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Anglicans play central role at historic royal wedding

Posted on: April 29, 2011 2:13 PM
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By Matthew Davies, Episcopal News Service

An estimated 2 billion people around the world tuned in on April 29 to watch the historic royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey, a ceremony infused with British pageantry and steeped in elements of Anglicanism – past, present and future.

The streets of London bulged with thousands of well-wishers – some who'd camped for days to ensure the perfect spot for catching a glimpse of the happy couple, named just before the wedding as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Inside the abbey, the Very Rev. John Hall, dean of Westminster, conducted the service according to a 1966 version of the liturgy of matrimony from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, while Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, as head of the officially established Church of England, presided over the royal wedding and solemnized the marriage.

The Anglican leaders of Scotland, Ireland and Wales were among the 2,000 guests also to attend the ceremony, alongside representatives from other faith traditions, members of the British and foreign royal families, international dignitaries, members of the U.K. Parliament, and a smattering of celebrities, including musician Sir Elton John, and footballer David Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl singer Victoria.

The Most Rev. David Chillingworth, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said in a statement that it was "a great privilege" to attend the royal wedding. "Every wedding is a moment of hope and trust as people commit themselves to one another and to the unknown future."

Chillingworth said he hopes that all who gathered "to watch the pageantry" of the event "will remember to hold in their prayers William and Kate – two young people who face exceptional challenges and calls to service in their lives."

Bishop Richard Chartres of the Diocese of London, a personal friend and mentor to the royal family and dean of Her Majesty's Chapels Royal, delivered the address.

"This is a joyful day. It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations, because this is as every wedding day should be -- a day of hope," said Chartres during the sermon. "Faith and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life … I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life and I pray that God will bless you."

Chartres, who confirmed Middleton into the Church of England at a private ceremony in March, said: "We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril ... We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of living wisdom and reverence for life, for the earth and for one another. Marriage should transform as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we don't harbor ambitions to reform our partners … Each must give the other space and freedom."

Also attending the ceremony were Archbishop of York John Sentamu and his wife, Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales and Archbishop Alan Harper of the Church of Ireland.

In a pre-recorded video message, Williams said he has been "very struck" by the way the couple approached the event.

"They've thought through what they want for themselves, but also what they want to say. They've had a very simple, very direct picture of what really matters about this event," he said. "I think that they have a clear sense of what they believe they're responsible to. They're responsible to the whole society; responsible to God for their relationship. And I think it's impressive that they've had that simplicity about it, they've known what matters, what's at the heart of all this… … because I think they are deeply unpretentious people."

In a message printed at the start of the official wedding program, the couple said: "We are both so delighted that you are able to join us in celebrating what we hope will be one of the happiest days of our lives. The affection shown to us by so many people during our engagement has been incredibly moving, and has touched us both deeply. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone most sincerely for their kindness."

As heir to the British throne, Prince William is destined one day to succeed his grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as monarch and as supreme governor to the Church of England.

The wedding ceremony also included a strong ecumenical and interfaith presence, with faith leaders from the Buddhist, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities in the United Kingdom, as well as representatives from the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox and Zoroastrian traditions.

Choral music at the service was performed by the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey and Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace, under the direction of James O'Donnell, the abbey's organist and master of the choristers. Other musicians included the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry and the Fanfare Team from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force.

Voices, trumpets and the London Chamber Orchestra combined to usher in the radiant bride to the majestic sounds of C. Hubert Parry's well-known anthem, "I Was Glad," composed for the coronation of Edward VII, Prince William's three-times great grandfather.

Hymns during the ceremony were "Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer"; "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"; and "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time."

Another musical highlight was a new anthem by British contemporary composer John Rutter, "This is the day which the Lord hath made," specially commissioned by the dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey for the occasion.

Westminster Abbey has been a historic centerpiece for royal celebrations and ceremonies throughout the centuries, dating back 1066, the year that saw the coronations of Harold II and William the Conqueror. The abbey is known as a "royal peculiar," a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than a bishop.

Following the April 29 ceremony, a carriage procession of the bride and bridegroom followed by the Queen's procession left the abbey for Buckingham Palace past thousands of well-wishers who'd lined the streets of London to cheer on the newly wedded couple. At 1:25 p.m. local time, the Queen and the bride and bridegroom with their families were to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace while aircraft of the Royal Air Force and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed a "fly past."

As the streets of London came alive with celebrations, the royal wedding festivities stretched far beyond Westminster Abbey and its surrounding areas.

Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world that trace their origins to the Church of England bowed to the royal occasion with various events and services held to honor the happy couple.

"It's a celebration of our roots and extends our identity to a larger group in England and across the world," said the Rev. David Klutterman, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Wausau, Wisconsin, according to Religion News Service.

The parish plans to serve tea to guests at a wedding-viewing and fundraising party. "If Anglicans can't have high tea to celebrate the royal wedding, who can?" Klutterman said.

Parishioners at Grace Anglican Church in Brantford, Ontario, will host their own royal festivities, complete with a free continental breakfast and traditional wedding bunting, RNS reported.

"Lent [is] over, so it will be time for a party," said the church's rector, the Rev. David M. Ponting, adding that the church is inviting people to dress up as their favorite royal or British celebrity.

"I haven't decided if I will be the Archbishop of Canterbury or Elton John," he joked.