Archive for February 2011

In the Birthplace of Anglicanism

I saw Ruth off at London's Heathrow airport after a great little holiday in celebration of our 25th weddings anniversary and a day later made my way to Canterbury. My purpose was to participate in the annual conference hosted by the staff at Canterbury Cathedral for new Bishops of the Anglican Communion. I enjoyed my train ride through the English countryside…Wow, those English trains go fast!!! Upon my arrival at the Cathedral Lodge I was immediately met by two other Canadian Bishops. We were given our instructions and the keys to our rooms and were told to enjoy ourselves and relax until Evensong and dinner. I was thrilled at my room. Besides being modern with a beautiful view of the Cathedral, it was warm!!! I was so cold in England that by the time of my arrival at Canterbury I had a cold. Thankfully, it did not amount to much and did not hinder the week.

The traditional Prayer Book Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral is truely a treat. I was thrilled to be sitting in this oldest Cathedral of England and the very birthplace of the Anglican Communion. The men & boys choir were superb. I looked forward to the week ahead and to worshipping daily in this holy place. At dinner were began to meet the others who were to be part of the course. We were all men, except for one, and all relatively new Bishops from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Ireland, USA, India, the South Pacific, numerous parts of Africa and Canada. 

 The view from my room 

The week  had a timetabled structure to the day. We began with Morning Prayer in the Cathedral "Quire" and then Eucharist in the ancient Crypt. Each day we ate, we sat round in chairs, we took notes as various people winged in for the event, gave us their opinions and winged away again. For me the highlights of the content were Bishop David Picket who enthusiastically told us about new initiatives in parts of the Church, Jane Williams, wife of the archbishop who reminded us to stay "human" in the episcopal ministry, and  John Rees, an English Canon lawyer. The content was good, but as far as courses go, truth be told, it was just another one of the many courses I have attended in my career. What made being here worth the cost of an air ticket were those things that money can't buy.

One of these was the company I kept.  In other words, thirty other people with long and varied careers in the church and who, for better or worse, have been seen by their dioceses as worthy of pinning places for hope and aspiration.  Amongst them were some remarkable people. I have been in the Anglican church for almost 40 years now, and for me "the Anglican Communion" has never been quite real; it is a bunch of committees that other people go to; it is a plethora of wordy and unreadable statements on various things and something so far removed from the Church in Canada's north that I have never really paid it much heed. But here, with this diverse group of very human men and women struggling to advance the Kingdom against often overwhelming odds, it suddenly all made sense.

And I loved being in this place. For a week I was part of the community life of a great Cathedral. With a million visitors a year, a paid staff of over 300 and a volunteer staff of twice that, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the world's most important holy places. Just through the wall from the place I sat for evensong was the spot where Thomas A' Becket was murdered. The shrine is no longer there, removed like so many other precious things by the reformers, but the tiles worn smooth by the knees of praying pilgrims remain. The stones tower skyward and are steeped in the prayers of millions of people, so that although there is evidence of conflict and death all around, this is a beneficent place. Several times a day I sat in the warm embrace of centuries of my ancestors to pray and think and be.

The four Canadian Bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury

Every afternoon we were given some free time . Most days I used it to keep in touch via the internet with home, but I went out for a walk daily. The streets of Canterbury are a maze of shops and pubs, always with the Cathedral spires towering overhead.  The city is crowded with peoppe daily, especially at the end of the school day. Other highlights included a bus trip back to London to visit two important sites. The first was the Anglican Communion Office where we met many of the staff who work to bring the diverse world-wide Communion together. One staff member is a Canadian, The Rev. Allison Barnett-Cowan, with whom I attended Seminary. We Canadians  were so pleased to have our picture taken together with Allison. Then we were driven through London traffic to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. What a thrill it was for all of us to be met at the Palace door by the Archbishop who  immediately posed with us for a group photo. He them hosted us in the "Guard's Room" for a chat and high tea. After tea the staff took us on a tour of the Palace and then, prior to our departure, the Archbishop again joined us for Evensing Prayer in his private crypt Chapel.

I was priviledged to be present when the Archbishop baptized five teens and confirmed another 85 young people.

Back at the Cathedral we enjoyed a number of other highlights…a visit to the Deanery where the Dean of Canterbury welcomed us with wine and dinner…a candlelight vigil in the Cathedral at the site of the memorial to Thomas A Becket…and on Sunday being a part of the morning congregation and receiving a small gift from the Sunday School children and then later being a guest at a service of Baptism and Confirmation with the Archbishop officiating for 85 teenagers, five of whom he baptised first. I was intrigued that the service follwed the Book of Common Prayer and the decision to do so was made by the candidates. We were told that there is an increase in young people coming to the Cathedrals across Britain, because they are looking for something different than the world they live in. In 2010 they have seen a 10% increase in attendance. Alleluia!!! The Church lives!!!

