About Me

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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in Northumberland. I have been a parish priest, theological educator and cathedral precentor; then Dean of Sheffield 1995-2003 and Dean of Durham 2003-2015.**** I blog on faith, society, church matters, the North East, European issues, the arts, travel and anything else that intrigues.**** My main blog is at http://northernwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.**** My sermons and addresses are at: http://northernambo.blogspot.com.**** Blogs during my time as Dean of Durham: http://decanalwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Welcoming a New Bishop

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.

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