The music was sublime; the atmosphere, breathtaking. From a solitary flame, warmth and light spread as 1200 candles slowly lit up the Cathedral. Time-honoured words of promise, hope and encouragement interwove with angelic voices to proclaim to the 5,000 or so guests at the Cathedral’s ‘Darkness to Light’ services last week, the Advent message that light has the power to penetrate even the darkness that may diminish our own lives.
At an ‘after-service’ dinner party, seasoned attenders confidently agreed that, even by its usual high standards, there was something extra special about Salisbury Cathedral’s service this year. Perhaps the choir were just that little bit more accomplished; or the organ that little bit more impressive, or the atmosphere that little bit more expectant, or the readers that little bit more impassioned.
Perhaps that explains why, when we are all exhorted to tighten our belts yet further in these straightened times, worshippers were wonderfully more generous in the retiring collection than they were last year.
That spirit of generosity was again evident in the Cathedral last week – as we joined the rest of the world to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela and mourn his passing. The last great peacemaker of the 20th Century was how one commentator described him. People queued up to sign the book of condolence opened in his honour, filling it with heartfelt greetings and words of encouragement in responses to a truly remarkable and inspirational life.
Martin Field, Development Director and Deputy Chapter Clerk
Nelson Mandela epitomised generosity. The darkness of so many years of apartheid was eventually banished by thousands of individual shining lights, many of them inspired and enflamed by the famous speech he gave at his trial in 1964. It took 27 years for those flames to reach the high altar of apartheid. But eventually, lasting peace in South Africa was secured through an exemplary act of generosity, when he joined the government of those who had formerly imprisoned him to inspire a nation – black and white together - to dismantle apartheid.
After two decades spent helping to raise money for good causes, I’m continually humbled by people’s unfailing compassion and generosity. Against all reason, they seem to be natural and dominant human responses to sympathy and inspiration.
As we saw in the Cathedral last weekend - as Nelson Mandela’s life demonstrated – the generous light of one small candle can penetrate even the darkest of places.