Judith's Last Sermon at Gloucester

8th September 2002

Gloucester Cathedral

Lone Pilgrim

A lone pilgrim having completed the observances at the shrine of the cathedral, walks away from the Holy City, that great and ancient place of pilgrimage.
On the road the homeward pilgrim meets another coming in the opposite direction walking towards the Holy City. 
The one walking towards the Holy City says to the first ‘And what are the people like in the Holy City?’
‘Before I answer you that’ says the first ‘pray tell me, how are the people from where you come from?’
Says the other with a shifty look ‘Where I come from all are murderers, thieves, liars, all are untrustworthy; there is rubbish on the streets. They will steal the worn cloak off a poor woman’s back in exchange for a glass of warm beer. There is no good in anyone – no not one.’
‘You will find the same in the Holy City.’ says the first and they went their different ways.

The first pilgrim meets yet another coming in the opposite direction walking towards the Holy City. 
The one walking towards the Holy City says to the first, rather shyly as though afraid of saying anything at all ‘And what are the people like in the Holy City?’
‘Before I answer you that’ says the first ‘pray tell me, how are the people from where you come from?’
Says the other with a blank expression ‘Where I come from everyone keeps themselves to themselves. Neighbours do not know their neighbours. People die of neglect and loneliness. The shops are empty. There is no joy in anyone – no not one.’
‘You will find the same in the Holy City.’ says the first and they went their different ways.

Our homeward pilgrim meets yet a third coming in the opposite direction walking towards the Holy City. 
The one walking towards the Holy City cheerily greets the other ‘And what are the people like in the Holy City?’
‘Before I answer you that’ says the first ‘pray tell me, how are the people from where you come from?’
Says the other with a laugh ‘Where I come from there is love and respect and good order. No one goes hungry, children play happily in the streets, there is work for all, and everyone is valued. There is only happiness and joy in good living.’
‘You will find the same in the Holy City.’ says the first and they went their different ways.

Living in a place has much to do with oneself and what we make it, ourselves. Living in a place like this is a relationship and as with all relationships is a two-sided affair. Neither is it all straight forward.

Today's readings stress that as human beings we are responsible for one another. They also remind us that taking these responsibilities seriously is often a difficult and uncomfortable task. 

It is through giving and receiving love that we fulfil God's commandments. Living in love leads us into debt, a debt of mutual love. 
Love forces us to admit that we are not self-sufficient, not superior to others, but interdependent, needing each other. 

My last sermon

Now, forgive me this morning for being self indulgent, rather than giving a theologically sound, biblically based sermon. It is both a privilege and a rather daunting thing to be preaching my last sermon as Chaplain here this morning.

There have been sad times. My coming here was shadowed by sadness. The day of my installation was also the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. The nation was still in a state of shock and sadness. As I made my new beginning here in the choir so the crowds still came to the North Transept with their flowers, to light candles for the dead princess. I myself was in private bereavement being in separation and the sombre mood of the nation echoed some of my own private mood and sadness, as divorced seemed the only way forward.

But I was glad to be here and the rightness of being here proved itself time and time again.
New friends have been made, new skills acquired and I have seen different ways of working from my own. It’s never been dull.

Highlights

So what have been some of the highlights for me?

· Helping to ring in the Millennium up in the belfry with what seemed like thousands of fireworks going off all around the city. High up in the tower the fireworks seemed louder and closer – which they were of course. 

· The sheer terror (to begin with) but huge delight and privilege, of singing Evensong with the Choristers, then the Youth Choir and the full choir.

· It has always been a huge privilege to both Preside and Preach at this particular service the 10.15 Eucharist. // The privilege of being a priest in this place and of having the many pastoral opportunities that present themselves here have been tremendous.

· There was one very special evening of free chanting in the Spirit in the cloisters, our voices rising and falling in freedom and harmony. This was with a group from Stroud one evening during our first Naked Nave experience.

· The last night of the Labyrinth this year, with a group of circle dancers, as we danced in silent prayer and meditation in the Nave, the labyrinth lit only by candlelight.

· The thrill of sometimes climbing the tower in windy weather which is both good aerobic exercise and a good stress buster; the enjoyment of taking up parties of tourists on a Tower Tour and enjoying the sheer fun of it.

· Being part of the Cathedral walking group and our treks into the Forest; celebrating with the B’day party group (Maureen and B’day people are you listening? apples to you!) and then playing French Boules with others who live around here.

· Various happenings like the Japanese Taiko drums one summer and one evening, the fun of meeting the Mediaeval Babes.

· Evening pilgrimages – especially with a youth group in the darkened crypt with only a few candles; and the various groups of prisoners from Leyhill when the magic of the cathedral seemed extra real and extraordinary.

· Seeing the Education Centre up and running and knowing the children who come here under Chris Crago’s expertise are having ‘an exciting and living experience’ one that they will always remember.

· Tending the herb garden late at night with no one around. One night I was watering the garden with the huge hosepipe stretching through the cloisters to the so-called Green Room. The cloisters were incredibly silent and eerie and nearly dark. I was quite prepared to see a mediaeval monk approach – but I’d have ‘jumped out of my skin’ (as the saying goes) if I really did – thankfully I didn’t see anything, but the hairs on the back of my head were truly standing on end. I realised how the building settles down into another timeless state, once the busyness of the day is truly over.

