A quartet of deans (past and current) of Christ Church Cathedral last month at an event to raise money for Sorrento Centre: Current Dean Peter Elliott, and three former deans Bishops Michael Ingham and Jim Cruickshank and Canon Herbert O'Driscoll, along with Cathedral parishioner Joan Smart, whose idea the evening was.

Godfrey Gower once said that the history of the diocese could be told through the lives of its deans and bishops. On January 21, a great slice of that history was revealed, when Christ Church Cathedral presented an evening billed as "The Four Deans."

"We are not the Three Tenors or the Four Lads," said current dean Peter Elliott, as he stood with former deans Herbert O'Driscoll, Jim Cruickshank and Michael Ingham, two of whom became bishops and one of whom became probably the most published writer in the Anglican Church of Canada. Together, the four deans represented almost four decades of church history.

The evening was introduced by nonagenarian Joan Smart, who, searching for a way to raise funds for Sorrento Centre, lit a light bulb over Canon O'Driscoll's head. Barbara Andrews, current director of Sorrento, was present, as were at least four former directors, and the program began with the singing of "Here Is a Place of Loveliness," written for Sorrento by Herbert O'Driscoll and Rupert Lang.

Then the deans took over, and what followed was not what many had expected. Instead, the cathedral-filling audience heard a series of remarkably personal revelations.

Each dean had been asked to choose two hymns and to speak of their importance to him. First to step to the microphone was Jim Cruickshank, most recently Bishop of Cariboo, once Chancellor of the Vancouver School of Theology, and, particularly relevant to this evening, the founding director of Sorrento Centre - described by Peter Elliott as Sorrento's "alpha and omega" and still known to the cathedral - especially its choir - as "Jimmy Dean."

"I learned," said Bishop Cruickshank, before introducing "Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation," that "it's not about the fish." His piscine reference was to fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Market, who, bored with the work, began having fun with it, tossing fish back and forth like the Flying Brothers Karamazov. When people asked why that particular stall attracted so many customers, they would reply, "it's not about the fish."

And, Bishop Cruickshank continued, "This evening isn't really about the deans, or the cathedral, or Sorrento. It's about relationships - our relationships with each other and with God. Both the cathedral and Sorrento bring people together who normally are not together, and when that happens, God happens. It's not about the fish; it's about the reign of God."

Michael Ingham, first dean of Christ Church Cathedral to be elected Bishop of New Westminster, took his listeners to Taizé, "a remote hilltop village in France, once a World War Two hiding place for Jews," which had become an ecumenical religious community.

Bishops Michael Ingham and Jim Cruickshank, former deans of Christ Church Cathedral, with Peter Elliott, the current dean

He visited Taizé while traveling through Europe with his bride, Gwen Robbins, and found "hope for the future," for the church and possibly the world. He applauded Taizé's work with youth, similar, in some ways, to Sorrento's. "Today," he said, "you cannot visit Taizé unless you're accompanied by a child." Over the years, many children have accompanied Michael Ingham, as dean and bishop, to Taizé.

Bishop Ingham then introduced a Taizé chant, "In the Lord I'll Ever Be Thankful," a fugue-like piece which, he said, he found himself singing "on the darker days of recent years." The heart of the short lyric is "Look to God, do not be afraid; lift up your voices, the Lord is near."

Dean Peter Elliott recalled his childhood and youth at Grace Anglican Church in St. Catherine's, Ontario, where he frequently heard, and sang, "And Now, O Father, Mindful of the Love." The lyrics were written by Canon William Bright, then at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and set to music by the prolific William Henry Monk.

Dean Elliott (who, Bishop Cruickshank later said privately, "has shown immense courage and brought the cathedral to new levels of inclusion"), recognized that the hymn is a "Victorian heirloom," but remains, for him, "a great source of comfort."

Herbert O'Driscoll (once dubbed "Deano" by Don Boutillier) became dean of Christ Church Cathedral in 1968, and has memories, which, he said, "go back even further than the Ingham honeymoon." Among those memories was encountering a "wild-haired curate in Hamilton," who, he thought, he would like some day to have at the cathedral. The curate - no longer wild-haired in 2005 - was Peter Elliott.

Canon O'Driscoll remembered the tense days of 1976, when it was thought the cathedral might become a high-rise tower. It didn't happen, but, he said, "We got the cash anyway."

And then he remembered a group of teenagers fresh from their Sorrento experience, turning up at the cathedral bearing guitars, and chorusing "This Is the Day the Lord Has Made for Singing." "I felt," he said, "we had turned a corner."

