Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 2 – The Enthronement

Enthronement of Archbishop Welby
Enthronement of Archbishop Justin Welby (photo, The Times)

Within a fortnight I was to see him being enthroned in St Augustine’s see in Canterbury.

On 21 March it was a bright and sunny morning in Canterbury. The population of that city had significantly grown because of the people who had come for the enthronement and people who came to make sure it went well without any incident. The narrow streets of the mediaeval city were packed with tourists, pilgrims and visiting clergy. Within a few minutes I started seeing familiar faces. The first person I bumped into was Metropolitan Kallistos, an elderly Orthodox writer and educator based in Oxford. Then, wherever I looked, there were familiar faces. I went to Marks and Spencer, not to shop but to make use of their toilet facilities, and there in the toilet I met the chair of the House of Laity of the Church of England, Tim Hind. The world is very small and in Canterbury it became even smaller.

The enthronement was a most spectacular event. It was attended by two thousand people in the cathedral and hundreds of people outside of it. Those who were outside had a chance to follow the service on large screens. Perhaps they saw more of the enthronement than those who sat inside. Among the attending dignitaries there were the British royal family, represented by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of parliament, and a wide spectrum of the British establishment. There were of course clergy, lawyers, barristers, the laity and also a heavy presence of police and security.

When our procession entered the west door of the Cathedral all of us where overwhelmed by the beauty of this ancient cathedral which that day looked especially celebratory and dignified. The British have inherited from the Victorians a tremendous sense of beautiful pageantry. I cannot think of any other church or any other nation that does their ceremonies so beautifully and meaningfully. Of course there were endless processions and recessions throughout the entire service.

The Revd. John Rees, the registrar of the Canterbury Diocese, read the Royal Charter very warmly. The archbishop was enthroned by the dean of the cathedral in the chancel where St. Augustine’s marble see (chair) is located overlooking the high altar. From there African dancers led him from the chancel to the nave of the cathedral where he read the Gospel and was returned to the chancel where he delivered his sermon. As the dancers moved down the nave I could not help noticing Prince Charles’s surprised look in his stall (seat) and the giggling faces of Ed Miliband and the Prime Minister across from the Prince’s stall.

The archbishop’s sermon was very good. It was based on the Gospel story of Jesus’ walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). The archbishop spoke of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water in fear and trembling, and added, “As you may imagine, I relate to him at this point.” We all laughed at that, even though the archbishop did not appear to be trembling or fearful. He appeared very calm, confident and determined.

For me personally the highlight of the entire service was the dialogue that was exchanged between the archbishop, who had just arrived at the door of the cathedral, and a young Asian girl. The girl was very pretty, in a lovely Asian dress, and spoke most calmly and beautifully.

Archbishop Welby strikes the door

When the archbishop arrived at the West Door it was closed. He struck it three times with his pastoral staff. The doors were opened and a solemn fanfare sounded. The girl stood in front of the archbishop and the two entered into dialogue:

‘The girl: We greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. Who are you and why do you request entry?

The Archbishop: I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you and in his service together.

The girl: Why have you been sent to us?

The Archbishop: I am sent as archbishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and with you to worship and love him with heart and soul, mind and strength.

The Girl: How do you come among us and with what confidence?

The Archbishop: I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and in weakness and fear and in much trembling.

The Girl: Let us humble ourselves before God and together seek his mercy and strength.’

I thought it was a most beautiful and meaningful part of the enthronement liturgy. I also thought that this particular piece belonged to the traditional enthronement liturgy. But I was wrong. It had been written by Archbishop Justin himself. I was very moved by this. In my mind’s eye I saw my Lambeth image of Justin Welby, as the servant of God with a tray in his hands serving the needs of thousands of people in humility and kindness, but with firmness and determination. He is also wearing the cross of nails on his chest which for me bears witness to his determination to work for reconciliation both within the Anglican Communion and beyond. He is somewhat similar to the newly-inaugurated bishop of Rome, the Pope, who seems to be kind yet firm. It was interesting that both Justin and Francis where inaugurated in the same week. “Buy one get one free,” as Justin joked about this in his after-dinner talk after the enthronement.

 

Within a fortnight I was to see him being enthroned in St Augustine’s see in Canterbury.

