Easter 7 – sermon preached by Paul Foster Sunday 29th March

Acts 16.16-34

One of my earliest memories after being newly arrived in Edinburgh nearly twenty years ago was walking along Hanover Street, the stretch between Queen Street and George Street. A lady came up to me and asked me something. I could not make out what she said, so I uttered the single word “sorry” and walked away. You might think that would have been the end of the encounter, but you would be wrong! The lady pursued me at a rapid rate. Among her many high-level skills were the following two noteworthy examples. First, she seemed to be remarkably well informed about my parentage. Second, at least in one particular semantic domain, the lady had a quite remarkable vocabulary, combining a range of Scots words with extensive Anglo-Saxon terminology which she recited at some volume. At this point in the encounter, I had the sense that all the eyes of Edinburgh were upon me. In truth, there were probably only two or three people looking in my direction. I tried to quicken my pace, only to find I was matched by the speedy and articulate lady. At that stage, and not at all to my credit, I took what I considered to be the only course of action available – I legged it. After all, I was twenty years younger back then.

The book of Acts tells us of the recent arrival of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Philippi (although Timothy is remarkably absent from the narrative). Last week, in her sermon, Esther, described the encounter with Lydia the seller of purple. We heard how her positive reception of the gospel message led to the opening of her home, and provision of shelter and hospitality. Philippi was a new city built on an ancient site. In 42 B.C. Mark Antony and Octavian (later the emperor Augustus) defeated Cassius and Brutus. After the ensuing power struggle with Mark Antony, Augustus refounded Philippi as a Roman colony. The city and surrounding area was populated with military veterans and Italian farmers. The new inhabitants enjoyed legal privileges as imperial citizens, there was flourishing economic prosperity, and Roman culture predominated. For those who had left their homes to live in the new colony, they certainly made this new city feel like a Rome away Rome.

Having received hospitality from Lydia, Paul and his associates commenced their ministry of gospel proclamation. However, their next encounter with a female in the city was not so congenial. These new arrivals found themselves pursued and hounded by a slave women crying out details of their identity. The text of the story tells us that this young woman had “a spirit of divination.” It is easy at this point to want to interpret the text through our own lens and maybe to understand this as some kind of mental illness. However, perhaps we are better to read this ancient text as it stands, and to resist the temptation to colonize it with our own modern Western worldview and instead simply read it on its own terms. The Greek text does not actually say the woman had a spirit of divination, but that she had a “spirit of python.” Such a designation draws on the fertile mythology of the ancient world, referring to the Greek god Apollo and the story of his defeat of a giant serpent Python. After Apollo’s victory he gained some of the powers of the defeated serpent. In somewhat overlapping mythologies, oracular gifts were also viewed as being possessed by Apollo’s priestess Pythia (a pythoness) who was considered to be a source or reliable prophetic information. This priestess was based at Delphi and the python spirit was considered to be the source of the opaque but reliable Delphic oracles. Therefore, the author of Acts presents the woman in Philippi as enslaved not just by profiteering masters, but also enslaved to a snake like spirit that gave her special insight at a huge personal cost. It is for another day, but one might ask why ancient writers often portrayed women coming under the influence of serpent. Perhaps you can think of another relevant example.

However, taking the story on its own terms, we see an enslaved woman financially exploited for her gift of fortune-telling. In an almost comic scene, we are told that Paul and Silas were heckled by this individual for a number of days. In the end, rather than taking the coward’s action of “legging it”, Paul confronts the woman and performs an ad hoc exorcism. At this point the woman disappears from the story. However, I cannot help but wonder what became of her. Now deprived of her skill was she cast aside as a valueless commodity, or was it the case that freed from the spirit that possessed her that she returned to a more normal life. Unfortunately, we simply do not know.

Instead, the powerful slave-owners step into the narrative. The author of Acts pulls no punches – their motivation is the profit margin. After all, business is business and the fate of a young women seemed inconsequential in comparison. The charge brought against Paul and his associates was that they were causing confusion in the city and his accusers state that Paul and his companions were “advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or observe being Romans.” The elite in the city of Philippi revelled in their status as Romans, not only did it make them feel superior, but moreover they wanted to resist any change to the status quo that protected the elite and oppressed the slaves. Consequently, after some rough justice, Paul and Silas received a beating and were thrown in jail. One of my academic colleagues is conducting research into ancient jails (rather him than me!). They were particularly unpleasant places – often subterranean, poorly ventilated, no separate space for bodily functions – hence they were putrid, disease-ridden, inmates were malnourished, and such prisons were likely designed to shorten life-expectancy. We are told that Paul and Silas were confined in the innermost prison cell – a place of utter imprisonment and darkness. Yet despite the bleakness of the reported circumstances, with feet in stocks, we are told that their response was the singing of hymns in praise to God. The author then provides us with another detail that jars with our own worldview – that of a miraculous earthquake. The response of the Philippian jailer is something that only makes sense in a different context. In our society, those in positions of power tend not to accept responsibility for wrong doing. Rather, blame-shifting, equivocation, and manipulation of facts appear to be the stock in trade. By contrast, out of a heavy sense of personal guilt at failing in his task, the Philippian jailer decides to “fall on his sword” – and that was no metaphor. Paul intervenes, reassuring the man that all the prisoners are still present. Until Paul spoke, that was not obvious to the jailer given the lack of light in the prison.

The response in reported in such a mundane manner that its strangeness might allude us. The Philippian jailer recognizes that Paul and his companions as ‘sirs’ or in the Greek kyrioi, that is as ‘lords’ and asks what he can do that he might be saved. Paul’s response is a rejection of the title kyrioi ‘lords’, and instead directs the jailer to the true Lord as he instructs him to ‘believe in the Lord Jesus.’ The response is instant, the transformation striking, and the profession of faith immediate. The jailer tended to the needs of Paul and Silas, and along with his household received baptism as new believers in God.

The author of Acts has transported to a world which at first we may not recognize as being like our own. Yet it is world where violence is prevalent, people are treated as mere commodities, and the business interests of the elite are given precedence over the needs of the poor. Is it little wonder that despite its strangeness this story still speaks to us so powerfully today?

“It is not guns that kill people, it is people that kill people.” That is a slogan that sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it. This week in Uvalde nineteen children aged between seven and ten and two adults were shot dead. A further seventeen people were injured. Some parents rushed to the school. One father interviewed described how he comforted a little girl splattered with blood. She recounted how she had run when her best friend Amerie Jo Garza was shot dead next to her. It was in that instant, while comforting another little girl, that the father heard the name of his ten year old daughter who had died as a victim of the wanton and incomprehensible violence. There have already been repeated calls, as there have been before, for reform of laws and controls on gun ownership. However, in response a Texan senator rejected the link between the prevalence of gun ownership and the unrelenting sequence of school shootings. The father who learnt of the death of his beloved Amerie asked the unanswerable, what had she ever done wrong to deserve this.

