For the closing service of the Lambeth Conference, unlike the opening service, there was no procession of bishops. The nave was a mass of purple, with the bishops seated there with their partners. From the musicians, placed to the right of the quire steps, came beautiful solo singing, gently accompanied on guitar.
Then the procession arrived of those who would lead this service. We all stood to sing “Christ is made the sure foundation,” which is an ancient Latin hymn from before the ninth century, translated into English. I was rather pleased to note that some of the various religious journalists I had been with daily in the Press conferences can also sing in tune, some singing rather well, in fact!
The full Cathedral choir (boys, girls, and adult male singers) were gathered on the quire steps. They expertly sung the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) composed by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901). The readings were then in various different languages, but we all had the service sheet in English so could follow what they said.
The final word
Archbishop Welby ascended the pulpit to preach. I was amused to observe (from round the back where the media were seated) that the steward accompanying him stood on the steps of the pulpit barring the access with his stave. Is this a Cathedral rule because at some point in history there was a danger of an intruder running up the steps to give a counter-sermon?
“Do not fear, little flock,” said Justin Welby beginning his sermon by quoting Luke 12:32. He went on to talk about the constraining power of fear and then stated:
“Let’s be clear though about the fact that in this broken world, there are very real reasons to fear. The roar of the lions is real.”
The lions are a reference to 1 Peter, which he decoded into modern threats in his first keynote address.
He then told two anecdotes. The first was about the news story in 2016 through which he discovered he was illegitimate. His comment on that:
“God who knew me knows my true identity at the deepest level, at a far deeper level than just a DNA test.”
The second was the story of a cardinal (of the Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam) who was imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam War, and then was contacted by a remote village, many of whom wanted baptism because of what they had heard on the radio from a Pentecostal channel: “the Kingdom breaks down our denominational barriers and overrules our frontiers and our theological border guards.” He went on to explain what the Kingdom is and its empowering effects:
“To have the courage to have faith in God. To be brave enough to defy the world, even to defy other Christians, by loving one another without ceasing.”
As we grow in love, our fear shrinks and the Kingdom of God finds space, finds its rule in our hearts and in our lives as God’s people… As you, as I, go home, do not fear, take heart, take courage – because it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you His kingdom!”
“We hear, each of us, in our own native language”
After the Creed, the intercessions were also in various languages. Then we stood for the Peace greeting: “Let us offer one another a sign of peace.”
The Offertory hymn was the rather surprising other-worldly choice “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” set to the German tune of “Lasst uns Erfreuen”. It is a call to all the Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels, angel choirs to praise their God and maker. It also addresses “ye Patriarchs, Prophets and ye Martyrs strong”. “Ye” is the archaic form of “you”. So, this is not a vague call: Christians can name the individuals being invoked. This hymn connects our lives in the here and now with the “class register” of notables of God’s Kingdom from past eras.
The main eucharistic prayer was a duologue with Archbishop Thabo speaking in Xhosa and a female voice (a primate from America or Canada?) speaking in English.
Then while the people filed up to take the bread and wine, the song in Spanish:
“El Espíritu de Diós está en este lugar” (author unknown) “The Spirit of God is here to comfort, release and guide, Holy Spirit, move in me” soared up through the pillars of the Cathedral. This was followed by one in Arabic from Palestine (author unknown) “Yaa rabb as-salaami amtar alayna as-salaam” “O Lord of peace, bring peace in our hearts and our land.”
From the four corners of the earth
Then a South African song in Xhosa, started by a magnificent bass voice (Xhosa choirs know how to do bass!) and accompanied by drums.
The closing song for the congregation was “Let my words and my meditation…” which is copyright 2021, so it is hardly surprising that I had never heard it before, although some of the Americans around me seemed to know it.
We were asked to go out of the West door of the Cathedral immediately after the Blessing, and we did so to the rhythmic tune of Xhosa “Mayennziwe ntando yakho” “Your will be done on earth.”
Outside, everybody milled around talking and taking photos of each other. An enthusiastic group near the West door continued singing “Siyahamba, hamba siyahamb ekukhanyen kwenkhos:” “We are marching in the light of God.”
Thank you, Lambeth worship group
The Lambeth worship group that chose and implemented the various features of this service are to be congratulated on the extent of its multicultural and multilingual reach, which reflects that of the Anglican Communion. Although I admire the traditional choir and organ music of English Cathedrals, especially at Canterbury, I was glad that this was not allowed to dominate on this occasion. No organ music at all, just beautiful singing with some instruments. Click the Youtube video below to follow the whole service.