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From the archive: Dr Sentamu turns his enthronement into a party

01 October 2018

Pat Ashworth’s report on a memorable service in York Minster, published in the Church Times on 2 December 2005


Dr Sentamu plays the bongos during his enthronement service at York Minster, on 30 November 2005

Dr Sentamu plays the bongos during his enthronement service at York Minster, on 30 November 2005

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 applause.

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 barechested. 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 loved it.

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 churchmembers, 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.


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