Tuesday, 22 July 2008

My first days in Canterbury

I practically fell out of the cab at St. Stephen's Parish Hall, I was so spent from seventeen hours of travel from Sechelt, BC to Canterbury, England. My energy levels were already seriously depleted from months of medical challenges; and at Canterbury East Station, I almost had the completely novel experience of passing out in public. I literally crammed a tuna sandwich down my maw in the desperate hope that it would keep me conscious.

Thus my introduction to Canterbury.

Wonderful angels took me in hand, sitting me down, listening to my tale of Kafkaesque horror, and loading me and my luggage in a car to take me to my digs...with me seated in what I would usually assume is the driver's seat.

What I've discovered here is an energetic and committed team of Anglican Christians, upholding the progressive, orthodox message of the living Word, and working hard to ensure that it is heard at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The Communications Centre at St. Stephen's Hall is a beehive of lay and clergy from all over the world, working at laptops, folding and assembling newsletters, and organising "Fringe" activities for the edification of the hundreds of people associated with the conference. Up at Kent University, the bishops are sequestered in a tent that everyone agrees is reminiscent of the bigtop at the Cirque de Soleil. Nearby, another, more modest temporary structure, holds stalls for groups representative of the diversity of our Anglican Communion. One of these is shared by Inclusive Church, Integrity, and other allied groups. Here again can be found volunteers - not only from the UK and North America - but Kenyans, Ugandans, and others. It reminded me that ours is truly a global movement.

I had the day off, in respect of my jetlag and rather delicate condition. In fact, I almost didn't come, but I'm so glad that I did. Today, after enjoying Eucharist at the Franciscan Centre at the University of Kent, I walked the historic streets of Canterbury to our Mother Church, the Cathedral Church of Christ. I cannot describe the feeling of walking on stones that humble peasants and workers, pilgrims, and great kings and archbishops have trod for literally hundreds of years. I saw the tombs of Edward the Black Prince, entombed in 1376; Henry IV - the only monarch buried in the Cathedral; and many other notable (and forgotten) figures from history. It was particularly interesting to see a habited Anglican nun walking through the ruins of the Cathedral monastery, mostly demolished by order of Henry VIII.

More history came afterwards, as I joined others for a stimulating discussion on the environment and theology with Eric Beresford, followed by Evening Prayer in the chapel of St. Stephen's Church. Noting the worn stone outside, and the simple whitewashed walls inside, I asked a parishioner, "When was this church built?" "It was built by Archbishop Baldwin in 1096." "Oh," I said.

And so has marked my first two days in Canterbury.

Neil Fernyhough

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