A Vigil of Prayer was held in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Friday evening – on the Eve of the Coronation of King Charles III. The Service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Pastoral Assistant at the Cathedral, Rev’d Canon John Merrick.

The Service was sung by the Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir, accompanied by the Organist and Master of the Choristers, Dr Derek Collins.

In his reflection, Dean Stewart harked back almost 3,000 years to Solomon, who – at the age of 20 – succeeded his father, David, as King of Israel. Fabulously wealthy, and renowned for his great building skills, Solomon’s 40-year reign was known as the Golden Age.

“One night Solomon had a dream,” the Dean said, “and in this dream God spoke to him. God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’

Solomon could have asked for anything. He could have asked for a long life, for more riches, for success ov er his enemies. But he didn’t. His response to God was this: ‘Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.

“Scripture tells us that God was impressed that Solomon had asked for wisdom and he said, ‘I will give you a wise and discerning mind. No one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked – both riches and honour all your life. No other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’

“On tomorrow morning, almost 3,000 years after the birth of Solomon, Charles Philip Arthur George will be crowned King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Head of the Commonwealth, and his wife Camilla will officially become Queen. The Coronation ceremony – the 40th to have been held at Westminster Abbey – will follow a form that has remained largely unchanged since 1066.

“This evening,” Dean Stewart said, “as we and many other people throughout the nation and Commonwealth meet to pray for King Charles III and for Camilla, the Queen Consort, I wonder what thoughts will be going through his mind? I wonder particularly if he will be re-reading and reflecting on the Biblical account of Solomon’s dream? If God was to speak this evening to our King, as he spoke to Solomon thousands of years ago, and say, ‘Ask what I shall give you,’ I wonder what his response would be?

“I suggest that he might not need to ask for more palaces and houses; he has them in abundance. I suggest that he might not need to ask for more riches. It is said that he is one of the wealthiest men on this earth. According to The Guardian, his personal wealth is estimated to be £1.8bn.

“So, I suggest that like King Solomon, his response should be, ‘Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.’ I suggest that any prayer that King Charles might make at this time should include a request for the gifts of wisdom and insight.

“For the past number of months, Charles has been the King. He became King on the 8th of September 2022 following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. While he has been fulfilling many engagements as Head of State, the full significance of his role and office may not have yet sunk in, and it will only be in the solemnity of tomorrow’s ceremony that he might venture to ask himself, ‘What have I done?’

“This is a role and office that from an early age he knew would one day be his. He has been heir apparent to the throne since he was three years old. For the past 71 years, he has been preparing himself for this great occasion – an occasion that, I suspect, will be tinged with some sadness as he recalls his dear mother. It was from her that he learned all that he needed to know about being King. She was his role model. In her long life he saw Christian faith in action; he witnessed her popularity and saw how people from all over the world and from all of the countries of the Commonwealth, loved and respected her.

“As he reflects on her long life and reign as Queen, he will hopefully be seeking to follow in her footsteps and, at the same time, placing his own unique stamp on the monarchy.

“When he was the Prince of Wales, King Charles had many interests and was involved in many projects. He was known to speak his kind and to comment on things that he liked and disliked. As King and Head of State, he will have to keep his views and opinions to himself. He may, however, share his views and experiences with the Prime Minister when they meet each week, and we can look forward to his Christmas message, shared with the nation and Commonwealth on Christmas Day.

“In public, the wisdom that has been gained over seven decades will be silent but in private I’m certain that individuals and groups will continue to benefit from his wide range of interests. The charities that he founded in the past will continue, in one way or another, to receive his support, and the environment – about which he is so passionate – will not be forgotten either.

“During the Coronation Service, King Charles will take an oath promising to rule according to law, to exercise justice with mercy, and to maintain the Church of England. One of the titles that he holds is Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, King Charles plays a part in its life and governance. Although his authority over the Church of England is largely ceremonial and is mostly observed in a symbolic capacity, the position is still relevant to the Church. He formally appoints archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“The Christian faith was not only important but was the bedrock upon which Queen Elizabeth II lived her life. We trust that King Charles will also find spiritual insight in the Christian faith and in his personal relationship with God and His son, Jesus Christ.

“It is well known that King Charles also has a love and respect for people of other world religions and those of none. While living in accord with Christian teachings and principles, his hand will continue to be extended in friendship and solidarity to all people who are made in the image and likeness of God.

“This evening, as we meet in this part of the realm, we pray sincerely for King Charles III and for Camilla the Queen Consort that God would bless them and that they in turn would be a blessing to others as they serve their God and people for many years to come.”

The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla will be shown on the big screen in Saint Columb’s Cathedral on Saturday 6th May, beginning at 10.00 a.m. Light refreshments will be served.

Then, on Wednesday 10th May, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Right Reverend Andrew Forster, will preach at a Special Commemorative Service for the Coronation which will be held in Saint Columb’s Cathedral, beginning at 7.30 p.m.