THE DUKE of Gloucester couldn't get airborne, and neither could the doves,
apparently, on a day so cold you could see your breath inside York Minster.
But the new Archbishop took it in his stride. He burst through the grey mist
in a rainbow of colour, arriving by pleasure-cruiser up the Ouse from
Bishopthorpe, hailing people as he approached the landing stage, and then
drumming his way up through the streets to the Minster in a crowd of men,
women, babies, and dogs.
He came in to a fanfare from the scarlet-coated King's Division Waterloo
Band, who side-stepped up on to the altar dais like a grave chorus line, the
brass spikes on their helmets not moving a fraction until the great west door
opened and Dr Sentamu entered. His vestments, a fusion of colliding shapes and
colours, were based on the painting Tree of Life by Kathy Priddis,
which has hung for the past three years in his private chapel at Birmingham.
Dr Sentamu took his oath on a thousand-year-old manuscript book of the Four
Gospels. Before the anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he remained
kneeling, hands outstretched. Dr Williams took and anointed each hand
separately, in a moment of profound emotion. When Dr Williams raised him up,
there was a hug and at last a smile, which brought a huge round of sustained
During the laying on of hands by church leaders, he seemed swallowed up,
like a drowning man, the hands pressing hard on him as though to push him under
water. Escorted to his tall cathedra by the Dean, the Very Revd Keith
Jones, he was thrust firmly down into that, too, so that he almost disappeared.
When the serious business was over, and he had been presented to the people,
to more huge applause, it was as though the ceremony had been hijacked by
revellers. What was labelled "Dance of Rejoicing" in the order of service was
an understatement, as a tribe of black-, red-, and white-feathered dancers
screamed and ululated their way to the front of the altar. It was a stooping,
gyrating, stamping, shoulder-shaking dance, and the glorious thing about it was
that it wasn't the sort of dance you'd do for the tourists.
The dancers actually came from Stratford, in east London, and it was as
casual as though a whole village had just grabbed a bit of costume and turned
out in whatever they could find. The men were bare-chested. One boy wore an
Arsenal T-shirt. There were stilettoes, trainers, sports socks, ankle
bracelets, tassels - all in one great eruption of movement, and the Minster
When it came to the Peace - which the Archbishop signed for the deaf, as he
did all his key pronouncements - that, too, was made joyful by the Luo Dancers
and Singers, Mothers' Union members from Stratford. Dressed in white silk with
blue sashes, and carrying stiff bouquets of flowers, they resembled a wedding
party as they sang "We are marching in the light of God". As they sang,
Archbishop Sentamu whipped off his mitre and joined the line of drummers, while
the Minster unbent and expanded with the informality of it all.
The Gospel reading by Matthew Wood - "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" -
brought a smile, because by now we were, the damp creeping into our bones and
numbing our fingers. But the Archbishop's inaugural sermon banished all
thoughts of cold. "Here I am!" this self-proclaimed Watchman of the North
declared, having quoted Archbishop Michael Ramsey's famous prophecy: "I should
love to think of a black Archbishop of York holding a mission here and telling
a future generation of the scandal and the glory of the Church."
And the scandal proved to be the cumbersomeness of the Church and Western
neglect of what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. He quoted David Watson:
"The vast majority of Western Christians are church-members, pew-fillers,
hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again believers or
Spirit-filled Charismatics - but aren't true disciples of Jesus Christ."
The washing and the careful, capable, drying of the feet of three children
followed. Then, as a brass descant swelled the sound of the hymn "Christ is the
King! O friends rejoice", the service soared towards its close, and to the
release over the city of York of bright red, yellow, and white balloons,
solemnly carried in procession down the aisle.
And then it was the giant picnic - a Mexican sweet-potato-and-three-bean
wrap, packet of crisps, a flapjack and banana. . . a fitting feast, and the
Baganda Peace Dancers to crown it all.
Full text of the sermon
York scenes:Dr Sentamu joining in on the African drums (below, top).
Later in the service he washed the feet of three schoolchildren (below middle).
Below, bottom: Dr Sentamu’s new enthronement robes