All That is Good
The Reverend Andy Rider is Stepney Dean of Mission and Area Dean of Tower Hamlets. He is also Chaplain at Langley House Trust, a charity that helps ex offenders. Previously, Andy was Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields for 17 years. It is one of East London’s most prominent places of worship. During his time at Christ Church, in between priestly duties, he oversaw the revivification of the historic ecclesiastical property portfolio of the parish. In particular, the Grade I listed crypt was given a new lease of life as a café, community and church space. For the first time in its history, every cubic metre of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural masterpiece was put to active use. Not to mention airspace: the church band has been known to play on the roof of the nave. Reverend Rider is also a published writer of books on Christian living. So who better to talk to about Canterbury?
“What makes Canterbury special to the Anglican Church? Well, it has been the home of the Archbishop for years,” he confirms. “His leadership of not just the Church of England but also the Anglican Communion ensures that Canterbury is in the heart and prayers of pretty much every Anglican believer. Although we are seeing a rise in pilgrimage, Canterbury is probably for most a virtual pilgrimage from time to time. It was key to the spread of the Gospel north through Great Britain, meeting the Celtic Christians who were bringing the Gospel south from such places as Iona and Lindisfarne.”
The earliest remnants in Canterbury of this ancient advancement of Christianity are found at St Augustine’s Abbey, just beyond the city walls. “Augustine… built a monastery not far from the city to the eastward, in which, by his advice, Ethelbert erected from the foundation the church of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and enriched it with divers [sic] gifts; wherein the bodies of the same Augustine, and of all of the Bishops of Canterbury, and of the Kings of Kent, might be buried.” So records The Venerable Bede circa 730.
Augustine was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. His mission to convert the Kentish King Ethelbert to Christianity was immediately successful (the Frankish Queen Bertha was already a Christian). The royal couple provided land for the abbey which would become a centre of spiritual and cultural activity for almost a millennium. That is, until the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. St Augustine’s was dissolved in 1538 and transformed into a palace. Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, stayed one night on her way from Deal to London. In a gorgeous story arc, the site would later become a missionary college for 99 years, opening in 1848. Acclaimed Gothic Revival architect William Butterworth built the split flint faced and red roofed St Augustine’s College amidst the ruins. A freestone library was erected over the abbot’s hall foundations. The King’s School now occupies the intact buildings.
If Kent is the Garden of England, Canterbury is the Temple. The walled city and its environs really don’t disappoint. Charles Dickens was a fan. The former Old King’s School Shop, dated 1647, a teetering tiered tower of architectural Jenga jettying over Palace Street commemorates the writer with an 1849 quote across its façade, “… a very old house bulging out over the road… leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below…” The Chaucer Bookshop on Beer Cart Lane is called after the most famous Canterbury literary connection. Street names – The Dane John Mound, Orange Street, Lady Wootton’s Green – suggest intriguing times of old.
The tight urban fabric of the city knits so tightly round the cathedral that it can only be entered through the Precincts which in turn can only be entered via four gates: Christ Church, Mint Yard, Postern and Quenin. Stretching the material metaphor, the cathedral itself is a multilayered multicoloured multitextured fabric of utter fabulousness. Benedictine cloisters; Romanesque crypts; Perpendicular nave; Gothic quire; Middle Age pulpitum crossing; Arts and Crafts stained glass; even a 12th century martyrdom: Canterbury Cathedral has it all. Statues of The Queen and Prince Philip are incorporated into the west front. But the best statue award must go to the tomb of Edward Plantagenet the Black Prince who died in 1376. The Prince’s canine companion is immortalised in marble, resting at his master’s feet.
The grandest house in the Cathedral Precincts is, predictably, the Archbishop’s Palace. Archbishop Lanfranc built a large palace to the northwest of the cathedral in circa 1086 which was remodelled throughout medieval times. Archbishops of Canterbury ignored this residence until Archbishop Frederick Temple’s succession in 1896. He sold the Archbishop’s Palace in Addington, Surrey, and ordered the rebuilding of a palace on the historic Canterbury site. William Douglas Caröe, a prolific designer of churches, was commissioned. The architect’s T shaped knapped flint and random stone dressed with Bath stone building is summed up in John Newman’s Pevsner Guide to Northeast and East Kent, 2013, “scrupulously retained medieval features woven into a rambling, fancifully detailed Free Tudor mansion completed in 1901.”
