There was something important and emphatic about the simple, familiar words of the Eucharist sung at the opening service of the Lambeth Conference on Sunday. The call to come together had never made more sense; the language of unity has never been more pronounced.
It was a joyful service in a crowded Canterbury Cathedral. The bishops had disembarked a fleet of buses to negotiate the cobblestones of the narrow shopping street, stroll to the stone archway and finally form a long, merry line that snaked around the compound. It took them several minutes to process, with the spouses’ cameras clicking all the time.
The fanfare as the Archbishop of Canterbury entered through the Great West Gate announced the rousing opening anthem “All people that on earth do dwell”. The opening prayer summed up the desire of this Conference that “through our discussions and journey together, we may grow into a deeper understanding of one another and a deeper love for the world that Jesus Christ came to save.” .
Reverend Jacynthia Murphy from Aotearoa, New Zealand, Polynesia, was the first of many to read or pray in her own language during the multilingual service. And then came the Zinafe choir, dancing and swaying to the rhythm of the drums as they led the procession down the center aisle. It was a big, raw, swollen sound, a Shona setting to the hymn “Lord, your word endures.”
The prayer of confession included “our reluctance to hear those who tell us uncomfortable truths. . . our inability to praise the faith within us, our fixation on our status rather than our service, and our struggle to love those with whom we disagree.
Sean Murray from Panama read the first lesson in his own language: the story from 1 Kings of the widow who gave Elijah his last piece of bread. Then it was a passionate, full-bodied rendition by Matt Redman “Bless the Lord, O my soul” – the last verse without accompaniment, with a full and clear note.
Felix Yeung from Hong Kong read the New Testament reading from 1 Peter 4, with his instruction: “Above all else, maintain an abiding love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. There was a Gospel Alleluia on the drum as the Zinafe choir headed up the nave and returned with the Gospel, sung in Shona, then the motet Duruflé Ubi caritas and love of the choir of the cathedral.
The preacher was Dr. Vicentia Kgabe, Bishop of Lesotho, on the theme of the interdependence of servant leadership and hospitality. Bishops were called to gather the people of God and celebrate the sacrament of the new covenant, to practice hospitality in season and out of season. The word “hospitality” in the bishop’s language meant “’a generous welcome’ — not enough for an African girl,” she said.
“As the Anglican Communion, we have within us the ability to lead and serve the world by freely sharing what we have, without fear of missing out. Our jar will not be empty. We serve a God who provides.
In a moving meeting before the sacramental liturgy, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented a cross to Bishop Samy Shahata, Primate of Alexandria, the newest province of the Anglican Communion, where the Church’s presence had grown developed and expanded to the point that “literally hundreds of churches have been planted on the border where people have moved because of the war,” Bishop Welby said. He also praised the loyalty of the Orthodox Copts.
There was a hymn of praise, “Alleluia, sing to Jesus”, before the Eucharistic prayer and the Our Father said by all those present in their own language. Before the distribution, the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged that there would be many who would not feel able to receive. These were none the less “loved and appreciated”.
He asked, “Right now, let’s just be quiet when they’re seated. Pray for the grace of God not only for the Anglican Communion but for the Church Universal and [for humankind].” No drama ensued, no sound was emitted. There had been a request in front of the service that no one take individual photos of those who received.
Everyone tried Swahili for the words of the dismissal, giving added dimension to the words “Christ, the Sun of Justice, shine upon you and scatter darkness before your path”.
And again in the sun.