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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.