Sermon and Photos: Installation of the Dean of Llandaff
It was late summer 1993. John Major was Prime Minister. I had been ordained deacon just a few weeks and was serving as a curate in Middlesbrough, about as far east as it’s possible to go in the north of England. I can’t remember when I first heard it but some time that September the Pet Shop Boys released their single Go West.
Well, it has taken me nearly three decades but finally I have come west. And I am very glad to be here.
Go West is a happy song. It is just one word from it that I want to begin with today. If you remember, as well as the lyrics of the verses there is a refrain leading into each line, one simple but profound word: Together.
This is a sermon of four words and three songs.
I’ve been a teacher all my life so I shall be testing you afterwards.
It is not good for us to be alone. Right at the beginning of the bible (hold up bible) in Genesis God makes this clear. The Bible is the story of our not aloneness. God wants us, you and me, every one of us here to belong. To be together. Over the coming years you will hear me use two words a lot: Your Cathedral.
And the most important word is Your.
- Yours if you are a regular worshipper here.
- Yours if you are part of the diocese of Llandaff.
- Yours if you live in this city, this diocese.
- Yours if you live in Wales and this is your national cathedral.
- Yours to the people who are, perhaps, mostly not here today. Our politicians and business leaders. Our artists and poets. Christians in other churches. Members of other faiths. People of no religious faith.
Together I hope for three things for Llandaff Cathedral.
First of all, and underlying everything we do is that this is a place of prayer. On this site where prayer has been lived for almost 1500 years.
Friends, in this diocese, we will pray for you. Yes, the cycle of prayer, but please tell us when you have something you want us to pray about. There is no amount of communication that is too much. Please keep in touch with us.
From Monday next week, the 28th November Fr Mark, Mother Jan and I will be celebrating Morning Prayer and Eucharist Monday to Saturday at 8am. We will be glad to see you. Pop in on your way into the city; make a commitment to come on a day each month or join us regularly as we pray for the city, the diocese, the nation.
A special word to my sister and brother priests in this diocese, there is a strange phrase that goes around about Deans as ‘Senior Priests’ of the diocese.
Given today’s second reading that is not a phrase I am particularly fond of. But I think the role of a Dean is clear. It is my job to love you; not just my job but my joy. In our prayer here we are holding you up in your ministries, the ministry of all the baptised.
My favourite definition of love is Simone Weil’s:
to love is to pay attention to.
Dear sisters and brothers I will pay attention to you. Come and join us at our prayers here, at your Cathedral, come and have a coffee with us afterwards. You have a home here.
Prayer is a churchy word for a simple thing, to be in relationship with Jesus.
The first reading we have just heard is my favourite in the Bible. Isaac is walking in the cool of the evening, the RSV translation has it that he is meditating in the cool of the evening. He is praying. This passage is the only place in the Bible where someone falls in love.
To pray is to be in love with Jesus. To see him and know him.
To pray is not difficult or strange, it is normal life, it is all of the most intense moments of our life, to fall in love, to give birth, to make friends, to do anything that is more than we are. To be bigger than ourselves.
To pray is to recognise that it is in all our loving, as husbands, wives, friends, parents, brothers, sisters, that God makes himself known to us.
My next word is beauty.
When I was a Head teacher in Lewisham we adapted words of St Augustine of Hippo as our school motto. God is beauty. Deus Pulchritudinis.
When we see beauty we see God.
This is a beautiful building. The music is beautiful, the worship here is beautiful. I watched every moment of the recent royal visit here. It was breathtaking and flawless. When we see beauty we see God.
My hope, my prayer is that this cathedral will be a place where the visual arts will find a home. Not the art of the past, as important as that is, but the art of now. The ways in which we make sense of the present.
My final word for the ministry of this cathedral is space.
Life is busy. The world is busy. We need space, we need spaciousness. A cathedral is not just a bigger church. A cathedral is a public space. My ministry as Dean will be to create a space for all faiths, a space for politicians, a space where we meet, where we talk, where we listen.
This is not the first time I have spoken in this Cathedral. In 2019 I spoke here about the hymn we will sing in a few moments. The hymn known as Gwahoddiad. The welcome. The invitation. It is a wonderful hymn because it is Jesus-centred and utterly evangelical.
Yr Jesu, to Jesus, Jesus welcomes, Jesus invites.
Mi glywaf dyner lais,
Yn galw arnaf i.
I love those lines. We are the ones who have heard the tender voice, calling us to baptism, to ordination, to Christian living. And we are called to enable others to hear that tender voice. They will do so when we talk about Jesus without embarrassment, when we model for all believers a natural, unforced evangelism to the 97% who don’t go to church, who have not heard that voice.
Sharing prayer, beauty and space
My final song, the B side - do you remember those - of Go West. A song called Shameless.
As your Dean, I will be shameless. May we all be shameless in talking about our friend Jesus, may we be shameless in gwahoddiad, inviting our sisters and brothers to a space where justice reigns, where we meet in peace, where we share in prayer, beauty and space.
Yr Iesu sy'n fy ngwadd,
I dderbyn gyda'i saint,
Ffydd, gobaith, cariad pur a hedd,
A phob rhyw nefol fraint.
It is Jesus who invites us
To receive with his saints
Faith, hope, pure love and peace
And every heavenly privilege.
Discover Llandaff Cathedral
The Llandaff Cathedral clergy team are:
- Canon Chancellor The Reverend Canon Dr. Jan van der Lely.
- The Very Reverend Richard Peers, Dean of Llandaff.
- Canon Precentor The Reverend Canon Mark Preece
Photos: PRJ Photography. Contact Paul Jones on 07949 127954