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  • Ross Moughtin

When you bump into an Archbishop

Updated: Dec 4, 2021


Clearly a terrifying experience for a member of the congregation at our daughter’s licensing at Lambeth Palace this Monday. He tweets: I bumped into the Archbishop of Canterbury last night in Lambeth Palace on my way to the loo and had no idea what to say so asked where the toilet was. I knew where it was. The literally the only thing my brain could muster while meeting the actual Archbishop. I guess the last person you would expect to bump into at Lambeth Palace would be the Archbishop (even though he lives there!) But clearly this particular vicar was caught woefully unprepared for this sudden encounter. It can’t have been easy. Hilariously Archbishop Justin responded to this tweet with typical humour:

It was nice to be asked something I knew the answer to for once! (Lovely to meet you briefly) As is often the case with Twitter, other people shared similar experiences of meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury:

My father met a previous Archbishop of Canterbury in the men’s toilets of the Royal Festival Hall. He didn’t know what to say either. And this: I met Rowan Williams in the Globe Theatre toilets! I’m not sure what I can add to that and this being a live blog, I’m not sure where this is taking me. But hey, let’s press on. I did once have a short conversation with my son-in-law’s Bishop standing in the Gents at New Wine. I seized the opportunity to ask him about curates. He didn’t have anyone to suggest and so a very short conversation. Nevertheless, in its own way, useful And now I come to think about it (not that I think about such things very often) I was once visiting the Gents at Liverpool Cathedral, the ones by the entrance to the Western Rooms – very confined space and very quiet, obviously no musak to cover the silence. Only to find the Bishop of Liverpool standing alongside me. This is one of those situations, like the one facing our correspondent above, where you feel you have to say something, however obvious or trite. Being English this invariably involves the weather: “I think it’s going to rain today” or alternatively, “I don’t think it’s going to rain today.” Anything, rather than just stand there! Which leads me to reflect on situations in the Bible when someone blurts out something inane, simply to cover an awkward silence. The obvious one is when the disciple Peter finds himself along with James and John as witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration on a high mountain. To say the least, an event beyond our understanding and certainly beyond human experience. “(Jesus’) appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus. (Mark 9:3f) Clearly Peter is utterly bewildered and feels he has to say something, however daft: “Rabbi, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Mark explains Peter’s response: “He blurted this out without thinking, stunned as they all were by what they were seeing.” (Mark 9:4f) Of course, Peter has form – he often opens his mouth without any idea of what he is going to say. It just comes out. So Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to be arrested. Again Mark tells us “Peter blurted out, ‘Even if everyone else is ashamed of you when things fall to pieces, I won’t be.’” (Mark 14:29) Understandably Peter over-promises yet again. In some ways we can’t control our speech when we blurt out, by definition. And we do find ourselves in stressful situations when we feel we have to say something. More often than not we will say something bland but harmless. However, there is always the danger of saying something we would later regret, particularly if we are one of those people wo say “I always say what’s on my mind.” I recall one vicar colleague confiding in me before an important church council meeting: “I wish I could just keep my mouth shut!” Interestingly one of the other disciples on the mountain with Peter was James (who managed to keep his mouth shut). He probably wasn’t the same James who wrote the epistle but nevertheless this advice is apposite: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” (James 1:19 Message translation) Certainly we need to be more comfortable with silence, just saying nothing. That can be quite challenging for some of us and I guess, something we have to practice, not always being the first one to speak. But certainly, lead with your ears has to be excellent advice. You can, of course, just smile. Whatever, remember this next time you bump into an Archbishop.


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