Road trip day for bishops. We all (27 of us) piled into a bus (aka "motor coach") at 7:50am in the midst of a dreary drizzle for a 2.5 hour trip to London. Now, the same trip took an hour of my time on a high speed train on Monday. The difference is not only that the bus doesn't go 120mph, but that there are no multi-lane controlled access highways that actually go into central London. So it was all on what Californians call "surface streets"--through the east end and Southwark, over the Thames at the Tower Bridge, through the financial district and Westminster, past Victoria Station, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, and on into Kensignton, finally alighting at the Anglican Communion office, which occupies a former convent. We were greeted by Canon Kenneth Kearon, who talked generally about the work of the ACO before introducing the staff, each of whom took a few moments to speak about his or her area of concentration. We then broke for some informal time with the staff, according to our inclination.
In due course, we were called out to the (quite lovely) garden for a group photo. A charitable staff member soon found himself with an armload of bishops' cameras and instructions to duplicate the official shot. This was accomplished with surprising efficiency. We then proceeded to the chapel for a brief Liturgy of the Word, after which we had about ten minutes to consume our sack lunches while staff members continued to gently lobby us about their individual concerns.
Next stop was Lambeth Palace, London home of Archbishops of Canterbury since the 14th century. Eveything happened there with graceful precision. As we gathered on the front steps for another photo, Archbishop Williams appeared in the front row as if on cue. We were ushered into a large hall adorned with oversize portraits of previous occupants of the See of Canterbury. (We learned later that this is the very room where the first Lambeth Conference took place.) We sat down in a circle and the Archbishop spoke to us winsomely about what he considers the core of a bishop's pastoral ministry, namely, to peristently assure people that God can be trusted. Any human person will eventually let us down, but God can always be trusted. He then took questions for about 30 minutes, after which it was tea time (with all the "goodies" associated with English afternoon tea). Archbishop Rowan stayed and mingled with us informally. I am not one to be star struck, but I will always treasure the few moments I spent chatting with him.
We were then turned over to a retired priest who gave us a very fine tour of the palace--state dining room, formal drawing room overlooking a wonderful formal English garden, the historic main chapel, and the crypt chapel, the oldest part of the palace. There we were led in the evening office, using the Church if England's Common Worship.
On the bus and back to Canterbury the same way we had come in the morning, which is essentially the ancient Canterbury pilgrimage road. At one point I saw that the street was called Old Kent Road. We arrived back about half past seven, very grateful that dinner was ready for us. I got into another wide-ranging discussion, this time with the two Church of England participants (suffragans in the Norwich and Peterborough dioceses), our lone Canadian, and one of two from South Sudan. We did a lot of comparing and contrasting in the areas of administrative support and organization, parish and diocesan finances, and clergy deployment. Such conversations and the chance to cultivate such relationships are precisely why I came on this trip.