When I started planning my trip, I knew I’d be in London for the 10 year anniversary of September 11th. I was pretty curious to see how the UK would acknowledge the day (if they acknowledged it at all), and what the overall attitude towards the attacks were after all this time. I also felt like I should do something to mark the occasion, so (seeing that is IS Sunday) I went to church.
I found out about today’s morning service at St. Paul’s Cathedral totally by accident. I was browsing their website before I left, just to see what was coming up, and stumbled on a blurb about today’s memorial. Since (as I said) I felt like I should do something to honor the day, I ordered my ticket right then. The service actually did double duty: not only was it meant to remember September 11th, but it also honored the 20th anniversary of the Firefighter’s Memorial Trust (the firefighters had their own wreath-laying ceremony after the service). When I got to the cathedral, they had the whole area barricaded. Everyone who was attending the service had to line up behind one of the barricades in Paternoster Square (if you’re standing in front of the cathedral steps, it’s off to the left). Security was unbelievable; there were police everywhere, and not only did everyone have to show a ticket, but they also had to show photo ID before getting in. Oddly enough, no bag checks. There were also two very big and scary special forces officers (of whatever the British equivalent is) carrying two very big and scary guns. It was bit jarring to see them; I’m not used to seeing police officers carry guns around here.
They let us in about an hour before the service started. There was an honor guard lining the steps of the cathedral, all carrying flags. I felt sort of cool walking through them. 🙂 After everyone was seated, the processions started. Church officials, dignitaries from other faiths, and the American ambassador to the UK all had to take their places. There was a color guard, too: the UK flag was brought in first, followed by the American and the U.S. Marine Corps flags together, and the Firefighters’ Memorial standard last. The service was a typical Anglican service in terms of structure, but the theme was obviously the events of ten years ago. I didn’t know this, but 66 or 67 British citizens died on September 11th. Also, we sang both the British and American nation anthems toward the end. I’m pretty sure THAT doesn’t usually happen in church! There was also a speech given by a woman who worked one building away from ground zero. I had never before heard or read any personal accounts of what it was actually like to be there, and I have to say: it was a little chilling.
I was surprised at what a big deal the service was. It was filmed (I don’t by who or for what purpose), and some of the attendees were seriously dressed up. I’m talking coats with tails on the men, fancy hats on the women, the whole nine yards. There were plenty of people dressed like me, too (nice pants and a nice shirt….and “office” type outfit), and plenty of uniforms, of course. Being part of it felt sort of…historic, in a way.
I got a ticket for the evening service at Westminster Abbey from the church I’ve been attending here. This one was a bit more low-key. There was no security, no scary men and their guns, no color guard, and no national anthems. For the first time ever at an Anglican service, though, I actually knew one of the hymns! It was “Amazing Grace,” in case you were wondering. My favorite part was seeing leaders from all different faiths chatting together after the service was over. That, to me, is what remembrance days like this should be about.
I was really surprised to see what a big deal September 11th was over here. There have been documentaries and reports on tv for the last two days, and the services I attended weren’t the only two in the city. There was a major ceremony at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, for instance. Unfortunately, protestors decided that that was an appropriate time and place to set fire to an American flag, so maybe it was a good thing that I wasn’t there. That kind of disrespect would have made me angry.
So…ten years. It’s not that hard for me to believe, but that’s because I’m totally different than I was then, so the passage of time in my own life helps it make sense. I’m glad I could help London remember the events of a decade ago, but I’ve had enough looking back into the past for awhile. How about we look ahead to the future, hmmmm? 🙂