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St. Paul's Cathedral is London's oldest place of worship

By Stacey Clark

On the weekend of September 17 and 18, the parish of St. Paul’s was delighted to participate once again in the City of London’s Doors Open event.

There was a steady stream of small groups and individuals on both days. The pace of traffic allowed our volunteers to warmly greet everyone and to welcome these neighbours into our Cathedral—the Cathedral of the Diocese and of the city, and London’s oldest place of worship.

Many guests spoke of the beauty of the Cathedral – the windows, the space, the woodwork, the tapestries, the military Colours... But these elements really resonated with our visitors when our volunteers took the time and opportunity to explain and to teach. 

Over these two days we were thankful to be able to tell the history of the people who built and beautified the Cathedral, to share information about artists and craftspeople. Even more so, we were blessed to have the opportunity to also tell of the lives of the Saints depicted in the windows and tapestries, the meaning of certain figures and symbols, to have the music of the organ speak without words, and to tell of the military sacrifices of past parishioners.

These in-depth conversations were a wonderful blessing, and meant that volunteers were able to connect with people who entered the Cathedral doors.

During the course of the event, there were many moments of grace that were especially touching for our guests, and for St. Paul’s folks as well. Here are a few examples shared by our volunteers:  

  • Upon greeting one young man, welcoming him to St. Paul’s, he replied with a huge smile, saying that it was “[his] first time in a church!” The volunteer responded, “I’m glad you chose this one!”  
  • One volunteer spoke with Mennonite parents and their grandmother about Betty McLeod’s beautiful Saint Aidan’s tapestries, and felt a spark of real connection and joy at the telling of his journey of faith and Christian evangelism.
  • Upon discovering a person was profoundly deaf, a volunteer led them to Saint Aidan’s chapel. When they saw the tapestries, the guest put a hand to her heart and smiled at the volunteer.  
  • Many visitors were moved to see a table set in honour of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The pages of the book of condolence were signed with moving tributes and words of thanks.  
  • A young woman spoke with a volunteer about the military history housed at St. Paul’s. With his help, she discovered that her great-grandfather, whom she knew had perished in WWI, had been a member of the 18th Battalion. The Colours of that Battalion are cared for at St. Paul’s, and she was able to learn more about his time of service. She was happy to be invited to attend the Service of Remembrance in November, and was excited to share her photos from the day and what she’d learned with her family.  
  • Our Children’s Ministry coordinator was telling the Godly Play story of “The Great Family” to children who visited. The story mentions Abraham’s death when he was very old and “full of years.” When asked what his favourite part of the story was, one young child said, “I liked the part when the guy died and he was full of ears!”  
  • A refugee family from the Ukraine came with their Canadian host to hear the organ recital. Google translate helped volunteers to ‘chat’ with this family and to welcome them to the Cathedral and to Canada. A text in translation told Deacon Pat that the mother had “dreamed to hear what an organ sounds like live.” This family sheltered for weeks in the basement of the steel plant in Mariupol… For them to be here and safe and starting a new life in Canada is a miracle, and we pray that hearing the beauty and vibrancy of Ian Sadler’s organ playing was an uplifting and hopeful experience for them. As a gesture of solidarity and welcome, Deacon Pat asked Ian to play the Ukrainian national anthem for the family, a musical offering which brought tears to everyone’s eyes. As they left St. Paul’s, the refugee family insisted on making a small donation—such generosity…

Like the widow and the penny, they gave what they had, and enriched all of our lives with their presence.

Everyone at St. Paul’s is deeply grateful for the many moments of grace that were shared and experienced during Doors Open. Physically opening the doors of the Cathedral invited people to enter the building; however, the real connections were made when parishioners opened our hearts.

Stacey Clark is a parishioner of St. Paul's, London. 

Photo: Ukrainian family with friends (from left to right) - Ian Sadler, Tetiana Chekhova, Paulo Butikov, Anton Chekhov, Ted Choja