Today is a special day for us, for it is the day when coroners come together from all over the country for the annual conference of the Coroners Society of England and Wales, of which Caroline has been President this past year. For the very first time since its foundation in 1846, the Society is holding its conference in the county of Essex, where Caroline is HM Senior Coroner (and in that regard, it needs to be said that Caroline is also only the second woman President of the Society since 1846).
Traditionally the conference begins with a service of evensong. Sadly, in recent years it has become something of a ‘niche’ event with fewer and fewer coroners and their guests attending: last year there were less than twenty present. So Caroline decided that she would see if she could reverse the trend. Since we worship at Chelmsford Cathedral, she gained the blessing of the Dean to turn the normal Thursday evensong into a special service to mark the beginning of her conference. In the words of the invitation which she sent out:
There will be a special service of prayer and thanksgiving in Chelmsford Cathedral on Thursday 26 September 2019 from 5.15 – 5.55 pm, in which there will be a focus on coroners and all those people and agencies who work alongside coroners. In that service we will also remember the bereaved of Essex. Although the service will be distinctively Christian and will follow the shape of an Anglican Evensong, it will have in mind people of other faiths and of none. Chelmsford Cathedral is a very welcoming space. The music together with the choir is first-rate and will provide not only a spiritual experience but a wonderfully aesthetic experience too. The service will be led by Imogen Nay, the new Canon for Evangelism and Discipleship, and the preacher will be Roger Morris, the Bishop of Colchester.
This invitation went to all the coroners and their guests: for them the invitation to evensong has been combined with an invitation to a reception in their honour put on the Chairman of Essex County Council – Caroline is hoping that, if nothing else, the serving of wine and canapés after the service will ensure that most of her colleagues will want to turn up. The invitation has also gone to a wide cross-section of people in Essex. We know that a number of local dignitaries will be present: the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, the High Sheriff of Essex, the ‘chain gang’ made up of the mayors and their equivalents throughout Essex, and members of the local judiciary. She has also invited people with whom she works such as mortuary technicians, pathologists, the police, and undertakers. In addition, invitations have gone out to Essex County Councillors and Essex County Council staff, including her coroners’ officers and members of the coronial team. Last and not least she has been in touch with a host of Christian friends, including people from Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, and the Cathedral.
5.15 pm is not the best time of the day to invite people to a service. Many will simply be anxious to get home after a long day at work. Nonetheless, as William Gladstone, the great nineteenth century British prime minister once memorably said:
Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.
At the moment the indications are that there will be over two hundred and fifty people who will come together to celebrate and thank God for the Coroners Society of England and Wales; to pray for coroners and all who work with them in the service of the bereaved – and to ask God’s blessing on the annual conference. Perhaps even more importantly, our hope is that the service itself will be an act of witness to the many coroners who have little to do with the Christian faith. I think this is an imaginative Christian way to begin a conference!