Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury

La Tuilerie Website

He was supposed to be in Taizé this morning. I have had this date in my diary for a couple of months ever since I saw on the Taizé website that he was arriving on Thursday 6th and leaving on Sunday the 9th . The Reverend, who had rented one of our gites, had assisted on Friday at a communion service where the Archbishop had officiated, along with the second in command of the Anglican church the Archbishop of York, so he had been seen. I was banking on the fact that as a very senior Christian “official” he would be invited to officiate at the communion, but as the more than 50 visiting clergy filed in, in their white cassocks and green shawls, he was not among them. There was a Cardinal and an African guy who could have been the Archbishop of York, but no sign of the Most Reverend Rowan Williams. Maybe I had just not recognised him.

As I was watching the monks walk in, I spotted him. Amongst the more than one hundred monks he walked into the church wearing the monks’ white cassock. He walked up through the church and sat simply amongst them. The only difference between him and them was the beautiful silver cross that he wore outside his tunic. I was moved by this humble action, it made the other clergy look garish with their green shawls, towering above the rest of the congregation on their benches.

The Archbishop of Canterbury wth Frère Alois the Prior of Taizé taken from the Taizé website.

The service progressed as normal for a Sunday morning, that means that if you sit at the front of the church you have to turn through 180 degrees for the readings to face the direction of the reader and as in other churches you stand for the Gospel. You then turn back 180 degrees and sit down again. What I didn’t spot until I was back on the ground was that the monks had not turned to face the altar, they sat still facing the back of the church. I quickly returned, (not an easy job when the church is that full) and I saw a single monk standing in the middle of the church at the lectern, it was the Archbishop himself. He then read out what I would call a sermon. This was translated into French in stages by one of the monks. For regular churchgoers there is nothing odd about this, but because the average Taizé congregation will consist of people of probably more than 50 nationalities, the explanation of the scriptures is left to the small groups that meet in the mornings where a monk will do that in the language of the group. So to my knowledge, this is the first time a sermon has been ever given in a service at Taizé, a very special occassion.

After that, the service continued as normal, however, none of the visiting clergy were invited to celebrate the communion, that was done by the monks themselves as is the case in the winter when there are no visitors around. Not even the Cardinal was invited to join in.

When the communion was distributed, the Archbishop stood in line with the other monks simply waiting his turn.

A moving experience and one I am happy to say I witnessed.

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