Most religions are brimming with symbols, rituals, and vestments but few so much as the Anglican tradition. From mitres to bedazzled stoles; from burning incense to processional crosses—Anglicans know how to do high church like few others. The “smells and bells” are a real thing.
Within their vestries, filled with vestments, one symbol stands out—the crosier. Throughout centuries of tradition, the crosier is a symbol of leadership and authority. Harkening back to the staff of Moses, the crosier in Western Christianity is typically curved at the top like a shepherd’s crook—a visible reminder of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
The hosting and highest-ranking clergy presiding over any liturgical gathering typically carries the crosier—a bishop, abbot, or archbishop—in their left hand so that their right hand is free for blessings. Held in the proper spirit, a crosier is a symbol of left-handed power—that is, power motivated by love, concern, and hospitality rather than hate, control, or fear.
So, when I heard with my own ears and watched with my own eyes the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby hand his crosier over to Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey, I was moved to tears.
Let me set the scene: We were lining up for a very simple procession so far as Anglican processions go—just five of us walking into the Upper Chapel of Lambeth Palace. There were less than 100 people gathered for the Sung Evening Prayer Service and for the blessing of The Saint John’s Bible which was being given to Lambeth Palace Library in memory of Her Late Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II. That’s when it happened, which to me, was a remarkable gesture of hospitality and an act of ecumenical unity.
In a moment of history when we see religious groups at war with one another, prelates of every order reaching for straws of power and influence, and lifelong people of faith walking away from institutions in droves it warmed my heart and inspired my soul to witness this simple, yet profound act of humility and grace.
The Dedication Tour, the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the commissioning of The Saint John’s Bible, conducted in England, was a week filled with memories to last a lifetime. However, I will hold this moment at the front of my mind as a reminder of what the Good Shepherd told a stranger long ago matters most: love God and love your neighbor.
“By hook or by crook” is a phrase we learned came out of this corner of the world as a reference to how shop owners would get passers-by to stop into their store. In this case at Lambeth Palace, the leader of the global Anglican Communion used a “crook” to remind us of what matters most.
I hope you’ll enjoy this installment of “Sharing the Word” as more stories will be told from our “25th Anniversary Tour” across England in November 2023.
Sharing the Word,
Rev. Dr. John F. Ross
The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program