The lady in the splendid hat* is the High Sheriff of Rutland, Dr Sarah Furness, and she was at Peterborough Cathedral on Sunday 26th February for a special service of Choral Evensong in celebration of the County of Rutland.
She was not alone. The service was attended by 159 children and 562 adults from all walks of life, including not only the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland, Dr Laurence Howard, but also representatives of numerous schools, voluntary organisations and the public services. The Sheriff of Rutland USA, Mr Stephen Benard, was also in attendance as part of a visit from Vermont.
For Sarah Furness, who says she has been filled with pride and admiration by the sheer volume of altruism and voluntary activity she has come across in the county, the involvement of children in the service was particularly important.
“There is a real danger when organising events that they only reach my sort of age group – 60 upwards - but I feel that it is terribly important that children are included in thinking about public service, the importance of our county and our church and ethical life.”
The children came from many different schools in the county, both primary and secondary. Children from Whissendine CE Primary had worked with the Revd Janet Tebby, Team Vicar for Whissendine, Teigh, Ashwell and Market Overton, to write the prayers which they read during the intercessions. They also presented a giant "Rutland Horseshoe" (the county's symbol) carrying it up the aisle whilst the Cathedral Choir sung an anthem.
Pupils from Whissendine, Brooke Priory, Leighfield and North Lufenham schools sang the first verse of the final hymn, I the Lord of Sea and Sky, before the whole congregation joined in. “Like many people in the congregation I found it difficult to join in because I was trying not to cry!” said the High Sheriff.
For the children, it was quite an experience too. They told Revd Janet Tebby afterwards:
"I was a bit nervous at being in front of so many people."
"The horseshoe was very heavy. I felt special because everyone was watching me."
"When I walked into the cathedral I thought WOW! when I saw all the decoration in the building. The ceiling is amazing!"
This sense of wonder at Rutland’s diocesan cathedral helped to make real a connection between the county and its cathedral that is sometimes difficult to achieve. As Dr Furness says:
“I know that many of the people who attended the service had never visited before – I also know they will come again!”
* This is the special hat worn on ceremonial occasions by the High Sheriff of Rutland.