And other highlights of another kind. Of seeing the sheer delight, relief and joy on a person’s face when he or she having agonised and sweated through the Guides assessment is told they’ve ‘passed.’ (I can count on one hand those who had to be told – ‘not yet ready.’) The trainee guides work very hard indeed to pass and I am so grateful to the band of guides who lecture and enable others on their training – especially for the painstaking care of Susan Hamilton. For all our volunteers the only rule I lay down at the start is, that they love this place. If they love the cathedral then everything else falls into place – why it is here and all that it stands for as a place of prayer, a house of God; love for a place like this brings loyalty and the desire to serve in it faithfully.

Sense of Place

The ‘sense of place’ has always been important to me. This place was important to me long before I came to work here. With forbears – or at least relatives of forbears buried in the cloisters, Gloucester therefore has always been a place of family interest. My father was ordained deacon and priest here in the late 1930’s and my mother’s family had also lived in Gloucester, her father having helped out here at the cathedral during the First World War. 

When working for WEMTC (the local ordination and Reader training course) from Hereford Diocese, the job entailed my coming to Gloucester quite often to the office at 7c in College Green. This had already given me a huge insight into the workings of the close and the life of the Cathedral and Diocese.

But the sense of place here, is that sense that holds many of us enthralled………not just of architectural beauty but that sense of the holy, that of being a place of prayer for so many centuries, perhaps even before Osric and Kyneburga.

My time here has been one of greater clarity of the understanding of God. God the Creator, God within the whole of the created world, God of beauty and God of earth and stone has always been the God I know best; but the second person of the Trinity the Christ Light who shines through in this place and through people makes (what some one once told me) = a ‘thin place.’ A thin place meaning that heaven and earth are very close; that Christ is present (as he is everywhere) but there is a special nearness, which is tangible here for many people. The Spirit too, blowing where she will, has been hugely present both in people, in experience and in place for me here.

Walking

Another small seed of a story suddenly presented itself to me out of the blue two weeks ago, when I realised that in terms of walking, that where I am going to live in Ireland is no distance at all. In terms of actual walking I’ll only be 500 yards or metres away. 
Let me explain.

A medieval monk (or even earlier) living here, would easily catch a small boat from the third arm of the River Severn by the church of Mary de Lode; he would then board a second larger vessel set to sail down on the out-going tide. These sea-going vessels had to be guided by pilot boats to avoid getting stuck on the shifting mud of the river but down they would go into what we now call the Bristol Channel. The boat would then set sail due west then west-north-west passing beyond the most southerly tip of Wales, across the Irish sea to pick up and follow the coast line of Ireland before coming to the estuary of that good salmon river - The River Bandon. Then, getting into a much smaller boat – perhaps a coracle, there would be some energetic rowing up the river to where other monks of old – even before Patrick they say, had established themselves as missionaries of Christianity in the late 300’s/ early 400’s of the new Christian era. Getting off the boat near where the present day Rectory at Ballineen stands, is only a short walk. (Hence my 500 metres idea)

But beyond, up the hill there at Kinneigh stands a monastic round tower dating from 1015, built some two years before the secular priests where expelled from St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester and the site given to Benedictine monks and some 74 years before the foundation stone of the new abbey building was laid here by Robert Bishop of Hereford. The Irish Round Tower at Kinneigh stands on a very ancient site, where like here, there is that sense of prayer………that of the holy, of being a place of prayer for so many centuries and before records were kept as we know them; a sense of place. A thin place between heaven and earth.

So I don’t feel I am going far away in one sense – just picking up the strands of another place of prayer, united in that catholic and universal church of Christ.

But people, like yourselves have commented to me - ‘What a change it will all be.’ Yes, of course it will, but I am both prepared for new things, and I know there will be things I’ve not yet thought or even dreamed of yet, and for a continuation of what I know and understand already. 

Remember, I came from the Hereford Diocese before coming here and was at home in the rural scene with both the joys and frustrations of living in a active farming community. And that word community is important. When I came here to live in the Close I was warned of those evil neighbours who twitched curtains – as is the wont of ancient dwellers of cathedral closes. I laughingly said I could ‘twitch with the best of them’ being the person I am, because, although in some ways extremely private, I do believe in a healthy ‘keeping an eye on things’. Living in a Close does mean living in a community, which means you do know what is going on. The same in West Cork – it is a community I am going to and folk there love to know what is going on. The Cathedral Close has prepared me well – in the best sense! 

Conflict

The outer world continues to carry conflict – as seen at the Earth Summit’s protest against America and a year this coming week since the terrorist attack on the Trade Centre in New York – it was not by accident that those two buildings were targeted. None of us can do much alone but together wherever we are – in this place or in another; together we can continue to work in prayer and action to make this earth a better place.

I continue my journey

And so I continue my journey (exactly five years two days later) – a better wiser person for having been here. 

I have much to say thank you for.