Prioritization of profits over people, politics over principles, and the right to bear arms over the right to live into adulthood are not new perspectives. For all its strangeness the vivid story from Acts is remarkably relevant. If the well-being of the weakest in society is overlooked then our communities will descend into chaos and anarchy. Our gospel reading draws to a conclusion Jesus’ lengthy farewell speech. Rather than expressing concern regarding his own fate, Jesus instead speaks about those unknown by the powerful in the world. His desire is not to retain, but to share his glory, and that those unnamed and unknown in human society might find their identity and sense of being as part of the inner life and community that exists between the Father and the Son. In this way, the love that Jesus receives from the Father is not to be guarded like a commodity, rather it is to be shared as a way of enriching all who will partake of it.

When we gather round our common table shortly we will pour out a little wine into a cup. It reminds us of a life laid down in love. But today, without detracting from Christ’s supreme act of sacrificial love, perhaps it will serve to focus our minds on other broken and needlessly lost lives. To consider ways in which we can provide a sense of belonging and home for the broken and destitute. So, from a troubled lady on the streets of Edinburgh not engaged with the dignity she deserved, to thousands of displaced, damaged and dying people in Ukraine, to desperate and despairing families in Uvalde, for Amerie Jo Garza and twenty others needlessly killed, for the healing of the nations, for the turning of swords into ploughshares, and that the Father might make his home with all those treated by the world as commodities, we ask, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Children

On average, 12 children were baptised each month during the Victorian period with 1887 leading the way with 154 christenings. Unsurprisingly, the most popular names were William, James and John for the boys and Mary, Margaret and Elizabeth for the girls.  Although there were some unusual names such as Mafeking, Redvers, Ermentrude and Marmion. Happily, the number of confirmation candidates was also buoyant averaging 99 per year over this period. Indeed, in some years there were so many candidates that two confirmation services each year were required.

Sadly, however, in some years 24 children under the age of 6 died.  We know this from when in 1887 the age at death, as well as the names of the departed, were printed in the Monthly Paper. In the period 1887 to 1900, 224 children under the age of 6 died, adding up to over 33% of all deaths.

Despite this sobering figure children featured in many positive ways in the Monthly Paper from participation in sewing classes, to the Sunday School, education and, of course, the choristers.

Every Saturday afternoon from November to May, sewing classes met in the Water of Leith Mission in the Dean Village and the Dalry Mission. The average number enrolled for these classes totalled 160, with 120 regularly attending each month. The class started at 2:30 with the signing of a hymn followed by an hour of instruction finishing with another hymn.  As well as producing clothes for themselves the children also sent their work to Africa as part of the Cathedral’s overseas mission commitment. On the last Saturday in May all the children met together in the Water of Leith Schoolroom and after having tea together they received their prizes and the clothing they had made themselves.

In addition, from December 1884 a Girls’ Clothing Club was established.

“This Clothing Club has been begun, in order to enable young girls, on their attaining a proper age for going to service, to enter on their first situation, with a suitable supply of clothing.

A weekly meeting is held, to which the girls are expected to come, to learn to cut out, and make the clothing themselves.

They have also to pay 1d. a week, and in return, after, the first year’s membership, have a right to a certain amount of clothing, (more or less according to the time they have been members), with a small bonus added.

The clothing will be of thoroughly good material.

Clothes not to be given until the girl has got a situation.

The meetings are held in the Cathedral Mission House, Water-of-Leith.

Girls wishing to join had better go to one of the meetings, and see the teacher.”

The Sunday School classes for the Cathedral children were held in the Water of Leith Mission. In April 1879 there were 111 children, by July 1894 the number had increased to 400 and by 1900 the combined Water of Leith & Dalry Sunday Schools numbered 831.  There were two sets of classes each Sunday at 10.00 am and 3.00 pm and from February 1881 the lessons taught in Sunday School were listed in the Monthly Paper “for the sake not only of the teachers and the children, but also of the parents, who will know what their children have been learning, so that they can question them at home upon what they have heard at school.”

From 1884 younger children could attend a Day Nursery in the Water of Leith’s Mission House while their mothers attended the morning Sunday service. For this facility a charge of a half-penny per child was levied although bread and milk were provided. This initiative was reported as being a success with 24 children attending by the second week. Presumably for security reasons, the door was locked at 10.45 am and opened again at 12.45.

There was, usually in June, the annual Sunday School Outing.  The outing in June 1881 was typical and this report in the July 1881 Monthly Paper gives an idea of what happened on these occasions.

“Sunday School Treat.

On Tuesday, June 21st, our Sunday school children were taken to Dalkeith for a summer treat, the Duke of Buccleuch having kindly given permission to the school to play in his park.

A special train was put on at the Haymarket Station for them, which ran straight through to Dalkeith; about 365 children and 48 adults made up the party.  On their arrival, they found lunch ready, after which they played cricket (the Dalry and Water of Leith boys playing a match), had bowls, swings, croquet, ran races, and seemed thoroughly to enjoy themselves.  Then they had tea, prizes for racing, etc., were given away, and then they marched off to the station in capital order, and reached the Haymarket Station in safety and happiness.

Great thanks are due to those who organised and carried out the arrangements, which were most admirable. The improvement in the tone and behaviour of the children was most marked, so that there is abundant cause for thankfulness and every reason to believe that our Sunday schools are doing real practical good.”

There were also winter treats; this is from the February 1884 Monthly Paper.

“Sunday School Treats.

During the last month the various Sunday Schools (we have four – Water of Leith, Dalry, Gorgie, Tynecastle) had their treats, which were greatly enjoyed.  Our newest school, at Tynecastle, had its treat in our new Mission Hall, and the Gorgie children joined them.  The children were greatly delighted by some really beautiful magic lantern pictures illustrating the Prince of Wales’ visit to India, and Sir John Frankin’s expedition in the Arctic regions.  Everything seems to promise well in our new mission field in Tynecastle, and we wish our people would warmly interest themselves in it.

Mrs Tuke appeals strongly for an additional Teacher at Gorgie.  It is some way out from the town (1½ miles), but surely it would be a labour of love to many. Perhaps the Mission will stir up hearts to undertake this, no doubt fatiguing but really useful Church work.”

A shortage of Sunday School teachers appears to have been a common problem shared by other churches and an appeal for help from St Columba’s was printed in the October 1883 magazine.

“My congregation is now, with a very few exceptions, composed entirely of the working class, and we must look elsewhere for the assistance of competent teachers.  We have both boys and girls without any one to instruct them.  It is the afternoons that we more especially need assistance.  Will no one who reads this appeal come over and help us?  Yours faithfully, Charles E. Bowden, Incumbent of S. Columba’s. – September 17, 1883. “

The general school education of the Cathedral’s children was a matter of concern to the clergy, the main worries centred round the children being exposed to the Presbyterian Catechism and to a prejudicial view of the Episcopal Church’s history. There were frequent appeals to parents not to send their children to Board schools but to use Church schools instead.  It was pointed out that “The Dean School is not a Church school.  We mention this because a parent confidingly sent a child there, thinking it was the Dean’s School!”

The Episcopal Church did have a representative on the Edinburgh School Board, and he was successful in persuading the Board of “the need for the observance of Christmas Day.  In future the schools under the Edinburgh Board will be closed on that great Festival.   It is, however, greatly to be hoped, that if ever Christmas Day becomes a public holy-day in Scotland it will never be sullied by the conduct which characterises the observance of the so-called National feast of New Year’s Day.”

