I'm not sure what I expected from this course, but whatever it was, it's not what I am taking away. I'm used to being on courses: we're very fond of them in the Anglican church, and for some years my job was to devise them, construct them and run them. This one followed the usual (sorry) course of events. We had a timetabled structure to the day, we ate we sat round in chairs, we took notes as various people winged in for the event, gave us their opinions and winged away again. For me the highlights of the content were Jane Williams, wife of the archbishop and, surprisingly, John Rees, an English Canon lawyer. The content was good, but as far as courses go, this was just another one. What made being here worth the cost of a round the world air ticket were those things that money can't buy.
One of these was the company I kept. I was with thirty other people who have recently been through an electoral synod. In other words, thirty other people with long and varied careers in the church and who, for better or worse, have been seen by their dioceses as worthy pinning places for hope and aspiration. About half of my fellow bishops were African, and the rest came from Canada, the USA, Australia, Ireland, The Pacific and India. Amongst them were some remarkable people. I have been in the Anglican church for decades now, and for me "the Anglican Communion" has never been quite real; it is a bunch of committees that other people go to; it is a plethora of wordy and unreadable statements on various things; it is an amorphous organisation like the British Commonwealth which I know is a jolly good thing, but I've never really figured out why. But here, with this diverse group of very human men and women struggling to advance the Kingdom against often overwhelming odds, it suddenly all made sense.
Another was the place. For a week I was part of the community life of a great Cathedral. With a million visitors a year, a paid staff of over 300 and a volunteer staff of twice that, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the world's most important holy places. Just through the wall from the place I sat for evensong was the spot where Thomas A' Becket was murdered. The shrine is no longer there, removed like so many other precious things by the reformers, but the tiles worn smooth by the knees of praying pilgrims remain. The stones tower skyward and are steeped in the prayers of millions of people, so that although there is evidence of conflict and death all around, this is a beneficent place. Several times a day I sat in the warm embrace of centuries of my ancestors to pray and think and be.
So my days filled out and the week passed and seemed months long. I thought, listened, prayed, walked in the picturesque little city, drank good English beer, joked and discussed and listened thought and prayed some more. I will go home a better bishop for being here, which was the whole point I suppose and is all too valuable. But even more valuable is the sense I carry of having been gifted with enormous process in my walk as a Christian and a man.