John Stott: Service of Thanksgiving
Yes, there was a big sign saying 'No Photography'. I did see it on entering St Paul's Cathedral, yesterday morning for the London 'Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of John R.W. Stott'. But 40 minutes or so before the service started, I couldn't resist taking this photo from my seat. (We'd been asked to be seated at least 20 minutes before the 11.30 am start.)
As I turned off my camera and mobile the All Souls Orchestra began to tune up and I sat back to enjoy the orchestral and organ music before the service, which was as magnificent as its setting: Handel's Prelude in F Major, Elgar's Nimrod from Enigma Variations and then the Final from Guilmant's Organ Symphony in D Minor. The latter piece rose to a great crescendo of sound from orchestra and organ with all the stops pulled out so you could feel the building itself vibrating with the sound.
The music brought me to tears as did the silence that immediately followed in the completely full cathedral before we stood to sing Charles Wesley's hymn "Jesus! The name high over all" as the procession of Canons and other clergy entered including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Chapter and the Bishop of London.
Then the first word of the Bidding given by Mark Oakley was 'Jesus'. John Stott would have loved that. Come to think of it, he had probably arranged that before he died. In my experience of his ministry its hallmark was his passion to point people to Jesus Christ as Lord of all and he did this in word, deed and character.
We heard tributes from Michael Baughen (former Bishop of Chester), Frances Whitehead (John Stott's secretary of 55 years), John Chew, (Anglican Archbishop of South East Asia), Robert Aboagye-Mensah (Presiding Bishop, Methodist Church of Ghana), Ruth Padilla DeBorst (General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fellowship). There was: a wonderful 'Litany of Thanksgiving'; 2 Bible readings; a sermon by Timothy Dudley Smith (former Bishop of Thetford); more great hymns, an Anthem ('As by man came death' from Handel's Messiah) by All Souls Gathered Choir; an ongoing vision given by Mark Green of The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and Chris Wright of the Langham Partnership International. Elisabeth Crocker sang 'Make me a channel of your peace' before His Honour Judge David Turner QC led us in a 'Litany of Commitment' before the final hymn 'Lord, for the years...'. John Sentamu and Richard Chartres led the final prayers and Rowan Williams gave the blessing before the recessional music: Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4.
It was an extremely rich feast over 90 minutes. All its ingredients, in one way or another, pointed to and gave praise and thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is why it was so profoundly challenging.
After the service D and I were unexpectedly treated to a leisurely lunch at the Law Society by a legal friend from our All Souls days (back in the middles ages). Then we just had time to walk back from Chancery Lane and over the Thames to the Tate Modern to meet our daughter for a drink after her working day.
Then the three of us walked back over the Millennium Bridge in the dark to the floodlit St Paul's and up the lift to the top of the One New Change shopping centre alongside it. From its roof terrace you get a magnificent view as you can see from my photo here.
Then our daughter went her way and we went ours back home. It's a day that will stay with me for life I think.
Here's the prayer which ended the 'Litany of Commitment'. I don't know who wrote it.
Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, pour your love into our hearts that we may preach, share and live the gospel in the world. Make our vision bright, our minds receptive, our service strong, our lives Christ-like, that we, loving you above all things, may give up ourselves, our time, our talents, and our resources for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.