You may know we have been preparing for this pilgrimage for several months: choosing excursions, making reservations, selecting music appropriate for worship services and concerts, spending long hours in rehearsals in order to be at our best leading worship in magnificent places, researching the sacred sites we will visit, and more. A pilgrimage is a journey, not an event, and all the preparation time and effort are crucial elements in the journey. For me as the choir director, I expect beautiful places, wonderful music, nice people, and a clear sense of God’s presence with us.

This time, though, there is an enormous element I could not have anticipated. If someone had asked me to name something way outside of expectations, I never would have mentioned the possibility of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Although she was 96 years old (born two days before my mother, who always considered her a “sister”) and had reigned as Queen for more than 70 years, I really expected she would carry on for a lot longer. She became Queen on February 6, 1952, the day my younger sister was born. I have never known another monarch in the British Commonwealth.

Jim and I arrived in Belfast to visit his cousins on Sunday, Sept. 4. Two days later, on Sept. 6, Liz Truss was named Prime Minister. That day she traveled to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to meet with the Queen because it was thought unwise for the Queen to travel to London. The next day the Royal Family were summoned to Balmoral because the Queen’s health was declining. On Thursday, Sept. 8, Queen Elizabeth II died peacefully at Balmoral. The Royal Family, the British Commonwealth and, indeed, the entire world are mourning the loss of a great lady, a very important figure on the world stage for nearly a century.

To me, it is very special for the Piedmont Singers and all our pilgrims to be in England representing Grace Church Berryville and Grace Church The Plains. We have the unique opportunity to share this time of remembrance and mourning with all we meet and everyone who comes to worship with us at Durham Cathedral, St. Lawrence Church in York, Beverley Minster, Ripon Cathedral and Selby Abbey. We always sing soli Deo Gloria, of course, but this time we also sing to draw the people who worship us into a closer relationship with and experience of the living God as we remember and honor the extraordinary life of Queen Elizabeth II, whose strong faith and hard work for God’s children everywhere are a model for people everywhere.

Jim and I had the privilege of attending a concert at St. Martin’s in the Fields in London on Thursday, Sept. 8, given by The Feinstein Ensemble. One of the works performed was Cantata 82, Ich habe genug (I have enough), for bass and chamber orchestra. Some of the text is especially appropriate in remembering Queen Elizabeth today:

I have enough, I have taken the saviour, the hope of the righteous in my eager arms; I have enough! I have caught sight of him, my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart; now I wish this very day joyfully to depart from here. I have enough!

I am more than grateful to have been there to hear this exquisite music and to have shared in a prayer for the Queen and the royal family. None of the performers or the audience will ever forget this special experience.

It is such a blessing for us to be here at this time in history and to offer our thanks for this extraordinary life in our music and worship. Thanks be to God!

Blessings to you all,