Friday, July 22, 2005

Evensong in Canterbury, 1999

All of the lovely music at the Royal School of Church Music course has made me crave the classic English choral sound, so I have tossed over NPR and "Spamalot" for the moment for some CDs I bought at Canterbury Cathedral on a visit a number of years ago.

But I can't play those CDs without thinking of a particular encounter on that trip.

I had just graduated from seminary, had just been accepted as a postulant (another blog post or two) and had the privilege of spending a few days in England travelling by myself before I was to meet up with my father for a meeting in London he wanted us both to attend (again, worthy of posting about at some other time). I had just graduated from Seabury and had some time before starting my position in the greater St. Louis metro area. Since I was travelling by myself I decided I would visit all the places I wanted to see--so I picked Canterbury, Norwich and Cambridge. Evidently these places that were special to me did not present the easiest of itineraries for the English Tourist Board (Book a Bed Ahead) or the now privatized British rail system, but I managed it.

I stayed in a guesthouse built into the wall that surrounds Canterbury Cathedral, and wandered around the historic sites. I marvelled at standing at the foot of Anselm's grave, cried at seeing Jonathan Myrick Daniels' photo in the Chapel of Contemporary Martyrs, and was generally overwhelmed with being at the heart of all things Anglican. Being flush with seminary Evensong experiences, of course, I wanted to take in the Real Thing in person, and so turned up in the queue one evening just before 4. There was a priest standing in front of me, in a collar, and with a button/badge on his jacket. I was an ENFP travelling alone so of course I was eager to strike up a conversation so I asked him what was on his badge.

He explained, "Forward in Faith."

Now, back in 1999, I had no idea what that stood for, so he went on, "we're the group that opposes the ordination of women in England." He paused and said, "and who are you?"

So I told him.

Being proper and English he recovered quickly, introduced me to the African clergy with him, and then invited me to sit with him during the service (keeping an eye on the heretic?) During the service, he pointed out various personalities and what all the various trimmings on gowns, tippets and hoods stood for.

After the service was over he asked me, "when are you being ordained?" I came up with what seemed like a likely date and he said, "I'll pray for you, even though I don't approve." I managed to say that I would pray for him, too.

I wonder if he remembers that encounter. I think of it often and it has turned up in a sermon at least once. I had many wonderful experiences on that trip, but I remember that moment more vividly than all the rest. We couldn't fix each other, but we did share in authentic Christian community for an hour. And now I remember and pray for him every time I listen to those CDs or think about that vacation.

Where two or three are gathered together, He is in the midst of us.


At 4:52 AM, Blogger Kathryn said...

What a lovely memory! Forward in Faith are often far more spikey and defensive, in my experience...One of the hardest moments in my first year here came when I was invited to the induction of a new priest in charge at a neighbouring parish. Knowing the parish was FiF with alternative episcopal oversight, I was quite startled to be asked, but extra determined to respond positively...So, my vicar and I went along, as part of the procession of local clergy who robed for the occasion. All was well until the Peace, when one large and imposing clerical gentleman (NOT the new incumbent), having noted my robes, looked straight through me and completely refused to respond to my outstretched hand. That hurt.
But our lovely diocesan bishop, who had seen this non-encounter, made me feel much better...+M is rather small and the non Peacer was definitely large...but +M said quietly to me
"Well, if he were one of mine, I'd take him across my knee and wallop him"

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Of course the best part of the story was then going on to Cambridge to visit friends at Wescott (sp?), who would audibly gasp when I would get to the part about "Forward in Faith."

At 11:08 AM, Blogger jo(e) said...

so he went on, "we're the group that opposes the ordination of women in England." He paused and said, "and who are you?"

Some of the best conversations follow those moments.

What a great story.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Anna said...

What a great story, and an excellent reminder that it is possible (if challenging) to be gracious to everyone, no matter what their political or ecclesiastical affiliations may be!

And Kathryn, I'd have walloped him as well. :)

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great story...I find that so often the context and setting (in this case corporate prayer) can change how conversations go. An encounter between two individuals surrounded by the church's prayer and worship is a good starting place...

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Karen said...

That's a great story. I've only had one encounter with an FiF-type student from Nashotah House who corrected my introduction that I was a postulant for ordination by replying, "No, you only think you are." I managed to smile sweetly and thank him for sharing, but I wasn't charitable enough at the time to pray for him. Now I would probably handle it differently. Kudos to you for being both forthright and gracious.

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Ouch to Karen and Kathryn (or is that virtual wallops on their behalf?)--and Joe, thanks for the reminder about what corporate worship can do for us if we let it. I don't understand the whole impaired communion thing at all. Or maybe I do. Because if we worshipped together, we would see how petty these differences are?


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