Delegates of the 14th Anglican Consultative Council Sunday joined thousands of Jamaican Anglicans in a service that showcased this island nation’s prodigious musical gifts and liturgical expressions, including pulsating reggae music made popular worldwide by its most famous son, Bob Marley.
“It was a great service. I just wish I had more room to dance,” said Bishop Sue Moxley of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who is one of the Anglican Church of Canada’s three delegates to the ACC meeting here. “I loved the music and it all flowed together without any people quite obviously running around and getting all anxious about whether it was going to happen or not.”
“It was exhilarating, wonderful, lively and moving in both ways – physical and emotional,” said Suzanne Lawson, the Canadian Anglican church’s lay delegate to the ACC, who is from the diocese of Toronto.
When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and bishops of the Church of the Province of the West Indies began their procession into the National Arena at 10 a.m., the organ played Tune Your Harps Your Voices Raise, from Samuel Felsted’s Oratorio, Jonah. As soon as Archbishop Williams entered the door to the arena, he was greeted by a drum roll and the blowing of an abeng, described in the order of service as “a horn which was blown by the Maroons during their long and eventually victorious struggle with the British in the early days of colonialism.” It was then followed by a jubilant liturgical dance by young members of the diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
But the service – where everyone stood, shook hands, hugged and swayed to the beat of Bob Marleys’ One Love during the offering of peace – was also tempered by Archbishop Williams’ homily, in which he urged Anglicans to heed the call for service, forgiveness and reconciliation.
God’s promise for all humanity, said Archbishop Williams, “is a community where there is no one in need.” Anglicans around the world, he said, “need to be asking ourselves, ‘Is ours a community in which there are still people in need?” He acknowledged that, “sadly,we’re still on our way to becoming a church that God wants us to be.”
Archbishop Williams addressed the issue of the current global economic crisis and the foreign debt burden of struggling nations like Jamaica and lamented “the way in which the economy of our world turns its back on those in need.”
Archbishop Williams also asked Jamaican Anglicans for prayers for the ACC meeting so that “in all we do we may assist our Anglican family to become more deeply a community shaken by the Holy Spirit…Where we seek to create a community in which there is no needy person.”
The needs of the world go beyond food and other material things, added Archbishop Williams. “We need forgiveness. We need reconciliation. We need justice,” he said. “We need to hear from one another words of forgiveness.”
In a veiled reference to the continuing conflict in the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality, Archbishop Williams said the challenge for Anglicans as Christians is to ask the following questions: “Are we in our own context meeting one another’s need to hear forgiveness and words of reconciliation? Whose forgiveness do I need? Who needs my forgiveness?”
He sought prayers for the Anglican Communion, “that we might find the words and the prayers that will release, unleash, unseal the power of forgiveness…”
He also spoke of conflicts in the world, citing the “anguish of Palestine and Israel, Sudan and Sri Lanka,” saying there is “hunger for the word of the Lord” and “hunger for hope and forgiveness.”
Those needs are met, he said, not by more “policies and documents, but by the gifts of our ourselves, of prayer, and love.” To give of one’s self, said Archbishop Williams in his 20-minute homily, “means letting go of what makes us feel safe.”
Archbishop Williams’ homily resonated with Bishop Moxley, who in an interview said she heard his message about “our need to care for the rest of the world who need, who don’t have, that that needs to be our focus instead of arguing over things.”
At the packed arena, which has a seating capacity for up to 8,000 people, ACC delegates entered behind colourful banners carried by young Jamaicans which identified the church from where they came. Similar banners were also hung around the arena, which was festively decorated with tropical plants and flowers.
The nearly three-hour service was broadcast live on the local TV station, TV Jamaica.
The lively Caribbean spirit was captured in the altar, which had a colourful backdrop of a giant red cross painted on a yellow background in the middle and, on both sides of it, the crest of the Anglican Communion on a simulated stained glass background in pink, purple, orange, green, yellow and blue. The backdrop also had a photograph of a white dove, representing the Holy Spirit, and a hand clasped in prayer over a Bible.
Above the altar, on the second floor of the arena, stood the diocesan festival choir, the massed choir (with representatives from diocesan choirs across the island), the Jamaica Folk Singers with bandannas in bright pink, blue and yellow, and the steel band whose players came from diocesan churches.
A song was commissioned specifically for the ACC meeting by the diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Titled Lord of Our Diversity and created by Mervyn Morris and Noel Dexter, the song includes the following lyrics: “Lord of our diversity, unite us all, we pray; welcome us to fellowship in your inclusive way…Teach us that opinions which at first may seem quite strange may reflect the glory of your creative range.”
Jamaicans – infants carried by their mothers and fathers, teenagers, seniors in canes, grandmothers resplendent in their Sunday best wearing beautiful and elaborate straw hats – all came to the arena and gave what had been promised to the ACC delegates: Worship, Jamaican style.