Ramblings from the Cove...
By Lars Gren
Part one of my three-week trip to the UK
If this had been a July of previous years, Elisabeth and I would have attended the July 4th parade in Manchester, which is just a few miles down the road. But this year I had the privilege of going to Oxford, England to attend a family wedding on July 2nd.
Some years back I heard of a wedding being described as being a ‘Splendaroleous’ affair. This was such a wedding. One knows it is first class when the men are wearing what I call the "Claw Hammer" outfits-- you know the coats that are too long in the back and too short in the front, or as it is truly known as a "Swallow Tail". Everything about it returns one to the age of pomp and circumstance. I could well imagine in the days of old the fancy carriages coming smartly up to the place with the servants aiding the well-dressed attendees. Well, no horses at this one but about 250 guests in attendance.
Since my arrival was early, I walked around a bit and it was as though one was on hallowed ground. The College can be traced back to the 1260s when Walter de Merton, Chancellor to Henry the 3rd, drew up statues for an independent academic community. The buildings can be likened to some that we see on the British TV series which butt up to the sidewalks of Oxford. The backside faces on to acres and acres of well kept lawns as good as any fairway. It would entice a golfer to grab a club and at least ‘shoot a bucket of balls’, but no doubt here it would be a game of cricket. A bit further on I discovered the area where the main reception would take place, if clear skies should prevail and to the relief of all it went so. For those who arrived early like myself, appetizers and refreshments were offered along with coffee and of course, tea, prior to the wedding.
Both tea in the am or pm reminds me of a story that Elisabeth told, many times, of her friend Mary Skinner, a missionary in Ecuador, who was visiting Elisabeth in the States and did value a cup of tea. Elisabeth’s mother had remarked that she must be a regular tea drinker and so asked, "Mary, how many cups of tea do you have in a day?" "As many as possible, Mrs. Howard, as many as possible!" (The line as Mary gave it, can only be truly understood if the speaker has that wonderful English accent.) No doubt some here would heartily agree on having a ‘cuppa’. She has since joined Elisabeth in Glory and I can only imagine the remembrances that they are having.
Shortly prior to the start of the wedding, I entered the chapel and stood for some time just looking up the nave towards the Chancel. In typical English style, the choir rows faced each other as opposed to here, where they face the congregation. I was imagining a grand event when a man walked past me and entered a few feet into the church and then stopped. All of a sudden I heard the powerful sound of the organ which I realized was behind me. At the same time the man who had entered, opened up in an operatic tenor voice with a wonderful hymn that made one stand still in awe. As he was singing I noticed that he would tilt or twist his head back now and again as though he were looking over his shoulder or at the ceiling. It was at one of those moments when I glanced back at the organist that I realized that he was facing opposite the soloist. While the organist played he would glance at a mounted mirror in which he could see the soloist and thus they, I suppose, cued each other and it became a treat for me both to watch and hear this exchange for they offered several numbers. The music was grand—for those who would be interested I’ll add the pieces played at the end of this tome.
The ushers soon arrived and set about seating the guests. I was escorted to the front choir row thus giving me a great view of the processional with barely needing to turn my head. After the lovely pre-ceremony music, the traditional wedding march commenced. Amy, my great granddaughter once removed, looked lovely and radiant in the beautifully laced wedding dress which featured a train that seemed to go on forever. The elegant bride was in perfect step with her father and in slow cadence, looked serene as she fixed her eyes on the groom. As the wedding party moved into place, the Matron of honor straightened the train by giving it a ‘lift up’ and as it spread out it seemed to float onto the floor! The father of the groom, who is a professor/preacher, gave a homily followed by a few words offered by various members of the wedding party. At the end of the recessional, with the wedding party in the foyer, the groomsmen who were members of a Merlin Corral, ‘Stile Antico,’ gave a wonderful selection of musical numbers (see below) and then the dismissal came.
