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

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