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I'll have a seat at the back, please

05 July 2018

I felt very privileged - and overwhelmed - to receive in May an invitation to the Spirit of Windrush Thanksgiving Service to be held at Westminister Abbey in late June. Overwhelmed because I'd never ever stepped into the magnificent surroundings of Westminster Abbey for an act of worship, and privileged because so many worthy and wonderful people had been invited to this service to mark the 70th Anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush from the Caribbean.

Humbled would be a better word to describe how I felt. So much so that as I entered the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey I asked the steward if I could have a seat at the back. "I'm sorry," the lady replied, "you have to sit where your ticket indicates". And with that she pointed me to the left, where I walked and walked until I was shown to a seat four rows from the front, right underneath the pulpit from where Rev Joel Edwards preached his wonderful sermon and about 20 seats from the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Amazing. I was sat next to Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball of the Metropolitan Police, who confessed to me that she too was slightly overwhelmed by the occasion!

The service was quite marvellous. The mighty Abbey organ took the singing to an amazing level - the first hymn was Isaac Watts great hymn of praise O God, our help in ages past - the prayers were heartfelt and touching, many very talented actors and singers took part to tell the stories of the Invitation and the Mixed Welcome, and the sermon was inspiring and uplifting. Reverent and respectful, the service looked with sadness on the hurts of the past and present, and with hope to the future.

At the end of the service I was talking to the man sat on the other side of me - who had come from Jamaica especially for the service - and I mentioned that I felt pretty rotten for taking a seat so close to the front. "Rubbish", he said, "you welcomed us with open arms, you deserve to be sat at the heart of the service". Talk about feeling humble. These amazing people, who responded to our invitation to help rebuild post-war Britain, have suffered and struggled in so many ways and yet have been so resilient and strong. They have contributed so much to our society and have enriched multi-cultural Britain in many ways at so many different levels.

At the beginning of the service a gospel choir sang an anthem by Albert Brumley whose first line read: As I travel through this pilgrim land, there is a friend who walks with me ... it is the Christ at Calvary. How apt I thought that this beautiful song that got everyone in the Abbey clapping/tapping their feet/swaying along to the wonderful rhythm (even the Prime Minister and Mayor of London!) should remind us that we are all on this pilgrim journey together. Jesus hold my hand was the name of the anthem, and should be our continued prayer.

Neil Chappell