30 March 1981: Liverpool cathedral is the setting for a Festival of Peace to remember the Beatle assassinated a few months earlier
The words of John Lennon, former Beatle, replaced those of Thomas Cranmer, former Archbishop of Canterbury, in Liverpool Cathedral yesterday as more than 2,000 people attended a Festival of Peace in memory of the assassinated musician.
On a more traditional Sunday afternoon there are 150 people in Britain’s largest cathedral for choral Evensong.
Despite the hundreds of letters which arrived at the cathedral, Buckingham Palace and the palaces of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York calling for the service to be cancelled, it passed without incident.
John Lennon was quietly, even ponderously, remembered as “a son of Liverpool who sought love and peace in many different spheres of life.”
The only lobbyists attracting the attention of the queue into the cathedral were a group of CND supporters selling balloons and Mr Bill Little, Merseyside’s most regular religious campaigner. The chosen text he wore over his overcoat could have backed either the protesters or the CND. It said: “The end of all things is at hand.”
The Lennon service, requested by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, and devised by Canon Gordon Rates, a member of the cathedral staff, blended non-religious thoughts with religious symbolism.
The incoming procession included traditional figures in red and green robes, a cross-bearer and canons, but also a girl who later led a meditation in boots, jeans and shoulder bag, and a local radio celebrity whose name was knitted into his pullover.
After the Dean’s welcome, John Lennon’s lyrics boomed from a speaker at the rear of the cathedral. “Imagine there’s no heaven.” under the solemn stained-glass faces of former bishops of Liverpool. “No religion too,” under the highest Gothic arches in the world.
John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, in New York City, 22 August 1980, a few months before his murder. Photograph: Steve Sands/AP
The congregation, mostly young and mainly dressed for church, listened with equal reverence to these words and a reading from St Johns Gospel, chanted “Give peace a chance” during a meditation, and joined in several religious songs. Only a handful, among the youngest in the congregation, walked out, looking bored.
A concert choir sang Lennon and McCartney songs, including Eleanor Rigby, which is full of religious scepticism. “Father McKenzie,” they chorused, “wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved.”
It marked a belated recognition of Paul McCartney’s talents by the cathedral. When he auditioned for the choir rather earlier in his musical career he was turned down.
The Dean of Liverpool, the Very Reverend Edward Patey, spoke regretfully of the passing of the flower power era, which also justified holding the festival in the cathedral.
“The era of flower power has given place to a greater aggressiveness; to the era of punk.” he said. “Young people ignorantly and stupidly dressed up like neo-Nazis, apparently ignorant that the Nazi period was responsible for untold misery, for as great a concentration of wickedness as the world has ever seen.
“And today, as often as not, confrontation is the OK bandwagon, and peace is given precious little chance.”