In the Diocese of Gloucester’s Cotswold parish of Saint Peter, Willersey with Saintbury, the announcement of the most sad death of Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth initiated an urgent and thoughtful conversation between Churchwarden and Tower Captain. Arrangements were immediately in hand to raise the Saint George’s Flag to half-mast on the top of the tower.
The church’s six bells had been cast and hung in 1712, in time to be rung in celebration of signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. Fully-restored in 2012 by a campaign that engaged parishioners in raising the £25,000 needed, for the first time in 70 years the bells would peal that Thursday evening, fully-muffled, except for the half-muffled tenor, to honour a great monarch’s passing.
Parishioners gathered to hear the effect, which our Tower Captain, Robert Chadburn described as being “very much as if the tenor bell is tolling distinctly and separately amongst the other bells, and so is not so different in its effect from a single tolling bell. Not only is this fully muffled ringing more moving and atmospheric than a single tolling bell, it enables all the bellringers of St Peter’s to participate in this unique life event, and it means such a lot to them.”
The ringers’ commendable commitment was evident in the numerous peals and periods of ringing and all the work involved in the muffling of the bells, their unmuffling in recognition of the Accession of King Charles III and re-muffling for the continued mourning of Her Majesty’s passing.
Saint Peter’s is open every day and the day after the Queen’s death, parishioners started to make their way there to sit in its quiet and reflect, give thanks and to pray in their parish church. Before leaving, they were already able to leave thoughts and messages in the Parish Book of Condolences.
By Saturday, the altar was draped in black cloth, in readiness for a special service of Morning Prayer the next morning. In that service, a Parish Counsellor attended to participate and read the Epistle. For the following Sunday’s service, our team of lay people who prepare and lead our services of ‘All Age Worship’ on the third Sunday of every month did the Parish and Her Majesty’s memory proud with the time and serious consideration they devoted to getting it just right.
On the evening of the second Sunday, parishioners assembled around the Jubilee Tree at the end of Church Street for the one-minute Vigil for Her Majesty. This was followed by the Churchwarden reading the Proclamation of the Accession of King Charles III. The following morning, being the day of Her Majesty’s funeral, we held a special service of Morning Prayer in Saint Peter’s
All of this ensured that, throughout this important time, the Church of England in our parish kept parishioners actively engaged in the National act of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II and in the acclamation of our new king.
Robert McNeil-Wilson, Churchwarden
Saint Peter, Willersey with Saintbury, Diocese of Gloucester
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