Russ' Summary of the Pilgrimage to England

June 29, 2017

Russ’ summary of the Trinity Cathedral pilgrimage to England, 13-20 June 2017

 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

This was the day before the official start of the pilgrimage, when most arrived at the retreat center of the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine.  This establishment, dating from 1147, is known as a “royal peculiar,” in that the Queen has direct jurisdiction over it, apart from any bishop (another example of this is Westminster Abbey).  She appoints the Master, a priest who lives on the premises and ensures that it serves its purpose of promoting the well-being, spiritual and otherwise, of those in the surrounding community and of those who visit.  That day, I greeted pilgrims as they arrived and oriented them to the area, which is near the Thames to the east of the City of London.  Most days of the pilgrimage, we gathered in St. Katharine’s chapel after breakfast for Morning Prayer before heading out.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

While a few took a taxi, most took public transportation to Westminster station and then walked to Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is on the south bank of the Thames, in sight of the Houses of Parliament.  One of the staff, Tricia Shannon, expertly showed us the different parts of the Palace, including the Great Hall, where the Library is housed; the Crypt Chapel; the main Chapel; Cranmer’s tower; the garden; and the 19th-century domestic quarters.  Tricia was accompanied by Cate Davies, who assists the Prior of the Community of St. Anselm, an ecumenical group of young adults, some of whom live at the Palace, and who pray together daily in the belief that prayer makes a huge difference in individual lives, in the Church, and in the world at large.  Archbishop Welby gathered this group, who commit to involvement for a year or more, as a foundation for other work that is centered at the Palace.  He rightly sees that spiritual renewal must be the basis for fruitfulness in a conflict-ridden Anglican Communion.  Another member of the Community, who hails from Finland, spoke to our pilgrims.

After touring the Palace, the group went to Southwark Cathedral, a bit further downriver.  This has only been a Cathedral since 1905, but there has been a church on the site since about 606 A.D.  The oldest parts of the current building date from the 1220s, when it was an Augustinian Priory church.  The tower has loomed over the south bank, at the foot of London Bridge, since the 15th century.  Unlike St. Paul’s Cathedral, this Cathedral of the diocese of Southwark has a parish attached.  It is well attended and serves as a center for mission at that busy crossroads where, sadly, a terrorist attack occurred just over a week before we arrived.  Our group enjoyed a guided tour and then had free time in the afternoon.  That evening, some participated in a special community meal at our retreat center.

 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The morning’s focus was a visit to St. Saviour’s Priory, the home of the Sisters of St. Margaret, an Anglican order in the part of east London known as Hackney.  Since our appointment was at 11, we took a brief time beforehand to see the nearby Geffrye Museum, which illustrates features of middle class domestic interiors through the centuries.  At the convent, which dates from the 19th century, Sister Judith Blackburn gave us much needed water on this hot day and then spoke with us about the monastic calling and about their day-to-day life of prayer and of service to the poor in the surrounding community.  Our visit ended with a time of discussion and prayer in their historic chapel.  Many found this visit touching, and intercessory prayers thereafter often included prayer for the Sisters.

From Hackney, our pilgrims took a bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral and had lunch in the vicinity.  A Cathedral Canon had to cancel his early afternoon plans to speak with us about T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” due to illness, but we had a tour of the Cathedral focusing on displays of contemporary art instead.  Perhaps most striking was a large, amazingly nuanced spray-painted work depicting the Virgin and Child as dark-skinned refugees.

Mid-afternoon, we headed from St. Paul’s to Westminster Abbey.  At 4 p.m., Canon Mark Birch welcomed us.  As we sat at the front of the nave, he related how the Abbey has served as a spiritual center of the nation for about 1000 years.  He then invited us to go through the screen and take our seats in the choir stalls for the 5 p.m. Eucharist celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi.  The grand setting, glorious music, fine preaching, and reception of the Sacrament made this a high point for many pilgrims.

