Friday, July 23, 2010


After England went to NJ, DC, NY state, and then back to Toronto. It's been a crazy time for travelling and I'm only now beginning to relax.

Here's a funny facebook moment I saw reported on Huffington Post:


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The retreat was great. It wrapped up in fine style this morning after Mattins. Both the Cathedral Clergy and the Guest Lodge Staff went out of their way to give us fond farewells. I have a lot of memories and stories, and I look forward to a moment when I am relaxed enough to tell them. As it was, I spent much of the day traveling from Canterbury up to London and then down to a town on the outskirts of London called Orpington. I'm staying with a ministry friend and his wife until Friday.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with Rachel Jordon from Church House and some of her colleagues to talk about church-y stuff--Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministry and Missional Church, etc. Then I might do a little sight-seeing. The short list of places to visit Wednesday and Thursday includes the Tate Modern, Lambeth Palace, the National Portrait Gallery, Covent Garden, and the British Museum. Of course, I won't be able to hit all of those in two days without a severe brain-sprain, so I'll pick two or three and see how it goes.

On Monday I was wandering around the cloister with Bede when we noticed a door that said, "Private - Archdeacon's Garden." Bede stooped down and peered through the key hole. Like many of the doors around the Cathedral, it still has one of those old fashioned locks with the big key-holes. As he was gazing in, one of the workman came up behind us, "No need for that! Here, have a proper look 'round." With that he unlocked the door with an impressive set of keys and swung it open. He invited us to step just across the threshold and explained the different ruins and houses we could see. He was genial and warm and obviously enjoyed our interest.

Now, he didn't know we were part of a retreat group, we were just curious visitors so far as he knew. And he wasn't a steward, verger, or cleric. He was simply one of the maintenance staff who went out of his way to show two visitors a little something special. As I said to Bede as we walked away, "At Canterbury, curiosity is rewarded." There is a spirit of generous hospitality that has totally imbued the place at all levels.

When we told this story to one of the Canons, she explained that most of the staff were actually non-Christian, yet they are also fiercely loyal to the Cathedral and believe in its mission. They are enormously proud and want to share what they have with others. Time and again this was referred to as the influence of the Benedictine virtue of hospitality. The Rule of Benedict says that all visitors are to be treated as Christ.

The Verger who took us up to the Organ Loft above the Quire Screen on Sunday told us about what Canterbury means to him. He finds meeting people from all over the world incredibly rewarding, but he also is honored to be part of an institution that has done this ministry of welcome for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. He explained that he had been initiated into the Cathedral Foundation as a special ceremony in which is name was inscribed in a special book. He beamed as he talked about his work.

When I get back to Toronto I want to write a long-ish letter to the Dean to compliment various people who were particularly friendly and helpful. I hope it's the sort of letter that ends up in personnel files.

I'm already missing the place. I'm thinking of the Canons waiting by the exit from the Quire to say goodbye to us as we left Mattins to go to breakfast. Some places just feel like home, yeah know?


Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Canterbury Organ Console

A Verger we have gotten to know was pleased to fulfill my request to see the organ loft above the Rood Screen in the middle of the Cathedral. This is the domain of the Organists. Here is a picture I took of the console. Note the video monitor that is hooked up to cameras that allow the organist to see the action without having to get up and peer over the sides.

This second picture is from the other side of the console. What you see are too very comfortable but tattered arm chairs and some recording equipment. Also, a few toys!

The Verger was quite proud to show us this rarely seen part of the inner workings of the Cathedral and took the time to answer a bunch more questions.

I'm really enjoying my time here. It's wonderful to be in such a deep place for so long!


Location:S Close,Canterbury,United Kingdom

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Update from Canterbury

I've been here at Canterbury for the "Benedictine Experience" Retreat for a few days now. I'm almost over the jet lag, but not quite. I woke up at 3.30 A.M. this morning. But this is a very easy place to settle into: comfortable and welcoming.

Yesterday Bede, another priest, and I had a wonderful chat with one of the Canterbury Vergers to plan our Eucharists this week. We will be using the Jesus Chapel in the Cathedral Crypt, and the Vergers were quite happy to set things up just the way we like them. This chat also gave us the chance to see the principle Sacristy of the Cathedral. We were told it was one of the few parts of the Cathedral that Thomas Becket would have recognized: when he was around in the 12th Century as Archbishop, it was used for pretty much the same purpose it is now.

