I returned home last night via the ferry from Dover to Calais after five days in England including travelling time. I set off on Tuesday evening in my Renault van full of all sorts of useful things including a camp bed in the back. This would save me hundreds of pounds in hotel accommodation!
My first night was spent in Calais prior to boarding the following morning for my passage to Dover. As usual, the northbound motorways were slow, especially round Birmingham and Manchester. I reached my father’s house in the late afternoon, where I stayed until Friday morning with my father and two sisters.
In England, we have an expression – sending someone to Coventry. It means that the person has behaved in such a way as he will be shunned, not talked to or listened to as a kind of social sanction. I was driving in the Midlands, and saw the sign to this city. I had given myself plenty of time in case of road hold-ups. I had never been to Coventry before, but I knew that this city was sacrificed in World War II by confusing the German bomber navigation systems so that they would think they were bombing Birmingham and the vital production of arms to fight the war. The plan worked, but Coventry was flattened, including the fine medieval cathedral. Given what happened, I was amazing to find that many old buildings had survived well enough to be repaired and restored.
Here is the old cathedral from the outside.
Father, forgive. Not only the Germans who did the bombing, but the British also who had no alternative but to sacrifice Coventry. Wars are insane and the hardest decisions have to be made. Who would take their place!
I thought I would hate the new building, but it is impressive and full of atmosphere. The big tapestry over the high altar and the two columns of organ pipes do everything. The plan is traditional with the nave, choir, sanctuary and Lady Chapel in the retro-choir.
This high altar must be eighteen to twenty feet long! I do think this is a little exaggerated. Two-thirds of this length would have been quite enough. The bronze cross and candlesticks on brackets are very stark.
Here is the famous tapestry of Christ in glory, and an explanation.
The organ was built by Harrison & Harrison of Durham and has four manuals and an extremely comprehensive specification. I didn’t hear it on this visit, but I have heard recordings. It’s an impressive instrument.
I reached London in the evening late enough to avoid the congestion charge levied during the week, and found a parking slot in Great Russell Street. There was a pre-Synod dinner at a hotel in this street with my Bishop and several clergy and laity of our Church. That was most enjoyable. After that, I made my way to Westminster and parked in a side street between Westminster Abbey and Victoria Station. I camped in the van, very discreetly as there are strange vagrancy laws in England!
I slept reasonably well and rose bright and early for the Synod. There was the altar to set up, and solutions to find to get the temperature down in the hall we used for the Synod Mass. The radiators, on full blast, were electronically controlled – and the maintenance men were off work for the weekend. The only solution was to open a downstairs door and block it with a chair to get something of a draught through the hall – and it worked. Otherwise, we would have sweltered through the Mass!
My job was to act as Bishop’s chaplain and crozier-holder. That was simple enough. At Communion time, I put the Bishop’s crozier aside and went to help the choir sing Byrd’s Ave Verum, since I had noticed that the tenors were on the weak side. That attracted a chuckle or two, but I think I did make some difference. The choir was rather good, as was the very able organist.
Here is the customary photograph.
Some of my fellow clergy could not fail to observe my lengthening hair, and that it was obvious that I am growing it and not neglecting to have it cut! John Wesley himself come to the rescue, since we were meeting in the high place of the Methodist Church, Westminster Central Hall! A life-size statue of the man himself is in the lobby – and it is obvious that Wesley was not wearing the usual powdered wig of a gentleman of the eighteenth century, but his natural hair. That was confirmed by one of the people working in the Hall’s office. The curls are amazing, putting my own to shame!
He was a very small man with his determined chin. The statue, as does the portrait below, seems to show Wesley in his 60’s.
I am impressed, seeing Wesley in Anglican priest’s attire, since that is what he was. The face looks gentle. He must have been a saintly man of God, a Romantic as a priest and evangelist as others were as poets and musicians. Wesley’s theology is high church and very much in the Anglican tradition of the seventeenth century. I mean to study his life. I have always held the Methodists in high esteem for their piety and complete integrity as Christians.
The official report of our Diocesan Synod – Lift High The Cross! XXIII Diocesan Synod. It was held on the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross.
After Synod, I met up with two friends, known in the blogging world as Rubricarius and Patricius. I hadn’t seen the former for twenty years! I met the latter for the first time, a dapper young fellow who, in my opinion, has it – but has his life to lead and learn from. We had a pint together at a local pub, and moved on to a nice little Italian restaurant in Victoria Street. We spent rather a lot of money, but it was worth it for the high-quality conversation and the enjoyable time. Some of us “others” also have “blognics” in London!
I then moved on to Canterbury. On driving through the docklands ultra-modern office and business developments, I had the impression of dystopia from the science fiction films. The buildings are gigantic and ominous, built in black and dark-coloured materials and tinted glass. London has changed so much since I lived there in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I was only too glad to be through the Rotherhithe Tunnel and bound for Kent! I reached a service station on the A2 a few miles short of Canterbury. I had better conditions than in London, including the use of a toilet and without the risk of getting into trouble for illegal camping.
Again, on the bright and sunny (though a little on the cold side) Sunday morning, I was up bright and early. I could take my time before driving into Canterbury and to the Pound Street car park. I had arranged to be at the church, so that I could say my Mass in particular. It must have been the first Sarum Use Mass said in Canterbury since 1549 – since the ACC’s official rite is the Anglican Missal, which is slightly more “Sarum” / Prayer Book than the pre-Vatican II Roman rite. It was a somewhat different experience from my own chapel, with the door open to the street and people walking past and occasionally looking in.
After that, we had the parish Mass celebrated by the Bishop, and St Augustine’s church no longer has an organist. I did the job yesterday, the way I have always done my job as a liturgical organist from my days in the Church of England and my seminary at Gricigliano. The music is determined by the liturgy, and is a part of it. Organists who show off have no place in the liturgy. After Mass, my Bishop said that he had never heard it played so well. I am not a virtuoso, and there were plenty of “bum notes” as I am no longer used to a radiating and concave pedalboard. Simply, I know the liturgy and am very much influenced by the Cecilian Movement I wrote about some time ago in connection with Fr Lorenzo Perosi. I know how to accompany and suit the various pieces of music and improvisations to the liturgy. That church needs an organist, and one who can work in the kind of spirit I expressed yesterday morning. If there is anyone reading this who is interested, for the sake of the kind of liturgy we do in the ACC, I would be prepared to help him or her get adapted.
I got photographed at the end of the Mass – with my “Liszt” hair! I should imagine that it will be like Mozart’s hair next year!
After Mass, my Bishop treated me to lunch at the Pilgrim’s Hotel in Canterbury, a real traditional Sunday roast. We talked of many things of concern to us all. We need new and younger priests with fresh ideas, like those of the Bishop, Fr Jonathan Munn and myself. There will be much work to do. It has helped for me to have been elected by Synod to the Bishop’s Council of Advice, which will take me to England at least four times a year. These are challenging times for bring out new and fresh ideas in such a small ecclesial jurisdiction. I think we will do it, gradually, progressively and with pastoral sensitivity. Many lessons have been learned from the experience of Continuing Anglican fragmentation due to petty-mindedness, power-seeking and lack of empathy for others on the part of bishops who began by being inadequate men. I am immensely optimistic for the future of the ACC in England and a renewed way of living in the Catholic Church of all times. With God’s grace, I committed to doing all I can for this noble and Christian cause.