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Lambeth Conference takes day trip to London

Posted on: July 29, 1998 2:24 PM
Related Categories: Global, Lambeth Conference 1998

by Katie Sherrod
Lambeth Conference Communications

The bishops and spouses of Lambeth Conference took a day off from business, Tuesday, to have lunch at Lambeth Palace, tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and a boat ride down the Thames River past the Tower of London and the Millennium Dome.

After much good-humored to-ing and fro-ing in the college car parks as people found spouses, admired each other's hats and made sure they had all the invitations they would need for the day, 40 coaches caravaned into London where they pulled up to the gates of Lambeth Palace-and another invitation-checkpoint.

As the colourful crowd, dressed in purple cassocks, bright dresses and hats, and various styles of national dress, entered the grounds of Lambeth, nearly everyone took advantage of the first photo opportunity of the day. With broad smiles, bishop after bishop had his or her photo taken in front of the landmark palace towers and/or the original Canterbury Cross. From there they were gently shepherded by Lambeth stewards through gates and into the splendid gardens.

A river of colour

The group spread out like a rainbow river, with currents of purple flowing through and around colorful eddies of women's frocks. Many strolled through the lovely kitchen garden, which was started by Lady Rosalind Runcie, wife of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, with donations of plants from the Diocese of Milwaukee. Other guests walked past rows of fragrant roses and espaliered trees. At the center of the rose garden an engraving circling a bronze sundial warned, "Make time, save time, while time last; all time no time when time is past."

The luncheon tent, at 78 by 278 feet the equivalent of almost an acre, was draped in white. Round tables for 10 covered in linen cloths stretched into the distance as ceiling fans circled gently overhead. Musicians from All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, were led by music director Noel Tredinnick in songs as people found places at the tables.

Musicians made way as the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey entered with Prime Minister Tony Blair, who addressed the group. "I think this quite the most terrifying audience I have ever set eyes on in my life," said Mr. Blair. "Are there really 750 bishops here?"

After the meal, Dr. Carey was presented with an icon of St. George and the Dragon by the Diocese of New York signed with the seal of Canterbury and the diocese.

A visit to Buckingham Palace

Once more the coaches headed off, now to Buckingham Palace-and another invitation checkpoint. Aboard one coach, a Kenyan bishop referred to the colonial period as he remarked about the Victorian-era government buildings, "We have our share in these buildings."

The coaches rolled in through the front gates past excited throngs of tourists, many of whom waved cheerful greetings. Bags were checked by briskly polite palace attendants, after which the Lambeth contingent moved on through the reception rooms, trying not to gape at the splendor of the high, gilded ceilings and grand furnishings. But all attempts at appearing blasé disappeared as people stepped out onto the terrace overlooking the grounds.

Spreading out before them were the 30 acres of lawns and gardens of Buckingham. In the distance the placid water of a small lake gleamed with the reflections of an arched stone bridge, a huge willow and banks of flowering trees. Tea tables and chairs were scattered across the lawn. A long tent stretching along one side of the grounds housed long rows of serving tables offering tea, iced coffee, and lemon squash and a huge selection of teacakes and sweets. Two military bands played in different pavilions, while off to the right of the lake, a smaller tented pavilion housed the Queen's enclosure.

After the Lambeth guests began to spread out over the lawn, a troop of Beefeaters entered. A palace attendant said, "The yeomen are standing to." Two lines of men dressed in the familiar ornate bright red and black uniforms with beribboned hats; shoes and garters marched out on the terrace, down the stairs and arranged themselves in a double line, creating an aisle. They carried long spears and wore swords.

The arrival of the Queen

Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York walked out of a small door and onto the terrace. Applause greeted Her Majesty as she walked to the center of the terrace steps, where she paused, flanked by Prince Phillip and Prince Andrew three paces to the rear. A drum roll brought everyone to silence. The military band at the end of the terrace played "God Save the Queen."

As the music ended, the Queen walked down the steps and into the crowd, greeting her guests, escorted by several primates, bishops and staff members.

The Queen holds only eight tea parties a year, according to one of the supervisors of the division of the metropolitan police responsible for her safety. Usually the tea parties are for groups of 6,000 to 9,000, and rope lines are set up to hold back the crowd as the Queen moves through. The parties are given to honor special groups, such as military veterans or National Health Service workers. The Lambeth party was very unusual in that it included fewer than 3,000 people. Several palace attendants also remarked on the fact that the Queen and Prince Phillip and Prince Andrew simply moved through the crowd accompanied by equerries and conference members. The equerries' impeccable figures elicited almost as much awe as did the royals, as they were the picture of the Perfect English Gentleman in their exquisitely tailored suits, gleaming shoes, and elegant umbrellas.

One could mark the progress of the Queen across the lawn by watching the largest bubble of bishops, bishop spouses and staff as it swelled and diminished before and behind her. People stretched to catch a glimpse of her mint green hat or matching suit. She shook hands and engaged several people in conversation, as did Prince Phillip and Prince Andrew, each of whom had struck out in their own direction and attracted their own smaller but also excited bubbles of bishops and spouses. As Prince Phillip walked up to yet another line of bishops he quipped, "I've hit another purple wall."

The Queen took tea in her pavilion with selected guests from the Lambeth Conference, the Compass Rose Society members and the Church of England. Beefeaters guarded the entrances to the pavilion. Those in the Queen's tent were offered gold-rimmed china while the other guests were served on a simpler but also elegant china.

The youngest guest at the party was Madeline Kowa, 4-month-old daughter of Bishop Peter Elbersh Kowa of the Diocese of Kadugli and Nuba Mountains, Episcopal Church of Sudan, and his wife Susanna Marisi El-Grusu. Bishop Kowa said the Queen greeted Madeline.

Viewing the gardens

Once again, people spread out through the gardens. Several were drawn to a colorful perennial border while others strolled through the extensive rose gardens. The gardeners among the guests were easily spotted as the ones on their knees trying to read the small signs identifying plant varieties. Another mark of the gardeners was the looks of mingled awe and pain as they compared the royal gardens to their efforts back home.

As a light rain began to fall, people took shelter under the tea tents, under umbrellas and under the giant spreading trees. The silvery light made a pastel vista of colorful umbrellas, purple cassocks, and decorated hats that looked like a Restoration painting.

And the hats. There were hats everywhere. Hats with veils, hats with flowers, hats with scarves, hats with bows, hats with tassels, hats with feathers, straw hats, silk hats, Carmen Miranda hats, hats that looked as if they were having a party all by themselves. Not all the hats were on feminine heads. Bishop Arthur James of Gippsland, Australia, and Bishop Michael Hough of Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea both sported jaunty caps as they waited to board a coach.

After Buckingham, the guests again got on the coaches for a short ride to the docks, where they boarded boats for a 10-mile ride down the Thames. A small band of protesters from Outrage, a homosexual rights group, staged a noisy demonstration at the dockside as they boarded.

After a cruise past London landmarks, the tired but happy Lambeth crowd was once again loaded onto coaches, handed a boxed supper and headed back to Canterbury. As the coaches pulled away from the docks, Archbishop Carey and his wife, Eileen, holding hands and seated tiredly on a car park railing, gallantly smiled and waved at every coach. The day in London was over.