The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun
Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; Revelation 4
It is a very great honour, on behalf of the Church of England in South London and East Surrey and all the parishes of the Diocese, which this Cathedral serves, to be able to pay tribute to four brothers and one sister in Christ newly installed as Ecumenical Canons.
I also salute in his absence His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, who was installed during the Midnight Mass at Christmas; and I rejoice that the Bishop of Bergen, Halvor Nordhaug, succeeded in 2015 our pioneer Ecumenical Canon Jacob Knudsen for whom this dignity was such a great source of encouragement during his final illness.
Three years ago as the Cathedral Statutes were being revised, to permit among other things an increase in the number of Honorary Canons and Lay Canons, I made a Request to the Dean and Chapter that we should jointly give our support to the creation of Ecumenical Canons in order to model at the heart of the life of our Cathedral Church that we are fellow pilgrims on the way to realising in our structures the unity which our Lord willed for his disciples. The Cathedral statutes provide that “an Ecumenical Canon may (if so invited by the Dean) preach or minister in the Cathedral”. I would hazard the Dean will not be slow in emitting such invitations; for we are greatly blessed that from this day we have a gifted and distinguished college of Ecumenical Canons.
The Revd Steve Chalke, a Baptist minister, founded the Oasis Trust in 1985, developing the Oasis family of charities now operating over 4 continents with its beating heart in Waterloo, firmly within the Diocese of Southwark. A campaigner for justice and radical inclusion, entrepreneur, speaker and broadcaster, Steve has been an inspiration to many ultimately not for his many gifts but his zeal for the Gospel and love of our Lord.
Fr Anthony Currer, sometime curate and parish priest in Durham where he also served as Catholic Chaplain to the University, now serving the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, with responsibility for relations with Anglicans and Methodists. Not only that, but he also captained the Vatican’s Cricket team on its recent tour of England. Archbishop David Moxon, Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, is very sorry not to be with us this afternoon but sends his greetings and wrote to me: ‘I want to place on record my deep appreciation of this provision because it sends all kind of good signals outwards, to many of our colleagues here in Rome. It says that Anglicans take Catholics very seriously in terms of our own structures and our own offices. It says that we are committed to interweaving our lives and gifts, and it says that we want to be up front and public about our partnerships in Christ. Fr Currer is a most worthy recipient and will be a most positive and valuable colleague, as you need him. He has been so to us here for four years.’
Bishop Paul Hendricks, along with Bishop Donnett Thomas and me, has worked hard to ensure that Churches Together in South London has flourished as a vibrant ecumenical forum and centre of mission. The three of us served successively as Chairperson. Bishop Paul as well as studying at University with the Bishop of Kingston, served in parishes in Tooting and Peckham, and as a lecturer at St John’s Seminary in Wonersh before his consecration. He represents the Roman Catholic Church at Churches Together in England and is a Trustee of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and a member of English ARC (Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue) since 2008. He is also Co-Chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum following Bishop Richard in this role.
The Revd Les Isaac experienced gangs and street violence in early life, becoming a Christian in his late teens; and this inspired him to seek to engage with those from the same challenging background he had known, sharing a Gospel that is practical in its spirituality and spiritual in its practicality. A minister for 35 years, in 2003 he co-founded Street Pastors, an organisation which has greatly blessed all the London Boroughs and many cities and towns besides. Les has a strong affinity with the Diocese and indeed with this Cathedral and we worked together to ensure very joyful celebrations here to mark the 20th anniversary of the Ascension Trust and 10th of Street Pastors.
Bishop Donnett Thomas having served in the New Testament Assembly for 20 years, founded in 2001 what is now called Power of the Living Word Ministries International, which sustains churches across Kenya and in Chennai, South India. Bishop Donnett loves her Anglican associations particularly in Clapham and brings her deep wisdom and experience of spiritual and receptive ecumenism, being a former Chair of Churches Together in South London, a member of Faiths Forum for London, Faiths Together in Lambeth, Churches Together in Clapham, Churches Working Together in Clapham Park; she is currently one of the Presidents of the Christian Muslim Forum. Bishop Donnett is a master of timing and there is a certain gleam in her eye when making requests that cannot be refused!
Together with Bishop Angaelos and Bishop Halvor, by God’s grace our Ecumenical Canons will encourage and edify us with their wisdom and friendship – friendship is perhaps one of the most important aspects of good ecumenical relations - with the insights of sister churches within the Body of Christ, and will I pray bring new textures, different sonorities, startling and unexpected tones. They will bring something new to this Cathedral and these will be new harmonies. May these be harmonies that lift the curtain on that greater harmony of which John on Patmos writes when, beyond the end of all things, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders sing “Holy, holy, holy”.
Now, when we think of harmony, those of my own generation, of a mischievous bent, may recall the encounter between Eric Morecambe and André Previn on the Morecambe and Wise show. Eric Morecambe is “playing” the piano for a performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto which André Previn is trying to conduct. He misses his cue, arriving at the piano late, or standing to wave back when André Previn gestures him to begin. And when at length he plays it is but a bumbling pastiche of Grieg. André Previn, clearly in pain, tells him to stop.
“You’re playing ALL the wrong notes”, he remonstrates.
Eric pauses, stands, grasps André Previn by the lapels and snarls, “I'm playing all the RIGHT notes”. Then pausing for thought, perhaps realising he is on slightly shaky ground, says: “but not NECESSARILY in the right order”.
There is something serious here to ponder as we think about the vision of creative wisdom in Proverbs, of the heavenly harmony in Revelation, and of the joy of welcoming newly installed Ecumenical Canons.
For the God who reveals himself through Scripture is both a God of infinite variety and a God of deep order. We see this in the vast variety of creatures and plants in the natural world, and the beautiful ordered patterns that so often emerge from this complexity – a beauty and order, alas, which humankind is at present doing a good deal fatally to disrupt. Likewise in our own lives, our individual experiences, our communities too, God delights in variety. He has made each of us fearfully, wonderfully, and different. It is in our differences that we learn, in our differences that we grow, in our differences that we find the deeper sources of true joy in our human community. Not the dull order of uniformity but the glorious order of a wondrous and multi-patterned harmony.
The making of this harmony is nothing less than the work of Creation. What does God bring forth before the springs and the mountains and the hills? He brings forth wisdom. And we are not wrong in hearing an echo of the great hymn of the Prologue to St John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word… All things came into being through him”.
In our own lives we aim to cultivate and harmonise the different parts of our nature, developing our characters not as a bland unity, but as a complex, multi-layered, yet coherent whole. Likewise in human society our highest hope is to forge a unity in which we are all equal, but not all the same; in which we realise common purpose through bringing different gifts and passions to bear; in which each of us can be fully who we are and also contribute to the whole.
And what is our part in creating this harmony? Well, as any musician will tell you, harmony is not achieved merely by playing the right notes; it is only achieved by listening. What do the twenty four elders do when they sing their harmonious hymn to the God by whose will all things existed and were created? They cast their crowns before him.
The secret to harmony is listening in humility. The making of other voices to be more important than our own. This is indeed the inhabited world that the Wisdom of God is at work to create, the human race in whom he delights. It is this which the Church is called to model for the world, and by welcoming these Ecumenical Canons in its midst, this great Cathedral is doing just that. May we and all those whom this Mother Church serves, continue to sing the eternal song in ever richer harmony. Even so, come Lord Jesus!