It’s time to sign off from this Blog. We set out to rebury a king – and now we’ve done it. As I do so, some final impressions and reflections on the journey of the past two years.
Just before I do, a health warning. Although this Blog sits on the cathedral’s appeal website, this one is not about money at all. In fact, most of them haven’t been – but as it’s the last one I thought I’d better confess that. Not that we haven’t needed an Appeal, ‘cos we have. Nor that we don’t still appreciate your support – ‘cos we do. But we’re now within touching distance of the £2.5m, so I’ll leave that with you to decide about.
I started in my role as acting Canon Missioner, and the cathedral’s Richard III project leader, on 19th May 2013 – the day after David Monteith became Dean. But my secondment was already agreed by Easter, so it really is two years I’ve been working on it all. I was uncertain of several things at the outset, not least what it would mean to be working for a cathedral – not something I’d ever remotely contemplated – not indeed that reburying a lost king was something I’d given much thought to either. From day one it’s been a journey of the unexpected and of the unparalleled. And now its over – well nearly. A fair number of loose ends to tie up – and of course a whole new world to move into for Leicester Cathedral. But that’s for anther day. How does it feel today, on the edge of Holy Week 2015?
Last week is a series of impressions, flashing past in a blur of seemingly non-stop activity and delivery in days of plans hatched and developed over many, many months. And whilst I’ve stood near the centre of things throughout, inevitably there’s tons of stuff I’ve not been at, or party to, and others will have their own equally memorable but different impressions. But here’s a few of my stand-out memories, to put alongside the multitude of photos, videos, facebook posts and comments that are already out there from the thousands on thousands who participated in an incredible week for Leicester, Leicestershire, and, perhaps, even the nation as a whole.
- standing at the front of cathedral gardens at 5.45pm on Sunday evening, in advance of the arrival of the cortege, with the crowds lining Peacock Lane opposite, and all my colleagues and others lined up in position in the cathedral behind me. The world felt poised, expectant for the arrival of the remains of a king, slain 530 years ago. And I was standing in the middle of it. Waiting. Then the police outriders arrived – and it all began.
- Monday morning, around 9.30am, taking the flowers that had lain on the coffin the previous day to King Richard III Infant School, to arrive bang on cue in the middle of assembly. And returning half an hour later to find the queue for viewing the coffin winding right around the cathedral and Loseby Lane, and forming back into Jubilee Gardens. Realising this was going to be far, far bigger than we had ever imagined. And that our organisation across the board was going to have to step up to a whole new level.
- The prayer ribbons on the railings between the cathedral and St Martins House growing daily. Mads Morgan kneeling on the cobbles praying with a young person. Revd Chris Oxley, acting as a chaplain to the queues outside, telling me by lunch-time (what lunch?!) he’d already prayed with a dozen people that morning, and taken one confession.
- Rehearsing the lowering of a dummy coffin into the grave vault with the military party, time and again, to get it right. And then on Thursday seeing the actual thing happening barely a metre before my eyes and thinking: “This is it. This is the moment we’ve all been planning towards.”
- The frantic turn-round of the cathedral after that service: the arrival bang on cue of the 8m high sculpture that was to feature in Curve’s dramatic presentation, and then the seemingly chaotic rehearsal that followed as dance and drama prepared in one place had to mesh with liturgy prepared in another, and come together in two short hours.
- The atmospheric arrival of the tomb-stone that Thursday evening as dusk fell, shown live on Channel 4 in their 8-9 slot, as James Elliott and crew lifted it ever so carefully off the lorry, through the cathedral door and then into place to within a millimetre, using only a block and tackle, a trolley and 30 skilled men and women. Me standing in the shadows, keeping Rachel, the executive producer, in touch by phone with what was happening as she frantically rejigged the live programme to accommodate the images for the watching world.
- Dropping briefly into the Channel 4/DSP celebration party later that evening (as the stone was still being tracked and lowered) to hear how this had been, from their perspective, the perfect programme, and that this was in no small measure due to the incredible high level of collaborative working, both within their teams, and between them and us. And knowing that, from our end, this was manifestly true. Even though, still, I’ve not watched a single minute of their reportedly excellent coverage.
- Watching the Curve drama within Fridays’s service of Reveal, with tears in my eyes, as young children, youthful and older dancers powerfully acted and danced out the themes of Conflict, New Beginnings and Future Hope. Seeing Bishop Tim’s initial surprise, and then willing acquiescence, as a small girl took him by the hand and pulled him, unscripted, into part of the dance. And listening to David’s ‘exactly right’ words in his sermon, and recalling how he’d put those finishing touches to it only hours before in his study in the Deanery – where I had been staying that very short night.
- Wandering the streets around the cathedral on Friday evening with Sue, my wife, who had come into town to be with me for this closing celebration of an incredible week. Meeting person after person who stopped us to say how amazing it had been. And seeing Leicester glow, with candles and faces, and then the cathedral erupt into peals of bells, and fountains of light and fire – finally ending with the R3 logo emblazoned at the very top of the tower.
Lessons to learn?
And now on the cusp of Holy Week, as the cathedral prepares to resume its core business, in the new normal that we are about to discover, what lessons do I draw from the past two years and the past seven days? There’ll be proper reflection and consultation on all of that, of course, but here’s my own starters for ten.
1. The whole thing has been unprecedented, unique and full of the unexpected. Some – maybe much – of that we just have to let be what it has been. He was found. He was reburied. Life will move on.
2. New partnerships have been forged right across the board to make this happen. That is not just structurally, between organisations – though that has happened – but personally, between people. All of us caught up in this have had to do things new ways, with new colleagues, and in a new situation. We have made new friends, and deepened existing relationships. Such human recognition and welcoming of others is not just good in itself – it is arguably the best thing we can draw from life in all situations.
3. Based on that, the success of the whole Project has come as much as anything, from the way these opportunities have been embraced. We need to remember that and not return too hastily to our silos and former ways of doing and being. Indeed, not return at all.
4. The cathedral has been, for this week at least, truly a cathedral for the whole community. Thousands have flocked to it, passed through it, and been touched by it. They have seen us trying to be faithful to what we are really all about – the worship of God and the service of the community. We have to learn how best to respond to that – not in any sort of opportunistic way, but as genuinely as we can manage. We do believe we have something very precious to offer: but it can only be offered. It is up to people to decide how they respond.
5. And whilst the vast majority have responded to these events with enthusiasm and gratitude, there is an irreducible minimum who have seen it otherwise. The die-hard ‘Richard should have been buried in York’ brigade. The sneerers and snipers amongst the generally very positive media coverage. The unpleasant correspondence that has regularly arrived, berating us for failing to do this, that or the other. We have tried to be polite, firm and undistracted. But at some point, as I said to one persistent correspondent, if we can’t even agree to differ, we just have to differ. And, where necessary, we have done.
It’s time to sign off. Richard is indeed reburied. And for me, after Easter comes some winding up of loose ends, some tidying up of information gathered, some pulling together of final project accounts. The team that has worked together so well will disband, to head in different directions. Some staying put in Leicester, on different tasks; others moving to pastures new. That will be sad, but appropriate. By the summer, a sabbatical beckons for me. And then back in the autumn to new roles, and new opportunities. It’s been an amazing journey, as I said. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank you for sharing it with me. Now life moves on.
Palm Sunday 2015