Lively worship at historic Spanish Town cathedral closes ACC meeting

Reggae and incense bookend council's time in Jamaica
May 12, 2009

The 14th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) ended May 12 the way it began: in lively, upbeat Jamaican-style Anglican worship. By the time the procession made its way down the aisle of St. Jago de la Vega Cathedral in the Spanish Town section of Kingston, the representatives had finished their official work and were ready to celebrate and put their sometimes-contentious debates into a large context.

"Have we manufactured a large stone called 'an Anglican covenant' that will seal off creative, faithful life in the communion?" asked Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, referring to the stone closing off Jesus' tomb and the council's work on the proposed Anglican covenant, in his sermon at the ACC's closing Eucharist. "I trust not."

More than 500 people packed St. Jago de la Vega Cathedral -- believed to the be the oldest Anglican Cathedral outside the British Isles -- for the Eucharist celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The ACC met in Kingston from May 2-12.

Paterson urged delegates to take the truth of the meeting home with them -- to their everyday lives and their place of mission and ministry -- and write the fuller ending there. And he credited Jamaican hospitality, "and the broad smile of a Caribbean welcome," with helping to restore the communion's "bonds of affection."

The bonds of affection worked both ways. Hosting the ACC gave the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands the opportunity to introduce the people in the pews to other Anglicans in the communion.

"Many people don't know of the Anglican Communion in the wider world. For the people in this province, everyone looks 100 percent like us," said June Saunders, a member of St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Liguanea who volunteered to help the ACC during its meeting. "Here we see [and worship] with people from other provinces. Despite our differences we are united in the Anglican way. To worship as an Anglican is to worship as an Anglican, no matter where you are in the world."

The Anglican Communion is made up of around 77 million members in 44 regional and national member churches around the globe in 164 countries.

Saunders was touched during the opening Eucharist May 3 when delegates from all over the world recited the Lord's Prayer in their own language in unison.

At the closing service, as during the opening Eucharist, Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley's music brought worshipers together. By the time the organist played a third of the way into his "Three Little Birds," whose chorus says "don't worry bout a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right," the lyrics could be heard as a murmur throughout the cathedral.

Janet Jackson, 52, of Kingston, and a member of the Cathedral, said part of what brought her to the service was the chance to experience Williams as celebrant. "Wow. He is awesome," she said. "I think he is both ordinary and inspiring."

St. Jago de la Vega Cathedral is believed to be the oldest Cathedral in the British Caribbean and stands on the site of the Chapel of the Red Cross built by the Spanish in 1525. When the English captured Jamaica from the Spanish, they destroyed the original Spanish chapels. The building materials and the original foundation were used in the church's construction.

A hurricane destroyed the church in 1712; it was rebuilt in 1714. Its tower was added in 1817. It was named the cathedral of the Jamaican diocese in 1843. The cathedral is shaped like a cross and includes monuments by British sculptor John Bacon. Its floor contains marble headstone memorials to prominent British colonists that date as far back as the 1700s, according to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.