The Sacristy at Canterbury Cathedral

Yesterday was the feast of the Translation of Thomas of Canterbury (Becket). On July 7th, 1220 his remains were moved from a crypt chapel to an elaborate shrine in the chancel that became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Western Europe until it was destroyed by order of Henry VIII in 1538. Evensong filled the Choir of the Cathedral and was sung by a men's choir. The Responses were by John Rutter, the Magnifcat and Nunc Dimittis were from Michael Walsh's St. Paul's Service, and after we processed (to "God, whose city's sure foundation" sung to Westminster Abbey) to the site of Thomas's Shrine the choir sang Salve Lux Laetitiae by Alan Ridout. While that anthem was sung, I watched one of the Canons cense something that isn't there--the shrine of Thomas. I've seen a lot of things censed and blessed in my church life, but never an empty space!

In the afternoon we had tea with the Dean of the Catherdal-- Robert Willis. He spoke powerfully about the Cathedral and it's role in the life of England and also the life of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He said that this was our mother church, and that we should take "comfortable possession" of it. He spoke brilliantly about how this place belongs to all Anglicans and how his 250 Full-Time Staff (including only 6 clergy) and 800 volunteers practice hospitality. His passion and care were moving.

This place is incredibly beautiful. It's such a privilege to be here. I particularly love the little nooks and crannies and tea gardens hidden all around this place. Just when you think you know some part of the Cathedral grounds, you will discover some new passage leading to some ancient ruins or rarely-used chapel. Yesterday's Eucharist, for example, took place in the Holy Spirit Chapel, which visitors rarely see. A tiny medieval door in the chancel leads up scary stairs to a second-storey chapel that has a connection of Evelyn Underhill (a very important name in contemporary mysticism). There are constant surprises like that. On our first afternoon here, the Archdeacon hosted us for cocktails in her garden just north of the cloister. She explained that her house was once a pilgrim hostel and that before that the site was where the medieval monastery's kitchens would have been. One of the old cooking hearths still stands by the east wall of her garden. Bede pointed to one of the ruined arches and said, "Roman brick, presumably from some structure that predated whatever was built here."

We are staying in the Cathedral Lodge (also known as the International Student Centre), which about 20 feet from the Cathedral Wall. The rooms are VERY comfortable--much more like a nice hotel than any retreat house I've stayed at. From my window seat I can see the Cathedral towering over us. Right now I'm blogging from a lovely rose garden under an old copper birch tree while someone practices organ in the Cathedral.

Matins is usually said with about 40 people in the quire (aka "choir") of the church. So far it's just been from Common Worship 2000, modern rite. Simple but well-done.

Evensong is glorious. As it happens, every evening so far has been of high-enough calendar rank to get the choral treatment. The boys choir is spectacular, as is the men's choir that I described earlier. The boys all attend the King's College School here at the Cathedral. The girls of the school have an elaborate music training programme of their own, but generally don't participate musically in liturgies until they are older. The Dean explained that he would love to a have a girl's choir, but they simply don't have the resources to support it.

It's important to point out that Canterbury Cathedral (unlike many other famous Cathedrals like Notre Damme) receives no financial support from the government or the national church. They are entirely self sufficient. The gate fee for visitors pays for the necessary infrastructure for 1.4 Million Visitors a year, but the renovations and programmes are paid for by donations. Luckily, Canterbury has many patrons, so it's no surprise that they have a £1.6 Million project underway to restore the South Trancept window.

Later today I'll be saying Mass in the Jesus Chapel in the eastern part of the crypt. I'm very excited about that. It's neat to think about all the great holy people that have come through here on earthly pilgrimage. What a treat to be a part of that.

Another thought... this place has a richness that can be almost overwhelming. As Bede says, you have to kind of float on top of it all. Music, gorgeous stained glass, incense, 12th century frescos. It's a river of spiritual poetry.

A woman who lived on the Cathedral Close during World War II tells this story. On one particularly bad bombing raid the Germans attempted to destroy the cathedral. Bombs fell just North of the Cathedral (where I'm writing this now, in fact), and just South, and as she huddled in a basement by the Christ Church Gate she was sure they had demolished her beloved Cathedral. It was the end of everything she knew. Then the Tower Bell chimed the time and she knew, in her heart, that places like this are so much bigger than us, even bigger than kings and wars. In truth, a bomb hitting this place would merely have transformed it, as it did to Coventry Cathedral. That's the true beauty of a resurrection faith.

Time for another session...


Location:S Close,Canterbury,United Kingdom

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Arrival at Canterbury

Just arrived for my week long retreat at Canterbury. The facilities at the International Student Centre on the grounds are incredible--very much like an cross between a high-end hotel and a seminary. Here a picture out my window... No kidding.

The flight and London traffic were rough. I need to regroup a bit.... Not sure how much I will be able/desiring to blog during retreat, but I didn't want people to think I had died!


Location:S Close,Canterbury,United Kingdom