The Dean’s Sermon: St. Wilfrid and the 8.00am Congregation Consultation

October 15, 2018
October 15, 2018 Michelle

Ripon Cathedral

TRINITY 20   2018; 8.00am BCP Holy Communion

 St. Paul gives wise advice this morning in his letter to the Ephesians, the queen of the epistles. “Give thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

Give thanks always… This is particularly timely for us at Ripon Cathedral on the weekend when we celebrate the life of St. Wilfrid. Misunderstood by some, this saint is often regarded as having been difficult and unpopular with many in his own day, and in the generations since. In commenting on this cathedral a few years ago, Simon Jenkins could write, “Wilfrid was a cantankerous, proud and political prelate, who was suspended from his living on three occasions.” Well, strong and effective leaders are often misunderstood – even resented.

Surely, we can appreciate that the Anglo-Saxon Church had in Wilfrid an energetic, motivated, visionary abbot, priest and bishop; a man of God who did much to spread the gospel and build up the Church. His foundational elementary education on Lindisfarne was broadened when he first visited Rome and during his three-year sojourn in Lyons on the way back. More mature and understanding, he returned to the north of this land with a strong sense of mission and a clear view of how the Church could be more effective. He realised the advantages of greater unity, leading to the Church being better equipped for mission.

Here in Ripon, with the confidence and support of the king, Wilfrid brought order and a wider perspective to the religious community, introducing the Benedictine Rule. Remarkably, the latter move probably made Ripon the first place in these islands where the rule of St. Benedict was lived out. Wilfrid endowed his church here richly – how things have changed! And in wider missionary endeavours, he even took the time to teach southerners to fish (actually, the people of Sussex). This saint, our founder and patron, we rightly give thanks for this weekend, as we celebrate the feast of his death.

And we take encouragement from Wilfrid’s zeal and perseverance. As he longed for more people to know the saving work of Jesus in his day, and as he worked tirelessly to build up the Church as a force for unity and good in the world, so we today in this cathedral seek to grow God’s kingdom. Wilfrid was living in an age when the Church had to work hard to make the case for faith in Christ. Wilfrid showed confidence and made a positive difference. So can we! It is the same Lord we serve, to whom we give thanks for all things.

I am grateful, then, to those from the 8am congregation who accepted my invitation to the recent ‘consultation’ – the conversation about how we can promote this service better. Fourteen of us met at Minster House, with about another 10 giving their apologies. Some of you who could not attend wrote helpfully to me in advance.

Really, I just wanted to know if you would like an extra half hour in bed, and whether by putting back the time we could entice more people to join us. It was clear from the conversation that the present time still has much support.

I am keen that we promote all our worship at the cathedral, and that we seek to grow every congregation. We considered whether we should have a special booklet – we are giving that some thought. It was suggested that sermons could sometimes be too long. Of course, you must appreciate that it takes longer to write a shorter sermon; but the clergy have taken note! There is a need to have the preacher illuminated – we have given instruction for a spotlight to be redirected.

The question of consistency of style and practise between clergy was raised. I made it clear that I am content with variety – within acceptable limits. We did agree, though, that it is helpful to have a brief welcome and introduction before the service, and that we really should stand for the Gloria. So, from today, we will do that; and then remain standing for the blessing. We did also discuss how lessons are read, and by whom. On reflection, we have decided that we will give an opportunity to members of this congregation to be on a rota to read the Epistle. We will make sign-up forms available in coming weeks and then look to introduce a system in the New Year – if anyone volunteers!

What was most encouraging about the Minster House conversation was hearing how much this service means to you people who regularly attend it. You value its formality and dignity; and appreciate its brevity. It feeds your souls and equips you for life. This is the sort of good news I wish we could proclaim from the housetops. I’m sure St. Wilfrid would join us in thanking God for it. Perhaps we need to discover something of his confidence and missionary zeal and tell the truth of it in our daily living.

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