 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Today was our much anticipated trip to Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire (originally Huntingdonshire).  Taking the Underground to King’s Cross station, we took a train northward to Peterborough (46 minutes away) and then a small coach from Peterborough to Little Gidding, a hamlet with a small church where, in the early 17th century, an extended family and friends led by Nicholas Ferrar lived a disciplined communal life of prayer and service.  T. S. Eliot’s visit in the 1930s, after which he wrote “Little Gidding” added to its status as a holy place.  In the late 20th century, another community focused on prayer lived there for a couple of decades.  Staff at today’s retreat house welcomed us on our arrival late morning, after we had viewed sheep being sheared in the pasture, and gave us tea and coffee.  We pilgrims then gathered in the little historic church, where Matilda Buchanan and I read Eliot’s poem, which has much to do with seeking and with the intersection of time and eternity.  The Holy Eucharist followed, using readings for the feast of Nicholas Ferrar.  After a good lunch of leek and potato soup, Canon Bill Girard, a retired clergyman who has worked in the area for years, gave a fascinating talk about the 17th-century community and their connection with George Herbert, the priest and poet who was prebend of the nearby parish of Leighton Bromswold and a friend of Nicholas Ferrar’s.  We then spent an hour of quiet time during which individuals sat in the chapel, or in the sun, or even slept on a bench.  The buzzing of bees and the bleating of sheep impinged on our consciousness.  After tea and cake in the retreat house, our coach driver took us to Leighton Bromswold, where a parishioner, Mr. Hugh West, introduced us to the church’s history.  Particularly noteworthy were the architectural changes made possible by Herbert’s generosity, including matching pulpits to the left and right of the choir arch.  Herbert intended this to represent the equal importance of preaching and praying (the pulpit to the right was the place from which prayers were read).  We then said Evening Prayer, and Adam Baldwin sang Ralph Vaughn Williams’ version of Herbert’s poem “The Call.”  We returned to Peterborough, bought supper at a grocery store near the station, and took the train back to London.

 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

After a later-than-usual service of Morning Prayer, most pilgrims took public transportation to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where the museum’s Head of Archives, Christopher Marsden, gave us an introductory tour.  Highlights included the Raphael cartoons from the early 16th century, which depict scenes from the lives of Sts. Peter & Paul as designs for tapestries in the Sistine Chapel; the enormous Great Bed of Ware, which Shakespeare mentioned in one of his plays; and an ancient red sock, which had been preserved in the sands of Egypt.  An excellent buffet lunch followed in the museum restaurant. 

At 3 p.m., all pilgrims gathered on the west steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Everyone was delighted to see Matilda Buchanan there, after she had spent the morning getting a replacement for her stolen passport.  Canon James Milne then gave us a fascinating tour focusing on the building’s religious symbolism.  Churches are places of transformation, he pointed out.  People are “warned” of that, when approaching St. Paul’s, by the sculptural depiction of St. Paul’s conversion on the west front and by the huge baptismal font just inside the great west doors.  The building’s structure, moving from the western entrance to the altar at the east end, symbolizes our journey from earth to heaven, from darkness to light.  After this inspiring tour, our pilgrims gathered in reserved seats in the choir stalls for a beautiful service of choral Evensong.

 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

On this Sunday morning, our pilgrims attended churches of their choice, ranging from high Anglo-Catholic to evangelical.

At 3 p.m., the group attended Evensong at Southwark Cathedral.  Sitting in the choir stalls, we got the full impact of their skilled, powerful men-and-boys choir.  After the service, Dean Andrew Nunn welcomed us, and the Sub-Dean, Canon Michael Rawson, spoke with us about the Cathedral’s mission to bring people together in Christ, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that recently occurred on their doorstep.

Either by taxi or by walking, the pilgrims then gathered at Christopher Marsden’s flat in nearby Bermondsey, where he and I hosted a supper, which all seemed to enjoy, despite the crowded conditions and extreme heat.

