I also really enjoyed seeing Westminster Abbey. It feels a lot like a mausoleum and a crowded one at that, filled with carved stone memorials to every notable British person you've ever heard of and a lot you haven't. So, it had the weight of history but the hourly call to prayer reminded us that it is also a living parish church.
After we toured, we went back to the high altar to sit and contemplate what we had seen. While we were sitting there, we could watch a young artist painstakingly restore the thousand-year-old floor of the high altar and we could almost touch the place where every British monarch of the last 500 years has been crowned. Surrounded by all this monument to centuries of British dominance, the altarpiece reads, "The kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our God."
A priest in long black cassock came over to greet us and welcome us and we took the opportunity to tell him that we were both clergy and to ask him what it is like to serve a church that is mostly visited by tourists. He was delighted to talk to us and sat down on the steps of the high altar as though he were sitting on a sidewalk curb and shared his conviction that his presence at the Abbey is "a witness" and how the hourly call to prayer and the sacred space speak to thousands of tourists every year.
On Sunday, we came back to the Abbey for evensong. To our surprise, we were seated in the choir along with a visiting choir from an English village church who seemed just as impressed by the Abbey as we were. The service was a little more contemporary than the one at St. Paul's and the organ and choir were beautiful.
Part of the evensong service every day is the singing or chanting of the Magnificat. Here we were, surrounded by the coronation site and place of burial of every British monarch and every prominent royal, admiral, general, scientist and author of the last 500 years, each memorialized with elaborate stone carvings and statues and listening to the words of the gospel reverberate: "He has scattered those who are proud in their thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty . . . " The contrast with the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of our God was a startling reminder of the upside-down, subversive nature of the gospel. I wonder if anyone is listening?