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A commentary by Edward Bevin on a service of thanksgiving to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the rededication of St Bride's in the presence of The Queen and Prince Philip on 28 November 2007
With split-second timing, as befitting the world leader in punctuality, the sound of the trumpets reverberating around the walls and a packed congregation patiently waiting, our Sovereign Lady, her husband at her side, steps once more into the historical limelight of the spiritual home of journalists - St Bride's in Fleet Street.
Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Anglican church and a truly devout Christian, seemed quite at home as she walked down the aisle with Prince Philip to that marvellously charismatic hymn All People that on Earth do Dwell. As the Royal Couple passed by within inches and I bowed my head, it reminded me (as if I didn't need reminding!) that during this month of November, I had written on these pages about two world icons who had spoken in this great church.
First came John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, followed by the BBC's Gaza Correspondent Alan Johnston, to speak after his incarceration of 114 days. And now we are privileged to witness, at close quarters, the modern day world icon to beat all icons.
Our Queen is, of course, a diminutive figure, but with a smile as huge as you will ever see. One would have thought that facing the Nation's press, with whom, let's be frank, her relationships have often been, well, unsatisfactory, she might have left that smile at Buckingham Palace. But oh no, here she was and here it was!
Fifty years ago, almost to the day, this same gracious lady and her husband had walked down that same aisle to the same hymn for the rededication of St Bride's following World War II devastation. The Royal Couple took their places on the south side of the High Altar, picked up their service sheets, and joined in like everyone else. And so, this service of thanksgiving, had begun and a new chapter had unfurled.
Canon David Meara, the Rector of St Bride's, in his Bidding, gave thanks for the vision and dedication of those who worked tirelessly to create 'beauty from ashes' in 1957. After the Anthem We wait for Thy loving kindness, O Lord, words selected by Cyril Armitage, Rector during the service 50 years ago, and music composed by William McKie for the marriage of the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the reading from Isaiah picked up the same theme - beauty for ashes.
Then came a brand new hymn, being sung for the first time. Canon Michael Saward's words captured sad and glorious moments of the past and the future. The former Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral will probably never write more stirring and tear-jerking words than these.
After Canon Meara's brief but splendid address using the service's theme, his predecessor at St Bride's, Canon John Oates, dedicated a journalists' memorial book containing names of all those who have died in their relentless pursuit to 'bring us the news.' The Queen and Prince Philip stood and admired the book which is housed in a cabinet made from solid Hertfordshire oak and skilfully crafted by Dr Duncan Gorton and Andrew Farnham, of St Albans.
Then followed a stunning new anthem written by a former member of the Kings Singers. Bob Chilcott's Beauty for Ashes will no doubt be sung in churches and cathedrals up and down the land for years to come. Representatives from the media, the City, the parish and the congregation led the prayers including one for
Our Sovereign Lady the Queen, and his Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for 60 years of marriage, and for her long and happy reign.
With the singing of the final hymn, He Who would Valiant be, like the first also used at the previous service, and the National Anthem, it was all over. After six months of careful planning and numerous meetings, masterminded by David Meara, the church administrator James Irving and guild marshal Terence Smith, the historic event was all over in less than 45 minutes.
But there was still time for a dozen or so members of Janet Smith's Sunday school to meet their Queen and for six-year-old Emma Williams to present a bouquet. The children were adorned with colourful sashes bearing the cross of St Bride and were excited, if not bemused by the occasion. One child was heard to question: Is she really a Queen? Where's her crown?
The truth is, the crown may not have been around, but my goodness THAT smile certainly was.