I am not a particularly religious person - a deep and abiding suspicion of clerical bureaucracy is just one reason why I am sceptical about organised religion - but I do find that religious services, done well, do lift the soul (oh yes, I do believe in that, contradictory though that may seem). And so it was with some pleasure that Ros and I attended Evensong for Her Majesty's Courts of Justice at St Edmundsbury Cathedral this afternoon.
The event, the climax of the High Sheriff's term of office, is an opportunity to give thanks to those who uphold our laws and who exercise governance on our behalf, and is attended by the judiciary, council leaders and town mayors from across the county, plus Parliamentarians and the rest of the local gentry. Suits are worn, as are hats. It is a public occasion.
The cathedral looked lovely, with the choir, the new organ and trumpeters to play fanfares, plus the various senior clergy in their robes. Proper hymns were sung, such as "I vow to thee, my country", and we got a sermon from a senior figure related to the law. And, of course, we sang the national anthem.
I am reminded by all of this that, whilst religion plays a far less central role in our lives than once it did, the relationship between the civil authorities and the spiritual one - the Church of England - remains a strong one. In a county such as Suffolk, still relatively homogeneous, the issue of diversity is relatively understated - more people here define themselves as Church of England than in more urbanised parts of the country - and rural village life still revolves around the church to some extent, even if most people don't attend services.
And there is something quintessentially English about such things or, at least, so it appears to this ersatz Englishman. The Church provides an anchor, holding us to a sense of community, linking us to our history. It also acts as a reminder that bringing people together to celebrate and to reflect is to make us part of something bigger, something more considerate, and a reminder that we are, however it is defined, part of a wider community.