A little over forty years ago, in April 1976, Catholic Archbishop Frank Little and Anglican Archbishop Frank Woods joined in a service together in St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Second Vatican Council had brought a thawing to the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was in full swing, having been established by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in 1967.
In April 1985, the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie visited Melbourne. During this visit, Archbishop Little and Anglican Archbishop David Penman lighted a candle together to be a symbol unity. For one year this candle remained in a “Unity Chapel” in St Patrick’s Cathedral, before being transferred to St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, where it still has a home.
Now, over 30 years later, Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier and Catholic Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli, have lighted a new candle together during a Service of Prayer for Reconciliation and Understanding between Anglicans and Catholics on Sunday night, using a flame carried from the original “Unity Candle” in St Paul’s.
The service on Sunday was the idea Anglican Vicar of St John’s Camberwell, Fr John Baldock, and Parish Priest of Our Lady of Victories Camberwell, Fr Brendan Reed. Together, they planned to hold a service of Evening Prayer to mark the Annual Day of Prayer for Reconciliation between Anglicans and Catholics. (In 2002, the leadership of the Anglican and Catholic Churches in Australia had agreed to set aside November 4 as a day of prayer for reconciliation and greater understanding between our two communions).
Interest in the proposed service spread beyond the local parishes however: Archbishop Freier and Archbishop Comensoli both expressed the desire to attend the service together and, by a miracle, both had no prior engagements on the night. Publicity was distributed around both dioceses, and St John’s was filled to capacity with Anglicans and Catholics from all over Melbourne.
The service was characterised by some special features. The form of the service was Evening Prayer, based on Evening Prayer for All Saints Day, which is shared in common by both Catholics and Anglicans: psalms, hymns, readings and intercessions. Fr John and Fr Brendan shared the presiding role, with members of the two parishes reading the lessons and offering the intercessions, and ending with each archbishop giving a homily.
And in particular, a major aspect of the service was the music, supplied by the local choir in cooperation with the Schola Cantorum, a choir consisting chiefly of students from Newman College (Catholic) and Trinity College (Anglican), directed by Gary Ekkel. So much of our choral and hymn tradition is shared. The choir sang the psalms to settings that go back to the shared heritage of English Catholicism, and included the anthem “Lead kindly light”, by Saint John Henry Newman.
In his homily, Archbishop Philip spoke of the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission and the most recent resource they have produced called “Walking Together in the Way”. He recommended this resource to all local Anglican and Catholic parishes and suggested that groups be formed to work with the document, which closely addresses the lived reality of our relationship as Christians together in our society today.
Archbishop Peter then spoke on a theme more closely related to the Feast of All Saints. He spoke of each of us, by virtue of the unity we have with each other and with Christ in baptism, being called to be saints. He spoke also of Jesus, the “Great Saint”, who is not only our role model and inspiration in our vocation, but also the one who enables us to become saints by the sacrifice of his own blood.
Evening Prayer is a non-sacramental service, which makes it very appropriate as a form of ecumenical prayer. But after the service, an important time of communion did take place: tea and coffee and cake! The Anglican ladies served tea from huge tea pots, the sort that we all remember from our childhood at church functions and country fetes. The supper lasted for well over an hour, as Catholics and Anglicans met each other, discovered who they were and what brought them together, and the joy of the experience of praying in together unity for unity together!
It has been a long time between such services. The Annual Day of Prayer on November 4 has been more observed in omission than in action. We give thanks to God for the initiative shown by the two local Camberwell parishes. Maybe this might be a model that other parishes in the Archdiocese might adopt for the future. As Archbishop Peter said last night, “This should happen every year.”
David Schütz is the Executive Officer, Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, for the Archdiocese of Melbourne.