by Paul Goodman at Canterbury
TAKE a medieval cathedral and pack it to the side-aisles with people. Add a staffwielding, door-knocking ritual; a procession of surpliced clerics, state lawyers, encrusted librarians and robed marshal's; a smattering of ancient hymns and hot-gospelling novelties; an oath taken in St Augustine's chair and sworn on the Canterbury gospels, and you have a great state occasion.
Such was the scene last Friday at the enthronement of George Carey as the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England.
Few occasions could have demonstrated more emphatically the Gilbert-andSullivan, Alice-in-Wonderland pageantry of the Church of England — its fussy, eclectic catholicity. Dr Carey's sermon — a straight from the shoulder evangelical appeal, the blunt force of which was only partially dulled by the necessary courtesies — was set against a visually enthralling, generouslydrawn background, in which every conceivable shade of religious colour glittered and shone out.
Skull-capped rabbis, saffronclad Buddhist monks, exotic oriental clergy who appeared to
have stepped straight out of Black Mischief . . . all clerical life was there.
Such a sweeping category, of course, proved broad enough to accommodate six Catholic bishops — Alan Clark of East Anglia, Cormac Murphy O'Connor of. Arundel and Brighton, Michael Bowen of Southwark, Derek Worlock of Liverpool (looking tired and slightly strained in the stained glass-filtered sunlight), Thomas Winning of Glasgow and Basil Hume, whose part in the service proved to be no small one.
With the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan, he brought up one of the most senior of the series of processions that emblazoned the nave. And with a sweeping, almost actormanagerly delivery, he read the second lesson, taken from 1 Corinthians: "necessity is laid upon me; woe to me if I preach not the gospel."
This proved to be Dr Carey's theme. His text, frisked and plucked for meaning, yielded up key words and phrases like ofthandled, slightly dowdy feathers: "renewed"; "invigorated"; "joyful".
"It will be woe to us," he said, in what might suitably have served as the cornerstone of his speech, "if we preach religion instead of the gospel . . from St Augustine's chair, I ask that we set above our divisions the urgency of witnessing to our nation that there is a God who cares and loves all people."
With his powerfully-set jaw and curiously sensuous mouth, Dr Carey is a strikingly unhesitant speaker, who warmed to his themes as the sermon gathered pace and the fingers of the press corps flickered through the pages of their copies. All the controversial subjects were covered: church unity, mission to the nation, social action, ecumenism (though this section was notably hard-edged) and football.
Dr Carey's voice — in which the rough vowels of the East End are scarcely detectable faltered but once, when the great clock of the cathedral struck three. "There will be many," he declared, "for whom simply staying and serving within the church may feel as costly as the service of those martyrs with whom I began."
This saying — half appeal, half extravagant compliment was a thinly-disguised plea to Anglican traditionalists, whose unhappiness with Dr Carey's jocond style (and support for the ordination of women) had found a new outlet earlier in the week: the jazzy rhythms of three songs, performed by the All Souls Ensemble, which were due to be crooned out during the sign of peace.
In the cathedral itself, they turned out to be barely audible, smothered out by hand-shaking (largely among the laity) and hand-clapping (largely among the clergy). The more time honoured hymns, boomed out throughout the nave to brass fanfares, were sung with enough relish to send a shiver down the spine of even the most gnarled religious correspondent.
And yet one must doubt how widely these resonances arc felt. Although Canterbury itself was awash with clerical collars (one Anglican priest who I encountered during the day turned out to he an expert on psychotherapy — a reminder of the range of talent and breadth of interest among the Church of England's clergy), the congratulatory crowds were thin, almost outnumbered by a group of gay rights protestors.
Dr Carey, and all the rest of us, have a lot of witnessing yet to do.