I’ve been in Canterbury for just over a week now — eight busy, and sometimes bewildering, days. It’s impossible (for me, at least) to share everything I’d like to say about the past four or five of those days in one blog entry, so I’ll break it down into two entries!

Weather is such a topic of discussion anywhere a person lives or goes that I’ll address that first. Simply put, the weather here has not {knock on wood} been what I was led to expect. I wake every morning to damp or wet streets, but other than one day that it rained off and on, the days have been a combination of overcast and downright sunny. I’m not sure what the temperatures have been, but the days are cool but quite comfortable if I’m wearing a jacket; most of the time, though, it’s enough to just have the it on — it doesn’t need to be zipped up or anything. As cold-natured as I am, that should tell you something!

Wednesday was a turning point for me — I finally felt like I had settled into “England time”. A morning of meetings and an afternoon of classes put me on what for me is a normal schedule. I visited a class I will be lecturing in/to next week to get a feel for the class; a very-engaging “lecturer” spoke for 2 hours on the issue of gender in the U.S. As a non-feminist and an American, it was interesting to hear her perspective on the issue.

Later that afternoon and after what will be a weekly pre-excursion meeting with the students and student ambassadors from CCCU’s International Studies Office, I sat in on the first session of the “Divided by a Common Language” lecture/seminar. This course is one all of my students and I (along with a group from Illinois and their mentor) will attend every week. From 3-4, Martin (students typically call the lecturers and professors by their 1st name) lectures on some aspect of the similarities/differences between Great Britian/England and “the states”. The students then break into their already-established 3 groups for seminar (discussion). One group will be facilitated by Martin; one by Todd, my counterpart from an Illinois college; and one by myself.

I’ll share more later about the British university setting; I don’t feel I’ve seen enough yet to give more than a very, very superficial account, and that would be unfair. For now, I will say that I have been very impressed with what I’ve learned and observed.

On Thursday, I was treated to tea and another tour of the CCCU campus by Doug, the academic go-to guy for the international studies program. Previous students from Missouri had commented on what a great guy Doug is and how helpful he is — they were absolutely correct. Doug is engaged to a young lady who lives in Illinois; they plan/hope to live in the Chicago area after they are married, but I’m trying to sell him on St. Louis! Why choose the home of the Cubs, when you could live in the hometown of the St. Louis Cardinals! 🙂

Please, no angry comments or emails. Just some good-natured teasing from the fan of one (11-time World Series champs) baseball team to fans of another.

Thursday evening found me doing something I’ve been looking forward to since I first began researching and preparing for my stay in Canterbury. After a muffin and tea at a teashop across the road, I arrived at the Cathedral for Evensong (the 5:30 daily service that is conducted in song). Because I arrived early, I was able to sit in the Quire (the area between the Corona and the Nave) while the boys choir practiced (visitors/worshipers sit in seats about 40′ away from the pews while the boys rehearse so as not to distract them). Typically, the boys’ choir accompanies 12 adult male choristers, but on Thursdays the boys sing without the adults.

You can read more about the Cathedral, its history, the choir, etc. at the Cathedral website — http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org

I was looking around the unbelievably impressive Cathedral when I heard a slight rustle from the far end of the Quire; I looked up and saw that a man (in full black robes) was entering, followed by 2 lines of boys (about 20 total, ranging in age from 8-13) dressed in purple robes with white, high, ruffled collars from a garment underneath. They looked incredibly young, fresh-faced, and so innocent and cute, and I smiled, thinking of children’s choirs I’ve heard at countless Christmas programs and Sunday services.

The organist (high, high above us and barely visible through an archway) began playing, and the boys’ voices filled the Cathedral. Their voices rose and spread and filled the immense Cathedral with the clearest, most pure sound I have ever heard. I lack the words to describe the experience, try as I might. Every line or so, the Master of Cathedral Choristers would stop the boys and provide soft-spoken instruction, the boys would try again — and maybe again. After about 30 minutes, the boys arose and followed the Master out the way they had come in — same direction, same rows.

As soon as they left, those of us waiting moved to the padded pews for the actual service. The pews face each other, and one section on both sides are reserved for the choristers; I was sitting in the first row, first seat across the aisle from where one group of the boys would be sitting. A woman sat next to me, and we quietly greeted each other. She saw that I did not have a program and offered to share with me. She introduced herself (Penepole, but she goes by Peps), shared with me that her son is one of the choristers (he would be sitting almost directly across from us), and told me a little about the choir, the boys’ schedule, etc. It was very interesting.

At 5:30 on the dot, organ music rang out, and at the far entrance (above the nave) the Master and choristers (now just in white robes with the high ruffled collar) processed in and sat down. Behind them came the processional of 5 or 6 clergy (I’m not sure of their official names); at the back of the line, carrying a large shepherd’s staff, was the man I immediately recognised as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. People stirred, Peps and at least one other person behind me actually gasped, and I glanced over. Peps immediately whispered, “It’s the Archbishop!” I found out later that because of his position (he is head of the entire Anglican Church, the Church of England), the Archbishop does not actually reside in his beautiful home on the Cathedral grounds; instead, he lives in London and travels extensively, returning to Canterbury primarily for major holidays such as Easter and Christmas and occasionally just on random visits.

My apologies for any incorrect terminology, etc. I’m recording this as best I remember it and from what I’ve learned from my own research.

Evensong was an incredibly, incredibly moving experience. The cantor (?) and choristers sang the liturgy with a few inclusions of congregational response (spoken) and Scripture readings.

When I had first entered the Cathedral, I asked 2 or 3 of the “pastors” (wearing black robes) for directions to Evensong (the Cathedral is huge and the lighting somewhat dim, and I certainly didn’t know my way around). Each gentleman was extremely helpful, and two of them invited me to the communion service afterward and told me that, as a Christian, I was welcome to partake in Holy Communion.

Peps led me from the Quire to show me the site of Beckett’s martyrdom, and then showed me the small chapel (one of many, I believe) about 3 feet from the site. Peps referred to it as the Chapel of Martyrs and explained that the service would be held there. She left for her Thursday-evening visit with her son (the choristers board together), and I sat down in the small, ancient chapel. Within a few moments, a lady joined me. I explained that I was a visitor and wasn’t sure of how Holy Communion was administered; she introduced herself and explained things to me before the pastors arrived. The service was quite short — no sermon, just the Communion liturgy — and only 5 people and I were in attendance. After the service, Judy introduced me to a husband & wife from America; the wife is a pastor, and the husband is a theology lecturer at CCCU.

I walked back to my flat through the dark and quiet streets of Canterbury, thinking over the events of the past 90 or so minutes. The taking of Holy Communion, the amazingly beautiful voices of the young choristers, and the warmth and helpfulness of the pastors and women I met . . . what an indescribable evening!