Celebrating the Coronation at a Distance

A spectator on the London Mall adopts a royal appearance. Steve Braund/Flickr

By Rosie Dawson, Correspondent

In their homes, on city squares, in castles, and in the naves of great cathedrals, just over half of people in the United Kingdom watched the crowning of King Charles III. They were filmed as they watched ceremonies on Jumbotrons and cheered the king and queen along the Mall to Westminster Abbey.

It was easy enough for camera crews to pick up on the joyful and celebratory, and the anti-monarchy protesters on Trafalgar Square provided a strong visual contrast. What was harder to capture was a mood of ambivalence and apathy that was also part of the national experience. For that you had to consult opinion polls, which showed that support for the monarchy is declining sharply, with 41 percent of those ages 18-24 saying they would prefer an elected head of state. If the appetite for monarchy is waning, so too is support for an established church with inextricably linked fortunes.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York saw the coronation as a “unique missional opportunity” for the Church of England. In a pastoral letter, they encouraged clergy to find “creative, joyful, and meaningful ways” to commemorate the event. Some threw themselves into celebrating with concerts, cream teas, and special events.

The rector of Digswell in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, used it as an opportunity to build relationships with the schools in his parish, holding a service for governors, parents, and pupils.

“Some of them had visited Westminster Abbey as part of their research into the symbolism of the coronation,” said the Rev. Rob Marshall. “ We had primary school children writing the prayers and 18-year-old academy students ringing the bells after the service. It was glorious.”

In one Hampshire church, preparations for the coronation began months ago and were led by the “Knit and Natter” group. The windowsills of St. Leonard’s, Sherfield English, were used to front displays of different knitted tableaux depicting the coronation. One window featured the king and queen in their gold carriage in front of Buckingham Palace, accompanied by Beefeaters. In another there was a street party, complete with red, white, and blue bunting and long tables laden with sandwiches and cakes.

Some of those features were recycled from Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee last year, but there was to be no compromise on accuracy. Brown horses knitted for that occasion had to be put out to grass when it was discovered that the horses used to pull the king’s carriage would be gray.

“It’s an unusual level of detail for a church that for years has entertained not three but five wise men in its knitted nativity,” said church warden Clare Durham.

Some celebrations were decidedly tongue-in-cheek. It didn’t feel right to the Rev. Andy Salmon to ignore the coronation altogether. As a Church of England priest, he has sworn an oath of loyalty to the monarch, after all. But there are few knitters in his congregation, Sacred Trinity Church in Salford, and the community it serves is made up of young professionals, apartment dwellers, those who think that at best the monarchy is irrelevant. So on the night before the coronation, the nave gave way to a party, and people danced away to music with very tenuous royal links — “Dancing Queen” by Abba and the hits of the King of rock and roll.

In Cornwall (Southwest England) and in Scotland and Wales there were reports of community events being canceled for lack of interest. Here Nationalist sentiments doubtless played a part. The Rev. Kevin Ellis is a ministry area leader in the disestablished Church in Wales. He lives on the Llyn peninsula, where support for Plaid Cmyru, the Welsh independence party, is strong.

“I live in an area which is ambivalent about the monarchy,” he said. “I think if people were pushed, they might say that they wished the king well. But in the local primary schools I visited, the coronation wasn’t mentioned — they were far more interested in the Eisteddfod (a Welsh arts and music festival) happening in August. The late queen’s Platinum Jubilee wasn’t celebrated last year, either, although there was a deep respect shown around her the time of her funeral.”

In Glasgow, the council received no applications at all from communities wanting to hold street parties, and there were few opportunities for the public to watch the coronation on a big screen. St. Mary’s Cathedral offered seating for 1,200 people. Cameras inside the cathedral showed sparsely populated pews, which was perhaps fortuitous, since a technical hitch meant that the screens cut to black just before the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the crown on the king’s head. The audience quickly switched to watching on their mobile phones. As if to compensate for this failure, the cathedral’s bell ringers sounded 5,000 changes across three and a half hours.

But for one London church, the coronation provided respite and hope at a very difficult time. The congregation of St. Mark’s, Hamilton Terrace, invited the community to watch the service in a large industrial marquee (tent) on the vicarage lawn. Afterward, people sipped Prosecco and Pimm’s and sang along to a brass band.

The marquee hasn’t been taken down. That’s because it has been home to the congregation ever since the interior of the church was gutted by fire four months ago. Described by the National Churches Trust as “an architectural and historical treasure,” St. Mark’s will take at least five years to renovate.

The priest, Mother Kate Harrison, says she’s had to concentrate on fundraising and tending a traumatized congregation rather than on the mission and outreach to which she feels called.

“But having the coronation streamed in the marquee meant we had people coming in who would never have set foot in the church building,” she said; “And that said to me that there is hope. Reaching out to the people here is our church’s ministry. We can keep reaching out, making a church for everyone in the community.”


Online Archives