But that Sorrento song was not the hymn he introduced. It was, instead, "Long Time Ago in Bethlehem," chosen, he said, "for the power of the story." And Herbert O'Driscoll is one of the great storytellers.

Barbara Andrews, who said she wished the program had been called "Four Deans and a Dame," spoke of the renovations and structural improvements planned for Sorrento, many focused on conveniences for persons with disabilities.

It is an appropriate year for saluting Sorrento, as the centre celebrates its fortieth anniversary. July 10-16 will be observed as Founders' Week, and Jim Cruickshank, who has chosen the program for the week, will be present. All four deans, in fact, will participate in Sorrento courses this summer.

The Ottawa Trapdoor

"This is Part Two," said Michael Ingham. "Barbara was the intermission." Bishop Michael spoke of being at Harvard in 1974, planning to return to Scotland, when an opportunity opened at St. John the Evangelist in Ottawa.

Northcott Burke had left that parish to become dean of New Westminster. The same path was followed by Herb O'Driscoll, who then brought Bob Pynn from Ottawa to the cathedral. "People began to think there was a trapdoor leading from St. John the Evangelist to Vancouver," said Michael, "and eventually I too went through that trapdoor."

He had planned to stay in Canada only two years, but when he arrived, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and Ted Scott was primate, and "my image and understanding of Canada was shaped by those two men. And now I have spent more than half my life here."

&aamp;lt;p>Then Bishop Michael introduced "Let There Be Light," set to music by the extraordinary Robert Fleming, the Saskatchewan-born composer who was organist-choirmaster in many parishes, taught at Ottawa's Carleton University in the 1970s, and wrote music for film, ballet, orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboards and voice, and was a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist.

The Rev. Canon Herbert O’Driscoll, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, 1968-1992

Frances Wheeler Davis's words - "Let there be understanding...let all the nations gather...perish the angry judgment...open our minds to ponder...open our hearts to wonder...hallow the world God made" - represent, said Bishop Michael, "the values of this country."

Peter Elliott next brought a hymn whose words and music were written by a Glaswegian, John L. Bell. Dean Peter had heard this hymn - "Before the World Began" - at a 1993 conference in Orillia, and the combination of influences, Celtic to cosmic, brought tears to his eyes. Now, embroidered on his cope, Peter has the closing lines of the hymn: "So did the Word of grace proclaim in time and space/and with a human face, "I am for you."

Herbert O'Driscoll told a moving story of the strength of the human spirit. In a hospital, visiting someone for what he knew might be the last time, he saw a frail, aged, apparently near lifeless woman strapped in a chair being wheeled along the corridor. Suddenly, her arm shot up, and she called out, in full voice, "I wandered lonely as a cloud," and the rest of Wordsworth's poem. That memory led to the Irish hymn "Be Thou My Vision."

Jim Cruickshank said, "I try not to be nostalgic, but it's hard." He talked about lay training centres he visited in the US and Europe before launching Sorrento, and spoke of Sorrento as a place where "old things always are made new."

And he spoke of the move towards inclusiveness at Christ Church Cathedral, remembering Prince Charles, during his Expo `86 visit, reading a passage of scripture employing inclusive language. He went on to speak of the Very Reverend Northcott Burke, the Christ Church Cathedral rector and dean who brought so many innovations to worship. Gesturing toward his colleagues, he said, "I don't think any of us would have been here without him."

Northcott Burke wasn't the only forerunner saluted. When the four deans finally did sing, their version of the cathedral standard "690 on Burrard" ditty included the lines "

Of bishops and archbishops we've had many,

to deal with them a dean becomes quite canny.

But David in our hearts has found a special place,

and in the deepest sense for us, he'll always be Your Grace."

Archbishop Somerville rose to applause, smiled, and nonchalantly waved an arm.

James Cariboo's final hymn was the stirring, magisterial "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah," which, Wendy Jenkinson whispered, was the standard closing music in Welsh pubs.

This seemed to be the end, but then Lesley Godwin and Ivar Mickelson, the road company Helen Mirren and Robert Redford, rose from the audience, joined the clever keyboardist Ginger Shaw and the always excellent cathedral choir, and sang tributes to the four deans, set to various show tunes, beginning with "There is Nothing Like a Dean."

And of course, they were right.

Lyndon Grove, a parishioner at St. Margaret's of Scotland in Burnaby, is a former editor of TOPIC and author of the centennial history of the diocese, Pacific Pilgrims.