 

Monday, 19 June 2017

After Morning Prayer, the group took public transportation to St. Pancras station, where we boarded a high-speed train to Canterbury.  Arriving there just after 11 a.m., we walked to the magnificent Cathedral.  It was yet another hot, sunny day.  Canon Christopher Irvine met us in the choir, where he welcomed us and reminded us of the many centuries in which daily services have been offered there, both during and since the days when it was a monastic Cathedral.  He also noted the symbolism of the two archepiscopal chairs there.  One is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s seat (cathedra) as the Bishop of the Canterbury diocese, Archbishop of the province of Canterbury, and Primate of all England.  The other seat, high above the high altar, and known as St. Augustine’s Chair, is an ancient stone chair that reminds us of the Archbishop’s role as successor of St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who was sent by Rome in 597 A.D., and as spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

We then divided into two groups for a guided tour of the Cathedral.  The guides emphasized that different parts of the building represent different stages of its construction and history, the oldest part being the Norman-era crypt.  We learned how the residential monastic community, which lasted over 500 years and whose cloister and other buildings survive, set the tone of the place and hosted the many pilgrims who, before the Reformation, visited the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170.  Tombs of archbishops and royalty reminded us, as did Westminster Abbey, of the close connection in England, historically, between church and state, and of the sacred nature, ideally, of all human enterprise under Christ.

After our tour, we had lunch at various places.  At 3 p.m., a significant number of us gathered for an optional walk, or taxi-ride, to St. Martin’s Church, the oldest Christian church in the English-speaking world, which is east of the Cathedral, beyond the ruins of another medieval monastery known as St. Augustine’s Abbey.  Parts of this little church date from Anglo-Saxon times and are made partly from Roman brick.  A current member of the parish welcomed us and pointed out significant features.  We then enjoyed some relatively cool moments among the trees and graves of the churchyard, from the top of which we saw a magnificent view of the Cathedral.

All met back at the Cathedral for Evensong at 5:30.  We sat together in the stalls and enjoyed the music of the skilled men-and-boys choir in that vast, beautiful setting.  For dinner, many of us went to a British restaurant nearby, where some ordered delicacies such as fried whitebait and pig’s cheek, as well as more conventional dishes.  We then took another fast train back to London.

 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

We left St. Katharine’s early to catch a 9:22 train from Paddington station to Oxford.  However, we just missed the train and took a slightly later one.  At Oxford station, all piled into taxis to get to Pusey House almost in time for our 11 a.m. appointment.  A memorial to Edward Bouverie Pusey, a leader of the Oxford Movement, Pusey House maintains a regular round of prayer and worship and serves as a center for education and research, particularly related to the Catholic identity and mission of Anglicanism.  Fr. George Westhaver, a Canadian who serves as Principal of the House, offered a lecture on the Oxford Movement and its theological grounding in the doctrine of the Incarnation.  After being shown around the House, we attended a Mass led by the Chaplain, the Rev. Mark Stafford.  Celebrating and receiving the Sacrament marked a high point of our last day together as pilgrims.

Many pilgrims had lunch in the crypt of St. Mary’s, the University church on the High Street, which has excellent food.  Then, at 2 p.m., we took a bus to the convent of the Sisters of the Love of God, in suburban Oxford.  In the midst of another hot day, Mother Clare-Louise and Sister Stephanie welcomed us first into their large garden, from which they noted the buildings that reflect their history from the early 20th century onward.  All religious orders seem to have dwindled in number in recent years.  Their community had around 70 sisters in 1990, but only just over 20 today.  In the chapel, they discussed their calling to prayer as their primary vocation.  While they offer hospitality and issue publications, outreach to the poor, in a direct sense, is not part of their vocation, as it is among the Sisters of St. Margaret, whom we visited in London.  After the sisters offered us water and juice in the Refectory, we discussed how prayer links us to the larger world because we find in ourselves some of the sources of the world’s problems and put these before God for healing.

Via bus, we returned to central Oxford for a visit at 4 p.m. to Merton College whose chaplain, the Rev. Simon Jones, showed us the medieval chapel and discussed the Church’s role at the center of college life.  From Merton, we walked the short distance to Oriel College, whose American chaplain, the Rev. Robert Tobin, discussed the history of the early 17th-century Laudian chapel and the history of Oriel as the base of Oxford Movement leaders such as Newman, Keble, and Pusey.  We concluded our visit and our pilgrimage with Evening Prayer in that chapel, all giving thanks for God’s blessings in our time together and praying that our pilgrimage may bear fruit in our individual lives, in our home church and diocese, and in the world around us.

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