It’s little more than a year ago that we said farewell to our last Bishop, Justin Welby. Today we welcomed our new Bishop, Paul Butler. On a beautiful day, 1800 people gathered in the Cathedral for his enthronement. There was colour and movement. There was a lot of involvement by children and young people who waved flags, led prayers and presented symbolic gifts. There were traditional hymns, contemporary worship songs and fine choral music (including Wood’s exquisite Expectans Expectavi, Howells’ powerful Collegium Regale setting of the Te Deum, and a new commission by Jonathan Rathbone). It was solemnly joyful and joyfully solemn.
The Bishop preached about the parable
of the mustard seed. Don’t underestimate the small things, he told us: they
have the potential to grow, like the seed growing into a great bush that
welcomes all the birds of the air. He reaffirmed the priorities he had set out
when his appointment was announced: to tackle poverty, to make children and
young people a priority, and to grow the church. He reminded us of the saints
of the north as they established Christianity in Northumbria: Aidan, Cuthbert,
Bede and Hild. He quoted his namesake, the first Bishop Butler who occupied the
see in the 18th century; and from the 19th century Bishops Van Mildert and
Lightfoot. It was inspiring, authentically northern, and done with warmth, winsomeness
and skill. Afterwards, everyone took a bean seed home with them to plant and
nurture by way of remembering the occasion.
In Durham, deans have plenty to
do when Bishops are welcomed. The key moment is the enthronement itself,
placing the new Bishop in his cathedra
or throne, the ‘seat’ from which a cathedral takes its name. In the
northern province, this is the dean’s privilege (in southern dioceses, that
ceremony is performed by the Archdeacon of Canterbury. If you want to know why,
ask her!). The great cathedra of
Durham was built by Bishop Hatfield in the 14th century as the highest throne
in Christendom, higher even than St Peter's, Rome. But then there are two more
installations to do. In the middle ages, the Bishop was the titular abbot of
the Cathedral Priory, so I placed him in his stall opposite mine in the Quire
where the abbot once sat. And later on, the members of the Foundation
processed out to the Chapter House where I sat him in the stone chair from
which the abbot presided over meetings of the monastic chapter.
In my blog about our last Bishop’s
farewell service, I recalled a poignant moment that had touched the choristers.
‘When you and the Bishop walked alone up to the high altar with the big gold
stick, and disappeared behind the screen, and when you both came out again, it
had gone’. Today, I led our new Bishop back to that same place, where the ‘big
gold stick’, the beautiful Lightfoot Crozier symbolising his jurisdiction and
pastoral ministry, was lying on Cuthbert's shrine where I had laid it at Justin
Welby’s farewell. To take it up and deliver it to Justin’s successor was, for
me, the most moving part of the service. (I did warn him how heavy it was.)
Afterwards we all spilled out
into the sunny cloister for lunch. Someone said this was the Cathedral at its
best. I’d like to think so. Certainly, on this spring-like day when we welcomed
the 74th Bishop of Durham and his family, there was delight and hope
in the air.