Church leaders from the four main Christian denominations in the North West joined the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, in St Columb’s Cathedral, this evening, for a Service of Celebration for the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla. The distinguished guests present included His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL, and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Cllr Angela Dobbins.
The sermon was preached by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster who, only four days earlier, had been in Westminster Abbey for the Coronation Service. Bishop Andrew told the congregation that the Cathedral they were sitting in had been built almost 400 years earlier, during the reign of the first King Charles. The reign of King Charles III was, he said, “light years away” from the 17th century religious conflicts on this island.
“Now, in this Cathedral, built in the reign of Charles I, we come to celebrate and to pray for the reign of Charles III. And, as he begins his reign, these are certainly less violent times on these islands but, nevertheless, they’re times of great challenge and times of division.”
Bishop Andrew specified a number of these: the cost of living crisis, concern for our future, and challenges with how government acted and behaved. And he said that division seemed to be the hallmark of modern day society.
“On the eve of her own Coronation, the Late Queen Elizabeth said this: ‘Coronations are a declaration of our hope for the future.’ Saturday’s Service, in all its grandeur and pomp and majesty and splendour, I think shone a light of hope into days of challenge and days of division. It shone that light of hope in great clarity through some of the themes that were highlighted during the Service.”
The heart of last Saturday’s Coronation Service, Bishop Andrew said, was the call to the monarch – and, indeed, to every one of us – to be people of service, just as Jesus had been. King Charles had shown his devotion to service over many, many years. “That willingness of the King to lend Royal support and presence has lifted up and blessed many. He tells us that he has come not to be served, but to serve. Our greatest dignity, and even our greatest majesty, is found in service because it is in service that you and I are most Christ-like. As we seek to serve, as we seek to help out, as we seek to put ourselves in the place of others and lift them up and support them we are at our most Christ-like. When we are prepared to serve, we put aside pride and self-interest, and we look to the needs of others, [to] the greater good of society and the world around us. Saturday’s Service was a reminder of that, of the dignity of service, of the majesty of service, and a challenge not only to the King but to each one of us in a world of challenge and division.”
The light of hope in the Service also shone brightly, Bishop Andrew suggested, because it was a celebration of the diversity of our nation.”We saw young and old, the cultural diversity of these islands celebrated and on display. It celebrated the diversity that is actually a God-given gift. Whenever we open scripture, we find diversity everywhere. We find it in the very early days of the Church, whenever the Church was born on the day of Pentecost, we hear about Parthians and Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya beyond, in Cyrene, and visitors from Rome. It was the known world and yet it talks of difference, it talks of diversity and it celebrates diversity in the life of God. And in the very heart of God, we see diversity yet unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three persons, yet one God. And we’re told that in Christ there’s no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We could add to it today that in Christ there’s no Protestant or Catholic. Diversity and the celebration of diversity shone a beautiful light of hope in that Service.”
Bishop Andrew said the city of Derry-Londonderry was at its best when we celebrated or even cherished our diversity, when we valued and honoured the place of each other’s culture within our city. When we didn’t do that, we were all diminished. “My hope is for a city where each of us, each of our cultures, each of our traditions are valued and cherished by all of us, as we share this place that we love so much. We are at our best when we are building relations rather than tearing them down. We are at our best when we pull people towards us rather than push them away.”
The third sign of hope from Saturday’s Coronation Service was the fact that it placed worship and reverence for Almighty God at the heart of all that happened. “In our increasingly secular world, where faith is often sidelined and often – let’s be frank – looked down upon, I hope the Coronation showed us the colour, the texture, the grounding, the hope, the equipping, the blessing that faith alone brings to life, that will simply not be found in the desert of antipathy and scepticism. That faith in Christ can make all the difference. That worship of Christ brought that sense of awesomeness to what we witnessed on Saturday. And that faith in Christ can make all the difference to you and to me.”
This evening’s Service in St Columb’s Cathedral was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, assisted by the Cathedral’s Pastoral Assistant, Rev Canon John Merrick. The readings were delivered by the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; the Moderator of Derry & Donegal Presbytery, Rev Gordon McCracken; and the Superintendent of the Northwest District of the Methodist Church, Rev Dr Stephen Skuce.
The Service was sung by The Cathedral Choir, The Cathedral Chamber Choir and The Cathedral Girls’ Choir, directed and accompanied by the Organist and Master of the Choristers, Dr Derek Collins, and the Assistant Organist Nicky Morton.