I am sorry to have to start off with another apology. I seem to spend half my posts apologising. I think I’m just one of those people who always feels like they have to apologise for something..!Anyway – thank you for your understanding concerning my post frequency. It is somewhat erratic! It looks like one post a week is manageable at the moment, but I hope that once I have settled down a bit more into school that I might yet be able to get that up to twice a week before Christmas. I really love writing so I’ll suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if and when I get the time.
About half a year ago or maybe longer, I stood in the Cathedral as I watched the 4th Bishop of Dorking, Ian Brackley, walk down the aisle for the final time, adorned in his cardboard foldable mitre (I love them – genius invention, very practical) and proudly grasping his crook in his Bishoply fist. What struck me was how joyful he looked, whilst at the same time you could see he was twinged (probably another word I’ve made up – at least Google spellcheck seems to think so) with sadness, knowing that he would likely not return here the same again. Even I, as completely insignificant I am to him, was sad that the Bishop of Dorking I had known all my life was moving on. Yet, as much as I have only learnt little in my (nearly) 17 years, I did feel like I could understand what he was going through. There are still things that are painful to me, but which I know made me the person I am today. There were times when I faced a closed door, an ended time, a broken promise, a night sky with no stars.
We all have those moments, when we think the door closed to us. It is the end of an era, and everything seems forsaken. Yet for each one of us, in those times when we see no way out, when we are tainted with the sadness and can see no light, that is when God makes his unfailing presence known. Another door always opens. I think Bishop Ian knew this as he processed out of the Cathedral. He knew that a door was closing, physically as he prepared to leave his Palace, and emotionally as he processed the end of his time as Bishop. Yet he also knew that for him a new age was dawning, a whole host of new opportunities were waiting. He just had to say yes.
And in walking out for the last time, he left a Cathedral that was haunted with fear, worry, shadows of scaffolding and swearing workmen, and the love of all of us. In so many ways, he left behind a Cathedral that was and to a certain extent still is, at a point of no return. We were waiting for a new dawn for us too. For new life, new hope, new inspiration.
Yesterday marked out a new chapter in the life of my diocese. Yesterday, we were proud to install Bishop Jo Bailey Wells as the 5th Suffragan Bishop of Dorking, into her stall at the Cathedral, as she was made an honorary canon. It was a joyful occasion for everyone who attended, and the Cathedral was packed, the first time I have seen it so since the scaffolding epidemic hit the building in full force. It was a delight to welcome her family, friends, former colleagues and diocesan clergy who had turned out in full form to support their new Bishop. Indeed, my brother and I, considering we were seated an hour before the service started, played the game of how many clergy and or spice we could see. By the end of the game we reckoned that about 3/4 of the congregation were either clergy, retired clergy, sons or daughters of clergy, and clergy spice. [I should probably explain that spice is our plural of spouse. If mouse goes to mice then we decided spouse could go to spice. Plus doesn’t the game ‘clergy and spice’ sound so much more fun..?!] Actually one of my favourite parts in the lead up to the service was seeing the Lord Lieutenant all dressed up in his regalia. Unfortunately, he tends not to grace us with his full braded get-up on the average Sunday…
Anyway, the service started with great pomp and circumstance, as all great official important Church services do. The choir were on top form, and although looking slightly chilly from the run through the car park to enable them to process down the central aisle, they sang marvellously, and their efforts to process, despite the scaffolding headache, certainly added to the grandeur of the occasion. Bishop Jo, following on from the Bishops of Guildford, Winchester and Bishops of several other places I’m not quite sure of, but definitely not the Bishop of Southampton, looked perfectly regal in her procession down to the crossing from where she was led up to her stall. H0wever, whilst incredibly serious, in both of the installations of Bishops I’ve been to, this has always been a slightly humorous part. I should here explain that our Dean is, comparatively, small. I don’t mean this in a harsh way, but having the Dean lead a rather tall Bishop to her stall did seem rather difficult, almost like a dog leading their owner…The humour was added to by the ‘creaking of the chairs’ in the silence, that sounded a lot like someone had just dropped off to sleep…
But, after an exceptionally dramatic portrayal of Nehemiah from Pete Grieg that certainly awakened he who may have been resting his eyelids, and a demure yet confident and honest delivery of John 8:31-38 by Stephanie, the new Bishop’s daughter (I should probably stop calling her our new Bishop, but anyhow), we came to a divine setting of Campion’s “View me Lord, a work of thine,” composed by our own Organist and Master of Choristers, Katherine Dienes-Williams. It gave a time for contemplation and a reflective pause preceding the (new) Bishop’s sermon.
