Sermon given at the Installation of Canon Tremlett Saturday 9 October 2010
9 October 2010 at 15:00 pm
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster
As Matins begins here tomorrow morning I imagine there will be people eagerly willing away the first ten minutes and nine seconds of the service longing for the moment when digital timepieces read 10:10:10:10:10:10. I trust the choirboys will have all their concentration on the service, though a rough calculation suggests there is a chance of the moment falling during the first lesson. For others of us, the moment we have been eagerly anticipating this weekend has already arrived. Andrew, we have been looking forward to your installation and to welcoming you and Alli, Lizzie, Jacob and Tom into the Abbey’s collegiate community. It is good to see them all here, together with some of your extended family, and former colleagues, parishioners and friends from Bristol, Goring, Fareham, Rotterdam, Torquay and beyond.
Andrew, you stand in a distinguished line of succession of Canons of Westminster who have also been Rectors of St Margaret’s. One of the outstanding 20th century Rectors, Herbert Hensley Henson, later to make his mark as Bishop of Hereford and then of Durham, made the pulpit of St Margaret’s Church famous, before his removal to be Dean of Durham, where he lamented the lack of audience for his orations. For him, a sermon should last between twenty five and forty five minutes. It is said that many hundreds of people failed to find a place in the packed church for his last service and stood outside in the churchyard. You will be pleased to know that we shall not be measuring your achievement, in either or indeed any respect, by his standards.
Until the suppression in 1972 of the parish of St Margaret Westminster, habitually served by a Canon of Westminster, your predecessors at least since 1840 must have had to wrestle with their twin loyalties, as to their Abbey responsibilities, to the Dean as Ordinary, and, as to their parochial responsibilities, to the Bishop of London. It would have been the same for the Canon who served the parish of St John Smith Square. Since 1972, but only since then, all your predecessors have also been Chaplains to the Speaker of the House of Commons and again had to wrestle with sometimes very demanding twin loyalties. If any of your immediate predecessor’s sad illness, from which he is happily recovering, relates to the heavy demands of the twin responsibilities he bore, and it may be the case, those of us who discern the hand of God in action in his world, should learn to regard as providential the outcome that two appointments replace the one. We look forward to your installation as Rector in St Margaret’s Church tomorrow and to welcoming Rose Hudson-Wilkin and inaugurating her ministry as Speaker’s Chaplain at a service in St Margaret’s on Tuesday. St Margaret’s will continue to be the parliamentary church and to exercise a ministry for the Palace of Westminster. I am confident that working together with your distinct responsibilities you and Rose will be a formidable team. The Abbey will give you both all the encouragement and support possible.
The life of a Christian minister, engaging in the daily worship of almighty God, growing in the knowledge and love of God and in ever more faithful Christian discipleship, sharing the love of God with the world he creates and the people in his Son he redeems and in his Holy Spirit he sanctifies, should never be thought to be dull. Here at the Abbey the opportunities for all these various aspects of ministry are strongly focused in a rich, exciting and demanding manner. This year we continue to celebrate the 450th anniversary of our new foundation by Queen Elizabeth I as a collegiate church. And we were able to recall, vividly and poignantly, the 600 years, before that re-foundation, of our strong and mutually supportive links with the papacy, when the successor in the see of Rome of St Peter our patron visited the church last month. We celebrate and delve constantly into the Abbey’s extraordinary history, at the heart of our national life and of our nation’s significance for the world, not for its own sake but in order to enrich the Abbey’s mission and ministry to a community, nation and world in desperate need of a clarity of vision as to what is of God and thus of real and lasting importance and able to provide a sense of direction and purpose in daily decision-making.
The Abbey’s immediate neighbours around Parliament Square, in the Palace of Westminster, in the Supreme Court, in Her Majesty’s Treasury as in the whole of Whitehall, make daily decisions with a profound impact on the nation and the world. The Abbey’s locally based mission has been particularly focused on the Palace of Westminster, though that ministry in these days of diversity and complexity is always in need of refreshment and enhancement. However, the Dean and Chapter is aware of the opportunity for developing a more clearly focused mission and ministry to and with our other neighbours. A Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret’s whose ministerial energies are not consumed by Parliament will have an opportunity to reach out and to assist the Abbey in a fruitful engagement in a variety of ways with Whitehall and beyond.
Our confidence above all is in the immense attractiveness of God. Zechariah saw coming a day when “many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts… ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” [Zechariah 8: 22, 23] Our repentance as God’s ministers rests in our knowledge that we have too often failed even to see for ourselves the power of that attraction let alone to share it effectively with those who have been blind.
According to St John, it was his brother Andrew who first drew the attention of Simon, who would be renamed Peter, to the Lord for whom he would eventually live and die. All of us engaged in Christian ministry can draw encouragement today from Peter, who took his time learning to get it right, but who was still trusted by his loving Lord. We can also give confidence to those to whom we minister based on the initial caution of Thomas who needed to see for himself the mark of the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, but who then took the great leap of faith that enabled him to say, ‘My Lord and my God!’
This amazing place has proclaimed boldly, for well over a thousand years, day by day, that Jesus Christ is both Lord and God. May the joint ministry of the Dean and Chapter here, together with that of our cherished colleagues in the collegiate foundation, be ever faithful to that proclamation, and may we live out in our daily lives our loyalty to our great inheritance of faith and to “the only wise God our Saviour” to whom be ascribed “glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” [Jude 1: 25]