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Archbishop of Canterbury leads two Sunday services

Lambeth bishops attend worship at local churches

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Like a circuit-riding vicar, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams led two Sunday morning services on July 27 -- one at little St. Dunstan's Church that was broadcast by the BBC and the other at giant Canterbury Cathedral.

Bishops and spouses attending the Lambeth Conference attended Sunday worship at churches in and around Canterbury, including St. Paul, one of the two churches in St. Martin & St. Paul parish, where Diocese of Kumasi bishop Daniel Sarfo and his wife Mary told the congregation about the fruits of its partnership with the Mampong Babies' Home in Ghana.

Williams told the St. Dunstan congregation -- as well as a radio audience of about 1.75 million, according to the BBC -- that amid the "threats and insecurities of life," following Jesus means "you are not alone and you are not trapped."

Williams noted that the Gospel readings included stories of trouble -- of the woman taken in adultery and the death of Jesus' friend Lazarus. Today's world, he said, contains places "where populations starve and are driven from their homes" and "people face their own inner chaos." He also referred to the Anglican Communion's current divisions over theology and Scripture, saying that "our Anglican family badly needs ways to solve our internal tensions."

However, he said, "Jesus is here with us, too" and saying "where I am there is always new life" and offering a vision of "a new world where healing and mercy can take hold of us." After the service, which saw the interior of 1,000-year-old St. Dunstan's furnished with a dozen thin black microphone stands for the radio broadcast, Williams mingled with parishioners over tea and pastries.

The non-Eucharistic service at St. Dunstan conformed to the format of BBC Four's BBC Sunday Worship and featured pre-recorded "testimony" and three selections from the Gospel of John. Conference bishops read the Scripture, provided some of the commentaries and led some of the prayers.

The mile between St. Dunstan and the cathedral was once traveled by King Henry II, who in 1174 stopped at the first church to change into sackcloth before walking to the cathedral to do penance for having prompted the 1170 murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket.

At the second service, Williams presided over a sung Eucharist at the cathedral where a number of bishops and spouses attended. Dean Robert Willis preached, saying that "only two things exist" from the time a Christian community was founded on the site in 597. "One is the pages of the Gospel St. Gregory the Great gave to St. Augustine and his 40 monks," who established a monastery at Canterbury and evangelized England. "The other thing is this community, gathered around this archbishop. We are touching something old and something so new it is in the next breath you will take."

He referred to groups of seminarians who come to Canterbury for three weeks and go home having experienced "not a healing of differences but a commitment of great friendship, focusing together on the light of Jesus." Looking toward the end of the Lambeth Conference on August 3, he said he hoped "we carry the Christ light with us."    

At St. Paul church, the Rev. Canon Noelle Hall turned the sermon time into a question-and-answer session with the Sarfos.

The bishop, who was elected just after the 1998 Lambeth Conference, thanked the congregation for its donations through the Children First project of United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) which supports the Mampong Home. The home cares for children and babies who have lost their mothers until they are able to return to the care of their extended families. About 50 percent of the money it takes to run the home comes from the USPG project, he said.

The school was begun in 1967 by nuns who became concerned about the fate of babies whose mothers died in childbirth, Sarfo said. The 36 staff members care for the babies who are "fragile and always in need of affection and attention," he said.

"Through your efforts -- through the USPG -- kind people like you who give donations, we take care of the orphans," Sarfo said.

Asked by Hall about his expectations before he came to the Lambeth Conference, Sarfo said he had hoped that everyone involved "would treasure the Anglican Communion so we would not be the cause of anybody or anything to tear us apart," but would rather be able to be like a family talking about its life together.

"By the grace of God, it is moving in that direction," he said, especially mentioning the conference's indaba process, which he said is meant to allow for frank discussion so that the communion can "move on as a family."

Asked by Hall about the spouses' conference, Mary Sarfo told the congregation that the gathering has been a "very special" time during which she has "learned a lot" about family issues all over the communion.

Questions from the congregation included ones about the maternal death rate in Ghana (which Sarfo said is improving), universal education (which the bishop said is compulsory through high school) the impact in Ghana of high energy prices and how the morning's liturgy compared with those in parishes in Kumasi.

"The nature of the worship is so dynamic," Sarfo said in reply to the last question. "We beat drums, we dance -- when we are offering the offertory we don't sit in our pews for it … we dance as we put our offerings in. It is lively."

Earlier in the morning, Korean Archbishop Francis Kyong-Park and his wife Claire attended Eucharist at St. Martin, England's oldest parish church and part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site.

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