Bexley Borough Council today held its Civic Parade and Civic Service. As chaplain to the new Mayor, Cllr Brian Bexkwith, I took part in these events which I have never experienced before - obviously I could not normally come to such things on a Sunday morning. Being part of the official party means that I get to ride in the Mayor's limousine over to the Civic Offices where tea and biscuits are laid on. The biscuits are the subject of wisecracks all day because apparently a local paper has run a "shock horror" story accusing the Council of spending too much on hospitality.
The pre-parade tea is an opportunity to meet Colin Tandy, the Deputy Mayor; Ian Clement, the new leader of the Council; the Chief Executive; and the two local MPs, David Evenett and Derek Conway. We are fortunate to have two solidly pro-life MPs who have an excellent voting record in all the pro-life divisions. There is also the Colonel of the local Signals Regiment at Bexleyheath (and various other bits scattered around London). As usual with the modern British Army, the history of the present regiment is somewhat complex but it has a link with the old yeomanry regiments who were basically local people who turned up with their horses to fight Napoleon. Although the Colonel is a part of the TA, he is on 6 hours notice. If the bad guys set off a dirty bomb in central London it will be his lot who will set up the secure communications when the army is called in.
The parade marched through Bexleyheath to Christ Church, a Victorian gothic Anglican Church. Included were the British Legion, the RAF cadets, the Boys Brigade, and various uniformed groups from the scouting and guiding movement. The service was well put together. The hymns included All things Bright and Beautiful, Jerusalem and Onward Christian Soldiers: a sensible choice for such an occasion and they were all sung with gusto. Rev Dick Johnson made a very good job of interviewing various young people who were volunteering in various ways and working on their Duke of Edinburgh awards. I then had to preach.
I spoke about how a society needs people to participate if it is to function properly, how we can take for granted the vision and enterprise that has to be put in for something like our roads to be built or our bins to be emptied. (Actually I referred to our recycling bins taking the bottles and cardboard to be used again - I surprise myself sometimes with how much in tune I am with modern thinking.) I encouraged the youngsters there to be active citizens, and then spoke of how we respected every human person made to the image of God. I finished by saying a bit about how Christ would help us and we must not be afraid of him - quoting Pope Benedict. To be honest, I was not all that happy with it. I found it difficult to guess what would be the right note to hit. But I am at least very well accustomed to talking to young people so aimed the whole thing at them, using my prepared text as a framework. The Mayor and others were all kind and complimentary so that was a relief.
The National Anthem at the end was sung with representatives of all the uniformed groups lowering their flags. It was very impressive and the whole occasion had a genuine note of people wanting to work together for the good of the community, and seeking decent values. It got me wondering what it would be like if the Catholic Church were the established Church and we had the flag bearers kneeling and lowering the flags at the Consecration of the Mass.
After the service, there was another procession back to the Civic Offices where we stood on the podium for the Mayor to take the salute. The British Legion contingent had the best shout for "Eyeeeees RIGHT!" but I'm afraid I couldn't help thinking of Stephen Fry in the opening sequence for Blackadder.
There is a whole support staff for the Mayor with its own network. The mace-bearer, Steve is obviously very experienced and competent. The driver (who also kindly chauffered me back in the Mayoral Limo) is, I think, leaving Bexley to be the mace-bearer at Westminster Council. They are excellent guys who obviously take a pride in their job and do it well.