On Wednesday evening, in a significant moment in YMCA’s history, the organisation returned to its roots at St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate its work, pay homage to supporters, staff and volunteers and give thanks for the life and pioneering work of its founder.
St Paul’s Cathedral has played a continuing pivotal role in YMCA’s 173-year long history. Founded by Sir George Williams in its Church Yard in 1844, at just 22 years old, he would later be laid to rest in its crypt following his funeral there in 1905.
Proceedings began with a wreath laying ceremony in the crypt beneath the cathedral at the grave of Sir George Williams, attended by his direct descendants who placed the wreath. It closed with a blessing led by YMCA’s President, The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.
Afterwards, guests and the public gathered inside the Cathedral’s walls in their hundreds for a special YMCA-themed Choral Evensong, one of the most-loved services at St Paul’s, and sung by the Cathedral Choir.
The service put particular focus on our growing work around young people’s mental health; it was shared with the congregation the vast reach and impact that YMCA has, with its mental health services alone supporting more than 17,000 young people in the last year.
YMCA Youth Ambassadors led on elements of the service with Jerahl Hall, from YMCA North Staffordshire, reading from the Gospel of Mark, and Egija Cinovska from YMCA Swansea leading intercessory prayers. The Reverend Chris Poulard, YMCA Vice-President, led the Prayer of Commitment prior to a sermon from The Archbishop of York.
Following the service, guests gathered in Lord Nelson’s Chamber for a reception to launch the Changing Futures Appeal, for YMCA supporters, where Charlie Squires who has received support from One YMCA shared his story.
Opening the reception, The Archbishop thanked YMCA for its contributions to society throughout history, saying: “What I’ve seen in the years that I’ve been president is staggering… 1844 we started, two world wars, and we’re still going.”
Guests were given the opportunity to take time for reflection at Sir George William’s resting place where the wreath had been placed. His memorial in the crypt reads: “My last legacy, and it is a precious one, is the Young Men’s Christian Association. I leave it to you, beloved young men of many countries to carry on and to extend.”
If you would like to find out more about how YMCA’s work helps young people with mental health difficulties you can read stories that young people have shared with us.