In a eucharist rich in symbolism – from the transporting of the gospel in a flower-bedecked mini-canoe by Melanesians to the choice of homilist, music, and processional robes – Anglican bishops, their spouses and ecumenical participants gathered July 20 at the historic Canterbury Cathedral for the opening service of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Preaching at the service, the bishop of Colombo, Duleep de Chickera, whose church has been working for peace in war-torn Sri Lanka, urged bishops to “always give the highest priority” to helping transform the world by “bringing healing, peace, justice and reconciliation where there’s oppression, hostility and strife.”
In a pointed reference to the deep divisions over homosexuality that has preoccupied the Anglican Communion in recent years, he added: “No other priority can continue in its place. God has called us so we may participate with him in bringing this transformation.”
Nonetheless, he said, Anglicans needed to acknowledge that the reality that just as the world is “torn and divided,” so is the nearly 80-million Anglican Communion. “We are a wounded communion – some of us are not here and that is an indication that all is not well.”
A total of 670 of the 800 bishops invited by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to the once-every-decade conference have arrived; the rest have chosen to boycott it to express their opposition to more liberal views on homosexuality by some Anglican churches, including the U.S. and Canada.
Bishops need to address three issues at the conference, said Bishop de Chickera: a return “to the discipline of self-scrutiny,” the need “to be an inclusive communion,” and to be “a prophetic voice.” He said there is a need “to resuscitate and declare again and again the challenge of unity in diversity. As I look around here, I see a wonderful diversity,” he said. “Different hands will touch the common cup. We are united despite our differences because in Christ we are equal. There’s enough to go around.”
[pullquote]He said that the church is being called “to be an inclusive communion: there’s a place for everyone and anyone regardless of colour, gender, ability, sexual orientation.”
Anglicans need to be “the voice of the voiceless,” he added. They should call into accountability “those who abuse power; authoritarian regimes who suppress and oppress people.”
Bishop de Chickera quoted the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who once said, “The church is the number one institution that does not live for itself.” This, said Bishop De Chickera, “is the crux of Anglican identity and spirituality. We don’t live for ourselves.”
Unlike past opening services of the conference, bishops were not a sea of purple cassocks as they entered the cathedral for the procession: they instead wore the formal rochet (white robe with ruffled cuffs) and chimere (red overgarment) vestments. Primates were similarly garbed as the bishops, abandoning their resplendent copes and mitres. Only Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wore a cope of white and gold and a mitre of similar colours as he marched last in the order of procession before the service.
The setting of the eucharist, was the “Missa Luba”, “a version of the Latin mass based on traditional Congolese songs.”
Reflecting the diversity of the Anglican Communion, which is spread out across 164 countries, various parts of the eucharist were said in various languages – Korean, Japanese, Hindi, Portuguese, and French among them.
Melanesian men and women, wearing grass skirts and colourful headbands, carried the Bible in a miniature dug-out canoe as they sang, moved and danced to the beating of drums from the High Altar to the Cathedral’s Compass Rose.
Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was closed to the public for the service.
The Archbishop of Canterbury sat at the High Altar in the seat of Augustine, who had been sent in 597 AD by Pope Gregory the Great as a missionary and later established his “Cathedra” (seat) in Canterbury, South England.