The choir sang three services on Sundays – 11.00 am Morning Prayer followed by Communion and Evening Prayer at 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm. On Monday to Saturday there was Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm. From May 1880 the choir also attended Morning Prayer at 11.00 am.  Interestingly, the term ‘Evensong’ was not used and ‘Matins’ only occasionally.  There was also a Children’s Service on the 3rd Sunday of each month which from November 1893 was supported by a choir consisting of probationers.

As well as services within the Cathedral the choir boys also visited the Sick Children’s Hospital each January to sing carols as this report printed in February 1897 illustrates.

“The rapt attention of the little invalids, some of whom kept time to the carols by tapping on their dinner boards, while other tuneful ones essayed a supplementary lilt of their own; the bursting into song of a pet canary at the loudest parts or choruses, the fraternising of the Choir boys with the occupants of the cots between times, were all incidents full of tender interest, and the visit was felt to be one of mutual profit and pleasure.”

As with the Sunday School, it was not all work for the choristers and there was an annual outing usually to Aberdour via the ferry from Leith harbour. This report in the September 1884 Monthly Paper is typical.

Forty-two boys and 5 adults assembled at the east end of the Cathedral, at half-past six of the morning of August 7th, and after driving to Leith harbour, embarked in the Lord Morton, and had a delightful sail to Aberdour.

There breakfast was awaiting them in the hotel, supplied by the excellent Mr. Grieg, and superintended by himself and his attentive maidens.  The friends of the choristers will be glad to hear that this year they had perfect weather, although they were reminded of the thunder of two former occasions, by the constant boom of the guns of the Sultan, which was that day bombarding the innocent island of Inchkeith.

The boys seemed to enjoy themselves very much with football, tug-of-war, and other games, and bathing for many of them.  Luncheon was brought on to the ground, and a famous tea was done justice to on returning to the hotel at six o’clock.”

However, the weather was not always kind and in 1889 “the sea passage was by no means so agreeable as it had been in the early morning; the consequence being that several of the band were made aware of an unpleasant illness, which inexperienced travellers on the deep are often liable to suffer from.  “But all is well that ends well”, and though upon arrival home many were almost soaked by the heavy downpour of rain, yet the next day there were no bad results of the journey and wetting.”

The work that went on behind the scenes to keep the choristers presentable for services was undertaken by a team of ladies led by Miss Clementina Gamgee and this extract from the August 1887 Monthly Paper illustrates the work involved.  “Perhaps many in the congregation who see, week by week, the choristers appear in clean surplices and tidy cassocks, have never thought much of the great labour involved in keeping these vestments so carefully in repair.  When it is known that nearly a hundred cassocks and surplices have to be re-made, mended, patched, and constantly examined from time to time it will be seen that there is no light responsibility up on those who undertake the work.  And who is there, that knows anything of boys and their ways, that will not sigh at the thoughts of cassocks rent by carelessness, buttons plucked out by the very roots, and holes torn in the neck to hang them up by?”

There were also recreational activities and visits to the Corporation Baths in Caledonian Crescent, which opened in 1885. These trips where the boys were taught how to swim by the Precentor, Rev. Alfred Griffiths. On Saturday 21st November 1896 two of the senior choir boys, William Toddie and David McGibbon cycled from the Cathedral to Berwick-on-Tweed accompanied by the Precentor.  The boys came back by train arriving home at 9.00 pm. Interestingly it is reported that “McGibbon was mounted on the bamboo machine, and Toddie on a Haymarket, specially built for the boys by Mr. Downie.” William Toddie was killed in action on 4th June 1917 at the Second Battle of Arras.

Former choristers kept in touch after they left the choir and by June 1900 there was a Cycling Club which met every Wednesday and a Cricket Club which practised in the summer on weeknights and Saturday afternoons in Inverleith Park.

Towards the end of the Victorian period in 1900, there is reference to a Boys’ Club based at the Dalry Mission.  The May 1900 magazine has an article which is written in an unusual way.

“A visitor writes that ‘he recently attended the Mission Hall at Dalry to see the progress made by the boys under Sergeant Fraser of the 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, an experienced instructor, who was secured through the interest of one of the Sunday School teachers.  Sergeant Fraser has worked wonders, and the raw material is now in a most workmanlike condition.  The boys enjoy the physical exercises and drill, and appreciate their instructor – a great point.  The lads assemble every Friday at 9 p.m., for one hour.  The club was started and is carried on, by the Misses Ramsay and Miss Milne-Miller, to whose interest, and almost unknown labours, much credit is due.  Boys and young men between the ages of 15 and 21 respectively, and who are either members of the Dalry Bible class or Sunday School, are admitted,.  If members of the Cathedral congregation would kindly give themselves the opportunity some Friday evening before the middle of May (when the physical tuition will cease until next autumn) of inspecting the boys at their exercises, encouragement would be given to the founders of the Club, the teacher, and the boys themselves.  So far there have been no visitors with the exception of the writer!’”

Finances

The Cathedral finances have always been a matter of concern for the Cathedral Board and clergy.  As well as the collections taken at the various services, a system of regular contributions or subscriptions was in place – the Victorian equivalent to a standing order or direct debit mandate.  In most cases a collector would visit parishioners to persuade them to subscribe to, and to collect for, one or more of several good causes, although there could be a separate collector for each good cause.  The amounts collected were faithfully recorded in the collectors’ books and once a year the results of the various subscriptions were published in the Monthly Paper giving full details of how much each member of the congregation contributed in the previous year to each of the good causes, only a few seemed to have contributed anonymously.

The most important subscription was to the Clergy Fund and in 1890 there were 23 collectors who visited 381 subscribers and collected a total of £573 16s 1d which is roughly equivalent to £78,000 today.  This was a reduction on the previous year which no doubt led to the following appeal in the February 1891 Monthly Paper.  “The Cathedral congregation is not a wealthy one, but it is numerous.  There are perhaps few who can give largely, but there are many who could give a little.  The diminution in the total sum collected, points to a want of interest on the part of those who can give more than the smallest sums.  We ought not to depend to such an extent as we now do, upon a few large subscriptions.”

Sadly this appeal was not that successful as only £542 13s 10d was collected in 1891.  The level of subscription to this fund never really recovered throughout the rest of the Victorian period although by 1901 it had improved to £555 9s 1d.

The use of subscription books was not confined to the Cathedral; an article published in January 1887 tells us that in Edinburgh there were between 80 and 90 of these books.  The article also gave the following advice. “As it is impossible to give to all, we would claim for the members of our own congregation their first care for the books sent out by authority from their own Church.  The collecting books sent round from the Cathedral are for the following objects: – Clergy Fund, Home Missions, Education Fund, Foreign Missions, Cathedral Parochial Missions.”

The five funds mentioned above averaged annually £555 for the Clergy Fund, £155 for Home Missions, £58 for the Education Fund, £180 for Foreign Missions and £197 for the Cathedral Parochial Missions.  In addition the Aged & Infirm Clergy Fund, which started in 1891, brought in £48 a year.

