Boy Bishop Sermon
Hereford Cathedral 2005
by Tim Hanks, preached at his enthronement, Choral Evensong 4 December
Having the photo taken is one thing, but writing this sermon is another thing altogether. How do I begin? What do I want to talk about, to say, to share? Looking at those photographs made me think about all the changes that have taken place in the last 14 years, including my time as a cathedral chorister and what it has all meant to me.
The two sides of the cathedral choir are known as Cantoris and Decani, Cantoris being the side on which the Precentor sits and Decani the side with the Dean. As a chorister I sat on Cantoris and throughout my five years I got to know this position so well; all the little bumps and whirls in the wood which I used to trace with my finger, the small cracks on the back of my seat and all the details of the great vaulted ceiling above me.
I joined the choir under Dr Massey but after a couple of terms he retired, soon to be replaced by Mr Bowen. In fact I have outlived most of the Chapter, and seen the arrival of a new Bishop, Dean, Precentor, Archdeacon, Chancellor, Organist and librarian. Even the organ has had a make-over. The only thing that hasn’t really changed in the last five years, and even the last five centuries, is the cathedral itself, the services, oh, and maybe a few of the lay clerks. I’ve worked out that I must have sat through at least 150 sermons and over 1000 evensongs. Countless world events have taken place over the years. It was during evensong that I first heard about the destruction of the twin towers. Choristers before me must have knelt just where I knelt, hearing about other such tragedies and praying for those affected by war, poverty and probably even plague. For hundreds of years Hereford Cathedral has stood watching as the world moves on and it is incredible to think that throughout this time evensong has continued to take place and, now, as then, people continue to come here for solace, refuge and prayer.
Some people see the cathedral as a historic building full of interesting things with a café and a strange map; others as a concert venue or somewhere to escape cold pavements and doorways seeking out the heaters for warmth. Others just want a place for quiet contemplation, somewhere where you can listen to that small voice inside you that some just call their conscience and others, God. For many of these people the music adds an extra dimension raising and uplifting their spirits.
But what effect has all this reflection and contemplation had on me? What do I feel strongly about?
Well, a lot of things.
What would my perfect world be like and is that perfect world possible?
In my perfect world there would of course be no homework and England would beat Pakistan in the cricket! I would make poverty history, everyone equal, without greed or jealousy. We would live in harmony with our earth, each other, ourselves and God. But how can an individual achieve all this? I don’t think they can but we can all play our part.
The choristers are a team of boys of all different ages and experience. Like any team everyone must give their all to produce the best possible result. If anyone is out of time or sings the wrong note it destroys the sound of the choir as a whole. The older boys can guide the younger ones and lead by example, and with luck, all will come to see that they must play their part if they are to excel as a group and coax a “well done” out of Mr Bowen.
If we’re going to try and make a perfect world our approach to life must surely be similar. None of us will ever be perfect, but each individual can respond to that small inner voice and contribute in their own positive way and in so doing may quietly influence others. Some may want to buy fair trade products, others donate to charity or simply just be a good friend and maybe, with time, and together, we can make a difference and although the cathedral may stay the same it will hopefully be watching over a better world.
By Tim Hanks, age 14, 2005 Boy Bishop, Hereford Cathedral. Used by permission.