This article first appeared in the January issue of the Anglican Journal.
While in the Eastern Townships in Quebecfor the 125th anniversary of the Church of the Advent, I enjoyed a visit to Abbaye Saint Benoit-du-Lac, a beautiful Benedictine abbey nestled in the hills surrounding Lake Memphremagog. The abbey is renowned for Gregorian chant and the production of world-class cheeses and applecider.
The abbot, Dom André Laberge, graciously received me and those who had arranged the visit. After a quick tour, we chatted over coffee and chocolate pastries. As the abbot is an internationally renowned harpsichordist and organist, we were delighted when he invitedus to his music room to hear a few pieces of Bach. “Time for one more,”he said, “then I must go and prepare for vespers at 5 p.m.”
He had invited me to robe and sit in the choir with the monks. The Gregorian chant was lovely. During the magnificat,the altar was censed. As the litany, the Lord’s Prayer and the collectfor the reign of Christ the King were sung, clouds of smoke wafted into the air.
Then the abbot beckoned me to join him at the lectern and bring greetings. I thanked him for the warmth of his welcome. I expressed gratitude for the life and work of religious communities, particularly for their daily round of prayer for the world and for the church, and their ministries of hospitality and spiritual direction to pilgrims from far and wide. I spoke of the recent World Council of Churches’ document, The Church: Towards a Common Vision,and its call for the church, like its Lord, to be “in and for the world.” And I shared my own heartfelt hope that through the grace of ourLord Jesus, we all might live more fully into his prayer “that [we] maybe one…” (John 17:21).
The abbot and I each prayed for the church and, at his invitation, raised our hands and gave the Aaronic blessing together. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favour and grant you peace.”
I found that moment deeply moving. Indeed, I carry it into this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I pray these days will be marked by many holy and hope-filled moments, like the one shared by the abbot and me.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.