Within three years of opening, the Cathedral was in serious debt and an article printed in the June 1882 Monthly Paper reminded readers of a sermon preached by the Dean on 14th May in which he set out the stark realities of the financial situation.  The figures printed in the magazine show that the Cathedral was £700 in debt [roughly £89,600 today] and that the weekly offerings, averaging £26, were well below the required amount of £40.  It was made clear that if matters did not improve, there was a possibility that the choir would have to be reduced and daily services cease.

The offertory on the 14th May was almost £40 but it fell the following Sunday to £32.

Matters did improve and the November 1883 Monthly Paper reported that the debt had reduced to less than £200 and it was felt that this would soon be reduced altogether as this extract shows. “It is thought that by a liberal offertory on one Sunday, this small debt can be entirely cleared off.  When we see how easily £30 is given on a Sunday (so few half-crowns and florins, etc.), we need not think it difficult to raise £150 or £200.  The object is good, and if we only do what we can, we know we shall succeed, and then we shall be free from debt altogether.”

However, the good news did not last long, there was a further warning article in February 1887 and then by February 1890 the debt had grown to £320 [about £43,700 in today’s terms] which was blamed on a “falling off in the weekly offertories – or in other words to the congregation contributing less liberally than before to the ordinary appeal for defraying the expenses for maintaining the Cathedral and its services.  This surely ought not to be – nor need not be.  It cannot be said that the congregation is overtaxed.  When two or three years ago the Cathedral funds were in a worse state than they now are, an appeal to the congregation cleared off the debt, and for a time raised the income to the necessary point. But it has fallen back again.  What we ask for is not a spasmodic effort, but that each should consider how great must be the expenses of attending such a Church and such services, and should give steadily and systematically, according to their means, as an offering to God.”

There was a £51 deficit for the financial year ending 30th November 1901, which was covered by an anonymous donor. However, the February 1902 magazine made clear that the weekly offerings “should never fall below £35 if the services of the Cathedral are to be maintained free of debt.” The average weekly offerings for January were £25.

Cathedral Services

Cathedral Services

In the Victorian era there were more services each Sunday than there are today.  There was a service of Communion at 8.00 am, Morning Prayer at 11.00 am followed by Communion and Evening Prayer at 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm.  There was also an additional Communion service at 7.00 am on the second Sunday of each month.  Sermons were preached at the 11.00 am, 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm services.  During the week, including Saturdays, there were services of Communion at 8.00 am, Morning Prayer at 11.00 am and Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm.  Details of the hymns, settings and anthems to be sung during the month were published in the magazine.

Members of the congregation were expected to bring their own hymn books. This is made clear in the very first magazine in January 1879 under the heading of “Congregational Singing”.

“The Hymn Book used is the new addition of Ancient and Modern.  The pointing for the Canticles and Psalms is Elvey’s.  We hope that those who can afford to buy it (price 2s. 6d., to be obtained from Messrs. Grant and Son, Princes Street, or Messrs. Hamilton and Müller, George Street) will do so, in order that by singing the correct pointing they may help to make the service really hearty, whilst incorrect pointing is too liable to create confusion, and make the words unintelligible.”

However, as not everybody could afford to buy a hymn book and psalter, a “generous friend” funded the cost of having the words of the hymns and psalms due to be sung at the evening services printed and distributed for a period of three months starting in October 1895.  An appeal was made for other members of the congregation to contribute towards the cost of providing hymn sheets for the following year up to Easter – the cost of doing this was given as about 12s for each Sunday.  However this seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as a further appeal was made in the December Monthly Paper.

There are several articles covering special services such as Christmas and Easter usually focusing on what the clergy considered to be poor congregational turnout.  The number of communicants attending the Christmas services was a particular concern. The 1887 Christmas celebrations with 858 communicants set a standard that the following years had trouble matching and it was also reported that Matins and Evening Prayer that day had been so well attended that many people were forced to stand throughout the service!  It also mentioned that the Bishop was the Celebrant at the morning Communion service “and wore his cope at this service, thereby making a link with many English Cathedrals where the cope is always worn by the Bishop of the diocese when he celebrates the Holy Eucharist in his own Cathedral.”  One possible reason for the good turnout that year could have been that Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.

In 1888 there were 602 communicants. This increased to 644 in 1889.  In an effort to improve numbers further, the December 1890 Monthly Paper made it clear that “There is no reason why there should be 400 fewer Communicants on Christmas Day than on Easter Day, which is generally the case with us at the Cathedral; last year there were not 700 Communicants on Christmas Day itself.”  The fact that members of the congregation would usually have to work on Christmas Day seemed, in the eyes of the clergy, not to be an excuse for not attending the Cathedral.  Services of Communion at 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. were expressly arranged to enable those working on Christmas Day to make their Communion in the early morning.  “The 5 a.m. Celebration is provided for the benefit of the laity who have to work, and not for the amusement or employment of the Clergy, who would have a long day even without this service.  Instead of the usual 20 or 30 who come, there might easily be 200 at the very least, if the laity responded to their duty.  Will not some of our working friends respond to this invitation, and make use of the opportunity this year, and show they appreciate the chance given of this early Communion.”

This exhortation did not have the desired effect as this extract from January 1891 shows.

“At the 5 a.m. Celebration there was 34 communicants, being exactly the same number as last year.  At 7 a.m. there were 130 communicants; but it was at 8 a.m. that there was a fairly large increase.  During the day there were 654 communicants, and with those who have made their Communion during the Octave, and the sick, the number is brought up to 700 or 710.  There is still room for an improvement, for if 1100 can come at Easter-tide, there ought to be 1100 also at Christmas-tide.  There are 300 or 400 who have clearly broken the plainest of the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, which orders, “That every Parishioner shall communicate three times in the year, of which, Easter to be one.”  Clearly, Christmas comes next!

In January 1892 it was reported that “some 105 large firms appended their names to a list of those who were ready to close their place of business; and, no doubt, next year the list will again be larger and more characteristic of Edinburgh citizenship.”  The point was made, however, that this extra holiday could result in “an increase in the consumption of strong drink and unrestrained morals”.

This reservation seemed to be based on what was happening south of the border. “An English Good Friday turned into a day of revelry is even worse than a Scottish New Year’s Day, with its train of drunkenness and immorality.”    It was not until 1958 that Christmas Day became a public holiday in Scotland.

In April 1885 the clergy were concerned about a deficit of £116 [about £15,800 today] in the Cathedral’s finances, and expressed the hope that the Easter Offertory would be especially good.  This plea was successful as a total of 1,146 communicants attended the various Easter Communion services.  However, the question was asked in the May edition as to where these people had been the rest of the year!

An interesting article printed in April 1898 sets down how the congregation should conduct themselves when receiving communion.

“Services, etc., for Easter Day.

The following hints are given in the hope of securing greater orderliness in the chancel: –

  1. Communicants must approach the alter rails by the centre passage; not by the side gates.
  2. They should advance in lines, on either side of the passage, keeping their place in the line until they reach the lower steps of the sanctuary.
  3. They should come forward as soon as the celebrant begins to hand the vessels to the assistant clergy; but members of the choir who communicate at the choral celebrations should be allowed to return to the stalls before the other communicants advance beyond the centre of the choir stalls.
  4. In retiring from the altar rails all (except members of the choir) must pass out from the sanctuary by the side gates, and return to their places.
  5. No one should rise from kneeling at the altar rail until the clergyman has finished administering the cup to the person next on the right.

