Sermon given at Evensong with the Installation of The Reverend Jane Sinclair as Canon Steward
7 September 2014 at 15:00 pm
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster
We are delighted to welcome Jane Sinclair as a Canon of Westminster, to serve as Canon Steward. Before this service she made the customary declaration and the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen and as soon as the service has finished I shall install her at the Chapter table in the Jerusalem Chamber, where I know she will make a major contribution to the Chapter's deliberations and decisions. But now Canon Sinclair has her proper place in quire.
I have had the privilege of observing aspects of Jane Sinclair's ministry. In 1997 she was Canon Precentor of Sheffield Cathedral and responsible for the enthronement of the new Bishop of Sheffield. Jack Nicholls had been bishop of Lancaster in the diocese of Blackburn where I also served. Later I attended meetings of General Synod when Jane Sinclair was in the chair, exercising clear and wise authority.
We are also aware of Jane's particular contribution as a member of the Liturgical Commission for fifteen years, culminating in the publication of our current Common Worship prayer book, and of her membership for three years of the Archbishops' Commission on Church Music, among other roles for the national Church.
Jane Sinclair's extensive experience of pastoral ministry will contribute directly to her new ministry here at the Abbey as Canon Steward, where she will have oversight for the pastoral care of the extensive Abbey community and for the welcome and hospitality the Abbey offers visitors and pilgrims.
We welcome Jane and her household, her friend Gillian – and Poppy the dog. Poppy is a yorkiepoo, a small and pretty dog, a little different from Rufus, the Hedges' large and vigorous labradoodle who lived in the house before, though I am told when the two met they had a joyful run around.
Enough biography! The Canon Steward, I said, has particular oversight of the Abbey's ministry of hospitality to visitors and pilgrims. This is not without its complications. If visitors and pilgrims came in the numbers our monastic predecessors welcomed in the medieval days of the Benedictine monastery, there would be little problem. We should have been able to fulfil absolutely the instruction in the Rule of St Benedict.
'Let all guests that happen to come be received as Christ, because he is going to say: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." And let suitable honour be shown to them all, especially to those who are of the household of the faith and to strangers. When therefore a guest shall have been announced, let him or her be met by the abbot or by the monks, with all due courtesy; and let them at once betake themselves to prayer together and so let them associate together in peace.'
Whilst we have not since 1559 been a Benedictine abbey and cannot observe it to the letter, the Rule of St Benedict still provides us with challenge and encouragement. But things have changed. Last year the Abbey received at the Great North Door, the entrance point for those visiting the Abbey as tourists, one million three hundred and fifty thousand people. In addition to that number many hundreds of thousands of people each year attend acts of worship in the Abbey, or simply come perhaps to light a candle or to pray quietly for a few minutes. In accordance with the Rule, we particularly want to encourage our visitors to pray, either in words of their own or in their hearts, as they respond to the experience of visiting the Abbey.
It is also important that we offer a warm welcome to those who wish just to come in to pray. The Abbey is first and foremost and above all a place of prayer and worship: first a House of God. Our priority is and must be prayer. So, when someone comes to the Great West Gate and asks to come in to pray, as people do, it is vital that they are welcomed and shown the way in. They must not then feel watched carefully as if their only motive might be in order to slip unobserved into the stream of tourist visitors. No. Let everyone come in to pray. If some then linger and look, let them; better for us to be deceived than for any child of God to be offended. So it is with those who enter to join the congregation for Evensong and then leave after a few minutes. Our confident hope is that God will have touched their hearts, however briefly.
All our visitors and worshippers are welcome. But the Abbey has to be organised to receive them in order that those who arrive as tourists will be welcomed as visitors and will become pilgrims. The duty chaplain each week on the floor of the Abbey offers a brief focusing prayer for the visitors every hour and on four of those occasions then invites anyone who will, to pray in the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor or to receive ministries of healing or reconciliation. Many take up the offer; others attend the lunch-time Eucharist in the nave or stay for Evensong.
The Education centre, opened in 2010, and the Cellarium Restaurant and Café, opened in 2012, improve the experience for young and old alike. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the Triforium, which we hope to open early in 2018, will make a wonderful further contribution.The experience of visiting the Abbey for many contributes to their pilgrimage of life. We are all a pilgrim people, aliens in a strange land here on earth, longing for the peace of the Jerusalem that is above, that is the mother of us all. The prophet Ezekiel in our first lesson recognised the danger of avoiding the issue of the absence of peace. The false prophets whom he condemns and whom the Lord condemns have been claiming that there was peace where there was no peace. 'Thus I will spend my wrath upon the wall, and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash; and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it— the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for it, when there was no peace, says the Lord God.'
Our troubled world where there is no peace desperately needs places like this Abbey church, which welcomes all without discrimination, to focus our minds and our hearts on the peace that comes for God's pilgrim people in the heavenly Jerusalem where the faults that divide and destroy will be healed. There, in the words of Edmund Spencer's wonderful poem sung as our anthem, 'happy soules [will] have place in full enjoyment of felicitie; whence they do still behold the glorious face of the divine eternall Majestie.'
Our constant prayer, and confidence, is that this holy and beautiful place, this House of God and House of Kings, where almighty God has been worshipped every day for over a thousand years and where can be told the history not only of these islands and of the Commonwealth but of the entire English-speaking world, does and will continue to provide a foretaste of that heavenly realm, so faire that no 'mortall tongue [can] hope to expresse the image of such endlesse perfectnesse.'