13 YEAR OLD BOY BISHOP ALEX STAGG PREACHES IN SALISBURY CATHEDRAL IN CELEBRATION OF AN ANCIENT TRADITIONIssued Tuesday 7th December 2010
Thirteen year old Alex Stagg, Bishop’s Chorister (head chorister) of Salisbury Cathedral Choir, assumed the role of Boy Bishop during Evensong in the Cathedral on Saturday 4 December in celebration of an ancient tradition.
In the special ceremony the Bishop of Sherborne, the Rt Revd Graham Kings, gave his staff and ring to Alex, who was dressed in replica Bishop’s regalia, and installed him on his throne. As Boy Bishop, Alex led the prayers, blessed the congregation and received the collection. He also wrote and delivered the sermon (see the full text below).
The service is also an acknowledgement of the important part the boy choristers play in the Cathedral’s musical life. David Halls, Director of Music, said “The Boy Bishop Ceremony is always a special occasion as it throws into the limelight the superb job the choristers do for Salisbury Cathedral day by day.”
This Boy Bishop ceremony is a reconstruction of a medieval ceremony. Around the time of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Church hierarchy was reversed: the chorister ascended the Bishop’s throne and the Bishop took a lower place. This happened during the singing of the Magnificat with its revolutionary proclamation ‘God has put down the mighty from their throne and has exalted the humble and meek’. The ceremony is a lesson in humility and recognition of the wisdom of youthful innocence. In medieval times the Boy Bishop would have taken office from the Feast of St Nicolas (6 December) to the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December).
The full text of the sermon given by Boy Bishop Alex Stagg
I joined Salisbury Cathedral Choir as a probationer in 2007. Beginning life as a probationary (learner) chorister in school year 5 is slightly later than normal but this was due to my ‘previous life’, my pursuit of my love of acting and singing on the stage.
A particular highlight was performing as the young boy ‘Tommy’ at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. This was in Roger Daltrey’s musical alongside Robbie William’s best friend, Jonathan Wilkes. You may know the film and musical more for the song “Pinball Wizard”. It is about a young boy who suffered a traumatic childhood that caused him to lose his ability to see, hear and speak. Through playing pinball he becomes an international superstar and inspires youths around the world. He eventually regains all his senses. Although I didn’t get to meet Robbie Williams the attendance of Roger Daltrey was a particular high, as was performing for a week to a full house in what is one of the largest theatres in the country.
Strange though it may seem there is a link between my experiences of performing on the stage with the last few years as a chorister in the choir stalls of this Cathedral. The link lies in the fact of having being given a great opportunity and in having been treated with the same level of respect as any other member of the cast or any other member of the cathedral choir. And also whether on the stage, or in the choir, on the sports field or even in the daily routine of our lives, we have to learn and share together and sing and perform as one team with one voice.
Opportunity and choice helped to give me the role as the Boy Tommy, and now again in a very different form, in speaking to you as Boy Bishop. Different but very similar. The point I am trying to make, which is so relevant to the Feast of St Nicholas which we celebrate soon, is that children and young people, and those without much power, are just as important as adults and those who have lots of power. This is a reminder of what Jesus said about needing to become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and for all men, women and children to be treated just the same with the same respect.
Opportunity and choice is often about being in the right place at the right time, and sometimes we see that as in the case of the child Samuel - the opportunity and the choice is actually God calling us and directing us.
One night I was lying in bed and I took the conscious decision to take a different path. I soon found myself picking up sheets of music rather than learning lines for the stage. That choice changed the course of my life. The choices we make, whether small or large, can change our lives and the lives of those around us. We can make a difference if we really want to. Just look at St Nicholas and what he did for the poor family with three daughters who were destined to be sold into slavery because they did not have enough money. He could have done nothing but he didn’t. He made a choice and made a difference. He secretly gave the three daughters bags of money. It was only on the third occasion that the Father discovered that it was the Bishop, St. Nicholas, who had come to their rescue, which had changed their lives forever.
Listen to the words of another Christian, St Basil, who was around at the same time of St Nicholas. He said, “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help”.
Consider this now with a few of the words taken from Tommy and the famous song “Pinball Wizard”
‘That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball’
Well we can all play a mean game and be deaf to peoples’ cries for help. We can all shut out the real things that matter, and shut our eyes to those things that we do not want to see. It is simple. If we do nothing, we fail. God has given us all valuable gifts and the power and the opportunity to make choices to help others. With Christmas coming and the example of St Nicholas to guide us, there isn’t a better time for us to take this opportunity to make choices for the good and to share and respect others, which will make for a better world.
I may not be a pin ball wizard, or a real Bishop, but I - like you - have been given opportunities to make choices. Now it is our turn, as one team, to play our part in making a better world, in pursuit of peace and harmony to all.