In the pouring rain at about 4.20pm on Tuesday 10th May 2016, a hardy band of Tylers and Bricklayers joined the queue to enter the west door of St Paul’s Cathedral for the 362nd Festival of the Sons and Friends of the Clergy. This charity was formed in 1655 to help the families of many members of the clergy who had remained loyal to the monarchy during the Commonwealth and then had been deprived of their livings and left destitute. There has been a festival every year since then.
The Festival is marked by a procession of the Livery companies including the Master, Mr Tom Rider, together with nearly 80 other Masters, Prime Wardens and the Upper Bailiff, all gowned and bejewelled, in the wonderful setting of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The procession of the Cathedral Foundation was most spectacular, with the combined Choirs of St Paul’s, St Edmundsbury’s and Birmingham Cathedrals, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the Lord Mayor of London with his Sheriffs, the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achrony, the Bishop of Thetford, the Right Reverend Ian Brackley, the Right Reverend David Rossdale and the Aldermen of the City of London.
The hymns, lessons and prayers were carefully chosen to reflect the importance of this annual event. The combined choir had come together for the first time that morning, and sang beautifully both as individual choirs and together, with Palestrina’s “Missa brevis” and Hubert Parry’s Anthem to the words of John Milton “At a solemn Musick”, amongst many musical treats.
The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a thought-provoking sermon on the nature of change in the modern word, warning against the contrasting issues of fatalism (what can go wrong will) and activism (endless frantic activity). As he remarked, 1655 was not a good time to start a new charity. The Church was deeply divided and a leap of imagination was required for generosity to flourish. The Archbishop went on to praise flexibility and imagination, knowing when to act and when not to act. Just because you can do everything, this does not mean that you should. He emphasised the importance of Love – to be obeyed, pursued, reimagined and celebrated.
After a blessing by the Archbishop, the National Anthem was sung in full, and we enjoyed an Elgar organ voluntary “Allegro maestro” from Sonata in G Major (Op.28).
With due ceremony, the Chapter escorted the Lord Mayor and his Sheriffs, Aldermen, the Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiff, followed by the Stewards of the Festival to the open Great West Door.
The Master and his wife, Mrs Caroline Rider, were supported by at least 15 further members of the Company, some of who met briefly on the steps of St Paul’s after the Festival. Luckily, the rain had stopped, and all were enthralled by the event. Stewards of the 362nd Festival included Mr Tom Hoffman (25th time), Sir Idris Pearce (15th time), Mr Nicholas Carter (8th time), Mr Ian Mitchell Grimshaw (8th time), Mr David Cole-Adams (2nd time), and Sheriff Christine Rigden.