It is not unnecessary for a reminder to be given that persons who enter the Church too late to hear the Gospel for the day, ought not to come forward to receive the Holy Communion on that occasion. Nor should any who have communicated leave the Church until the Benediction has been pronounced.  When exceptional circumstances, such as care of the sick, etc., necessitate an earlier departure, then at least the remaining prayers should be read over privately before leaving the Church.”

A poor turnout at Whitsun 1888 provoked this strongly worded article in the June 1888 Monthly Paper.  The use of upper-case letters in the heading emphasises the seriousness of this matter.

“WHITSUN DAY SERVICES.

At the three celebrations on Whitsun Day there were only 360 communicants.  This was a slight increase upon last year; but in spite of this attendance was very far below what it should have been.  The rubric at the end of the Communion Service expressly orders – ‘And note, that every parishioner shall communicate AT THE LEAST three times in the year, of which Easter is to be one.’

Although there is a silence regarding the two other days for Communion (expected and required of all Churchpeople) the Anglican Church has a clear unwritten rule that the two other feasts are Christmas Day and Whitsun Day.  It is only in the Roman Church that one Communion (to be made during the octave of Easter) suffices for Church membership; and we are sorry to say that there are many who evidently are satisfied if they fulfill this requirement of a foreign church, for there are numbers in our congregation who communicate but once a year, and that on Easter Day.”

The Cathedral celebrated Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in June 1887 and the event was covered in the July magazine.  The service itself, which was a Diocesan celebration, was well received with the Cathedral choir being supplemented by choirs from other churches in the Diocese as well as an orchestra. However, what should have been a joyous occasion seemed to have had some underlying niggles as shown in the following extract!

“The offertory reached £33, and an analysis of the coins is published on anther page, from which it may be seen that 1500 people contributed; as there were certainly some 1800 people present, a great many gave nothing whatever to the offertory.  We fear that there has been some annoyance caused to members of the Cathedral congregation concerning the tickets for reserved chairs; but we may remind such as are aggrieved, that it was a service for the Diocese, and not for one congregation alone; and had tickets been given to all Cathedral worshippers, there would have been a “bitter cry” from the Diocese!”

Next: Finances

Iain Morrison Hon. Archivist.

Pentecost – Sermon preached online by the Vice Provost, Marion Chatterley

‘How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’.

We hear and see and taste and smell each in our own unique way, emerging from our own life experiences and personal make up. Babies learn how to make sense of what they encounter by looking and touching and tasting – and as we journey through our lives, we continue to gather information that helps us to process what our brains encounter. We learn that things that look a particular way have a certain texture; that things that don’t look inviting probably don’t taste so good; that people from different cultures use their mouths differently and are able to make different sounds as they speak and sing. Our native language is more than just the use of a particular alphabet or phraseology; our native language connects with who we are physically and physiologically. Some languages are expressive, romantic; some languages are functional and sound harsh to other ears; some have sounds that people from other cultures are simply incapable of imitating. Some people communicate by signs and gestures – there may be no sound.  Those differences in how we use our ears and mouths are true of our other senses as well. That may be less about cultural differences and perhaps a little more about lived experience. Our native language is about more than words.

Think for a moment about looking with other people at a work of art. As an example, here’s a Turner painting from the National Gallery. I wonder what catches your attention. Do you scan the landscape for familiar buildings or is your eye drawn to the people in the foreground? Knowing it’s a Turner, do you check out the sky, wondering what the Edinburgh weather was like that day? And if you were to come back to it tomorrow, would you focus on the same things or would your eye be drawn towards something different? What happens when someone points out something that they have just noticed? The gallery notes tell me that the building to the east of Regent Bridge is a Masons’ shed – does that little bit of information help you to see the painting differently? Art speaks to us in its own voice – and we respond with our own voice.

Of course, it’s not just our visual sense that takes in information in ways that are particular to us. Our sense of smell is a good example of personal response to the same stimulus. One person’s beautiful aroma is another person’s nightmare scent. A good example of that is the smell of a wet dog – you either love it or hate it. And the answer is probably rooted in experiences you’ve had in your life. Look again at the painting – what smells might it evoke for you? Can you imagine how that scene might sound? What would it feel like to be there, to be one of those people that Turner painted?

So here we are at Pentecost, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit – each hearing in their own native language. Each engaging and responding from a place of lived experience. For the disciples, a lived experience of the presence of God in the human form of Jesus Christ; and then they found themselves gifted with a new way to engage with God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Imagine yourself now into that scene from Acts. What might you see and hear and smell and feel?

And now imagine hearing one of the disciples speaking in a language that is familiar to you, speaking in English, communicating in a way that you can pick out and understand. Allow yourself to be reminded that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift for God’s people.

We can be quick to think that the Holy Spirit is only about holy moments; that we pray for the Holy Spirit to bless us at particular moments in our liturgy, but that it’s not prominent in our day to day lives. What it we reframe that thinking and see the Spirit as multi-faceted, see the Spirit as a pathway to and from God that resonates for us in different ways at different times. What if our experience of the Holy Spirit can be shaped by our lived experience; what if an encounter with that Holy Spirit is available to us a lot more of the time if we only shift our awareness?

We already think and speak about our encounters with God the Creator as being multi-faceted. We might recognise the hand of God in the landscape of the Highlands; we might feel close to God when we’re walking in the Pentlands; we might hear God with us when we’re praying alone; we might feel that God is present when we gather to worship. This morning, I’d like to consider that our encounters with the Holy Spirit are similarly multi-faceted and are rooted within our lived experience of engaging within our cultural context.

We hear, each of us, in our own native language. We hear more and more clearly when we listen. We hear more and more clearly when we dig a bit deeper to broaden our understanding of what our native language might be. As soon as we remember that language is about much more than words, our perspective changes. In a place like this, that’s perhaps especially apparent as we listen to the language of music and liturgy and are surrounded by visual stimuli. Within our church community, we perhaps hear even more when we begin to share with other people.

In the same way that sharing what we saw within the painting broadened our experience, so sharing what we hear and see and feel when we encounter God deepens our own experience and has the potential to impact on those who listen to us. We’re not always good at discussing our experiences of God; they can feel private, personal, so fleeting that we don’t know whether to mention them. But if we create opportunities to take that risk, to offer a word or an image or a feeling, maybe, just maybe, someone who is listening will hear in their native language.

As we make plans to gather together again, I wonder whether there may be people within this worshipping community who would be willing to take that kind of risk. People who would like to gather as a small group – or groups – that would offer the space to access and share something of each person’s native language, each person’s unique response, each person’s lived experience. This would be a different way to pray together, an opportunity to focus on our own journeying and deepening. An opportunity to actively walk alongside, to share what might be an emerging language for all of us.

