‘Stone altars’ (Part 3)

I asked for your hearts, but you built these stone altars for yourselves

A strange nervousness and anxiety began to take hold of me the closer we got to London. My wife and I had spent the morning in Gloucestershire celebrating our God-daughter’s first birthday party. It had been an early drive and my nervousness had ensured that I volunteered to do both legs of the journey – to and from Stonehouse: I needed some sense of control in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the, and I thought at the time, unnecessary excitement. Each mile that I conquered seemed to amplify the rumble at the pit of my stomach, increasing the thump of my heart while drawing it closer to my throat. I couldn’t admit the extent of my turmoil to my wife, but rather soldiered on: if I crumbled now, we might not make it to the Cathedral.

Slowly the roads got busier and so did the frequency of buildings and traffic signals. It seemed as though the 100 miles or so between the beautiful young lady and the huge edifice – concealed by its modern counterparts – had sailed by. Right onto the A501 – Southampton Row, then Kingsway. Left onto Fleet Street by Bush House. I finally convinced my wife to turn off the satnav, I knew very well where we were and the most important thing then was providence: we needed to park.

There had been a bit of a rush added to the journey as, unbeknown to me until the night before – as always – I had to be at the Cathedral an hour and a half before the service to rehearse. This meant leaving the party early and putting my foot down for most of the trip. Had we been aiming for 7pm, the day would’ve been less stressful and – maybe – the journey less anxious.

She – the Edifice – pushed the rest of the quite tall building aside and lay the skirting of her dress around the space she had made. Standing tall she proclaimed her majesty and magnificence, highlighting the exquisite stonework in the pillars that held her court. We drove round, I in awe again, and were lucky to find parking on Paternoster Row. In haste we made our way toward the nearest tea place in order to sit and top up on caffein and food before going in – we had clawed back half hour which we intended to use ‘wisely’. Somewhere between parking and walking, I lost my appetite. The first tea place was full, and so was Starbucks. The cafe inside the Cathedral Crypt was also closing. M&S was our only hope.

As we emerged from the crypt, at whose doors a well built gentleman was ushering patron’s out, we spotted Azariah – my presenting Clergy and friend. He had his robes in the bag he carried. Unnervingly for me, he seemed aware of the depth of my anxiety – at least it seemed to me he did; with a hand on my shoulder he silently said what was needed to cement my walls of self assurance until the next onslaught. I downed the mango, pineapple, and passionfruit smoothie he bought me in one go and followed the calmer two, my wife and the vicar, into the Cathedral.

I had never been inside St Paul’s and almost expected pixie dust to fall. Following Azariah but keeping close to my wife, I gazed at the different works of art and genius that formed the inside of this beautiful monument (I do not use that word lightly: all connotations are apt methinks). He found my seat where my service order was waiting and after a few conversations with other candidates and clergy, I settled down for the rehearsal. (My wife must have been bored stiff).

Two things – that I retrospectively reflect on here – happened. The first was that I was placed beside a young lady who was due to be married. She hadn’t been baptized or confirmed and needed to be in order to marry in the church she was a part of. This was interesting as I wasn’t confirmed in the Church of England when I got married, a statement of the breadth within the Church. She had no idea what was about happen – I realized when I joked about the pool beneath the floor infront of us in which she would be dunked that nerves overcame her.

The second was the care with which the Chaplins and deacons took to prepare in order that the Bishop wouldn’t have any unpleasantries: their honest diligence was inspiring. Would I happily dedicate my life, and time, in the service of another man – He would have to be a great man (as it turned out this Bishop was).

After running through the important aspects of the liturgy with us, we were set free for the half hour or so before the service. The charm of the building had began to be lost on me. My nerves were vanishing quickly and the cocky side of me was slowly increasing the number of ill timed quips and jokes: my mind was beginning to disengage with the vows I was about to affirm.

The crowds began to gather outside the Cathedral where a fire had been lit by the vergers. I had been saying hello to the friends and family that had come along to the service in support and thus missed out on the prime spots. ‘How religious’ I thought when I saw the two lines of clergy in file along the steps from the Cathedral doors down to where the fire burned. Imagining the laughter of an athiest at the sight of the robes, and the Bishop’s hat, I chuckled – missing part of the reading; a nudge from my presenting Vicar and friend began to knock me back into the proceedings…

 

 


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