A colourful international procession through Nottingham's city centre was joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Rowan Williams, marking the start of the 10 day meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.
Bishops and clergy joined church representatives from more than 50 countries as they filed through the city streets in blazing sunshine, en route from the Council House to St Peter's Church, where the opening Eucharist service was held.
Members were greeted by music from Chariots of Joy gospel choir who are part of the city's Pilgrim Church. The service also included music from St Peter's Choir who sang a new setting of the World Peace Prayer composed specially for this occasion by the Director of Music, Philip Collin.
The preacher was the General Director of the Evangelical Alliance UK, Dr Joel Edwards.
Taking as his text the fourteenth Chapter of John, Dr Edwards stressed the context as one framed by the promises of God to those who follow him.
While the portrait of the relationship between the disciples, Jesus Christ and God the Father and Holy Spirit was intense and might have seemed to set the disciples apart from the world this was not the full truth. This true "society of friends" was called to offer an alternative vision to the world but not one that merely ran in parallel without ever making contact with the world. Christian faith is not parallel to society it must engage with society, for what would be the point of its message if there was no one else to hear it?
The vision presented in John was one which the world found hard to comprehend since it brought together love and obedience. Those who truly loved God obeyed him and did so freely through an obedience made possible by their love of God. This perspective is one that goes beyond what the world can understand. It is as challenging to understand as the puzzle in Edwin Abbot's book facing those in Flatland who lived in a world of only two dimensions who ultimately had to try and come to terms with the sphere that presented a third dimension too. The truth revealed to us in Christ goes beyond a mere coherence which is intellectually complete within its own terms of reference. Rather, this truth also corresponds and refers to a world beyond what is merely intellectually coherent in itself.
Turning to the immediate context, Canon Edwards said that this meeting of the ACC will be concerned with truth and it is the Holy Spirit which guides to all truth. While non-conformist by background Canon Edwards said that his experience of services in St Paul's Cathedral London had made him come to see in the very Anglican institution of the Verger who leads processions, an image of the Holy Spirit leading us into the right place. How will the Holy Spirit help, guide, console and challenge us? How will the Holy Spirit propel us beyond the confines of debate into a world interested in truth and the current issues and challenges of every day life? The Holy Spirit is an advocate of the Kingdom for all who seek so that all will come to know Him who is truth itself. Yet it is that truth which must always mean the church will be a challenge to society as we seek to bring people to the truth in Christ.
Canon Edwards closed his sermon with a final literary reference to the figure of Lucy in the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis who found the way into the land of Narnia through the famous wardrobe. She had been driven to find that opening by a spirit of exploration and by imagination and her final insight was to leave the door open saying that it would be silly to shut oneself in!
In June 2001, The Revd Joel Edwards was appointed as one of the first Honorary Canons of St Paul's Cathedral in London. The Evangelical Alliance which he heads was founded in 1846, and brings together a majority of Britain's 1.39 million Evangelicals. Included in Alliance membership are over 7,000 organisations and churches whose views it aims to represent.
The Lessons read at the Service were Acts 2, 1-21 and John 14, 23-26
Part of the service included a special welcoming and commissioning for the new Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Revd Canon Kennneth Kearon, which was led by the Bishop of Auckland, the Right Revd John Paterson.