Whether we intentionally go forward with others, or commit to being a little more aware day by day, the gift of the Spirit journeys with us and for us. I pray that with our ears and our eyes, with our voices and our senses we will each recognise and honour that Spirit.

Epiphany – Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost – 5/1/2020

We’ve journeyed from Christmas to Epiphany – 12 days that have taken us from shepherds to kings by way of a star.  12 days that remind us, yet again, of the enormity of the Incarnation, that moment when the world really was changed.

Just over a week ago, during the first services of the Christmas season, we heard one of our best loved passages of Scripture, St John’s revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation – in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  Our Christmas celebrations began with a reminder that the truth about God is a revelation, that this is all about mystery; that it’s a truth we know in our hearts rather than our heads.

This morning, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, our focus is on sharing more widely the revelation that Jesus is God incarnate.  That revelation is represented by the arrival of the Magi who have moved into our crib scene to give us a visual reminder.  The essence of the revelation is spelled out to us in our reading from the letter to the Ephesians.  The revelation this writer is referring to is of the mystery of God, the otherness of God, the inclusive nature of God.

This is the moment in the Christmas story when it is spelled out, more or less in words of one syllable, that the Incarnation is for all humanity, that, as St Paul said in the letter to the Galatians, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female…  The mystery of God was revealed to and for the whole of humanity, without difference, without any kind of hierarchy, without comment.  The Word didn’t become flesh as an end game; the word became flesh as a starting place, the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the relationship between God and humankind.

One of the tasks of this Cathedral is to share the story of the Good News with people who visit our building.  Not just those who join us for worship, but the many people who come into this building, perhaps as part of their exploration of our city; people who come looking initially at what we have and who, in that pursuit, may discover something about who we are.  Our challenge, I suggest, is for our visitors to both see and experience something of interest, something that touches them and makes a difference to their spiritual lives.

This is not just another venue on the tourist trail, it’s an active and living place of worship, a building whose primary purpose is to glorify God and to support people in their own journeys towards engagement with their God.

I like to observe people as they arrive in the building when there isn’t an act of worship underway.  People find their way through the glass doors and they almost always are stopped in their tracks.  Whatever they had anticipated, it’s not what they find here.  The sheer scale and proportions of the building speak for themselves.  People arrive at the West end and they can’t help but look up.  At the moment, they see Mike Appleby’s sculpture – the star of Bethlehem leading to the crown of thorns, the baby in the manger who will within months be remembered as the Crucified and resurrected one.  People stop because the physical surroundings cause them to stop, but I think it’s something more than that.  People stop in their tracks because there is something intangible that they meet as soon as they come into this place.  This is a place that seeks to say something by its very existence.

When those people orientate themselves, most of them then do one of two things.  They may stop at the candle stands and light a candle, say a prayer, perhaps even sit for a time.  Others wander around, looking at the art and the windows and the altars.  Most of them will find their way to the painting of the Presence in the North Aisle here.  Some people come specifically to see that painting.  It’s a painting that tells us something about the Epiphany, tells us something about what the revelation of God is about in this place.  The painting shows the grandeur of the building, it tells us something about the human response to God, the use of gifts and skills to create somewhere that speaks of something and someone far beyond itself.  But it also speaks about the mystery of God, the God whom we encounter when we least expect it, the God who seeks us out even when we don’t think we’re looking in that direction.

The Presence reminds us that a part of our mission in this place is to find ways to say something about the revealed mystery of God, to be sure that we are alert to the possibilities that arise to share more than the glory of our building, but to point people towards the glory of God.

This morning’s reminder is that God is the God of all people – whoever and however they are.  There is not a chosen elite, each of us is invited to make a choice – a choice to follow in the footsteps of the Magi, to travel this particular path alongside the earliest believers and disciples; to follow the light and the word, journeying towards our God, allowing ourselves to open our eyes and hearts to the revealed mystery that is told and explored within our Scriptures and in our lived experience.

The painting of the Presence has two points of focus.  There is a strong and compelling light over the High Altar, a light that draws us to that place where the bread is taken and broken – for every one of us.  And at the same time, our eyes are drawn to that place at the very back of the Cathedral where the Christ is fully present.  Fully present for every one of us.

The daily celebration of the Eucharist in this place is a reminder of the offering of self that God makes to us.  The bread and the wine are blessed and consecrated, they become for us something that is holy, our spiritual food and drink, the means of physical encounter with our Incarnate God.

At the same time, the moments of silence and reflection that we can find here enable us to access the God who is always present in this place, present in the beauty and the holiness, present in the Word and in that Word made flesh.

It’s easy for us to take this place for granted, to forget to look and to reflect because this is where we’ve made our spiritual home.  And so I’d like to suggest that we each set ourselves an exercise over the coming weeks – to come into the building as though it were for the first time.  To come into the building slowly and prayerfully and to allow ourselves to be drawn into the revealed truth that is in these very stones, the revealed truth that God offers to each of us.

Let’s allow ourselves to be drawn into that Presence, both at the altar and as we light a candle.  Whether we identify with the shepherds or the Magi, our Incarnate God is waiting to greet us.

Christ the King – Marion Chatterley, Team Priest – 24/11/2019

Here we are at the gate of the year.  Traditionally known as Stir up Sunday, the end of one liturgical year and the moment when we begin to think about the next.  And next week, Advent Sunday, we begin the Christian story all over again; we’ll prepare for the Incarnation, for the gift of God’s son, for annual celebrations and festivities.  But, despite the fact that the shops are stocked up with Christmas goods, we’re not quite there yet.  This week we have half an eye on what is to come, but at the same time we look backwards and reflect on the year that has passed.  This isn’t the moment to reflect on our personal year, that comes in a few weeks time, but rather a moment to reflect on what we have learned about God in the course of this past year.  Our three year cycle of readings tells the stories we know in slightly different ways, year on year, and this year we’ve been engaging with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ through the lens of Luke.

Luke was a physician.  He was a Gentile.  He writes in a refined and vivid way.  At the heart of Luke’s Gospel are people.  Luke teaches us about Jesus by telling stories about how Jesus interacted with people, many of whom were not exactly the great and the good.

Luke shows us how Jesus behaved and the impact he had on people as a way of making sure that we understand who Jesus was.  On this Sunday when we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, we might have anticipated an upbeat Gospel reading, something that spoke about leadership and strength, stories about power and authority, but instead we find ourselves reading about the events that took place at Calvary.  We are pushed immediately into a counter cultural definition of kingship, into allowing our ideas to be challenged – hopefully into a place of curiosity where we want to know more.

Luke’s description of the crucifixion sets out its stall by telling us what the various characters are doing and saying.  We are drawn into the story as we are encouraged to both look and listen – to engage as fully as we can with what is unfolding.  We are not given a lot of gory detail about crucifixion, Luke’s audience would have known that all too well, but there is plenty going on.  In Luke’s Passion narrative, we learn about Jesus primarily by hearing what the other people who were there said and how he responded to them.  It’s about what he said, what he chose not to say, and how he treated people, not about what was done to him and how he coped.

