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‘Who are you?’ Archbishop is asked

28 March 2013


Locked out: the Archbishop knocks on the west door to gain admittance

Locked out: the Archbishop knocks on the west door to gain admittance

THIS is the time of year for church processions, and, coming just before Palm Sunday, the Archbishop's enthronement in Canterbury got everybody in the mood - even if they were among the few who didn't actually join one.

The walk from Canterbury West Station down the pedestrianised high street felt like a procession, if a disorganised one, as we attempted to negotiate the knots of French school-children which are now firmly established as a part of the Canterbury fauna.

The cathedral had been shut all week for security preparations; soles pauvreswere out of their usual habitat, and seemed all the more cheerful because of it.

Earlier in the day, even Arch­bishop Welby, out jogging in his hi-vis jacket, had been challenged as he attempted to return to the Archbishop's Palace. "Who are you?" asked the man on the gate.

A blanket ban on mobile electronic devices in the cathedral put many of the guests outside their comfort zone. In the press area, an assortment of journalists sat wondering what they could do without their mobiles or, in one or two cases, what they could do with them. The ban was not strictly enforced, but the threat of expulsion at least deterred people from waving them about and photographing everything that moved; so that was a bonus.

People's experiences of the service will have depended on where they were placed. Seated at the west end of the nave, we had the impression that practically

everybody to the east of us (and the most easterly could have been in a different building, for all that we could see) was incapable of finding their seat without help.

If you had wanted a virger in any church in the Southern Province on Thursday, you would have been left whistling - or whatever means one uses to summon one. More than 30 virgers and marshalls were em­­ployed to conduct different bunches of guests to their seats. The Chap­ters of Durham and Liverpool, not wanting to risk being caught vir­gerless, had brought their own.

For 50 minutes, the ecclesias­tical great and good filed past and dis­appeared through the screen. What was most striking was the precision with which the guests had been ranked: the honorary canons emeriti before the honorary minor canons; the flying bishops after the suffra­gans but before the diocesans; the Primates before the Archdeacon to the Forces, and so on. It was im­­mensely impressive, and only a little chilling.

Thank goodness for the dis­ruptively loud African drumming during the service, to remind tele­vision viewers that the enthrone­ment cast was not like those Hornby coronation sets, all to be put back in the correct box after­wards and stored till the next procession.

And although 50 minutes ought to have been plenty long enough, for goodness' sake, one would have liked more time to pick out the Ostiarius, the Ceremonarius, and the Apparitor General - not to mention admiring the headgear of the guests from other Churches and other faiths.

That might seem too much about the preliminaries, but the curious thing is that there was never really a point where you could say that the processions stopped and the service proper began. Archbishop Welby and various attendants (with vir­gers) moved from the west end to the nave altar, to the quire, to the high altar, to the pulpitum screen and back again, to the nave altar again, and then back to the west end.

Perhaps in an attempt to counter some of this orderly (and over­whelm­ingly male) pomp, Archbishop Welby had arranged to be met inside the west door by the 17-year-old Evangeline Kanagasooriam, of Sri Lankan origin and in a emerald green sari. For the second time that day, he was asked: "Who are you?" though, without the hi-vis, he was more recognisable. "I am Justin, a servant of Christ."

Evangeline's questions, outwardly composed, elicited the response: "I know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and in weakness and fear, and in much trembling." As he was being virged out at the end of the service, the Prince of Wales spotted Evangeline in the nave and stopped to congratulate her.

The traditional order of service looked after the civic and legal aspects of the inauguration; so it was left to the Archbishop to insert elements that brought in the wider world.

Giving speaking parts to the co-presidents of Churches Together in England was a good move, as was adding his name to an ecumenical covenant. The multifaith element appears to have been a blind spot, however. Although several leaders of other faiths were invited, no active role had been devised for any. Nor was there any acknowledge­ment in the sermon that this was anything other than a Christian country.

The international element was more prominent. The Archbishop's installation in the Chair of Au­­gustine was immediately followed by a prayer in French by the Arch­bishop of Burundi. The Punjabi hymn "Saranam" (meaning "my refuge") between enthronements was well-meant, but very dull and English-sounding - though it was worth it just to introduce a tam­bourine accompaniment.

The Ghanaian dance and drum­ming either side of the Gospel was more successful, as was the placing on the high altar of items symbolic of different Anglican regions, in­­cluding the baffling concept of a "volcano of peace" from Congo.

All the Primates from the Global South bloc turned up, in contrast with the last Lambeth Conference, though none wished to have any­thing to do with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Afterwards they sent a thank- you note, which included the line: "We encourage you to stay true to the 'faith once delivered to the saints', andas you dowe will stand with you for the sake of Christ" (our italics). No sign of peace erupting just yet.

It is unfair to analyse the sermon too closely: the expectations are always too great; the time to prepare it is too little. Most striking was the central image, taken from the Gospel reading, of St Peter's rash steps out from the "perfectly ser­viceable boat". The Archbishop ob­­served that his courageous action benefited the other, more timid disciples - they, too, are rescued from the storm.

The Old Testament reading from the Book of Ruth helped to increase the female element in the service. Here, again, was somebody who took a risk - "choosing a God she does not know in a place she has not been". Readers of the runes, take heed.

Creed, Te Deum, intercessions - then it was time to recess. The Archbishop returned slowly to the west door, to friendly ap­­plause. Before the rest of the clergy could stir, we saw four or five women from the congregation hurrying out of the south-west door. They were off to supervise the tea, yet another part of the unchanging liturgical tradition that does the Church of England proud.

HOURS before the enthronement got under way, a sizeable crowd gathered outside Christ Church Gate to protest against the Government's NHS reforms, writes Ed Thornton.

"Christ would not privatise the NHS", one placard read. Looking on, a somewhat bemused woman remarked: "I don't know how much influence Justin Welby could have on the NHS, other than prayer."

It was, of course, the Prime Minister against whom the protesters' anger was directed. But if they hoped for a glimpse of Mr Cameron, they were disappointed: he, like other VIPs, entered the cathedral by a different entrance, well out of sight of the protesters.

Archbishop Welby did not reveal Christ's views on NHS privatisation in his sermon; but he did commend the Health Service as one of the examples of "Christ-liberated courage" shown by this country when it had "to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God".

For the protesters, that would have counted as support, even if the Archbishop didn't go into the details of government policy.

Once the enthronement service had begun, the crowd of protesters and onlookers dispersed elsewhere. Some sought warmth in the Old Buttermarket Pub, opposite Christ Church Gate, which was showing the BBC's live feed on a large screen.

A group of clerics watched intently from a table. A lady at the bar asked drinkers in the next room to quieten down during Archbishop Welby's sermon. Two American exchange students watched from another table, transfixed by the quintessentially English display of pomp and ceremony. "This is like the royal wedding," said one.


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