Looking Back to London

A wise old friend gave me this advice when my memoir was released: “Go where you are led, Cathy; go where you are led.” I never imagined that I’d be following her advice all the way to London five years later as a member of the judges’ panel of the United Kingdom Child Sexual Abuse Peoples’ Tribunal (UKCSAPT), http://www.ukcsapt.org.uk but that is exactly what happened. Our panel’s first deliberations, outstanding and productive in many ways, were held in the beginning of October. But there were also several events held during the few days beforehand which helped to prepare me for our work and which now I remember as unexpected spiritual gifts whenever I look back to London.

Peter traveled with me and after checking into our hotel the day we arrived, we took a bus to Westminster Abbey, where they were preparing for an Evensong celebration. It was the Eve of St. Michael and All Angels and the Choristers of Westminster, which includes about 30 boys, http://www.westminster-abbey.org, were rehearsing for the liturgy. The innocent beauty of their pure young voices brought tears to my eyes as I thought about my brother Paul, and the boys in the UK who had been sexually abused in institutions and in other circumstances which I had read about in the testimonies survivors had submitted to the tribunal panel. Their voices grounded me onto a sad terrain, but as the Evensong service progressed they also gave me hope and comfort and a deepened awareness of the meaningfulness of the tribunal work before me.

The next day I had plans to meet Charlotte Cole for lunch. Charlotte was my UK editor when Never Tell was launched by Ebury Press, Random House. She had picked the title and cover, which no doubt had significant influence on my memoir reaching the London Sunday Times bestseller list. It was great to meet her, to thank her in person, and to get to know her a bit. Cote, the delicious, delightful restaurant where we met was in Covent Garden, the theater district.

Peter and I met at a café afterward and because we had tickets to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night for that evening (Lucky us! It was unbelievably great!), we decided to hang out in the theater district for the rest of the afternoon. GREAT DECISION. We meandered into Saint Paul’s Church at one point only because I wanted to go in and say a prayer for my brother Paul. We had no idea that St. Paul’s is known as The Actor’s Church, nor did we know that the amazing Sylvia Young Theater School Choir would be in there singing Lean on Me by Bill Withers. Again, the choir was rehearsing for a liturgy, but this time the occasion they were preparing to celebrate was the commissioning of theater chaplains – chaplains who are actually assigned to a particular theater; chaplains whose ministry is for them to be available to support anyone in that theater. (I sorta wanted to sign up for the Episcopal priesthood right then and there!).

The liturgy was wonderful. I wished that our entire family could have experienced it. The opening song was sung by The West End Gospel Choir, an 8-voice adult choir directed by Alex Williams. The first reading was done by Janie Dee, who read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, As kingfishers catch fire. After The Lord’s Prayer Alice Kowalek of the Royal Ballet School danced a Solo from Solitaire on the altar. At the closing The Sylvia Young Theater School Choir sang their Lean on Me. Amen and Alleluia! We had experienced a great love feast – love for the arts, love for human beings, love for the creative process, love for the process of life, love for the Creator. References to God in this liturgy never became gender-specific, which felt refreshing. Ever since reading Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse years ago I’ve become sensitive to these things – even more so since learning that the more patriarchal a system is, the more likely it is that there will be sexual abuse within it.

In closing, when I look back to the whole experience of that trip to London: to the fun Peter and I had traveling together; to the fine colleagues that I met, was inspired by, worked with, and continue to work with; to the wounded and hurting brave survivors of childhood sexual abuse we read about, listened to, were touched by, and work for; to meeting with our dedicated UKCSAPT steering committee; and to our weary-making journey home, there is a beautiful thread – a sense of the sacred – that seems to weave the entire experience together. Would that thread have been there without having attended the liturgies at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s? Yes, I believe so. But having heard the prayerful voices of children in song, having listened to poetry from the pulpit and experienced reverence for God’s creation through watching a woman’s body costumed and on toe shoes dance from one end of the altar to another, the sense of the holy in our (tribunal panel) mission became more palpable for me, and sparkles while it endures.

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