there was slightly more space between seats than in the rear.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Getting a giant hoard seated in a timely manner is never a quiet
affair, is it? And, of course, sound acts in unpredictable ways
in the cathedral, as the dome makes for interesting acoustics.
It was pretty darn loud. There were the usual chairs scraping,
babies crying, hustle and bustle, but one thing I was truly
grateful for was the fact that security was handled by St Paul's
rather than the Embassy, which is well known for being aggressive.
Nobody wants airport-style patdowns before going to church
I don't care who you are or what you're into.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"Dear friends, welcome to the cathedral church as we come
together in the name of Jesus Christ."
What books did the congregation use during the
A very comprehensive service bulletin. Decent card stock and
What musical instruments were played?
The organ. The service also featured the combined choirs of
the American congregations, who were quite competent, if a little
hard to hear. Musically, it was sort of all over the place,
with Copland and Adler and even something rather insensitively
labeled a "Negro spiritual" in the bulletin.
Did anything distract you?
I think St Paul's was designed to tempt one into distraction,
like some cruel ecclesiastical joke. Whenever I attend a service
there, I find myself behaving like a toddler, with my eye wandering
off when not immediately engaged. St Paul's itself and these
big services always border on sensory overload. I did find my
eye wandering (repeatedly) to one of the canons, who looked
to be dozing off during the sermon, and I couldn't help myself
anticipating the tell-tale head bob.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The service was a strange sort of Anglican/American evangelical
liturgical hybrid and I think one of those mix and matches
that makes neither tier of the candle very happy. It opened
with the combined choirs offering up some "American"
hymns, none of which this American had ever heard! The opening
hymn was that old chestnut "Come, ye thankful people, come",
to the tune of St George's Windsor. The bidding and
Lord's Prayer were followed by a really grim and atonal anthem.
Then came lessons, the receiving of gifts, a proclamation by
President Barack Obama (read by the ambassador), a litany of
thanksgiving (a truncated version from Common Worship),
sermon and blessing. The choir tried to put on a happy-clappy
face during one of the spirituals, much to the amusement of
the congregation! We should be thankful it wasn't "Shine
Jesus Shine", I suppose.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 Pastor Barry Gaeddert seemed a bit more Protestant
than I'm used to. He was competent and engaging, but I'm always
uncomfortable with emotional appeals from the pulpit. He spoke
about the recent loss of his wife, but how his faith allowed
him to continue to give thanks.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Riffing on the reading from Colossians 2:6-10 (our lives should
overflow with thankfulness to Christ), he argued that we, like
the Colossians, tend to hedge our bets, not fully believing
that Christ is alone sufficient, not realizing that we don't
really need much else. He linked this to Thanksgiving, saying
that we are "outwardly thankful" once a year, but
then we put that back into its box until the next Thanksgiving.
This is where we fail. We need to make thankfulness more a part
of our lives, much in the same way that we need to become more
Which part of the service was like being in
The ambassador wished his mother, who was sitting with his family,
a happy 70th birthday during his address. It was really very
sweet, and she was visibly touched. And I know this is totally
cornball, but I was very moved to see several misty-eyed people
around me during the singing of "America the Beautiful".
I hadn't quite expected that.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Why do Americans in the political classes feel the need to tell the date, time and place they found Jesus? Groan!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of looking lost. The very efficient St Paul's ushers
(who brook no nonsense in a very nice way, I might add) directed
the flow of traffic with maximum efficiency. We were invited
to see the American Chapel, and some headed to the crypt for
the ambassador's Thanksgiving lunch.
How would you describe the after-service
Unfortunately I had to get back to the office, so couldn't attend
the Thanksgiving dinner (a pint and curry for me!), but from
what I gather it was the full traditional spread, with turkey,
dressing, and cranberry sauce in the restaurant in the cathedral
crypt. I was very sad I couldn't attend.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 It would be strange and anonymous, I think, to make
St Paul's my regular, but it certainly does the big events in
a way that no other cathedral can.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes! It reminded me to give thanks for all of the wonderful
friends I have in the UK, whose generosity, warmth and welcome
have been so over-the-top and which I don't think I can possibly
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
What a perfect way to spend a Thanksgiving day, something I
hadn't expected at all.
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