Saturday, December 10, 2005

Day 19: Piccadilly Circus and a wonderful Westminster Evensong

The weather has turned nice in London. I still overhear people complaining about the cold. But 45 degrees, no wind, and a little sun is about as good as it’s been on my trip. So I did another walkabout, up to the Piazza, then over to Piccadilly Circus, and back though St. James Park to my hotel again. (Yes, I have a nice hotel in a good location. I decided to splurge for my last stop in London.)

By Buckingham Palace towards the beginning of my walk, I saw what seemed to be some random flummery with some uniformed horsemen riding up the Mall. I found out it’s the Changing of the Horse Guard (not to be confused with the more famous Changing of the Guard). Near the Changing, I ran into this very friendly Australian of Scottish extraction. Doesn’t that sound scary? He must drive the more reserved English nuts. We had a fun conversation on political history until I told him I had to go. (And I did. I needed to finish my walk by 2pm so I could get to Evensong early.)

On Charring Cross Road, I was impressed by the bookshops, but didn’t find any particular book I wanted. With my full suitcases and the cost of shipping books to the U. S., that might be a good thing.

Piccadilly Circus lived up to its name. Among other things, a Muslim anti-anti-Terrorism march went by. The two antis aren’t a typo. They were protesting against the war on terrorism. And anyone who has negative suspicions towards Muslims would have had those confirmed by looking at the banners, which equated war on terror with war on Islam. That they were inadvertently (or not) equating Islam with terror didn’t seem to bother them. They were also protesting against discrimination against the color orange as that was the color of all their banners.

Remember all those lefties of the 80’s who insisted that they weren’t pro-Communist, but always opposed anti-Communists? Who were anti-anti-Communists? Well, there were a lot of anti-anti-Terrorists marching today.

After enjoying the crazy birds in St. James Park and resting not as much as I wanted, I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey. It was wonderful. I was thinking beforehand that I haven’t been to a service that really got a hold on me since Oxford. Well, this one got a big hold on me.

The choir sounded great, and their pieces were well chosen. I got to sit next to the choir again (I think most are shy about that. There were about 20 or more people before me.), and I noticed the chorister across the aisle from me had a good voice. Well, lo and beyond, when they sang Dyson’s Magnificat, he was the soloist. To be right by the soloist for such an excellent canticle was special. And he did well. After he finished, his chorister friends gave him quiet affirmation. And when he, smiling, turned in my direction, I gave him a nod, too.

An anthem from Isaiah 35 by Samuel Wesley moved me as well. Really, I can’t think of anything that wasn’t well chosen and done well. The service and its content gave me so much joy, I had to control my emotions at times, seeing I was sitting right next to the choir.

The second lesson was the passage from St. Paul where he says “the dead in Christ will rise first.” I thought with the over 3,000 buried in the Abbey, that might make quite a mess of the place.

I’m so glad I went. I’ll be back tomorrow for Evensong. For Sunday morning, I think I’m still going to St. Mary’s on Bourne St. on the recommendation of the rector of Smokey Matt’s.

An amusing part of Anglican culture is how much we like to sit in the back. In my home parish, the front quarter of the church is almost abandoned most services. And here in England, the places on honor are on the back rows. At the colleges, members and fellows sit on the back row. In Westminster Abbey, the Queen’s seat is in back right by the screen. (You must remember this is quire seating with the congregation facing each other. And the back row is three rows up. We’re not talking about seats way back in the nave of the cathedrals and chapels. But still.)

If you’re uncouth like me, this is great because you arrive just a little early, you get to sit right next to some of the best choirs in the world. This is one part of me that ain’t Anglican, and I’m glad!

Yesterday, when I was near Downing Street, I think history passed me by, and I didn’t even know it at the time. All these photographers were taking pictures of traffic. I thought maybe they were taking pictures of somebody Frightfully Important going to see the Prime Minister, but nothing seemed odd in the traffic to me. Later, I discovered the Routemaster, a historic double-decker bus was doing its last regular London bus route that day. It’s been quite a big deal. (There are still a lot of double-decker buses, but they are much more modern.) I wish I knew what was going on. I would have taken a photo or two myself.

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