What was it like to pronounce a blessing over King Charles III in front of a global audience of millions? Bishop Mike Royal writes about the unforgettable moment inside Westminster Abbey, and how he narrowly avoided a coughing fit!
The coronation of their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla was an important moment in the life of the nation. It was one in which I was privileged to play a small part.
The ceremony was evidence of how the religious and ecumenical landscape has changed beyond recognition since the last coronation 70 years ago. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the Roman Catholic Cardinal remained outside Westminster Cathedral. In 2023 Cardinal Nichols stood alongside Protestant and Pentecostal leaders like me, and blessed the new king.
At the front of the procession of Christian leaders were two Pentecostal friends from Churches Together in England (CTE) member churches, including past president Pastor Agu Irukwu from Jesus House Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and Pastor Glyn Barrett, from !Audacious Church and National Leader of Assemblies of God. Another former president of CTE, Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was also present.
It was a particular delight for me to join Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Catholic), H.E. Archbishop Nikitas (Greek Orthodox) and Rev Canon Helen Cameron (Free Churches) in pronouncing a blessing on King Charles III. This poignant moment in the service demonstrated how far we have come on our ecumenical journey together.
There was great camaraderie behind the scenes in the week leading up to the coronation. As we went through rehearsals, one in full regalia, we shared personal stories, encouragement and even cough sweets!
The first rehearsal on the Wednesday in civic dress gave us the opportunity to take stock of the grandeur of the physical surroundings that is Westminster Abbey. We had an opportunity to watch as various processions took place. It was the first chance to read our blessings together, but with various people missing it felt a long way off from the real thing.
I read my piece to the king making eye contact. You could see the words meant so much to His Majesty
Thursday felt very different. This was the full dress rehearsal, and the pressure was on. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet most of my fellow coronation guests. As we worked our way through the service, our moment came. We read out our various blessings, and it went pretty well, but I felt like we still needed to take things to the next level for it to be a success on the big day.
There was a moment during that dress rehearsal which gave me great cause for concern. As we neared the end of the practice service I started coughing! I had to slip outside with a cough sweet in mouth, which one of my ecumenical colleagues had kindly given me.
I knew I needed to prepare adequately for coronation day.
The big day
On the day itself I didn’t just arrive early at Westminster Abbey at 7.45am, I also packed my own cough sweets! I had been topping up with water from about 5am so I didn’t become dehydrated in full vestments during the service. But it was a delicate balance - I didn’t want to take on too much water and need to visit the loo!
I changed into my vestments, with everyone mucking in and helping each other and then our names were called to stand in line for the procession. As we walked into the Abbey, I remained relaxed, despite seeing all the dignitaries seated.
As the service went on, we were suddenly called to take our places behind the high altar. I listened to the fanfare and watched Cardinal Vincent Nichols across the other side behind the altar. He moved and we both made our way to stand before the king in through opposite doors. One by one we read our blessings.
Rev Helen finished her piece and it came to me. I paused for two seconds as we had been directed and read my piece to the king making eye contact. You could see the words we read meant so much to His Majesty.
Our duty done, we bowed and returned behind the high altar and then back to our seats. No cough sweets required!
My lasting impression of the coronation was the interfaith engagement. It was so fitting that representatives from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish faiths were first in the procession and presented significant parts of the coronation regalia to His Majesty during the ceremony.
His Majesty King Charles III has committed to be a defender of all faiths, including the Christian faith. My hope post-coronation is that we all strive together as people of faith to come together in harmony and seek to continue to be a force for good in all our communities.
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