And I must say, what a sermon it was (although technically it only scored a sermon cricket score of 0 – we’ll work on that!). To a 16 year old girl, still finding her way in this complicated world, it was a pure inspiration to see a woman Bishop, the 10th in the country, standing there preaching to me. It shouldn’t matter that she’s a woman, it’s normal. But I’d never seen a female Bishop before. When I went up North over the summer, old members of my family still told me it was wrong. I completely and utterly disagree. But I guess some part of me still hadn’t quite processed that it was real, and being a Bishop was something that anyone could be, male or female. It sounds awful, I know, but I guess the subconscious part of me still thought that it wasn’t achievable, that our pathway was still barred. But to me, and to young girls in our diocese, I hope that Bishop Jo continues to be an inspiration, to light our hearts, and fire up our calling. Because who knows, in 40 years time, that could be one of us.
But it wasn’t just seeing Bishop Jo that inspired me, it was hearing her too. She spoke of the mess that the Church is in. She was honest, straight to the point, and demonstrated our vulnerability if we, as a Church, go on as we are now. There are problems, I can list a few, at least one for every 4 years of my life. Imagine if everyone could list a problem for each 4 years of their life. That’s an awful lot of problems. But we’ve got to be real about the mess. We cannot hide away from it and pretend it’ll all be OK, that we just go on living and worshipping as we always have. That’s not going to work. Like Nehemiah, like our Cathedral, we have reached our point of no return.
So what do we do? Her answer: we be real about the mess, but we be real about God too. The force of God surpasses every limit of everything we know. We must let God move in us and show us the path to the future. The Church has amazing potential. It touches so many lives. It speaks the truth, when nothing else does. It opens doors when every door seems locked. We all have to recognise God in us, to heed our calling, and let it show us the way. We’ve got to accept change, and let it shape the future. Because we can’t stay stuck in the past. In doing so, we are ignoring God in the present and in the future. We’ve got to move on. And we have to be excited and optimistic about what the future holds. We can rest secure in the knowledge that in transforming the Church in every aspect, to serve the will of all of us, we will transform lives.
Thank you, Jo for inspiring me. I hope that when I reach my point of no return I will listen to my calling, find my vocation, and follow it, not because of my CV or my past but because of who I am, and who I am with God. I hope I can follow in your example and not hesitate to carry out my calling with trembling and fear, but with excitement and confidence too.
I was left in a little whirlpool of thought following the sermon, and improvised my way through the next hymn. However, I soon came back to reality when I realised that we had reached the part of the service that I had been looking forward to the most, since reading through the Order of Service. I should explain here, that my brother, my friend Peter, Janet and John (retired clergy + spouse – 2 points) and I had allocated ourselves the best seats possible within the realms of the ordinary people uncoloured ticket class. This was, however, until 4 children arrived (2 with a banner and 2 with candles), 2 men with a huge inflatable globe, an old doddery couple with a photograph, an ordinand with a Bible, some teenagers with a volley ball, 2 church wardens with sticks that looked more like bayonets, a couple with a fishing boat, and an Imam with the foundation charter of the Woking faith. Needless to say, this varied collection of people had provided endless entertainment in the run up to the service, and we were anxiously awaiting the point of all these various objects, which was that they would each be presented to the Bishop in turn.
The Bible represented truth; the banner learning and growing; the volley ball the playfulness of God; the photograph the joy of past and future; the fishing boat unity; the globe how the Holy Spirit moves in the world; the bayonetted the Diocesan unity and working together; the Imam and his charter, the best in people; and the lighted candle the symbol of us being close to God. I don’t know whether I should be proud or not that the youth are represented by a volley ball, and are a testament to the ‘playfulness’ of God. Perhaps that shall be something to reflect on in the coming week..!
With the final hymn and organ voluntary, the service was over, and the 5th Bishop of Dorking strode out of the Cathedral adorned in her mitre and golden cope, clutching her crook and smiling broadly. I lost the bet as to how many times the Bishop of Guildford would go off-script, but we scarpered to the marquee, to delight in soggy and pretty disgusting canapés and then scuttled back home for a mug of hot chocolate before bed.
I feel privileged to have been able to attend this glorious event, and I know I shall forever look back on it with fond memories, and remember the inspiration that it gave to me. I look forward to the future, and know that you’ll always be along for the ride! Bishop Jo, I wish you my warmest congratulations, and I hope you know how welcome you and your family are here.