Incredibly, it’s 2 weeks since I was Installed and Collated as Canon Pastor of Coventry Cathedral…
This is incredible on all sorts of levels.
The sheer wonder of being invited to do such a job at all – with its brief of nurturing the Cathedral community - and in this place of all places feels like the most tremendous gift.
To be part of a place where reconciliation is written into the DNA of the building and its people, and to be invited to explore with them how to make this part of the everyday life of each member of the congregation, is quite extraordinary.
Then there’s the joy of finding myself part of a Cathedral at all…of being placed somewhere where the daily round of worship, hospitality and service is the concern of a whole body of people…- so that I can pretty much guarantee that I will never find myself praying the Office alone.
And the specific and incalculable joy of the choirs… whose singing repeatedly opens windows onto heaven for me
The whole thing feels like the most glorious, if demanding, present – and I keep on having to check that I’m actually awake – that I haven’t invented the whole thing in a moment of delusion but am really and truly here.
But it’s incredible, too, that 2 such exciting weeks have passed without any substantive blogging…just when there is more to reflect on than I can even hope to keep track of.
And of course, that’s why. The learning curve is more of a learning vertical wall, really…I’m assimilating so much – names, faces, ways of doing familiar things quite differently, and a whole battery of things that are simply not part of parish life in most places, so I tend to reach home somewhere close to exhausted. I have to confess I’ve watched more tv in the past 3 weeks than in the previous 3 months, as I simply need to flop, cuddling whichever pet is nearest. I’ve hardly opened a serious book at home since May!
But there’s much to think about…beginning with that amazing service on the Feast of the Visitation, which was a joy from start to finish. It felt quite strange to stand in the Chapel of Christ the Servant and swear oaths of canonical obedience to +Christopher – for my whole ordained ministry has been spent under the leadership and care of +Michael, the “FabBishop” who has been enormously encouraging and supportive through the past 10 years. Now he is no longer “my” bishop – and there’s a slight sense of loss there…just as there is a sense of loss that Gloucester is no longer “my” Cathedral. It was the scene of so many significant events. The Cathedral service that celebrated the Decade of Evangelism when J was just a couple of weeks old, when I realised that God was nudging me to do something specific for him…The ordinations of the first women priests, when I received Communion from Viv Faull, and the nudging became more insistent…The confirmations of 2 of my children…My ordinations as deacon and priest…And so many memorable and splendid services. When it comes to worship, I really do love the house style that has been established there so the great diocesan occasions when colleagues were exasperated or amused were largely unadulterated joy for me. It does seem strange to be somewhere so very very different….but it’s a GOOD strange….one that excites and delights me.
So, having sworn the oaths and made the declarations that are part of the beginning of any new ministry, I then went in search of my Cainscross church family, who were to give me away, walking me up the aisle to begin my new life without them. That was both hard and wonderful…When I got married, my father was already dead and though a good friend did a splendid job of walking me up the aisle, I missed out on the sense of all that had gone before being part of the journey I was making. When I walked up the nave with my St Matthew’s family, I was so so conscious of all that they had taught me, all we had experienced together as we looked for God’s love at work in that precious community. I’m glad I couldn’t look back as they dropped away, leaving me standing beside my children as the service began…Goodbyes are so hard, even within God's providence.
It goes without saying that the service itself was amazing. All the hymns I most needed and wanted to sing...a congregation stuffed with friends from all directions, my family (in its augmented form) in the front pews..my curates (past and present) reading the gospel and offering the intercessions...the lovely Kemsleys bringing up the gifts of the people...the delight of giving Communion to so many and knowing that other dear friends were also sharing this ministry...and somewhere along the line, I knelt, feeling very small and scared, and the bishop and assorted others laid hands on me, and I remembered once again that God who calls is faithful, and that somehow He would ensure that I was enough for the work.
I made some rather huge and solemn promises but there were gloriously silly moments too, of course - as the bishop licensed me as a Residentiary Canon "with all therights members privileges and appurtenances thereto belonging" and I speculated wildly about what such appurtenances might be...
But the words I won't ever forget came as I was installed - taken to the stall which is now my own- where the Dean (who really did get the best lines) spoke of "rights and opportunities of service" and I realised that there would, indeed, be new opportunities to love and serve God and God's people, in this city and beyond, through the very nature of this Cathedral church.
Later I was given the Cross of Nails and the Dean said
"Receive this Cross of Nails, symbol of Christ's suffering and our salvation. As a servant of Christ crucified rejoice in the ministry of reconciliation which has been entrusted to you"....
Oh my! What a joyous responsibility...
And after Communion, after the wonderful Magnificat from Stanford in G (which was a party piece of mine many many years ago), after Haydn and Gibbons, came this most wonderful Post Communion prayer, for the feast of the Visitation
"Gracious God, who gave joy to Elizabeth and Mary as they recognised the signs of redemption at work within them;
help us, who have shared in the joy of this Eucharist
to know the Lord deep within us
and his love shining out in our lives,
that the world may rejoice in your salvation,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord."
Then the whole world was filled with people I love singing "O for a thousand tongues" and we processed to the West Screen. and looked back at that tapestry...and I knew all would be well.
Not every day, in every way....but deep down, where it matters...