And so to the Mother Church of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and Seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the 15th Sunday after Trinity. The organ thunders with visceral fervour while five clergy take their seats around the Anglican Communion table. The Dean, The Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis, welcomes the congregation to the service which is The Oratory Mass set by Matthew Martin. The north side of the girls’ choir sings The Motet, a 14th century Eucharistic hymn set to music by Edward Elgar. Their angelic voices reverberate across the nave and down the centuries. Prayers are offered up for the Apostolic Church of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin, Bishop Tim of Lambeth and Bishop Rose of Dover.
It’s the last warm day of summer and soft sun streams across the hard stone floor. Pure fragrant blended incense fills the atmosphere. Vice Dean, The Reverend Andrew Dodd, preaches on the parable of the vineyard labourers’ wages and Jonah’s grumbling at God changing His mind. Unfairness is the theme. He reflects on the American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who recently died. “She was an unlikely hero. ‘RBG’ as she was known as confronted discrimination and injustice in an extremely sensitive climate.” The Vice Dean concludes, “In God’s economy everyone is of immeasurable divine value.” The service ends with the Dismissal and the congregation pour out into a blaze of sunshine.
Andy’s spiritual journey began a long way from Canterbury or even East London. “I was sent to church as a child by non church going parents. The local church had a serious Sunday school, which I left at about age 12 when I fell out with the leader. Seven years later and having had a few scrapes with the law, gaining a criminal record, I met a couple of Christians who spoke to me about forgiveness and God’s will for our lives. This, along with my work with mentally disabled folks got me asking all sorts of questions about life and humanity. Then, playing music in a band with a Christian I began to see who God might be and who He might want me to be. So one night on an overnight bus to Blackpool on the way to some massage training – I wanted to be an osteopath – I gave my life to Jesus in Digbeth Bus Station.”
“I was ordained in 1990,” Andy relates. His first Curacy brought him south to Chatham in Kent. “I next led the All Souls Clubhouse church and community centre in London’s West End for a decade. The Bishop of London then asked me to consider the Spitalfields post. He said it needed a ‘big man’ to do the job… I sensed God’s call in his invitation and without seeing inside the church building or rectory, I accepted the post in 2003.” Under Andy’s leadership, the congregation greatly grew exponentially in numbers and strength. Ministry in the community is especially important at Christ Church: looking upwards and looking outwards.
“My new role,” Andy explains, “as Dean of Mission is principally helping churches to explore and step further into church health, growth and mission. Working with the Bishop of Stepney across three London Boroughs and some 60 churches, we need to halt the decline in Church of England attendance and – to quote a song lyric – ‘Turn this ship around’! This needs strategy, structural changes, leadership development and a new hunger across the church.” The Reverend Rider gives personal advice in his 2018 book Life is For Giving: “Your current reality will shape you for whatever is next – because God meets us where we are and wastes nothing. Your task is to read and explore your present reality, and so to see it as God sees it.”
Turn of last century author Frank William Boreham wrote over 40 books on Christianity with charming titles such as A Bunch of Everlastings, A Handful of Stars, Mountains in the Mist, Shadows on the Wall, Wisps of Wildfire. In 1948 he published My Pilgrimage An Autobiography. The author includes his testimony: “Only once in the history of this little world did a man, crucified at 33, find that He had brought His tremendous life work to absolute perfection. ‘It is finished!’ He cried. No broken column marks His sepulchre. And yet even He spoke frequently of the sublime tasks that awaited Him in the world to which He journeyed. Other people may do as they will; but, for myself, I am going to rest all my insufficiency and inefficiency on His finished and perfect Saviourhood leaving Him to complete my incompleteness in the world in which He reigns supreme.”
In his autobiography he recalls his mother telling him about her first visit as a teenager to Canterbury Cathedral. Frank’s mother arranged to go with her cousin but she didn’t turn up. An elderly gentleman approached her: “Excuse me but whilst I was chatting with the friend who has just left me, I could not help noticing that you were eagerly watching for somebody who, evidently, has not arrived. Were you thinking of inspecting the Cathedral? I wonder if you would very kindly allow me to show you round. I am deeply attached to the place and happen to know something of its story.”
Frank’s mother acquiesced and was soon taken by the stranger’s silver tongued eloquence. The teenager was treated to an exhaustive tour of the cathedral and its history, travelling back in time from Huguenot refugees to Geoffrey Chaucer to St Thomas Becket and ending with St Augustine. Or should that be beginning? As the tour drew to a close, the stranger said, “It would be very interesting to me if we might exchange cards.” Frank’s mother didn’t have one but she accepted the stranger’s card without a second glance or first for that matter. Only on the train home to Tunbridge Wells did she look at it. The card read “Charles Dickens”.