City traffic was brought to a standstill in Panama City today, 13 October, when 2,500 members of the local Anglican Church joined delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in a kilometre long procession through the streets to the Gimnasio Nuevo sports hall. The procession was accompanied by police and youth bands and the 27 parishes all carried banners to mark their participation. Once inside the hall, they joined together in a three hour service of witness in a variety of languages typical of the international nature of the Anglican Communion.
The procession was completed by the evocative liturgical dance of the Conjunto Tipico of the Instituto Episcopal San Cristobal, who later brought their own flavour to the Gospel procession, dancing with elaborate incence burners balanced on their heads.
Celebrant for the "Gran Misa" service was the Rt Rev Clarence W Hayes, the Bishop of Panama, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd George Carey, preached. The British Ambassador, His Excellency William Sinton, read the Old Testament lesson in English and Michelle Smith, representing the Diocese of Panama's Youth Department, read from the New Testament in Spanish. Adding to this international proclamation of the Word, the Rev Canon Mkunga Mtingele from Tanzania read the Gospel in Swahili.
During his sermon, Archbishop Carey referred to the cost of leadership where the Church has stood firm in the face of oppression: "We have many parts of our Communion where that is a reality and we thank God for such costly ministry." Following one of the issues under discussion at the Conference, he stressed that leadership may be exercised by clergy or laity, in the midst of privation, poverty, suffering and persecution. "There can be no effective leadership worthy of the name that is not steeped in the calling to serve." The Archbishop recalled historical examples in Christian history when the Church had become too bureaucratic, which had the effect of reducing leadership "to shoring up an institution rather than inspiring people for adventure".
The 2,500 present affirmed their faith, speaking in their mother tongues, before joining in the prayers of the people offered in several langauges by ACC members.. The singing was a high point of the service, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish. From 'O worship the King all glorious above' to the rousing 'Arriba los Corazones' (loosely translated 'Lift up your hearts' but in a very different way), all the hymns were sung with a joy and vigour both appropriate and uplifting. Throughout, Fr Julio Murray's interpreting of the sermon and many messages of greetings and thanks was invaluable.
So great was the congregation for the Holy Eucharist that 16 bishops and archbishops were called on to distribute the bread and 16 priests of the Church in Panama to adminster the chalice.