Westminster Abbey hosted a fast-moving Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey which put the emphasis on youth and the young people of the 53-member organisation.
Entitled The Commonwealth Service A Celebration of the Commonwealth, the Abbey Service was the key point in a series of events in the Westminster area as well as special Commonwealth-focused events which took place around the world.
The young royals attracted much of the media and school children’s attention at Westminster Abbey. After the Service as the Queen left, the schoolchildren given a chance to talk to Prince Harry and his fiancée Megan Markle and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge outside the Abbey seemed delighted at the celebrity fairy dust which had landed at the Abbey on a blustery March day.
Inside the Abbey, the proceedings had also focused on youth and inclusion under the 2018 Commonwealth theme of Towards a Common Future.
This year’s Commonwealth Speech, delivered by eye specialist, TED Fellow and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Dr Andrew Bastawrous dealt with his social enterprise work across the Commonwealth, tackling avoidable blindness and poor vision.
Dr Bastawrous spoke of the Commonwealth’s “shared future”, adding that, “at a time where there is focus on division, vision can unite all of us.”
London teacher and poet Jaspreet Kaur, better known as Behind the Netra, also spoke of the need to “understand, rather than being understood” and “loving, rather than being loved” as many of the schoolchildren in the pews hung on her every word.
In yet another throw to the youthful audience at the Abbey, the singer, Liam Payne, formerly of One Direction, sang Waiting on the world to change.
With the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit on the horizon in April, some of the priority issues were being flagged on Commonwealth Day.
In the Act of Affirmation, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland spoke of the grouping’s “respect for nature”. Her comments “that we will be stewards of the earth by caring for every part of it and for it as a whole” reflected the Blue Charter-climate change initiative expected to feature high up on the leaders’ April agenda.
The Queen’s Commonwealth Day message, published on 10 March, spoke of “bringing together young people, business and civil society from across the Commonwealth”.
The Queen also highlighted voluntary effort helping to shape the Commonwealth and all of communities, adding that “by pledging to serve the common good in new ways, we can ensure that the Commonwealth continues to grow in scope and stature, to have an even greater impact on people’s lives, today and for future generations”.
Outside the celebrations between Westminster and Marlborough House, the British media focused on a different generational perspective.
The Sky News website on Commonwealth Day carried an article under the headline Will Queen’s successor be on agenda at next Commonwealth meeting? Sky said that it had put this question to Baroness Scotland on Commonwealth Day and her response had been “that is certainly not a matter for me, it’s a matter for the leaders. The leaders will have a wonderful opportunity to be alone together at the retreat and they will talk about anything they wish to but it’s definitely not a matter for me.”
Baroness Scotland had also been asked by Sky to elaborate on the process for selecting a future Head of the Commonwealth, and had said “no, no, no, I can’t”, before adding that “I, as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, am the servant of 53 countries, and the 53 leaders decide what the mandate is going to be and then give it to the Secretary General.”
While succession was still being discussed outside, at a heavily-secured Marlborough House on Commonwealth Day evening, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were joined by Prince William at the Commonwealth Secretariat reception.
The day’s events in London seemed to serve as a lightning rod for a number of causes. At the side of the Abbey during the service, a tiny group of anti-Brexit protestors waved the European Union flag and the Union Jack under the gaze of live broadcast vans and the Metropolitan police. On another side of the Abbey, a larger group of LGBT protestors called for gay rights across the Commonwealth.
As guests arrived for the reception at Marlborough House that evening, a lively protest was staged outside Marlborough House calling, as one poster said, to “stop the persecution of Christians in Southern Cameroons”. Facing it, to the left of Marlborough’s entrance was a quieter Kashmiri protest.
While leaders and spokespeople talked of healing divides across the world and in the UK, the day’s events in the Westminster bubble alone indicated interesting times ahead for the Commonwealth Summit in April.
Round Table’s Debbie Ransome takes part in the BBC World Service coverage of the Commonwealth Service.
International Business Times: Queen Elizabeth’s II’s successor may not be Prince Charles, Commonwealth Secretary says
The last UK Year of the Commonwealth – 1997 reflections from the Round Table archives
Accession vows and the naming of the Head of the Commonwealth – From the Round Table archives