One of my fondest memories of Lambeth, 1998 was the celebration of holy communion.
Canterbury Cathedral was the setting for the opening eucharist. Hundreds of people lined the streets to watch primates, bishops and their spouses from all over the world make their way into the great church that is home for us all.
During the liturgy, a Latin American dance troupe stepped out in brightly-coloured costumes from behind the altar and danced the book of the Gospels down through the chancel, into the midst of the congregation. The music engaged everyone in an air of anticipation. And then it stopped! The dancers were literally in mid-step, poised as we all were to hear the Good News.
Read in Arabic, it was that portion of the Gospel according to Luke (Chapter 6) in which Jesus is saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” And then as joyfully as that troupe had carried this Good News into our midst, they danced it right down the centre aisle and out into the streets of Canterbury. I shall never forget the energy of that moment and the feeling that something wonderful had been announced to the church and to the world.
During the three-week conference, the eucharist was celebrated every day. Each liturgy reflected the language and culture of the province hosting the service. Every day the text was different, but the order was the same – we gathered, we heard the word of God, we prayed for the church and the world, we offered the prayers of great thanksgiving, we partook of the holy communion and we were sent out for service.
One celebration that stays with me is the one hosted by the Holy Catholic Church in Japan on Aug. 6. The awful atrocities of war were acknowledged, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were remembered, and expressions of repentance and forgiveness were offered and received.
It was the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The preacher was Canon Susan King, the daughter of Leonard Wilson, bishop of Singapore during the Second World War. He had been captured and tortured for eight months, and he coped by imagining his captors as they had been as children. Upon his release, he emphasized forgiveness. She said, “My father’s story was a transfiguration story. After the war he returned to Singapore and had the great joy of confirming one of his torturers. He said, ‘One of these men who was allowed to march up from the prison to the cathedral … was one of those who had stood with a rope in his hand, threatening and sadistic. I have seldom seen so great a change in a man. He looked gentle and peaceful.'”
In many respects it was the eucharist (and the daily Bible studies) that held the conference together. This time, I look forward to July 23 when the Episcopal Church of Cuba will host the eucharist. I was at their synod last February when Bishop Miguel Tamayo announced the invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The delegates were jubilant! They planned for the faithful throughout Cuba to gather at the same hour for prayer as their bishops host the eucharist at Lambeth. All wanted to participate and no doubt they will, with joy in their hearts.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.