Oh, Happy DayMegan, Charles and sartorial dress codes in church
The times when Britain could claim to be an Empire maybe long gone and Europe’s view of this witch shaped archipelago (given as I write midst the turmoil of post Brexit negotiations) probably doesn’t bear repeating, but one skill no-one can deny us is our ability to put on a show, especially when it comes to a Royal wedding.
And what a show it was, Saturday the 19th May, 2018, watched by billions around the world as a Prince, sixth in line to the British throne, married a mixed-race American divorcee actress; something denied to Edward VIII who abdicated the throne rather than lose the love of his life, Wallis Simpson.
Not only was Harry and Meghan’s marriage a media gift from heaven so, it seems, it was for a large proportion of the British public, who gave themselves permission to bedeck their streets, houses and gardens with Union Jack flags and, in some cases, themselves. The dedicated turned up days before the wedding to claim pole viewing positions on one of Windsor’s narrow streets, fully kitted out in loyalist colours, with even their accompanying pet animals draped in the flag. As I began my media life as a news reporter, I could only but applaud the foreign press for managing to maintain an air of decorum when interviewing these devoted people.
“So, how long have you been camping here?”
“Two nights now. We would have come earlier, but Aunty Ethel’s knee was playing up, so we had to try and get an appointment with her local GP, and I’m so sick an tired of that bleedin’ answer phone thingey they have at the surgery, I said ‘bugger it’ and Bill, here, he’s a strong one, got her into the van, and here we are.”
I’ve been there myself and know only too well what my Editor’s reactions to such non-sequiturs would have been.
The doughty foreign reporter persists.
“But is it worth being cold and uncomfortable just to get a glimpse of Harry & Meghan?” (note the informality of the North American press).
“You’ve said it mate. But me and the Missus here haven’t missed a Royal wedding since our Queen and Prince Philip tied the knot in, when was it
Doris?…. “You’re right, yes. 1947. That’s it 1947. Memory’s not what it used to be …”
Two planes drown out the reporter’s next question. There’s an element of poetic justice in recognising that even Windsor Castle, a Royal residence since the 11th Century, cannot avoid being under the flight path to Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport.
Of course the side roads of the back story provided much needed mileage to fill the acres of air-time so expensively allocated to cover the event. Will Meghan’s father give her away? Will her mother get to meet the Queen before the big day? And the dress? A fashion editor’s nirvana of speculation.
And, at last, the waiting is over and an elegant, composed young woman steps out of one of the Queen’s collection of vintage car,s a Rolls-Royce Phantom IV, wearing a simple Audrey Hepburn style dress designed by Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller, who no-one guessed would be the one to be commissioned. Miss Markle’s tiara glittered, wisps of her dark hair punctured the stiff formality of the occasion and we women all marveled at her perfectly aligned clavicles. An uninhibited page boy gave a gap-toothed grin of pleasure as he held her veil and followed her into St. George’s Chapel where her groom nervously looked round to watch her walk up the aisle alone, until Prince Charles took her arm.
So far, so good, so establishment. The music was to wonder at, the hymns uplifting and singable and the couple proclaimed their declarations with confidence.
And then it was the turn of the Presiding Bishop & Primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, and that’s when protocol flew out of one of the Chapel’s stained glass windows. Here was a man for whom the muted imprecations of the Church of England were not for him. And he obviously intended, with tablet (sorry, Moses, no pun intended) in hand to tell this congregation what it really meant to discover the power of love.
“There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power – power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about the time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to centre around you and your beloved.”
After nearly fifteen minutes of joyful good advice and much reference to ‘fire’, he seemed to realize that he may have gone on speaking for too long as, towards the end of the address, he said “we’re going to sit down, we gotta get y’all married!”
And what did the Royal Family make of this departure from tradition? Years of training presented a sea of implacable expressions.
Watching the ceremony, I’m reminded of a more modest, but equally uplifting occasion when I asked Cheryl Lindsey, my stalwart caretaker of the Tamarind House, who also plays an important part in the running of the island’s Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church, whether John and I could attend the rededication service of their new church in Brades.
“Get there early,” she suggests “there’s going to be a big crowd.”
Christianity is still the prevailing religion on this tiny island, and the choice of denomination is surprisingly varied given the current population is only just over five thousand.
As well as Anglican, Catholic and Methodist churches, there are Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of God of Prophecy, the Wesleyan Holiness, the Jehovah Witnesses and the Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church where we are headed.
Given such widespread representation of Christianity, I’m continually surprised by the number of babies born here out of wedlock. There’s obviously no stigma attached to not being married, , mother and child usually being swept into the willing arms of Grandparents. I remember once asking a taxi driver whether he had any children. “Two inside, one out,” he said.
Many years ago when our boys were very young, we were invited to a service at the Seventh Day Adventist church in Salem. I was touched by the invitation and also curious to experience a different way of celebrating Christianity. I remember feeling immediately comfortable, touched by the warm personal welcome and moved by the vibrant singing and music. No wonder so many successful blues artists claim to owe their talents to their formative years in their local church choirs.
Sadly, our boys seemed impervious to such powerful religious expression and promptly lay down horizontally on our pew and fell asleep. No-one seemed to notice until a large hand reached from behind and replaced one side of my dress that had slipped off my shoulder. Snoozing OK, displaying too much flesh not.
Mindful of this sartorial faux pas, I chose a modest dress and sandals for the rededication ceremony, only to find that I was severely under dressed. Many of the women, the older ones in particular, wore cartwheel sized church hats, topping off shimmering suits in all colours of the rainbow. I noticed one member of the congregation wearing a ruched jacket of burning gold, which reminded me of the curtains at the Rex cinema of my youth.
The older men wore somber black suits, crisp white shirts, polished black shoes and walked slowly carrying well-thumbed Bibles. Pretty young girls in pastel pinks and blues, their hair adorned with ceramic beads, hopped and skipped, ignored by the boys who were far more interested watching the church band assemble their instruments – drums, keyboard, electric guitar and a single steel pan.
We were shown to our seats by a suave young usher, finding ourselves next to Rose Willox, Montserrat’s finest broadcaster for whom the adjective ‘dulcet’ really cannot do justice to her voice. I’ve devoted an entire chapter to her life later in this book.
Rose defies the old adage that you ‘don’t have to look your best on radio’. I’ve never seen her dishabille and this occasion was no exception. Lustrous black curls, held in place by a bright yellow bandana, which matched a flowing robe, the whole outfit finished off with an Aladdin’s cave of costume jewellery.
There’s an air of expectation as the church fills. Two large screens either side of the dais broadcast messages of welcome and there’s a ripple of applause as members of the choir, dressed in royal blue outfits, take their seats. The overhead fans rotate almost in time to the bending palms outside, the slipping sun casting long shadows through the jalousie windows.
And suddenly it’s started. After an opening prayer read by Sir Howard Fergus (see Let Freedom Ring), the Moderator, Minister Claudette Weekes, sets the scene, at first chastising us for our lukewarm responses. Soon we are singing, swaying and clapping and reacting loudly to Rev. Dr. Pat Glasgow’s address. He has the same oratorical style as The Most Reverend Michael Curry displayed at the Royal Wedding. These sermons are not sleep inducing, that’s for sure.
Cheryl smiles broadly as we leave.
“You like to dance I see.” she says as we thank her for the invitation.
“And sing, “ I add.