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Thousands greet Welby as he prays his way to Canterbury

22 March 2013


Day one: the Archbishop prays in Norwich with Bishop Graham James

Day one: the Archbishop prays in Norwich with Bishop Graham James

THE Church "should live so that, if God does not exist, it makes no sense at all", the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the start of his "Journey in Prayer", on Thursday of last week. He was quoting the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who has had "a big impact" on his thinking.

"The thing that would most make no sense at all if God does not exist is prayer," Archbishop Welby said. "Prayer is in every possible sense the most productive way, and the most wonderful way, to start this new period."

The five-day prayer pilgrimage, leading up to his enthronement in Canterbury yesterday, covered six dioceses across the Province of Canterbury: Norwich, Coventry, London, Southwark, Truro, and Chichester. The complex logistics were co-ordinated from Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop's Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs, the Revd Helen Dawes.

Archbishop Welby started the pilgrimage in Norwich, accompanied by his wife, Caroline. "I spent a lot of my childhood in Norfolk and love this part of the world," he said. "My wife says when I get up here I become a slightly different person - more relaxed."

The thousand-strong crowd that gathered outside the Forum in Norwich city centre to greet Archbishop Welby exceeded expec- tations. Diocesan staff had predicted a turnout of about 200; the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said: "I wondered if anybody was going to come, whether Justin and I would be here on our own."

Scores of people sought to shake Archbishop Welby's hand and take photos. One man who introduced himself had been a childhood friend of Archbishop Welby's: the two had played together when their families were neighbours in Onslow Square in the early 1960s.

After greeting members of the swelling crowd, Archbishop Welby prayed for them. He then proceeded on foot to the cathedral, trailed by a sizeable crowd, handing out prayer cards and candles to passing members of the public.

Inside Norwich Cathedral, members of 24-7 Prayer, an interdominational prayer movement, had erected prayer stations around the cathedral. These would be placed in each cathedral during the pilgrimage.

The national director of 24-7 Prayer, Brian Heasley, explained that the organisation had been asked by Archbishop Welby to find "creative" ways for people to pray during the pilgrimage.

Half a dozen "prayer trees" were located at one end of the cathedral, on which were hung written prayers. In another part of the cathedral, a map of the world was spread out on a table, on which intercessors could place thumb prints on particular countries. Near by, a large screen displayed requests for prayer which had been texted by members of the public. They included prayers for Archbishop Welby and the Church of England, as well as more personal concerns such as sick relatives and forthcoming job interviews.

At a "prayer labyrinth" on the cathedral floor, individuals knelt and sat quietly, on an "inner journey of prayer". Mr Heasley said: "If you're quite a kinesthetic person, and you need to feel your way through something, you can walk around and connect with prayer in that."

Towards the cathedral's west doors, children from local schools explored a specially created prayer-space; it included maps, trees, and chocolate coins. More traditional forms of prayer, such as lectio divina, were also on offer in other parts of the cathedral.

"We tried as best we could to create a broad spectrum that would help as many people engage with prayer as we could," Mr Heasley said. Many of those who had come to the cathedral to pray had not been Christians, he said. "People have really engaged."

At the end of the day, Bishop James reflected that Pope Francis, who had been elected the previous evening, had "invited other people to pray for his ministry before he blessed them. Archbishop Justin has done the same thing. . . One of the reasons there's been so many people here today is that the Archbishop has come to us. It's a reminder that God is approachable."

Day two of the pilgrimage was spent in Coventry. It was here that Archbishop Welby was ordained, and he served here for 15 years, first as a parish priest, and then at the cathedral.

"I've come back to reflect on the nature of reconciliation and the hope for the world that Christ brings," he said. Coventry was somewhere that he prayed for every day.

Rain did not deter a large crowd from gathering in the city centre to greet Archbishop Welby, who was welcomed formally by the Lord Mayor and by religious leaders.

Accompanied by the crowd and some Asian Christian drummers, he made the short walk to the ruins of the old cathedral, which was devas- tated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe on the night of 14 November 1940.

Amid the ruins, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, led a litany of reconciliation. After each line, the crowd responded: "Father, forgive."

The crowd then moved into the present cathedral, where Archbishop Welby led the litany of reconciliation again. He encouraged those passing through the cathedral to spend time in prayer. "You may not be someone who goes to church or thinks of yourself as religious. God is here. Just take the opportunity to let him meet with you and see what he says to you."

The plight of persecuted Christians, particularly in Africa, was a prominent theme during the day. Archbishop Welby said prayers "for those who have found no safety in the last few days, who have been attacked", and "for those for whom hatred so fills their heart that they felt a compulsion to attack others because of their faith".

At the end, he blessed Bishop Cocksworth and a colleague who were flying to Nigeria that evening. "One of the worst feelings that people have often, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, is that they feel abandoned," he said. The presence of an English delegation would communicate to Anglicans in Nigeria "that we are all one body because we all share in one bread".

Speaking inside the cathedral, Bishop Cocksworth said: "This place stands as a great symbol of reconciliation in Church, nation, and world. It had a formative influence on the Archbishop when he was here, and he's taken it forward into his future ministry."

On Saturday, Archbishop Welby visited two dioceses: London and Southwark. He started by leading prayers outside the birthplace of Thomas Becket, on Cheapside, and then walked to St Paul's Cathedral, where he prayed by the statue of John Wesley outside the North Transept door.

After a couple of hours of prayer, he left St Paul's and crossed the Millennium Bridge on foot into Southwark diocese. He then walked along the South Bank, accompanied by a dancing choir, until he reached Borough Market, one of the oldest and largest food markets, in London.

Archbishop Welby rang the market bell to call people to prayer. He thanked God "for the buzz and life and fire of this place", and prayed that the market would be "a place where the good things you give us of food and drink are celebrated and enjoyed".

Speaking inside Southwark Cathedral, where people filed in and out to pray at the different stations, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said: "The good thing about today has been the invitation from Archbishop Justin to join him in prayer, and to make that prayer not a private matter, but something which engages us as communities, and engages us out and about in the reality of the context in which we live."

On Sunday evening, Archbishop Welby boarded a sleeper train to Truro, arriving on Monday morning in bright sunshine. He was greeted at Lemon Quay by children from the Archbishop Benson C of E Primary School, and officially welcomed to Cornwall by the Lord-Lieutenant, Colonel Edward Bolitho.

Archbishop Welby said that he was "quite overwhelmed" by the "big crowd" that had turned out. "It's a huge privilege to be here." He announced that he would return to Cornwall in November for a three-day visit.

Speaking in Truro Cathedral at the end of the day, Archbishop Welby said: "Whatever we do, let's make sure that it points to Jesus."

On Tuesday, Archbishop Welby did not attend the inauguration of Pope Francis in the Vatican; instead, he visited Chichester, the final stop on the prayer pilgrimage. He told the BBC that the decision had not been difficult: "This is a central part of my own introduction and inauguration of what I will be doing," he said.

An estimated 3000 people lined the streets of Chichester city centre to greet Archbishop Welby as he walked towards Chichester Cath-edral, accompanied by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner.

In the BBC interview, the Archbishop said that he was praying for those "really let down" as a result of child-protection failures by the Church. "I pray for them to be able to forgive, if they can. I don't insist or demand that they do; in fact, quite the reverse. I pray for their well-being in the face of what they've survived."

The Archdeacon of Horsham, the Ven. Roger Combes, said that the number of people who had turned out was a "sign of hope. It sends a very strong message that the Church has a real place in our hearts and lives."


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