Reader Chris Stock reflects on this year’s Readers’ Day.
Over 130 Readers from across the diocese gathered on Saturday, 7 October at the Blue School in Wells and later in the Cathedral to celebrate their ministry, to license new Readers, and to welcome Readers who have moved into the diocese. And what a day it was! With the Revd. Dr. Tim Gibson leading the morning session – and preaching in the afternoon – we were constantly on our toes as to what would happen next! This was not a reflection on the organisation, which seems to get better year by year, rather where Tim was leading us!
With a focus on Living Stories: a theological perspective , and Imagining Redemption, references to theologians such as Paul Fiddes, Stanley Hauerwas, David Kelsey, Timothy Radcliffe, Jürgen Maltmann or Alastair McGrath may not be too surprising; quoting William Shakespeare or Jane Austen, or projecting the painting ‘Descent From the Cross’ (aka the Deposition of Christ) by Roger van der Weyden suggested a degree of cultural learning; but basing his talk on Julia Donaldson’s The Smartest Giant in Town left many reeling in amazement!
This is a book aimed at children over 12 months, with the cover describing the book as: “George wishes he wasn’t the scruffiest giant in town. So when he sees a new shop selling giant-size clothes he decides it’s time for a new look. But on his way home he meets various animals who desperately need his help . . . and his clothes!“
If choosing this as a theological text surprised those present, typically grandparents or maybe great grandparents, then the surprises kept coming as Tim disappeared to change into his Giant’s costume and reappeared to gradually disrobe in front of us! Nothing too revealing, but… his shirt / surplice represented a new sail for a boat, his tie became a new scarf to protect a giraffe’s neck, his shoes provided a new house for some mice, and so on.
But the point was made, and made well. All the creatures involved in the story that George the Giant helped were redeemed; they learnt to receive and subsequently to give, and were open to grace in their lives, as we should be in our lives and in our ministry. Meanwhile, George was generous to a fault, giving, and subsequently receiving as well; but you’ll need to read the (excellent) story in full to discover what he received!
Tim then explained that we could only actually understand redemption through our own eyes, and in our own context, a point David Kelsey makes in ‘Imagining Redemption’, reminding us that God calls us and loves us not because of who we are, but despite who we are, seeing us in the midst of community, whatever that community may be.
While as Christians, we acknowledge that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, it has to be accepted that others seek a different sense of meaning, but we know that they do seek meaning in their lives. Whether that is through following Jeremy Corbyn, who has largely succeeded through his narrative of compassion, or football clubs, whether it be Yeovil Town or Spurs, or through something completely different, is immaterial. The majority of non-Christians are still looking for something spiritual, and only too happy to ritualise their passion; by attending regular events, by singing repetitive songs, by shouting for their idol, by reading and watching as much as they can. There is renewed hope that the world is beginning to realise that our life of faith, however ritualised it may appear, is the way to real contentment.
The challenge for Christians is to live with joy in our hearts, and to proclaim the stories of goodness and redemption at every opportunity; to proclaim God’s love for us despite being flawed individuals, not because of who we are but despite who we are; to remind others that we are intrinsically configured to the promised end; but above all to share in God’s joy for His creation.
And that joy was so evident in the Cathedral in the afternoon. With most Readers fully robed, and others in ‘mufti’, together with visitors, those to be licensed and welcomed, every effort was made to raise the roof – and that we did that with some wonderful singing. Truly joyous.
And a privilege to witness not only the licensing of Penny Ashton, Julie Ebsworth, Emily Scott, Sarah Upfield and Helen Weavers as Readers, but also to welcome Susan Deyes, Paul Harding and Hilary Smith to the Diocese from elsewhere.
In addressing Tim’s question “where is the joy in our services?”, there was joy everywhere and joy in everyone present.
Congratulations to the new license holders, and welcome both to them, and to those who have moved to Bath & Wells. If Tim’s threat, in his sermon, to repeat his ‘dis-robing’ of the morning, which he thankfully didn’t do in the Cathedral, wasn’t enough to put them off, then nothing is!