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Cathedral service became a multi-linguistic exercise in futility

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 1, 2022

It took 45 minutes for the 650 or so Lambeth bishops to file into Canterbury Cathedral two by two.

Two by two they came tall and short. Two by two they came slender and portly. Two by two they came black and white. Two by two they came Hispanic and Asian. Two by two they came male and female. Two by two they came clean-shaven or sprouting facial hair. Two by two they came masked and unmasked. Two by two they came processing in to the sound of the Canterbury Cathedral organ filling the cavernous space which seats 2,000.

The majority of the bishops wore the classic Anglican snow white rochet and cardinal red chimere topped by a black tippet embroidered with their diocesan and seminary seals. Others wore white stoles or gold or an odd distinctive orange. Some of the African bishops wore their colorful Kente stoles. Other bishops simply wore their purple cassocks sans stole. Most of the bishops were bear-headed but a few wore a bishop's zucchetto or a classic biretta, or even a Canterbury cap. The only bishop to wear a miter was the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Lambeth bishops were in their choir dress not liturgical vestments.

It was an hour after the Canterbury organ sounded its first note that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby approached the free-standing altar. He was wearing the same pale yellow gold miter with three entwined teal fish surrounded by flaming blue waves that he wore at his enthronement nine years before when he first pounded on the door of Canterbury Cathedral with his crozier seeking entrance. Then he wore a flowing bishop's cope, Sunday he wore a matching Eucharistic chasuble.

In 2013 the haunting triple "bam ... bam ... bam" of the crozier hitting the ancient wooden doors echoed throughout the cathedral as Justin Welby sought entrance.

"I am Justin, the servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God," he said at the beginning of his reign as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was enthroned as the Archbishop in the See of Canterbury to which all Anglican Christians look to as a center of their communion and fellowship as he took his seat upon St. Augustine's ancient throne in Canterbury Cathedral.

Placed upon a dais behind the altar in a very prominent position was the historic Chair of Saint Augustine. It is Justin Welby's official cathedra as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral itself dates back to St. Augustine of Canterbury who was the first bishop of the cathedral, making it the oldest cathedral in England. Through the fourteen hundred intervening years the cathedral has been added on to, repaired following raids and fires and other structural damages. It even survived the wrath of Henry VIII and is still standing.

The cathedral was also the murder scene of Thomas à Becket, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of his death in 1170.

The Chair of St. Augustine takes its name from the first Archbishop of Canterbury St. Augustine who came to early England in 597. The current chair was built in the very early years of the 13th century following the destructive fire of 1174 which destroyed the original seat.

The Chair of St. Augustine is made from Petworth marble found in the Sussex region of England and is used only during the enthronement of a Archbishop of Canterbury and during the Lambeth Conferences.

It was in 2013 that from the Chair of St. Augustine Justin Welby solemnly pledged himself to commit to the service of the Anglican Communion and in union with the far-flung bishops that "together we may proclaim the Gospel of Christ Who reconciles us to God and breaks down the walls that divide us."

Those walls, which he turned to Christ to break down, are higher now than they were in 2013.

The Canterbury Cathedral's Eucharistic service was almost unrecognizable. It was celebrated in a myriad of languages: Sona spoken in Papua New Guinea; French spoken in Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi; liturgical Latin and liturgical Greek; Shona spoken in Zimbabwe; and Swahili spoken in the East African coastal Anglican provinces of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.

Gone was the historic language of Anglicanism, the Mother Tongue of Anglicanism -- Elizabethan English. Not a syllable was heard.

Lambeth Conference bent over backwards to be as embracive and inclusive as humanly possible within a liturgical setting.

None of the Scripture readings were proclaimed in English. The languages of Spanish, Chinese, and Bengali were chosen to be used at the Mother Church of Anglicanism in the heart of Canterbury.

The Old Testament lesson (I Kings 17:8-16) was read by Sean Murray who is a student at the San Cristóbal Episcopal Institute in Panama City, Panama. His native tongue is Spanish.

The Responsorial Psalm was a happy, clappy praise song loosely based on Psalm 103:1 which was presented by an upbeat 1960s era liturgical band with drums and a trumpet and guitar.

The Epistler was Felix Yeung, the Provincial Music Director at St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong who read I Peter 4:7-10 in his native Chinese.

The Gospel procession was led by the blue-clad weaving and swaying Zinafe Choir which sang the Gospel Hallelujah accompanied by conga drums and percussion gourds. They lifted their voices in Shona, the language of Zimbabwe.

The Gospel was pronounced by Suchitra Behera, a woman deacon of the Church of Bangladesh, which has a connection to GAFCON. She spoke in her native Bengali.

Bishopette Vincentia Kgabe was the preacher. She has been the rector of the Provincial College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa. The college teaches contextual theology.

"We also gather to celebrate a diversity and the gifts that have been generously given to us for the mission and ministry in God's church for God's World," she preached in English.

Diversity was the name of the game at the opening festival Eucharist. The more diverse the better in language, in faces, in music, in colors, and in cultural influences.

Many times, the Lambeth Eucharist looked more like a Service of Holy Communion that the Episcopal General Convention would put on with all the motion and the colors and the languages than a dignified Anglican high church liturgical service.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury showed off his multi-linguistic skills by starting the Eucharistic prayer in French and proclaiming the final benediction in Swahili.

The Anglicans are usually very good at pomp and ceremony and dignified decorum in liturgy. They are in England and the monarchy knows how to put on State celebrations in concert with the Church of England.

Sunday's service was a disappointment. Instead of presenting the best liturgy the Church of England has to offer so that the world can see the captivating beauty of Anglican liturgy, what the Archbishop of a Canterbury and Lambeth Conference presented was a defacement of the beauty and the pageantry of a well-done liturgical service.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also did an egregious thing. Immediately following the Domine Non Sum Dingus and before his own self-Communion he broke the flow and the prayerfulness of that sacred moment to highlight, from the altar, the Eucharistic brokenness present within his own Lambeth Conference.

"As we come to Communion, we are all aware that some who are here will not feel able to receive Communion. There are some, who are bound by the rules of their own Church, among our beloved and valued ecumenical guests; and there are others among us because of our own divisions," he said. "In this moment let us, as we take Communion, remain in silence when we are sitting in our place and pray for the healing of God's Church, not only the Anglican Communion but of the Church catholic and universal, that we may find by God's power the moment when we can come together throughout the world as one."

The bishops were allowed to receive Communion away from the eyes of the media and the live-streaming video cameras. They were allowed that private moment of a deeply personal decision. It has been reported, however, that there were bishops who chose not to receive Communion because of the brokenness brought about by those bishops among them who are not living a life of biblical integrity.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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