The official opening of the Conference proper, that is, following the retreat, came with the Eucharist today at the Cathedral. I saw little of the action, since my seat was far behind the Chair of Augustine, from which Archbishop Rowan presided, technically in the part of the Church called the presbyterium (the place set apart for the Cathedral priests). The Cathedral is arranged in the medieval two-room model, with one very large room for the liturgy of the word and another very large room for the liturgy of the table. The two rooms are separated by a solid screen of carved stone, and the action in one room in not visible from the other. The invitation to confession in the historic Prayer Books, preserved in our own Rite I, "draw near with faith, and make your confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling," was a originally a physical invitation these two-room churches, an invitation to those intending to receive communion to move from the place of the word to the place of the table.
I had about the worst possible seat in the large room for the liturgy of the table. I sat directly beside the tomb of King Henry IV, and I think that he could see about as much of the action as I could. That being said, the pieces that I could see and what I heard were quite good, especially the sermon by Bishop Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka. The gospel procession was another spectacular piece, including as it did Melanesian dancers and singers. The drums, the other percussion, the flutes, and the singing sent a chill down my back. That which is deeply English and historical, in the Cathedral, and at the same time deeply representative of the diversity of our Communion, its present and its future, in the persons of singers and dancers from far away, brought together in one moment who we are as Anglicans. I hope that the service is availble soon as a webcast, and I imagine that it will be. The Melanesian dancers and singers, along with Bishop Duleep's sermon, would be worth a glance, if nothing else from this two-hour long Eucharistic celebration. Meanwhile the Episcopal News Service article about the service can be found here. I especially commend the description of Bishop Duleep's sermon, a transcript of which is here.
The other aspect of the service that I found both moving and humbling was the sheer mass of all those people clad in scarlet and white, bishops among bishops. We have been together already but not dressed up as bishops, most of us actually wearing casual attire for our meetings, to tell the truth. But seeing and being a part of these 650 bishops processing into the Cathedral, a sizable number but still a crowd lost in the space of Canterbury Cathedral, was something akin to gazing into the Milky Way on a summer's night. I was keenly aware of the necessary smallness of any one diocese within the life of the Church universal--but at the same time I was aware of the rightness of all these bishops being together, bringing the smallness of their own particular locales into something much bigger than themselves.
Then came a plenary session of the bishops later this afternoon, during which the mechanisms pertaining to the Indaba groups were laid out. These are groupings of forty bishops--five Bible-study groups--who will deal with the substantive issues of the Conference.
Following that briefing came presentations from the Covenant Planning Group and the Windsor Continuation Group. I need time to ponder on the sobering words from these reports, especially those from the chair of the Windsor Continuation Group, Bishop Clive Handford, former Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The words sounded very hard for the Episcopal Church, but it may be that the hardness of the words clearly sets before us all the work we have to do in interpreting the Episcopal Church to the rest of the Communion. I think that we are not well understood, and I know that some of the facts as stated in the report are incomplete. I will not attempt to outline the report, which should be available on the web soon enough.
Archbishop Rowan's Presidential Address was much more hopeful, though realistic in the expectations stated. An account of that address is here, and there are links to a transcipt of the address and to to an explanation of the Indaba groups at the bottom of the page.
Tomorrow the work of the Lambeth Conference begins in earnest.