Looks like stranded CHOGM delegates no longer have to sing “We still call Australia home” and can now board their Qantas flights to their destinations. The streets of Perth are returning to normal and I could even drive along Riverside Drive following the cathedral service marking the end of CHOGM.
Yesterday’s “Celebration of the Nations” service was a parallel event marking the culmination of an eclectic planning exercise involving a range of Christian traditions across the 54 Commonwealth nations. The diversity found full expression through music, dance and language during a colourful, vibrating evensong. My lasting impression will be the high church procession to the sound of a symphony of drumbeats from Sierra Leone, Ghana, United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea and Cameroon. Liturgical order and spontaneous rhythm demonstrated a compatibility that few would imagine. This harmony of diversity continued throughout the prayers with excerpts from Handel’s Messiah sung by a Maltese tenor, duet by harp and sitar, and traditional Thillana dance from South India adding to an even greater range of multilingual input. It was a delight for us to meet with a family from the Seychelles, the country my church had adopted as a focal interest for the 12 months leading to CHOGM. One of the smallest nations represented (about 150,000 pop.), it was great to observe their participation along with the other 53.
CHOGM is not without controversy. It’s relevance has been questioned as, like the United Nations, it is difficult to reach agreement on significant issues such as environmental and economical management and human rights. Even within the Christian tradition there are varying views and approaches, ranging from prayers inside the church walls for stability and order and protests beyond the walls urging redress for a range off justice matters. Everything has its season, and CHOGM was an occasion for both prayer and protest.
For a culminating event however, I found the cathedral celebration expressing the possibility of harmony through diversity a powerful counterpoint to notions of despair and fragmentation that are frequently abroad.