So my days filled out and the week passed. I thought, listened, prayed, walked in the picturesque little city, even drank a glass of good English beer, joked and discussed and listened, thought, and prayed some more. I am indebted to the Primate's office and to others for providing me with the financial ability to have this experience. I hope I have come home a better bishop for being there, which was the whole point I suppose and is all too valuable. But even more valuable is the sense I carry of having been gifted with enormous process in my walk as a Christian and a man.  

It is an experience I won't soon forget.

Laus Deo.

Bishop Tom

An English Winter

Ruth and I are now home from spending two weeks in England. The purpose of our time there was a mixture of pleasure and work. The story began when I received word from the Primate's office last autumn inviting me to attend the international Conference for New Bishops that is hosted every year by the staff of Canterbury Cathedral. The problem was that the course was to begin on the very day of our 25th wedding anniversary. When I announced to Ruth that I had good news (that I had been invited to the conference) and some bad news (that it was to begin on the day), she announced that that was not bad news because she would come with me. Of course she was not allowed to attend the conference but we soon decided to smash our piggy banks and go a few days ahead of the conference and "celebrate" with an English winter holiday.

From January 25th to 31st Ruth and I enjoyed the hospitality of the staff at St. Matthew's House, Westminster, in the very heart of London. From there we visited around the city and made side trips. One venture was to Oxford where we toured parts of the university and the Cathedral and enjoyed "high tea" in the hotel made famous by the "Inspector Morse" TV series. I had always wanted to see the original Holman Hunt painting of "Christ knocking at the door" which hangs in Oxford's Keeble College Chapel. Alas, it had been removed as a new organ was being installed…drat!!! The next day we went up to York to enjoy a tour of the great Minster and then to attend Evensong.

The highlight of our trip was a journey to Bath and out to the tiny bedroom community of "Corston". We were met at All Saints Church by the Vicar, Fr. Richard Hall, who graciously agreed to conduct a short service for the Renewal of Marriage Vows. Of course, it had been Ruth's idea to do that and I was happy to agree, thinking that it would be a nice little moment. I must admit to becoming quite emotional …indeed, the Bishop even shed a wee tear!!!. Fr. Hall was so enthusiastic and pastoral in his time with us that the occasion became the definite highlight of our visit.. It was also an added touch to actually go to the village of our family name. Interestingly there is nothing in the history of the church or the village as to the origins of the name and the Vicar commented that we were the only Corstons he had ever met.

We returned to downtown Bath and enjoyed an afternoon of touring the city and then attending a beautiful Evensong at the great Bath Abbey, sung by an all girl's choir. We sat behind a group of boys who were obvious from some other school choir because they were not only making eye-contact with the girls but singing along with them! Bath is famous as the site of ancient Roman baths…but enjoying them on the day we were there was the last thing on our minds…it had to be the coldest day in England!!!

On Sunday in London we found our way to the east end, so badly destroyed in the bombings during the war. It was there that we attended the morning Eucharist at All Saints Church, Poplar, not far from the famous Canary Warf complex. The 17th century building was the ancestral church of Ruth's family and where her father was a choir boy. On the morning we attended the heat was off and the building was cold, but the congregation was warm and welcoming. It was marvelous…4 clergy and lots of incense!!!  Afterwards were were invited to the hall for "tea and bisquits". Later that afternoon, we made our way back to Westminster Abbey for the Sunday Evensong.

Of course, we also enjoyed doing some shopping, browsing and enjoying the Dickenish streets of the cities as well as the fine English pubs. One afternoon we even became visitors at Parliament and enjoyed the discussions in the House of Commons. I enjoyed everything about being in England…except the cold…far colder than even -30C in Canada, believe me!!! 

It was a great way to celebrate our 25th anniversary, even though many of our friends can't understand why we wouldn't go to  warmer country and sit on a beach!!! Frankly that's just not us. Twenty-five years has flown by from that winter day in Trinity Church Saint John, NB, when we stood before Archbishop Harold Nutter, surrounded by family and friends and made our vows "for better, for worse".  Like many marriages, ours has involved many ups and downs, changes and moves across the country in our love of the Church, some tears but a lot more laughs and best of all, the raising of two very fine sons. God is good!

Ruth headed back home on January 31st and I continued on the Canetrbury…the subject of my next blog.

Laus Deo!


       With Fr. Hall at Corston   


               At Bath   


   All Saints Church, Poplar