The Lambeth Conference heeded the words of St Mark and came ``then apart to rest awhile'' in a vigil which began at 3.30pm on Thursday and continued through the Friday morning Eucharist. Business of the Conference effectively ceased with the commencement of the first service, and speech was kept at a minimum. Simple meals were served in the dining halls and some Conference participants fasted during the period.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he hoped Lambeth participants would ``see this as a spiritual oasis in our programme to prepare us for the final eight or nine days when we form our resolutions on a spiritual cushion of prayer and meditation.'' The opening liturgy included a meditation on the nature and power of love by Jean Vanier, founder and director of the L'Arche network of communities for people with learning disabilities and other challenges. He was accompanied by members of the Canterbury community of L'Arche, and said he felt humbled to be the voice of those who have no voice to the ``good shepherds of the Anglican Communion.'' People ``with mental handicaps, disabilities, are amongst the most oppressed people of our world,'' Mr Vanier said. ``I have visited institutions, asylums which are really places of death...places where these very special people are crushed and hurt, broken, with no voice. And yet, they are precious people.'' Three bishops responded to his reflections.
Bishop David Andres Alvarez Velazquez (Puerto Rico) outlined the beginning of an AIDS ministry and said the vision presented by Jean Vanier speaks to ``our particular ministries: holiness, the life and the ministry of a bishop, pastoral care, personal testimony of conversion... The real world of the North and the South needs holiness.'' The Moderator of the United Church of Bangladesh, Bishop Barnabas Dwijen Mondal, said he asked himself where he is and what he stands for. Christians are a tiny minority in the Islamic land and face a ``very difficult spiritual and cultural identity crisis.'' He said he also struggles with the question of how far the Church can go in absorbing cultural values before its very identity is threatened. Bishop Thomas Shaw (Massachusetts, US), for 23 years a member of the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE), said how deeply he resonated to Mr Vanier's words about community and holiness.
``If you had asked me all those years ago why I was entering a religious community... I would have told you I wanted more time to pray... a more intense form of community life and a much more simple life style,'' said Bishop Shaw, the former superior of the SSJE in the United States. ``I now know there was a deeper reason. I now know that the Spirit was opening me to the abundant presence of God everywhere in this world,'' he said. Bishop Shaw described how his order has turned its monastery into a place of hospitality, receiving the pilgrim, the stranger.``The desire of every Christian, male or female, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, poor or rich, sick or well is... to find the `God who is above all and through all and in all.' So my brothers and I... have opened our doors to that desire.'' The brothers'``path to holiness'' led them into a ministry of advocacy with poor children, most of them children of colour, from some of Boston's toughest neighbourhoods. They started afterschool mentoring programmes and a summer camp.
The vigil meditations were followed by a mime performance by members of the Canterbury L'Arche community. Brandishing swords, halberds and battle pendants, two teams in red and blue tshirts engaged in an allegorical battle on the theme of reconciliation. A Service of Light liturgy, delivered in French and English, concluded the service. As the lights dimmed, the two halls were illuminated by thousands of candles held by the congregation, who sang ``The Light of Christ has come into the world.'' In a moving homily at the beginning of the second service, Jean Vanier challenged the Conference to adopt patterns of servant-leadership. ``Servant-leadership (is) not easy,'' he said. ``Jesus is saying, `I want you to exercise your authority in love...in truth and forgiveness.'''
Explaining the biblical account of Jesus washing his disciples' feet, Mr Vanier suggested that the bishops should expect the unexpected: ``Jesus is always surprising us. He doesn't like it when we fall into little habits.'' The ritual, he said, ``was a gesture of communion'' but also a lesson. ``He's teaching us how he wants us to exercise authority. Jesus is saying we must be...servants of each other. Jesus came to transform the pyramid into a body.'' For bishops, but also for all people because ``each one of us exercises power in some way,'' the ritual holds a powerful message that ``we are called to walk the downward path, we are called to be small.''
The solemnity created by Mr Vanier's measured words, occasional music of guitar, oboe and voice, and the soft lighting in the plenary halls set the stage for two concluding ceremonies of commitment and discipleship. First, members of the congregation were invited to come forward to write on slips of paper any hindrances to their spiritual journeys. Many paused to kneel in prayer after depositing their paper slips, which were finally carried outside and ignited.
Mr Vanier, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Carey then led the first group of 12 participants in the foot-washing ritual. ``Jesus insists upon the washing of the feet because our bodies are precious,'' Mr Vanier said. He then encouraged the bishops to take part in the foot-washing as ``a witness of our desire to follow the wounded Jesus, the humble Jesus.'' Kneeling before Archbishop Carey, Jean Vanier washed both his feet in a basin, and bent his head as Archbishop Carey embraced him in prayer. Archbishop Carey washed his wife's feet, and the pattern continued, mirrored at multiple stations throughout the hall until hundreds of bishops, their spouses, staff and guests had been joined in the communion of mutual service.
Nan Cobbey, Susie Erdey, Allan Reeder, David Skidmore, James Thrall and Vincente
Echerri contributed to this report.