GSE4 Opening Service (1)

Fifteen minutes to four. I was in front of the St. Andrew Cathedral. I was supposed to meet Ko Tjeli there before we went for the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter opening service. He was not there yet, so I called him. He said he was on the way. I waited for awhile and there he came. Apparently the security was pretty tight. We needed to confirm with a liaison officer first before we could enter the cathedral complex.

We arrived at the old sanctuary just before the procession started. We picked our seat and the procession began. And it must be the longest procession that I had ever seen. As usual, the person who bore the cross was followed by the choir. But then, not as per usual, they were followed by tens of bishops and concluded by the presiding clergy, in this case Archbishop John Chew, the Primate of the Province of South East Asia. In our Presbyterian church, the procession consisted only of one elder/deacon and the preacher.

Then the service began. I’ve always liked traditional worship, and by traditional I mean the Western rite. I like ancient stuffs. I am ancient too I guess. It connected us not only with the present, but also with the past, with those who have walked before us. The Anglican liturgy is more complex than what we have in our Presbyterian church, but it could still be learned immediately, unlike the Roman Catholic rite which required much more familiarity before you could participate well (note that I’m not saying that complexity is bad, but that it requires more effort to be familiarized with it, and effort is not a bad thing). The Pentecostals and the Charismatics ‘feel’ God in a contemporary worship; well, I ‘feel’ God in a traditional worship. No kidding.

I really liked one particular song. It’s called Lord of the Church, We Pray for Our Renewing. It was sung to the tune of an Irish song Londonderry Air, famously used for Danny Boy. I mentioned to Tjeli that perhaps we should compose a hymn to be sung to the tune of Lady Gaga or Wonder Girls. Just saying.

Anglicans still observed lectionary readings, where various parts of Scriptures (Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel, New Testament) were read throughout the year. Presbyterian Church of Singapore doesn’t observe it, GKI does. There were three readings yesterday. One from the Psalms, another from the Acts, and finally one from the Gospels. The Archbishop of Burundi read the passage from the Psalms, followed by the Archbishop of Myanmar who read from Acts. And both of them read in their own mother tongues. And I don’t know who read from the Gospels (they had yet another procession before the reading from the Gospels, reading the Gospel is special).

And, finally, the sermon, which has been waited long enough by this Protestant soul. The Word was delivered by Archbishop Peter Akinola, easily the most prominent person in the room. He was the Primate of the Church of Nigeria and chairman of the South to South Encounter. He delivered a sermon based on the thematic text for the Encounter: Isaiah 42.6.

“I the LORD have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people; and a light to the Gentiles.” (Isa 42.6)

Akinola focused on the two words in the text: covenant and light. First he argued how the church is only derivatively a covenant and a light, since both has been fulfilled in and through Jesus of Nazareth. We are able to be light of the world because Jesus is the light of the world. We are able to be a covenant for the people because the blood of Jesus has been shed as the new covenant.

Some of you might ask, why covenant and light? It all started when an openly gay bishop was ordained in 2003. My Presbyterian friends might ask, what’s the problem, then? It got nothing to do with us, right, since it happened in the US. The answer is no. It does have anything to do with us [the Anglicans]. There lies the difference between the Anglican and Presbyterian church. Presbyterian Church of Singapore is independent from the Church of Scotland or Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or Gereja Kristen Indonesia. On the other hand, the Anglican Province of South East Asia is in communion with, say, the Province of Nigeria. They are all connected. And hence the uproar, since, say, the African and Asian Anglicans couldn’t just ignore the problem. They are also being implicated by the controversy.

So it started a long process of mediation, from the Windsor Process which lead to the Anglican Communion Covenant. The final text was approved in November 2009 and it has been sent to the provinces for consideration for adoption. It strove to guide the relationships between each provinces, which obviously had been strained because of the controversy. And one of the goals of this meeting is to discuss the Covenant.

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