Under St. Paul's Glow, Hints of Dark Times

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As they have for 50 years, Americans here packed St. Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday for an annual Thanksgiving service that, as evocatively as any event on the calendar, nurtures the home thoughts from abroad that are a staple of expatriate life....

For the 220,000 Americans living in Britain, the annual gathering at St. Paul’s, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, provides an opportunity to celebrate the two nations that are the pillars of their lives. A centerpiece of the occasion every year is the invocation of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, which the American ambassador, Robert H. Tuttle, described in remarks to the congregation on Thursday as “working together, and marching together, as we have sung together, for decades, if not for centuries.”

But this year, more than most, the occasion was tinged with shades of light and dark.

Light, literally, because the cathedral is in the midst of celebrating overlapping anniversaries: the 300th anniversary of the laying of its last stone in 1708, and the 50th anniversary this week of the dedication of the American Memorial Chapel, situated behind the great altar. The chapel honors the 28,000 United States service members based in Britain who died in World War II.

On Wednesday, another service celebrated the completion of a $60 million, six-year renovation that has restored light and color to a cathedral whose great stone walls and magnificent frescoes had dimmed with age.

Dark, at least figuratively, because many Americans in London have had their lives thrown into turmoil by the financial crisis gripping much of the world. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans are said to work in London’s financial district, many of them within walking distance of St. Paul’s.

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