Saplings blessed in ‘Trees of Life’ Service at Westminster Abbey to honour lives lost during the pandemic

17th Oct 2022
'Trees of Life' Service
Credit: Picture Partnership Westminster Abbey

On Tuesday 11 October, representatives from the NHS, emergency services, key workers, and members of the public gathered for the ‘Trees for Life’ Service of Remembrance and Blessing at Westminster Abbey.  

The service - led by the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle – was organised in partnership with the National Forest Company and the National Memorial Arboretum to honour the bravery and dedication of those who served the nation throughout the pandemic and to remember lives lost to COVID-19. 

The Dean opened the service by giving his heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.  

He said: “This is a moment of complex feelings. We measure the loss of over 200,000 lives, each one precious and particular. We bear that grief. 

“The trees will become a permanent witness to our loss and to our thanksgiving. May they stand firm and resilient in all weathers and always remind us of our strength and fragility in the solidarity of the shaken.” 

The moving and poignant service then featured a testimonial read by Philippa Rawlinson, Director of Remembrance at the Royal British Legion, and a reading by John Everitt, Chief Executive of the National Forest Company. There were also prayers read by key workers, representing the NHS, supermarkets and the Ambulance Service. 

'Trees of Life' Service
Credit: Picture Partnership Westminster Abbey

Michael Rosen, the celebrated author and former Children’s Laureate, read his poem ‘These are the Hands’ which he wrote about the care given by NHS staff. 

The blessing of the saplings was then led by the Dean of Westminster, and representatives from ten different communities of faith, ranging from Hinduism to Buddhism, who gathered around the saplings and said individual blessings as the branches were sprinkled with holy water and wafted with incense. At the centre of the trees and saplings to be blessed in the service was the Spaeth Alder tree, which will form the centrepiece of a new ‘Trees of Life’ glade at the National Memorial Arboretum in the National Forest, where visitors will be invited to pause, take a moment and reflect. 

The saplings are due to be planted this winter and is the first step towards plans for an inspirational living memorial to remember the sacrifices made by the nation during the pandemic. 

Through the centre of the nave in the Abbey 5,000 steel leaves each inscribed with the word ‘Hope’ lay scattered. The ‘Leaves of the Trees’ installation by sculptor Peter Walker, created a beautiful impression of fallen autumn leaves appearing as naturally scattered by the wind. The leaves will be donated to the arboretum following a year-long tour around the UK. 

The proposed new memorial woodland aims to feature diverse wildlife habitats and areas for gathering and play, and be a place for everyone across the nation to reflect and remember while creating new memories, and providing a symbol of hope for the future.    

If you would like to find out more about the Memorial Woodland and how you can support the project, you can find out more on the National Memorial Arboretum’s website.