Boy Bishop Sermon
Salisbury Cathedral 2004
by Thomas Isaac—Bishop’s Chorister
Sunday 5 December 2004
When I began thinking about this sermon, I realised that St Nicholas has been part of my life since long before I came to Salisbury. In Portsmouth we live just around the corner from St Nicholas Street - and so my very first journey home from hospital as a baby was past a sign which said ‘St Nicholas Street’.
Later on, I walked every day along St Nicholas’ Street to my first school - which was called St Jude’s (the patron saint of lost causes which I have always found very encouraging).
Later still, my journey here to the Cathedral School took me first along that same St Nicholas Street, as will my last journey from here when I leave next summer. He is patron saint of seafarers, as well as of children, and our Saint Nicholas Street runs right down to the sea.
There are many traditions about St Nicholas and about his link with today’s ceremony and several of those stories have been told here by previous boy bishops in their sermons, No-one, so far as I know, has yet mentioned that there used to b e a custom which meant that the Boy Bishop could give the choristers permission to come and play in the cathedral for a day, but that was probably before computer games were invented.
In The Netherlands there is a custom linked to St Nicholas that we haven’t thought about before. There, St Nicholas comes to visit each family and, before doing anything else, he asks his servant Peter to open the big book in which the good and bad are written down - and only after that are the presents given out. But the important thing is that his book has got in it the names both of the children and the grown-ups. They are treated just the same - with just the same rules and the same amount of respect.
Very often, in the past and sometimes now, it hasn’t been like that and children have been neglected or not treated with care and respect. They used to be sent to work underground in mines; they used to be used to sweep chimneys; they used to be sold as slaves.
This Boy Bishop ceremony is a very obvious way of saying ‘no’ to all that sort of thing. It turns our usual way of looking at children upside-down. It reminds us of what Jesus said about needing to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Being a chorister here has shown me the importance of everyone being just as important and needing to be treated the same. The boys and the girls are treated as being just as important as the men in the choir. Everyone has to rehearse hard, everyone has to listen carefully to what they are told, and everyone shares in making up what comes out as one sound, not lots of different voices.
And living here in school has also shown me how important it is for everybody to get on together in making a place work smoothly.
What will I remember of it all when I travel back from here along St Nicholas Street next summer?
- That it’s very hard getting up at seven o’clock in the winter to go and rehearse.
- That you have to work hard to get on with each other, especially when you’re tired.
- That everybody is important, even though we’re all very, very different.
- That choirs are about working together rather than standing out in the crowd.
By Thomas Isaac, 2004 Boy Bishop at Salisbury Cathedral Used by permission.