Eucharist with Archbishop Carey

Philadelphia: Wednesday, 23 July 1997

The Most Rev. and Right Honorable George L. Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached to the assembled persons of this 72nd General Convention of the Episcopal Church on July 19 here in Philadelphia. The Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning celebrated, attended by his son, the Rev. Peter Browning as his chaplain.

The congregation for this service at 2 p.m. was estimated to be 10,000 persons. Hall A in the beautiful vaulted Philadelphia Convention Center was packed to the rafters with Episcopalians, Anglicans, welcomed Lutherans, and others. This was not only those attending the Convention, but also busloads of parishioners from around the city.

The hall is gigantic, an arched space much bigger than several football fields. Over the red-carpeted and raised central altar area hangs a huge circlet of multicolored flowers suspended and swathed by four vast drapes of red fabric. Red and yellow ribbons descend from this floral ring high above, and hang fluttering a bit in the breeze, over the Table.

A eclectic prelude concert of religious music performed by choir, brass consort and tympani began at 1:30 p.m.. Three choirs sang for this festal service: the Absalom Jones Choir, directed by Edward Collins-Hughes (from Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, PA); the Chamber Choir of St. Peter's in the Great Valley (Paoli, PA) directed by Martha Johnson; and the Convention Youth Choir made up of many singers New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (multiple directors).

At a little after 2, the procession began with the pealing sound of the full organ (a fine and movable Allen), played by a team of excellent organists of our Church--Michael Stairs, Richard Conte, and Tom Whittemore. The excellent Festival Brass Ensemble was directed by Brian Kuszyk.

The processional cross, a huge red cross with silver reflecting panels in its four quadrants, was specially commissioned and made for this Convention by Richard J. Kirk, Jr., and given to the glory of God by Mr. and Mrs. Randall E. Copeland and Mr. and Mrs. G. Martin Dudley. This cross will be presented to the Chapel of Christ the King at the Episcopal Church Center in NYC following the Convention.

The cross appeared at the main entry doors to the Hall, lifted high--and the festival service began. Attending acolytes carried tall poles with fluttering 4-yard-long ribbons of red and yellow. The wind of the hall, and the wind made by the poles' progression through the air, fluttered the ribbons like the Pentecost tongues of flame they were designed to symbolize. The white-robed army followed closely behind

I burst into tears at the sight of the procession, and I was not alone in this unexpected reaction. The Cross so lifted and carried, as if floating above our heads, into this gargantuan space, was proudly visible to all of us with fit solemnity and proper joy. We have so much to be proud of. We do liturgy well, on the whole, do we not? Differences between us, no matter how serious, fall away for a time in our shared worship: the true source of our strength and our communion's continuance.

The procession seemed to go on forever, and still ended too soon. All of the Bishops entered together, and filled an entire bleacher section with the white and red flowing vestments of their office. +Ed Browning and +George [Cantuar] processed as brothers to the High Altar--their shepherd's staffs in hand.

The acoustics of such a huge space are always a problem. Echoes build upon echoes, and although the overlapping of sound can be confusing (even mystifying), the melding of noises felt like the sound of the World itself. The readers for the lessons and for the Gospel Proclamation have been instructed to speak slowly and distinctly, leaving space between their words so the Word can be heard and understood by all. A signer for the deaf interpreted each word with flowing gesture

At the proper time, +George Carey ascended to the pulpit and addressed us all as his brothers and sisters in Christ. He spoke of his deep joy to be able to be with us in body as well as in spirit, to share in our meeting and worship. He began by noting his deep love and admiration for the American church, saying that the entire Anglican Communion relies upon "your energy, your vision, and your extraordinary generosity."

His sermon was exhortatory, cautionary, and conciliatory. He called upon us all to remember our deep connection one to another as the people of God, called out into Christian community. He reminded us, like a father, that those things which truly unite us are so much more important than the many things that seem to separate us.

Carey pleaded for us of the American church

"to keep your your eyes focused on the God whose hands are tied by his love for you.... Remember that no matter how much you think you are dealing with issues, you are not... You are always dealing with people who are wounded, who are hurt, people who bleed.... we are in the image and likeness of our Lord.... Make haste slowly ... in order to be led into a greater unity."
It was a sermon that offered the hope of reconciliation and the calming influence of careful reflection upon the nature of change.

I have had the honor of meeting and speaking with +George Carey many times, in both official and informal situations. He is a deeply natural man--accessible and loving, no matter what one's station in life. Any person in so important a position comes under constant criticism, a nearly-surgical scrutiny. Some say our Archbishop moves too slowly, and others say he moves too fast. Some even say they detect no movement at all.

The nature of a unifying ecclesiastical authority, or presence, is to attempt to hold all viewpoints in a listening tension of respect and prayerful consideration. The dear via media has life in her still Our Archbishop is obliged to listen to ALL the voices of the world, the cries and prayers of the entire Anglican Communion, and attempt to discern God's Will, and the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. He cannot be held hostage to merely one or two sections of our Church; we are a broad and magnificent House of God. He must be brave, but always bravery tempered by a sense of God's Time, and not merely our own temporal desires. I rejoice that this kind and gentle man holds the reins of our hopes in his hands.

The ingathering of the national United Thank Offering (UTO, the blue envelopes!) was a high point of the service. Women from each and every diocese strode proudly up the steps of the central altar as their diocese's name was called, and delivered their area's offerings. It was a startlingly beautiful procession, women dressed in all the bright colors of the rainbow, and they formed a moving and living mosaic of the entire Church and its multiple gifts.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presented our outgoing Presiding Bishop, +Ed Browning, with a replica of a silver plate recovered from one of the sunk ships of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The brother Bishops beamed (they are longtime friends and allies, naturally)--and the silver reflected some of their love and light into the hall.

What moved me most was the distribution of the consecrated elements. It is a very difficult thing to communicate so many people, as quickly yet reverentially as possible. The planning was excellent; the realization magnificent. Teams of administrating clergy and licensed lay Eucharistic ministers gathered at the altar and brought the elements back to hundreds of stations.

After returning to my seat high in the bleachers, I closed my eyes and praised my God. Even with my eyes closed, the hugeness of our being as this community of Christ's Church was ineffably present. The yeasty smell of the living Creatures which are Bread and Wine, Body and Blood, filled my senses with joy.

The service ended with all 10,000 of us bellowing out the beloved hymn "Come, Labor On!" (Ora Labora), and we dismissed, carrying the Light of Christ and of our shared mission into the work of the day.

We are One, even when we are Many.

Blessings to all,

Copyright © 1997 Deborah Griffin Bly.
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