On 21March it was a bright and sunny morning in Canterbury. The population of that city had significantly grown because of the people who had come for the enthronement and people who came to make sure it went well without any incident. The narrow streets of the mediaeval city were packed with tourists, pilgrims and visiting clergy. Within a few minutes I started seeing familiar faces. The first person I bumped into was Metropolitan Kallistos, an elderly Orthodox writer and educator based in Oxford. Then, wherever I looked, there were familiar faces. I went to Marks and Spencer, not to shop but to make use of their toilet facilities, and there in the toilet I met the chair of the House of Laity of the Church of England, Tim Hind. The world is very small and in Canterbury it became even smaller.

The enthronement was a most spectacular event. It was attended by two thousand people in the cathedral and hundreds of people outside of it. Those who were outside had a chance to follow the service on large screens. Perhaps they saw more of the enthronement than those who sat inside. Among the attending dignitaries there were the British royal family, represented by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of parliament, and a wide spectrum of the British establishment. There were of course clergy, lawyers, barristers, the laity and also a heavy presence of police and security.

When our procession entered the west door of the Cathedral all of us where overwhelmed by the beauty of this ancient cathedral which that day looked especially celebratory and dignified. The British have inherited from the Victorians a tremendous sense of beautiful pageantry. I cannot think of any other church or any other nation that does their ceremonies so beautifully and meaningfully. Of course there were endless processions and recessions throughout the entire service.

The Revd. John Rees, the registrar of the Canterbury Diocese, read the Royal Charter very warmly. The archbishop was enthroned by the dean of the cathedral in the chancel where St. Augustine’s marble see (chair) is located overlooking the high altar. From there African dancers led him from the chancel to the nave of the cathedral where he read the Gospel and was returned to the chancel where he delivered his sermon. As the dancers moved down the nave I could not help noticing Prince Charles’s surprised look in his stall (seat) and the giggling faces of Ed Miliband and the Prime Minister across from the Prince’s stall.

The archbishop’s sermon was very good. It was based on the Gospel story of Jesus’ walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). The archbishop spoke of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water in fear and trembling, and added, “As you may imagine, I relate to him at this point.” We all laughed at that, even though the archbishop did not appear to be trembling or fearful. He appeared very calm, confident and determined.

For me personally the highlight of the entire service was the dialogue that was exchanged between the archbishop, who had just arrived at the door of the cathedral, and a young Asian girl. The girl was very pretty, in a lovely Asian dress, and spoke most calmly and beautifully.

When the archbishop arrived at the West Door it was closed. He struck it three times with his pastoral staff. The doors were opened and a solemn fanfare sounded. The girl stood in front of the archbishop and the two entered into dialogue:

‘The girl: We greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. Who are you and why do you request entry?

The Archbishop: I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you and in his service together.

The girl: Why have you been sent to us?

The Archbishop: I am sent as archbishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and with you to worship and love him with heart and soul, mind and strength.

The Girl: How do you come among us and with what confidence?

The Archbishop: I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and in weakness and fear and in much trembling.

The Girl: Let us humble ourselves before God and together seek his mercy and strength.’

I thought it was a most beautiful and meaningful part of the enthronement liturgy. I also thought that this particular piece belonged to the traditional enthronement liturgy. But I was wrong. It had been written by Archbishop Justin himself. I was very moved by this. In my mind’s eye I saw my Lambeth image of Justin Welby, as the servant of God with a tray in his hands serving the needs of thousands of people in humility and kindness, but with firmness and determination. He is also wearing the cross of nails on his chest which for me bears witness to his determination to work for reconciliation both within the Anglican Communion and beyond. He is somewhat similar to the newly-inaugurated bishop of Rome, the Pope, who seems to be kind yet firm. It was interesting that both Justin and Francis where inaugurated in the same week. “Buy one get one free,” as Justin joked about this in his after-dinner talk after the enthronement.

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Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

One thought on “Malkhaz Songulashvili – Tales of Canterbury – 2 – The Enthronement”

  1. Interesant. Thanks. N-a stirnit nici pe departe atit interes cit intronarea papei. Fie sa fie calauzit de Duhul Sfint! Nu spun o vorba-n vint si chiar de-s sceptic nu de mine depinde.

    Like

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