Despite the great sadness of the Queen’s death less than four days beforehand, the new Bishop of Salisbury honoured his pledge to lead the Cannings and Redhorn Team 11.00am service at Urchfont on Sunday 12 September. Philip Lough of Urchfront PCC, shares about the day:
Bishop Stephen had swiftly allayed Urchfont parishioners’ fears in the days beforehand that he might need to remain at the cathedral in Salisbury. The long-planned service at St Michael and All Angels, Urchfont had swiftly been transformed by the Team Rector, the Revd Richard Curtis (always due to be away that day to participate in the Great North Run) from a normal Communion service into a ‘Eucharist at a Time of Mourning’, with every element – including the Bishop’s sermon – dedicated to remembering with deep affection and respect Her Majesty’s life of service to her nation and Commonwealth.
In a warm welcome to a full congregation, with members arriving from the Benefice’s eight far-flung churches, Bishop Stephen told the congregation that Urchfont had been the quickest parish to invite him to lead a service. This had brought him – accompanied by his Chaplain Canon Tony Monds – to this northern outpost of his diocese for the first time. In a sensitive and beautifully crafted sermon, described by one seasoned parishioner as ‘stand-out’, the Bishop spoke of the Queen’s life-long sense of duty, and to living out the vow that she had made on her 21st birthday to devote her life to the service of others. He spoke too of her deep and constant Christian faith, and the strength which that had given her throughout the many challenges of her long reign. He spoke with affection of his own meeting with the Queen just a few weeks before her death, and told an entertaining story of needing to correct several mistakes made by the Lord Chancellor in his ceremony of consecration.
At another amusing moment in the service, Bishop Stephen told us he had been asked to bless Urchfont’s splendid new pew cushions. He had been asked to bless many things before, including recently a bus shelter, but blessing pew cushions was a first for him.
Sadly for the congregation, the Bishop and his chaplain needed to leave immediately after the service, but not before he had administered communion to the many who requested it and had greeted every member of the congregation at the end of the service. He drove straight afterwards to Trowbridge to attend Wiltshire’s Proclamation of the new King’s accession to the throne and administer the final blessing.
Meanwhile, the congregation went happily to drink coffee and taste Cecilia Gillington’s excellent home-made biscuits in the Village Hall. There the talk was firmly of the Bishop’s warmth and good humour, and the comfort at a time of national grief that he had brought to all fortunate enough to attend a memorable service.