Meeting for an hour on Thursday morning at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and I compared notes on affordable housing, politics and the church, and others matters. As you might imagine, the coronation of Charles III came up. Since I’d had the honor of presiding at the baptism of Princess Lilibet on his and Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry’s behalves at the Sussexes’ home in Montecito in March, I gave him a report on those proceedings.
On behalf of so many friends and colleagues in the church, I thanked him for his deft management of the Lambeth Conference in 2022 and especially for saying that he neither had nor wished to have the authority to punish Episcopalians and Anglicans for their stands in favor of marriage equity, notwithstanding the contrary views of the majority of Anglican Communion bishops. After that, it felt as though we’d come in from the cold.
Kathy and I are in London this week for Archbishop Justin’s awarding of the Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing. I’m among five jurors who made a recommendation from a short list of three books. His invitation to morning prayer at Lambeth Palace, in Thomas Cramer’s chapel, followed by our meeting was an exciting surprise. It was also a pleasure to say hello to his spouse and colleague, Caroline.
Reaching Lambeth Palace (the ABC’s London hang these last 800 years) a little early on this rainy morning, I ducked into a Thames-side cafe for coffee and met Caroline Virgo, director of the Church of England’s The Clewer Initiative, who was also early for her first meeting. She and her colleagues help church people get wise to the presence of modern slavery in their midst.
Working in the midst of Great Britain’s fraught conversations about migration is its attorney general for England and Wales, Victoria Prentis, who also attended morning prayer. In a close vote this week, parliament passed the government’s controversial plan to send migrants to Rwanda, called inhumane by the left and not tough enough by the far right. Archbishop Justin introduced me to her after the service. I told her I thought both our countries were coming to terms with what it means to be a pluralistic democracy. While today’s conversations were not meant to be quoted, I don’t think she’d mind my recording her response: “We usually catch your cold.”
Giving warmth to the soul was dinner last night at a Chinese restaurant across the street from St. Matthew’s Westminster, where I preached during a magnificent choral Evensong service organized by the longtime vicar, the Rev. Philip Chester, and director of music Nigel Groome.
Among the congregants and Kathy’s and my dinner hosts was the Rev. Dr. Keith F. Pecklers, a Roman Catholic priest on the faculty of the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome. He and colleagues are leading a delegation of six Rome-based graduate students in ecumenical studies, representing the Russian Orthodox, German United, and Korean Catholic churches, among others. They’re here to study Anglicanism, so Westminster Abbey Wednesday morning, Evensong in the evening, and their own meeting with the ABC today. What a delightful conversation around the table about the unity we have in Christ. Our old friend the Rev. Jonathan Aitken, a St. Matthew’s assistant vicar and one of our hosts in London this week, delighted them with his political stories.
It was a glorious way to end a day that began with a visit to the Dickens House in Bloomsbury, where he lived for three years while writing “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby,” and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was there at 2 p.m. when a priest took to the PA system and invited us to pray for the world and those in need in our own lives. I’d already lit a candle for a colleague undergoing surgery, so they got a double portion of St. Paul’s grace. The great cathedral had felt a little like a museum up until then. Good for them for taking us back to church.