Rather than waiting in a receiving line as we do here, the guests were invited to pick up handfuls of rose petals from baskets in the foyer and urged to proceed towards the reception area. Once outside they formed lines on either side of the path so that the newlyweds had to run the gauntlet. They were properly pelted with the rose petals that Katherine, the bride’s mother, had handpicked from her rose garden. By the amount of petals, it must have taken several days --if not weeks-- to gather them. If it were I doing it, no doubt I’d be saying, "Oh, my aching back!"
During this time Amy and Matthew walked about chatting with the guests which, to me, seemed better than the handshake and two words that one has in a typical receiving line. They made folks feel very welcomed. Photographs were taken with both individuals and group shots. I was called up for a family photo and let me say that my being a great-grandfather once removed, came from Elisabeth’s having been married to Addison Leitch, Amy’s grandfather. She saw me as the only link to that family tree and so, the title was given to me and I added the "once removed" to sort of clear the air since I had no children. So here I am without children yet being a great Grandfather—well keep that under your hat unless you can explain it and don’t make any mistakes.
Bit by bit the guests began to return to the reception area. I saw the smartly dressed staff ‘already on the run’ serving the guests with a variety of finger foods. As one came toward me, I saw her silver tray and what was on it but smoked salmon—now that will make most Norwegians stop up short as it did this one! I thought that I would have just one but she came past me, it may have been three times, and I wanted her to feel appreciated and so accepted her offerings. Waiters were also making rounds with juice, water, champagne, cola, and of course tea—there was something for all. An announcement was made at 3 o’clock thanking the guests for attending and instructing those who were invited to dinner to proceed to the Merton College dining room at 6 o’clock where we were escorted to our places for dinner.
For me it was a delicious meal of lamb even though I had enjoyed the similar entree at a quaint small restaurant the evening before, at a dinner given by the groom’s father. To add to my pleasure both at the reception and at the two meals, I was seated with women who had heard or met Elisabeth. One of these acquaintances had attended a seminar which Elisabeth gave some 25 years ago and was very appreciative for her teachings which had been of help to her in going through a difficult phase in life. I well-remembered the conference she referred to. Surprisingly I remembered that meeting but now I can’t recall where it was held. Ah, yes
Sent from somewhere to my soul.
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfolds."
What a sweet gift from God of being able to look back through our memories even though there are many that I would just as soon skip.
Then there came a number of speeches and chats by different members of the wedding party. As the evening progressed with small conversations between table mates, there came a final thank you after the guests had been well-fed and had enjoyed such a lovely celebration. There was a final word from the parents who also gave the table arrangements of flowers to as many guests who were able to take them. The mother of the bride gave me a rather large one, and after thanking her and walking to the bus stop, I felt rather foolish sitting on the bus with this great flowering plant. However, I was delighted to be able to give it to my host and hostess that had taken care of me for a week in Oxford.
Now I’ll leave it there except for the music lovers, I have included the wedding selections below and next time I’ll share an abbreviated description of the rest of my UK tour and the aftermath on my return to the Cove so from me . . .
God bless y’all and, for now, that’s it from The Cove,
Here are the musical selections from the wedding ceremony:
- "Serenade" by Derek Bourgeouis
- "Toccata and Fugue in F Major" by J. S. Bach
- "Tune and Scherzo", from Five Short Pieces, by Percy Whitlock
- The Recessional: "Trumpet Tune" by John Stanley
- "Prelude and Fugue in C Major" by J. S. Bach
- Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation," (Joachim Neander)
- Hymn: "The King of Love My shepherd Is" (Baker)
- Hymn: "Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us" (Edmeston)
- Hymn: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," (Charles Wesley).
- "Love Bade me welcome" Lyrics/poem by George Herbert, set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
- Stile Antico performed "Gloria" from "Missa Puer natus est nobis," words by Hilary of Poitiers and music by Thomas Tallis. If you would like to get a "taste" for this tremendous music, you can hear them on YouTube or find their recordings on Amazon.com.