The Dean - The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn
Genesis 14.17-20; Revelation 19.6-10; John 2.1-11
The newly released film ‘Darkest Hour’ is giving people the opportunity to think again about the leadership that Winston Churchill gave to this nation
One thing that you can say for him is that he knew the power of language, when to use it and how it could change things at critical moments. His skill with rhetoric forced you to listen to him. One of the many things that he said that’s often quoted and often by those in leadership positions is
‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’
There was certainly a crisis going on in the little town of Cana in Galilee. A wedding was happening. Mary was there as a guest and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. The celebrations were in full swing and everyone was having a fantastic time. And then, disaster happens. Someone looked under the table where all the wine had been stashed and there was nothing left – the guests had drunk the place dry. But everyone was still in party mood.
Mary intervenes. ‘Do whatever he tells you’ she says to the servants and Jesus tells them to take water and deliver it to the Sommelier. On tasting the water he found that it was wine and of the best kind – and of such a quantity – 120 to 180 gallons of it – staggering. And then the Steward, not knowing what’d happened makes a great declaration
‘You have kept the good wine until now.’
It’s interesting that nowhere in this story does John use the word miracle. It was a miracle, a miracle of creation, but John avoids that word for one which has, for him, great significance in telling the story of Jesus. He chooses instead the word ‘sign’.
The story concludes
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
John in telling the story of Jesus does it in a very different way to that of the other three gospel writers. They try to give us a history, Jesus did this, then he did that, then he did the other – one thing after another. But John wants to take us deeper, into the mystery, into the theology, into just who Jesus was, who Jesus is, and the truth of that can lie below the surface.
And so he looks for signs, pointers, indicators to the true nature of Jesus, the divine nature of Jesus – and he finds seven, beginning with this act of creation in Cana and ending with the raising of Lazarus to new life, a day of resurrection if you like. So John gives us a new account of creation, held in seven signs, just as in seven days.
Jesus had not let the crisis go to waste. He’d acted in such a way that his glory was revealed and something of the true nature of God and of the kingdom, of which in himself he was the sign, was understood by his disciples who, looking on in awe, believe in him.
There’s been something of a crisis for cathedrals. It’s interesting because in fact, as the report of the Working Group on Cathedrals which was published last Thursday points out, Cathedrals are one of the success stories of the Church of England.
The report begins like this
Cathedrals are spectacular and wonderful expressions of the mission of God in his world. There is much to celebrate, guard and nurture in the life of cathedrals.
‘Spectacular and wonderful’ – it sounds like Cana all over again!
Cathedrals continue to grow, more people are increasingly attending services in cathedrals, we’re engaged in mission, we’re working with local, civic society, people look to us for spiritual leadership and the role we play in community. In terms of what the wider church wants the local church to do cathedrals are in general doing it. We are, to use Archbishop Justin’s phrase when he was Dean of Liverpool
‘a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service.’
But there was a crisis last year as things went seriously wrong in two cathedrals – in Peterborough and in Exeter. Because of the rather wonderful Elizabethan settlement which creates a separation of powers between cathedrals and bishops, maintains a creative tension in which much that is good and risky for the church and the kingdom can be done, bishops have limited authority in their cathedral. That is until there’s a crisis and then they can make a Visitation. And when they make a Visitation what they decide has to be done by the Chapter – it’s the moment of their greatest authority as far as we’re concerned.
The result of Visitations in both Peterborough and Exeter was that it was decided that there needed to be a thorough examination of both governance, the way in which cathedrals are run, and financial controls, the way in which we manage our money, and recommendations made about how both of these could be tightened up and improved for the future, in all cathedrals.
All the Deans had the opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with the chair of the Working Group, the Bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, and of course I took that opportunity. The group also sought opinions and facts from a wide variety of stakeholders inside and outside of cathedrals – and there are many people with positive and not so positive views about the place of cathedrals in the Church of England as she now is.
And so out of that crisis this draft report has come and we’re now in a period of consultation. The Chapter has decided to seek your opinions and to help us to do that an open meeting for the congregation has been organised for Sunday 11 February after the Choral Eucharist for those of you who do have a view on these matters. We’re also having a special meeting of the Chapter to which members of the Cathedral Council and other committees and groups have been invited. You can also feed your opinions through your Wardens, Matthew and Daniel, or through any of the clergy.
The report contains quite a lot of recommendations and some of them would involve pretty major changes to the way in which things are done, here but perhaps not to the same extent as in some other cathedrals.
But as well as absorbing the fine details of the report we have to heed the words of Mary to the servants in the Gospel for today ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
What we try to do, and I’m now speaking specifically of this cathedral, is to do the will of God, to listen to the Lord, to do whatever he tells us. We have a strong identity, a strong brand amongst cathedrals. Whether they like it or not people tend to know what Southwark Cathedral stands for – we describe it so well in our vision statement which is at the top of the notice sheet every week and I hope is absorbed by you
Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.
We believe that that is the way that the water is turned into wine, we believe that is the way in which we can be a sign post, a pointer to the reality of the kingdom, being faithful to what the Lord wants us to do. But that doesn’t mean that on a day-to-day basis, as a Chapter, as your Dean, there are not things that we can or should do better or differently.
Like all cathedrals we need to take this report very seriously and take our part in this process of consultation and the subsequent debates that will take place and the implementation of whatever the wider church finally discerns is the way forward.
Cathedrals are a gift to the church and to the nation. We know that to be true. But perhaps we shouldn’t let this particular crisis go to waste, just as Jesus didn’t let that crisis at the wedding go to waste. Water can be made into wine, in our lives, in our communities, in our nation, in our churches even in our cathedrals, if we listen to what he tells us – and perhaps, you never know, the best wine is yet to come!