The scene we’re concerned with this morning is counter cultural from its opening verses.  It begins with Jesus offering forgiveness rather than blame – Father, forgive them.   So this is a compassionate king; this is a king who understands the people around him; this is a king who is thinking of others rather than himself.  And he quickly becomes a king who is mocked and verbally abused.  And what we learn this morning is that he doesn’t engage with that negativity.  The leaders and the soldiers did their best to rile him, but there is no recorded response.

And then one of the criminals joined in.  It seems as though he picked up the mood of the moment and chose to have his fun.  And still, there is no response from Jesus – the rebuke comes from the other criminal.  Jesus finally responds, he responds to the positivity of the more honest criminal, the one who recognises him for who and what he is: Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.  And now, this king does respond.  He responds with generosity and with a gift of hope – today you will be with me in paradise.

So this is a king who responds to the positive movements around him and who is able to let the negativity pass over.  This is a king who brings hope into a hopeless situation, who brings a reminder that there is something more to focus on and to look forward to.  A king who is able and willing to invite people into his kingdom.  And look at who is being invited. Not the people who might deserve that invitation; not the people who have done their best to get alongside him; not even his closest companions.  The invitation is issued to a pair of criminals who, we might assume, he hadn’t met before and who by their own admission deserved to be punished rather than rewarded.

Within these few verses we have learned much about the king whom we celebrate and honour this morning.  And in doing so, we can reflect on what we may have learned about the nature of God in the course of a year spent reading about our God through the lens of Luke’s gospel.  Time and again, Luke shows us something about God by showing us what happens when Jesus engages with people, people from all sorts of backgrounds and situations.

This has been about relationships.  We’ve learned about the relationships that Jesus had with the people he met during the course of his life and ministry.  We’ve read about how Jesus responded to people whoever they were – those who had made mistakes, those who were uncertain and those who were in no doubt that their Messiah was in their midst.  In each and every situation, he shows us something of the nature of God.  He accepts people whoever they are; he hears the voices that repent and responds compassionately to them; he hears the voices of the hypocrites and calls them out.  He reminds us time and again that relationship with God is central to our wellbeing and ability to thrive.

This particular Sunday, we are called, yet again, into that relationship with God.  We are reminded that no-one is beyond God’s love; that no-one lives without hope.  God’s kingdom is the jurisdiction of the king whom we honour today.  That king calls each one of us to get alongside him.  He responds to our positive words and actions and he allows our negativity to fall by the wayside.  That king encourages us to see who he is and to reflect on who we are.

His starting place this morning was to offer forgiveness and his ending place was to offer hope.

We recognise the kingship of Jesus in what he said, what he chose not to say and how he responded to the people around him.  We honour that kingship when we are mindful about what we say, what we choose not to say and how we respond to the people around us.

Pentecost 18 – John McLuckie – 13/10/19

The world feels more uncertain right now than it has for a long time. Old allegiances are challenged and the deep wisdom of our religious heritage is scorned by many. Faith is often caricatured as a kind of feeble appeal to an external, unquestionable authority and even the wisdom of scientists and experts is dismissed as mere opinion. When faced with a barrage of philosophical speculations like these, Voltaire’s character, Candide, replies with a disarmingly simple piece of advice: ‘Il faut cultiver le jardin’ – we must dig the garden. Christians would do well to heed his advice, for the turmoil of our world requires patience, not panic, wisdom, not slogans. Candide’s advice is that we should tend to the basic elements that make it possible for life to flourish, that we should see to the simple and deep stuff, not the shrill and superficial stuff. It is tempting to react to overwhelming challenges with elaborate schemes and eye-catching innovations or, worse, with simplistic judgements that propose winners and losers, insiders and outsiders. Faith, by contrast, urges a different response; a patient tending of the garden, trusting in the growth that is given when we seek to make good the conditions that make for growth.

This is beautifully expressed in words from today’s Epistle where Timothy is urged, in the RSV translation, to ‘present [him]self to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.’ I prefer this to the translation we heard a few minutes ago where the work is seen as an intellectual, interpretive endeavour. In this version, Timothy’s work as teacher and pastor has value when it is seen in terms of the rightful handling of the basic material of the spiritual life. He is an artisan who treats the stuff of his trade with respect and care. And what is the basic material of the spiritual life? Well, it is nothing less than the stuff of life itself. What is praised here is not elaboration, not sophistication, but endurance. In other words, the spiritual path is not one where we present an idealised version of life, but one in which we choose to stick with life’s path, whatever it throws at us. The spiritual life is simply life.

The world of faith is not abstract but concrete: how do I respond to this setback? How do I live with my limitations? How do I live with the reality that whatever choice I make in this situation comes with difficult consequences? What can I do in the face of a challenge that is far bigger than my own limited sphere of influence? How can I love when that love may find no reciprocation? Christian faith is profoundly realistic when it comes to such questions. I confess to feeling a degree of impatience when people suggest that religion offers easy answers for the simple-minded. It does not. It offers clarity but not easy comfort, encouragement but not escape, penitence, not self-justification. Above all, what faith offers us is perspective. It urges us to see beyond the immediate and towards the ultimate, beyond the self and towards the whole, beyond the perishable and towards the imperishable. And it offers us concrete strategies to make this possible.

If Christian faith is a matter of tending the garden of our lives, then its practices and insights are ones which require persistence, confidence and hope. Gardens are not the work of hours and sometimes not even the work of one lifetime. When Timothy was encouraged to see himself as a workman rightly handling the material of his life, he was given a pattern for such a way of life. Firstly, a workman like this must die to self, die with Christ. I was urged last week to say something radical in my last sermon with you, and here it is. We must die with Christ. This means nothing less than a complete re-centring of our lives so that they do not revolve around self-concern but are lived in radical freedom, abandoned to the greater truth of life in Christ, life in all its fullness, life that is free from the compulsions of success, recognition, status or domination. But this is also a life that is free from self-loathing, blame or condemnation. As Timothy was told, the Word of God is unfettered, free, abundant.

There are many practices and disciplines that allow us to tend the garden of our lives and the greatest among them is our practice of unceasing prayer, the prayer of the heart. But today’s Gospel offers another, perhaps less obvious one, and that is the practice of gratitude, of giving thanks. Here, an outsider receives the gift of health from Jesus, but he receives even more when he responds with gratitude. The other nine lepers are also freed from disease, but only he is freed to embrace life because he has discovered its fundamental truth, and I can let you into its secret: life is a gift! There’s another radical statement for you today – life is a gift! And what do you do when you are offered a gift? Well, you might do two things. First, you receive it. Second, you give thanks. The first movement is related to my first radical suggestion to you this morning – receiving a gift requires a kind of death to self. To accept a gift is to relinquish control, to be open-handed and open-hearted. It is a kind of vulnerability because it says that I do not have all that I need in myself. It says that I am willing to express my insufficiency and my place in the great chain of life. Our life is not our own creation but a gift from God.

The second movement is the heart of Christian worship – thanksgiving. The very offering we make Sunday by Sunday, the offering of the Eucharist, is an offering of thanks. We say that it is right to give our thanks and praise before the priest goes on to give thanks, in our name, to God for the gifts that make us who we are. When we give thanks, our relationship to the things for which we give thanks changes. They are no longer instruments of our purposes but gifts to be relished. This simple act is what gives us strength to endure. This is what makes it possible for us to handle rightly the material of our lives.

