British Ambassador Attends Churchill Event at St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury
BY ANDREW FLANIGAN
Several honored guests join Westminster Community in honoring Churchill on anniversary of his death.
The National Churchill Museum hosted the official United States Memorial for Winston Churchill to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the British statesman’s death. On Jan. 15, the British Ambassador to the U.S., two of Churchill’s descendants, a British Lord, the governor of Missouri, and numerous state elected officials joined Westminster faculty, staff, and students in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury for a ceremony of remembrance firmly entrenched in British traditions.
The majority of prayers, Bible verses, and songs were recited 50 years prior as part of Churchill’s original funeral and were personal favorites of the late British politician. The order of service was first discussed and decided on by Rev. Jamie Haskins, chaplain and director of spiritual life; Rev. Dr. Marshall Crossnoe, vicar of St. Albans Episcopal Church, Kit Freudenberg, then interim director of the National Churchill Museum, and Dr. Natasia Sexton, professor of music.
“What made it for me was the trumpet– The Last Call to Post, the British form of Taps. To me, it was stunning.” –Kit Freudenberg
Jay Nixon, governor of Missouri, offered the welcome to guests from across the Westminster community, the state, and around the world. Duncan Sandys, great-grandson of Churchill, and Sir Peter Westmacott, KCMG LVO, Her Majesty’s ambassador to the United States, offered personal reflections on the honored statesman. Sandys discussed how he was not sure how to convey to his children–Churchill’s great-great-grandchildren– the significance and legacy of their historic ancestor and was thankful for institutions like the National Churchill Museum and Westminster College for continuing to tell and celebrate his story. Westmacott discussed the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States that developed while Churchill was prime minister.
President Barney Forsythe, director of the National Churchill Museum Jim Williams, and Lord Watson, Baron of Richmond, recited prayers and Bible verses. The Churchill Singers also sang several songs. The service concluded with a ceremonial playing of a trumpet song traditionally played at funerals. Freudenberg, former interim director of the museum and current director of development, said, “What made it for me was the trumpet– The Last Call to Post, the British form of Taps. To me, it was stunning.”
A wreath-laying ceremony followed the service on the statue of of their ancestor at the corner of Westminster and 7th Avenue. Edwina Sandys then offered her own personal reflection on her grandfather. Freudenberg said, “it was a simple and very poignant moment.”
“It’s very gratifying that in my second month of working as director to participate in such a momentous occasion.” –Jim Williams, Director of the National Churchill Museum
The service was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and coordination. The museum began by contacting the British diplomatic to schedule a potential visit. Williams said, “It was the only activity the United States on the anniversary of his death. We had a longstanding invitation for the ambassador so the embassy made sure he could make it.”
The planning process for the service occurred as the museum experienced a shift in leadership. Williams assumed his position as director of the museum only two months prior to the event.
“I’m very happy everyone could make it for a meaningful service on the anniversary of his death,” said Williams. “It’s very gratifying that in my second month of working as director to participate in such a momentous occasion.”
Williams’s last minute additions included the 30 seconds of the church bells ringing to signal the service’s beginning as well as the inclusion of the Lord Mayor sword in the procession, carried by Ryan Harrison, grand marshall of the Skulls of Seven. Freudenberg said, “Those were wonderful touches connecting Westminster to the service.”
The museum utilized all of its resources to ensure a successful event. Freudenberg said, “We started planning about this time last year– to get the ambassador to come, and then get all ideas to put together a solemn ceremony to celebrate Churchill’s life. We considered what was possible for the visiting dignitaries to participate in the service.”
Although the ambassador confirmed his attendance long in advance, other guests decided to attend more spontaneously. Edwina Sandys, who visited campus last November, had other prior engagements that she managed to rearrange, allowing her to attend with four days notice. Because the program had already been printed, she was unable to participate in the service in the chapel but offered her personal remarks during the following wreath laying.
“We were pleasantly surprised Edwina could make it,” said Freudenberg. “She was pleased so many people came.”
The night before the service, the Board of Governors of the Museum planned a special dinner with the Churchill Fellows in St. Louis. In addition to attending the dinner, the ambassador also attended a luncheon at Washington University with the school’s chancellor. While at Westminster, the ambassador had an opportunity to tour the museum, meet with the governor, and have lunch with students before flying back to Washington, D.C. that evening.
Lord Watson, who is currently writing a book on Churchill, dedicated a large portion of his visit to touring the college, especially the historic gymnasium.
The service of remembrance was planned as Westminster’s way of honoring the person whose legacy remains firmly connected to the school. Freudenberg said, “I hope students know that it was planned with them in mind, that they attend a school linked with one of the greatest persons of the twentieth century, and that they enjoyed it.”