(Inverness, California) Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, attended All Saints Sunday services at the Parish Church and Retreat House of St. Columba's in the quaint California seaside town of Inverness.
The royals were in the middle of a visit that included stops to an organic farmers' market in the town of Point Reyes; lunch with farmers in the hidden coastal community of Bolinas; a visit to the long-running San Francisco cabaret show "Beach Blanket Babylon," accompanied by former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife Charlotte Maillard Shultz, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, author Danielle Steel, and the Rt. Rev. William Swing and his wife Mary Swing; and a tour of the Berkeley Edible Schoolyard led by chef Alice Waters.
The little redwood Church of St. Columba's was filled to capacity for the royal visit, as the security contingent and media entourage practically doubled the population of this Northern California hamlet. Although the Holy Eucharist Rite One service began at 10:00 a.m., congregants were informed that they would need to be seated by 9:30 to gain admittance. Most were in place by 9:00 a.m.
Prior to the arrival of the royal couple, the Rev. Tom Brindley, St. Columba's rector, gave a brief talk on appropriate protocol. He then told about certain changes to the format of the service. After telling members of this close-knit congregation that they would not be allowed to leave their pews during the peace, but could only greet those on their right and left, a woman was heard to say "How boring."
Brindley then told the congregation that they were "certainly blessed to have [the royals] here with us. My prayer is that they also will be blessed by being here in the midst of such gracious saints."
Then Brindley invited Tom Rooker, a layman who heads the church's healing guild, to lead the congregation in prayer. Rooker invoked the Holy Spirit in a prayer that followed the theme of the rector's prayer, that "we might be blessed by their visit, and that they might be blessed by being here." Rooker then prayed that the Spirit would fill the Rector and make him an instrument of God's grace.
A Northern California misty rain fell as the motorcade pulled up the drive to the church. The congregation sat quietly anticipating the entry of the prince, the duchess, and their attendants. From inside the church it was obvious that the royal couple had stepped from the limousine because the strobe of camera flashes illuminated the church windows.
The entourage, all wearing poppies of remembrance on their lapels, entered first, then the royal couple followed. The duchess smiled warmly at members of the congregation as an officer of the Royal Air Force escorted her and the prince to their seats in the front pew.
Brindley's All Saints' sermon reminded the congregation that all who are in Christ are bound to Christ in a dynamic union by being bound to one another, and to all the saints. He told those gathered, royal and commoner, that it is when we are all bound together as the Body of Christ, that we are made perfect.
Before Holy Communion, the rector presented the royal couple with a gift of two cross-stitched bookmarks depicting crosses, and a picture illustrating Isaiah 12:2, colored in by children from the congregation.
At communion the royal couple received first, then the entourage and congregation followed.
As the service ended, the RAF officer escorted the prince and duchess out of the church. As the door was opened, again the strobe of flash bulbs illuminated the doorway and the church windows. The entourage, and the vestry followed, and the royal couple met with the rector and his wife Lorna, and members of the vestry on the church's deck overlooking Tomales Bay.
After meeting the royal couple, Diane Archibald, Sr. Warden of St. Columba's, said that, "God was honoring this holy place by bringing the future head of the Church of England to worship with us."
Almost every member of the congregation said that they felt that the visit was a blessing, and they prayed the royals were blessed by worshiping in this place in the way that each of them had been.
"That's the ministry of this place is to be that kind of blessing," said Brindley. "It changes lives."
After meeting with the rector and the vestry, the royals and their entourage moved toward their limousine that was waiting to take them to San Francisco. Members of the congregation had lined up along the path leading to the car, and the prince and duchess stopped to chat and shake hands. As the rain fell, the royal couple paused to spend time chatting and laughing with the congregation, thanking them for their hospitality.
As they finished working their way through the line and moved to the car, the members of the congregation applauded, some of them waving tiny British flags.
When asked what the visit meant to him personally, Brindley said, "For a priest in the Anglican Communion it's the opportunity of a lifetime. There are some in places where this happens all the time. Praise God that the Lord has placed them their and given them those gifts. But for most of us, it is once in a ministry that you get this opportunity laid before you by God. It's humbling."
Article by: Sean T. McConnell