At the heart of today’s Coronation, King Charles III will be anointed with holy oil produced by olive trees growing on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is the most sacred moment at any Coronation. The King dedicates his whole life before God to the service of all. Here his vocation is affirmed and equipped.
That intense moment is shielded from public view by a screen. Of interest to us in Norfolk is that the screen has words embroidered on it which were written by Mother Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.”
At that moment I will be just a couple of metres away. Much to my surprise I received a call a couple of months ago saying that Her Majesty The Queen would like me, together with the Bishop of Hereford, to support her at the Coronation as her two Bishops Assistant.
I know that Sandringham plays a special part in the lives of The Royal Family and so I can only imagine that my involvement at the Coronation recognises the place that Norfolk has in The Queen’s heart.
The role involves walking next to The Queen from when she arrives at the Abbey until she departs. I will be whispering reminders of when Her Majesty needs to stand, sit or kneel. But more importantly, I will be praying alongside her and The King. Praying for and with Their Majesties on such a momentous day in their lives.
Whilst thoroughly daunting, it will be a privilege to support Her Majesty at this deeply spiritual moment where we ask for God’s blessing on her life of service and that of The King.
The last couple of weeks have been packed with rehearsals, first in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace and then all this week in Westminster Abbey. The Queen has been serene throughout, with a few wry observations. I sincerely hope that all will go well today. We are all well practised. The Crowns need to be placed well down on each head, metres of velvet train not be tripped over, and bishops need to remember that they can move other than diagonally on this occasion!
The choreography of the service is mighty complex. Concentration will be the key thing for me, along with wiggling my toes as I have to stand still for long periods. I am sure that I will want to freeze-frame every moment to take a longer and more detailed look.
The scale of the Coronation is immense. Westminster Abbey has been transformed and will be packed with kings and queens, presidents and governors representing countries from all over the world, as well as ordinary people from all walks of life who are committed to their communities. The service will be watched by billions. In ancient words and traditions, as well as new words and music composed especially for today, our King will be anointed, crowned and enthroned.
Yet, when you strip away all of the pomp and pageantry, we find a follower of Jesus Christ, pledging before God to serve and be a blessing to “people of every faith and conviction that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led in the paths of peace.’” His Majesty takes that very seriously, saying last year that he will “endeavour to serve with loyalty, respect, and love”.
This last week I have seen The King greet ecumenical representatives warmly, as well as speaking knowledgably with people from other faiths who he has included in the Coronation rites. His Majesty’s passion for religious freedom is obvious in the service, as is the use and reuse of items so that the occasion is as sustainable as possible, reflecting his environmental credentials.
Equally, The Queen offers all that she is to serve the nation and Commonwealth and I hope that the TV cameras pick up some of the symbols of her life and passions embroidered on her dress, including her dogs.
What a daunting task. That is why The King and Queen need our prayers. Near the beginning of the service, after The King is welcomed by a young person, there is a moment of wonderful stillness as we turn our minds heavenward. My prayer for Their Majesties at that moment, indeed also for our nation and the world, will be based on the words that I bring from Norwich, that “all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well”.