Friday, July 25, 2008

Sub-Themes and Public Lavatories

Yesterday brought one of the sub-theme's of the Lambeth Conference to its ultimate, but purposeful, climax: queuing! (Hats - ecclesiastical, sartorial and Ascot-like was another sub-theme yesterday but enough of that, for now).

Unlike the three hour queue for registration, the daily queues for food and the periodic queues for busses, here was the whole Conference, joined by their friends in one long procession of public intent. 38 coaches left Canterbury from 7.15 a.m. onwards decamping the entire Lambeth Conference to central London where we were deposited on the Embankment. (The stewards and volunteers are already the heroes of this Conference to my mind).

The funniest queue of the event to date has to have been the procession of purple-cassocked, ecclesiastical-hatted bishops, accompanied by their elegantly dressed spouses, proceeding, at rush hour, through Embankment Station, along the Embankment where a queue formed for the public lavatories. What struck me was how few of the commuters even noticed or turned an eye as dozens of purple cassocks and hats and fashion icon spouses passed them as they emerged from the turnstiles to their daily grind in central London. Not for the first time it dawned on me that really for most in the world they do not know we are here or meeting; and if they do, for more, we are not relevant to them; they are not bothered or we do not catch their imagination.

But within two hours we caught the imagination of many and the Lambeth Conference hit the headlines for its manifest unity.

Joined by brothers and sisters from other churches and from other faiths, and accompanied by hoards of media, marshalled by our own ever-efficient stewards and the Police, we set off down Whitehall at 10.30 a.m.

Our goal was to highlight the eight Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 with a view to attaining them by 2015. Now we are more than half way to 2015! What of the goals? 'Keep the promise' our plackards challenged and 'Halve Poverty by 2015.'

Along Whitehall, past the Houses of Parliament on one side and Westminster Abbey on the other, along Millbank, over Lambeth Bridge and into Lambeth Palace where we were addressed by the Archbishop, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Helen Wangusa (Anglican Observer at the United Nations)

The Prime Minister was moved, moving and enthusiastic: 'This is one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith this country has ever seen,' he said, 'You have sent a symbol, a very clear message with rising force that poverty can be eradicated...'

Today, like the retreat days, was a day of unity, fellowship, common ground and shared purpose. These positive things seem to be the order of the day when we focus on the issues which, to my mind, matter most. We had a wonderful lunch in a marquee in Lambeth Palace garden and later enjoyed the hospitality at afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace.

We returned on the two hour bus journey to Cantebury, weary but fulfilled pilgrims: tired feet and legs, and singed bald patches inspite of judicious use of a biretta.

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