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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 17:45 GMT
Human presence amid church pomp

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online religious affairs correspondent

Being Archbishop of Canterbury is not a job to wish on your worst enemy.

The faithful want you to be a Delphic oracle, infallible and prophetic.

Many ordinary Britons will regard you affectionately as irrelevant, picturesque and basically harmless, though a few will harbour outright derision.

So your "enthronement" tests your seriousness of purpose and your ability to laugh at yourself to the limit.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams speaking during his enthronement
This self-proclaimed hairy lefty is a cartoonist's dream, Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings crossed with Fozzie Bear
You really could not make up some of the rigmarole. The processions included ceremonial bit-players described variously as the apparitor-general, the dean of the arches, and the seneschal.

You wondered whether there might even by a cameo appearance by the witchfinder-general.

There were visiting foreign dignitaries in stovepipe hats, tuppence-coloured bishops bejewelled in purple and gold and richly-embroidered black, and penny-plain clergy from the other ranks in their crisp white vestments.

The church of England had all its chiefs on parade, an ironically impressive spectacle given the shrinking numbers of worshippers on an ordinary Sunday in the darkening pews.

It looked set to be one of those very English occasions, the pomp and flummery that we do so well - wonderful to look at, and signifying something as evanescent as the smile of the Cheshire cat.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at his enthronement
You really could not make up some of the rigmarole

Then, after three resounding thumps with his staff on the cathedral door, Rowan Williams came on the scene, and transformed it.

Somehow, he has the enviable knack of playing a leading part in a pantomime and yet remaining human.

The resonant voice, the twinkling glances at the bevies of escorts who busily hustled him up the aisle, suggested a man who knows himself.

This self-proclaimed hairy lefty is a cartoonist's dream, Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings crossed with Fozzie Bear.

But he can speak in a language the rest of us recognise, of hopes and dreads we share.

There were some touching moments, as when the archdeacon of Canterbury took the new archbishop by the hand to install him in the quire throne.

Urdu tune

The bishop of London, once seen as a likely candidate for Canterbury himself, gave Dr Williams his blessing.

He can speak in a language the rest of us recognise, of hopes and dreads we share

The sublime music of an English cathedral was mixed with a soprano and harp-player from Wales, and South African drummers and dancers.

The congregation, by now well off the ceremonial leash, entered into the spirit of the afternoon.

It roared out a hymn set to an Urdu melody while Dr Williams and his wife did a brisk round of pressing the flesh and embracing (in his case) some of the chief guests.

Then came the sermon. It was a homily directed at the congregation in the cathedral, and at the wider Anglican church.

Scapegoat warning

It was, in that sense, a sermon for domestic consumption rather than for the wider world.

But one passage might have struck a chord with the prime minister in his pew, and with many beyond Canterbury who disclaim any religious faith.

The archbishop said: "No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties.

"We cannot assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose."

It sounded a hopeful start for life beyond the pantomime, in the rough, tough real world to which Rowan Williams headed out to the strains of Cwm Rhondda, the Cup Final crowd's anthem.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Watch the archbishop's enthronement service in full





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