Today I give thanks for seven wonderful years of life with you all. We have shared much and I am humbled by the privilege of doing my little bit to cultivate the garden of our life together. Keep on digging, planting and watering with patience and with gratitude. I give thanks for you and I give thanks to God, the giver of all good gifts, for he is faithful and his mercy endures for ever.

Pentecost 17 – Marion Chatterley, Team Priest – 6/10/2019

From the second letter to Timothy ‘Guard the good treasure entrusted to you’.

Words written by St Paul, probably just before his execution; words of command, not just for Timothy but for those whom he would teach.  Words to pass down through the generations of believers.

I’d like to think this morning about the good treasure that has been entrusted to us, what it might mean for us to guard that treasure and how we might pass it on to future generations.  Some of you will have noticed that we launched a new social media campaign at the beginning of this month.  Our hashtag is Treasure our Cathedral and over the coming months we’re going to be sharing posts on a daily basis that reference the life and witness of this place.  When we began to think about the social media campaign, our starting place was the rhythm and cycles of prayer that are at the heart of who we are and what we do.  Day by day, in words and music and silence, in the majesty and the beauty, this place supports and enables the prayers of its people. We are steeped in the prayers that have been offered here over the ages, we add to and enliven those prayers and leave our own legacy for those who will follow us.

Our building is clearly not just our gathering place, but also our spiritual and, for some, our emotional home.  There are physical treasures within this place – art and embroidery; woodwork and glass.  All gifted to us by skilled craftspeople – some in years gone by and some created in recent months and years.  Those visual arts may help us to focus, may remind us of something of the nature of God.

The first treasure then, is tangible.  And within this tangible space come the treasures that bring the building alive.  Our liturgy is one of our treasures – beautifully crafted words that help us to engage with the core of our worship, to share in the breaking of bread and the distribution of wine.  Our liturgy expresses our theology, feeds our minds and our hearts, points us towards the Divine.  In this place, that liturgy is supported and enhanced by our musicians.  Carefully chosen music, performed in a way that is neither intrusive or for its own sake, but liturgical music offered as a part of our expression of worship.

These offerings are, of course, dependent on the work and gifts of individuals who lead and support the different elements of our worship.   People are one of the treasures of this place.  And, of course, people are our treasures not just in this place and in this area of our lives but throughout all of the aspects and areas of life we inhabit.  People are our connections and our inspiration.  People are our carers and those who care for us.  People are those who love us, those whom we love and those whom we find it difficult to love.  And we know from our understanding of Scripture that each one is loved by God, each one is treasured by God.

So what does it mean for us to guard our treasures?  In some ways, the answer to that question is obvious if we’re thinking about our building and the things that are within it.  We have a responsibility to care for this place, to look after the artefacts and crafted work that surround us.  To guard it in order to pass it on to future generations and to make sure that it is in good order when we do so.  And we now understand that our stewardship extends beyond the simple care of our building and possessions.  Stewardship includes our responsibility within this place to care for our wider community and to take into account the environmental impact of all that we do.  Last week our children unveiled the new banners that remind us of those responsibilities.

They spoke about our use of sources of energy; the materials we use; the day to day choices we make – and the impact of all of those on people across our globe.

We were also reminded last week of our more local responsibilities to people who may be less fortunate than us.  Our foodbank collection was a practical way for us to care for others; it was also a symbolic way for us to treasure the more vulnerable people within our communities, to remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to care for God’s people alongside our responsibility to care for God’s created world – it’s not an either/or.

Within every place of worship we have a responsibility to treasure and honour, to hold the balance between ‘in here and out there’, recognising that everything we do is grounded in our collective life of prayer.  We offer the best worship we can – in our words and our music, in the ways that we conduct our services and in what we seek to share about God within the content of those services.   In praying together, we journey together.

We guard all that we treasure week on week as we gather as the body of Christ in this place, and others, because the ultimate treasure isn’t the building or the liturgy or the music or even the people – the real treasure is the grace that we receive when we encounter and engage with the risen Christ in our midst.  The real treasure is the love of God which is revealed to us in the tangible and intangible treasures that are right here in this place.

One of our responsibilities is to ensure that the gift we find in this place is kept healthy and alive in order that it can be shared with future generations.  It’s been a real pleasure to welcome the Friends of Cathedral Music over this weekend and we hope that you will take something of what we treasure back with you to your home churches.  It is incumbent on each one of us to honour our traditions and to do whatever we can, to give in whatever way we can, in order to ensure that the treasure is not just preserved but enhanced and enriched for the benefit of those who will follow us.

Let’s return to our hashtag – Treasure our Cathedral.  Whether or not we are people who engage with social media, we can share the message of that campaign.  The treasure that is this Cathedral, its building and artefacts, its liturgy and music, its people and their commitment – that treasure is too good to keep hidden.

We all carry the responsibility to share the Good News that we find here, to invite others to experience the treasures that are on offer.  In so doing, we will play our own part in ensuring that this place and all that makes it what it is, will be available for many generations to come.

Friends of Cathedral Music – The Royal Diamond Fund

“Last week I payed a visit to Liverpool for three days with The Royal Diamond Fund representing the St Mary’s Cathedral choir in their concert bringing together lots of choristers from all over Britain in aid of helping families in challenging financial circumstances meet the costs of chorister life.

On day one the morning was full of travelling, planes and trains. And then the afternoon was more eventful, we (me and my dad) made our way across Liverpool to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral where we made our first impressions and had the first rehearsal. What was striking about the first rehearsal was how incredible 70+ singers all sounded together in one room, and the level of professionalism and skill everyone had, it’s an unforgettable sound.

Day two, rehearsals in the morning meant getting up early but I didn’t mind, that morning everyone was introducing themselves and making friends, it’s refreshing to hear everyone else’s stories of their own choirs and hearing other choristers that have the same life as you’ve had, sometimes chorister life can feel isolating from others but when you meet people that do the same thing as you do everyday and have such similar yet so different experiences, you can really appreciate the experiences you’ve had.

From rehearsal to concert we had a break where we visited the Tate modern art museum, an interesting and confusing place but nonetheless beautiful.

Just before the concert I was chosen along with a few of my friends to meet the Duchess of Gloucester who joined us for the first half of our programme. The concert included pieces from ‘Zadok the Priest’- by George Handel  to ‘Yesterday’- by The Beatles to ‘You’ll never walk alone’ – by Richard Rodgers (in memory of The 96) and was all round a greatly enjoyable experience with great friends and great music.

On day three we had a few hours to spare before travelling home so we spent the day firstly in the (incredible and moving) Beatles Story, and then walking across the harbour to the (also extremely moving) Slavery Museum ans then we rounded off our day in the John and Yoko exhibition, which very nearly brought me to tears being a Beatles fan, I think we visited these in perfect order and would highly recommend all of these to anyone of any age who is interested (especially the John and Yoko exhibition). 

We left Liverpool with a tear in our eye and a smile on our face, all round a great experience I will cherish for years to come.

Thank you for making it possible.”

Nora Rose, Senior Chorister