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Lambeth 2022: Multilingual cathedral eucharist in Canterbury puts Anglican diversity on view

31 July 2022

Richard Washbrooke/LambethConference

THERE was something momentous and emphatic about the simple and familiar words of the sung eucharist at the opening service for the Lambeth Conference on Sunday. The call to come together had never had more significance; the language of unity was never more pronounced.

It was a joyful service in a packed cathedral in Canterbury. The bishops had poured off a fleet of buses to negotiate the cobblestones of the narrow shopping street, wander through to the stone archway, and eventually form a long and cheerful line that snaked around the precincts. It took many minutes for them to process in, with spouses’ cameras clicking all the way.

The fanfare as the Archbishop of Canterbury entered the great West door heralded the rousing opening hymn “All people that on earth do dwell”. The opening prayer encapsulated the desire of this Conference that “through our discussions and our walking together we may grow into a deeper understanding of one another and a deeper love for the world Jesus Christ came to save”.

The Revd Jacynthia Murphy from Aotearoa New Zealand Polynesia was the first of many to read or pray in their own tongue in this multilingual service. And then came the Zinafe Choir, dancing and swaying to the drums as they led the procession up the central aisle. It was a big, raw, swelling sound, a Shona setting of the hymn “Lord, thy word abideth”.

Included in the prayer of confession was “our reluctance to hear those who speak to us uncomfortable truths . . . our failure to commend the faith that is in us, our fixation on our status rather than our service, and our struggle to love those with whom we disagree.”

Sean Murray from Panama read the first lesson in his own language: the story from 1 Kings of the widow who gave Elijah her last morsel of bread. Then it was a passionate, full-bodied rendering of Matt Redman’sBless the Lord, O my soul” — the last verse unaccompanied, with a full, clear descant note.

Felix Yeung from Hong Kong read the New Testament reading from 1 Peter 4, with its instruction: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” There was a drumming Gospel Alleluia as the Zinafe Choir processed to the nave and back with the Gospel, sung in Shona, and then the Duruflé motet Ubi caritas et amor from the cathedral choir.

The preacher was Dr Vicentia Kgabe, Bishop of Lesotho, on the theme of the inter-relatedness of servant leadership and hospitality. Bishops were called to gather God’s people and celebrate the sacrament of the new covenant, to practise hospitality in and out of season. The word “hospitality” in the Bishop’s language meant “‘a generous reception’ — not enough for an African girl,” she declared.

“As the Anglican Communion, we have it in us to lead and serve the world by sharing what we have freely, without the fear of running empty. Our jar will not be empty. We serve a God who provides.”

In a moving encounter before the liturgy of the sacrament, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented a cross to the Most Revd Samy Shahata, Primate of Alexandria, the newest Province of the Anglican Communion, where the Church’s presence had grown and spread to the extent that “literally hundreds of churches have been planted on the border where people have moved because of war,” Archbishop Welby said. He also praised the faithfulness of the Coptic Orthodox.

There was a hymn of praise,Alleluia, sing to Jesus”, before the eucharistic prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer spoken by everyone present in their own language. Before the distribution, the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged that there would be many who would not feel able to receive. These were never the less “beloved and valued”.

He asked: “In this moment, let us just remain in silence when they are sitting. Pray for God’s grace not just for the Anglican Communion but for the Church Universal and [for humankind].” No drama ensued, no sound was made. There had been a request before the service that no one take individual photographs of those receiving.

Everyone attempted Swahili for the words of the dismissal, lending an extra dimension to the words “Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path”.

And out again into the sunshine.

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