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Lambeth bishops attend closing Eucharist; Martyred Melanesian brothers honored in Canterbury Cathedral

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[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Using the imagery of witness, martyrdom and journeys, a two-hour Eucharist service at Canterbury Cathedral on August 3 closed the decennial Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

"We are witnesses, says Peter, of what Jesus did," said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his sermon. "We have a story to tell … In the last two weeks, we have told our stories. We have also heard the one story that makes a difference, that changes the world. Perhaps we can go back to our lay and ordained apostolic ministries to tell the story of this meeting, of the Lambeth Conference [and] speak truthfully and joyfully the story of Jesus."

The story, he said, changed the apostles. "What they have seen has opened up in them depths and capacities they never knew … This is a story that makes things happen," he said.

Echoing the comments of bishops who said they profoundly valued meeting their counterparts from around the world, Williams said that in hearing the story of Christ "something shifts, grows and deepens in the Christian community we belong to … the something is Christ come alive."

Amid the soaring stone arches of the cathedral, not far from the spot where one of Williams' predecessors, Archbishop Thomas Becket, was murdered in 1170, seven martyred members of the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood were honored during the service.

Williams, in gold-colored vestments, stood at the nave altar at the west end of the church and read the names, with presider, Archbishop Sir Ellison Pogo of Melanesia, by his side.

Members of the four religious communities of Melanesia, in white robes, brown robes and grey habits, sang a haunting chant -- the Litany of Saints and Martyrs of Melanesia -- as they took a document with the names from Williams. In a procession, joined by Pogo, they brought the names through a carved archway in the rood screen and into the east end of the cathedral. Their lyrical song could be heard echoing through the ten-story-high church after the congregation could no longer see them.

They knelt in the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time as the list of names was placed the altar. When the Eucharist was over, bishops and others came to pray in front of the small altar in the chapel.

The seven were killed in 2003 by militants during ethnic conflict in the Solomon Islands. The martyrs had been providing supplies to innocents trapped by ethnic conflict, negotiating the release of hostages and search for the missing, and injured and dead.

The closing worship provided a contrast to the service that opened the conference on July 16. Bishops dressed in purple cassocks entered the cathedral with their spouses, mingling with each other and conference guests and staff. At the opening worship, the procession, which took half an hour, included the bishops in red and white rochet and chimere vestments, along with ecumenical participants, officials and guests.

One characteristic was the same -- the closing service also reflected the international nature of the worldwide Anglican Communion, with the order based on the New Zealand Prayer Book. Prayers were said in Urdu, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Punjabi as well as English and there was music based on Brazilian and South African songs.

Among the hymns and readings for the service, the opening hymn's lyrics asked God to "teach us all the art of speaking/with the accent of thy love" and spoke of "thy church on earth … seeking thy renewal from above."

At the end of the service, as the bishops prepared to return home, Williams asked all to "go forth into the world in peace. Be of good courage. Hold fast that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil."   

-- Solange De Santis is editor, Episcopal Life Media.

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