Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

Why can’t I pray in Westminster Abbey?


Mary Wakefield has narrated this article for you to listen to.

In the school chapel every morning, bored and tired, I’d rest my forehead on the back of the chair in front and try to doze. The chapel chairs were dignified and sturdy, each with its own wooden box for hymn books and a flat top, carved with the name of a generous old girl. As morning chapel progressed, that name would slowly etch itself into my forehead so that sometimes even at lunchtime I still had the name of a past and more perfect pupil stamped backwards above my eyebrows.

This is very much how I feel now about the Church of England. When you’re brought up in an institution, however soporific, it leaves its mark on you. I converted to Catholicism nearly two decades ago but I’m still imprinted with the C of E. I’m at home with flagstones and lady vicars and my mind is full of the strange images I formed as a child listening to the Book of Common Prayer. ‘I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.’

Why does the Church of England so routinely make a person feel certifiable for trying to believe?

I don’t regret converting, but I find it sad that my English son, with Anglican grandparents, will never know Anglican things. So I sing him prayers from the hymn book at bedtime – ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’, ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ – and the other day when we were passing Westminster Abbey, I decided to visit.

There are few London sights as lovely as the west face of Westminster Abbey lit up by late afternoon sun, and as we approached the gate I felt a rush of patriotic pride: my boy would know his inheritance, I decided.

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