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Are we nearly there yet?

Posted By : Guest Preacher Sunday 7th December 2014

A sermon by Jason Kellinger, Chorister Bishop

Evensong Sunday 7 December 2014

I love acting, performing and role play, so to me this is a great occasion. Thank you Bishop Nicholas for lending me your outfit. You should know that I was only baptised here in the Cathedral in May this year, so getting from baptism to being a Bishop in 7 months is nothing short of a miracle!

Some of you are probably wondering if there is a reason for me standing here wearing this funny hat. Well, there is a good reason and a long tradition behind this.

The Chorister Bishop is an ancient tradition and goes back at least to the 13th century and was common across Europe in the middle ages in cathedrals and churches. During this period a boy, usually a chorister was chosen to take on the role of the Bishop for a couple of weeks from the feast of St Nicholas, the patron saint of children, to Holy Innocents Day. The Bishop would symbolically stand down and the Chorister would lead the ceremonies and tour the town, blessing people, and preach a sermon at mass.

In medieval times it seems to have been a lot more fun.  The Chorister Bishop could declare holidays, could use the money from the collections as he wished and be treated to dinner by the Cathedral Chapter.  But, this was eventually abolished by Queen Elizabeth the First. Now, if I was there at that time, I would have told the Queen how important it is to maintain some of our traditions!

From the 1970s there has been a revival of the tradition in a different form.  Now it is restricted to just one service on or near the feast of St Nicholas, and this lives on in several cathedrals across Europe and USA, including this one.

The tradition of the Chorister Bishop in both the current and old form is a lesson in humility and the recognition of the wisdom of youthful innocence. The gospel of Matthew recalls how Jesus called a child to him and put him among the disciples to teach them a lesson about humility, and this is the symbolism at the heart of the Chorister Bishop Service.

Traditions are often good things, but some need to change with the times. I am really pleased that now we are going to have female Bishops that the Chorister Bishop tradition is going to evolve too. At next year’s service the Chorister Bishop will be a girl for the first time, the Dean’s Chorister. After that it will alternate between a boy and a girl each year.

I think the Chorister Bishop tradition raises lots of questions about how children are viewed and treated in society today.

My fellow choristers and I, and our school friends, are very fortunate.  We are well educated, protected, and cared for both by our families and our school. Our musical and other talents are recognised and nurtured so that we have confidence in our abilities, and future career choices.

Sometimes I think we forget how good we have it. We moan, a lot, about Latin homework, how cold the school swimming pool is, and having to get up early for choir practice, but these things are very trivial concerns in the big world in which we live.

We are all well aware from the TV and from appeals made by charities that suffering and poverty affecting children and young people is widespread.

UNICEF is the largest charity raising money for children. Research done by   UNICEF shows that the biggest dangers facing children around the world are: violence, exploitation and abuse, disease, hunger and malnutrition, war and conflict, and natural disasters.

Millions of children are now refugees, forced to flee their homes because of war and violence in places like Syria and Iraq. And we must remember that there are now hundreds of children in West Africa orphaned because of the recent Ebola outbreak.

According to UNICEF, a child is killed by violence every 5 minutes somewhere in the world. Much of the cause of this is linked to poverty. Even in our own part of the world children are suffering. The national figure for children living in poverty in England is 17%. And even here in Wiltshire it is 11%. That represents 19,000 children living below the breadline in our own county.

All these figures indicate how thousands of children each year have their childhoods taken away by their circumstances.

This raises an important question: are we doing enough as a community and as a society to protect vulnerable children?

We can start to answer this question by looking at what the Bible says about children and how they should be treated.

There are many references in the Bible to children being a gift from God and a sign of his blessing.

That children are valued as much as any other age group is also clearly stated, and in the gospels we read that Jesus healed children as well as adults and invited children home with him. He said to his disciples,

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”.

In Matthew Jesus placed a child amongst the disciples and said:

"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

There are many examples in the Bible of God using young people to do something for Him to demonstrate a point. And of course some of the key characters in the Bible are children.

These examples show that children are very important in God’s eyes.

What is also evident throughout the Bible is God’s compassion for poor and vulnerable people, including children. In Exodus God says:

“Do not take advantage of a widow or orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry”.

God judges societies according to how they treat the most vulnerable people.

I think it is also worth exploring the qualities that children have that are less common in adults, and what perhaps adults can learn from children.

I think most children have a natural ability to enjoy life, and to live in the moment.

They are also very loving and giving of unconditional love.

Children are naturally open minded and open to learning new things, and ask lots and lots of questions (which some adults find really annoying!)

Of course, when it comes to computers and technology, we can teach most adults a thing or two (Dad, this means especially you!).

Children are also very creative and imaginative.

But, above all, most children have an amazing ability to have fun and laughter. They are experts at being happy.

Do you know that children laugh on average 300 times a day compared with 15 times in an adult? Laughing is something which adults sometimes lose the ability to do and yet it is so important to our well being.

When did you adults last find something so funny that you nearly laughed your head off?

So, why can’t adults be more like children? 

I would like to make a plea for parents and teachers to be more childish and take the time to laugh and have fun with the young people in your lives (and maybe give us less homework!).

We must also remember what Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel:

“Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Now, all parents will be aware of a less attractive trait that children have. I am talking about what we say on every journey that drives parents mad – Mummy, Daddy, are we nearly there yet? How long will it take? What time will we get there?

Well, we can use this phrase to assess how we treat children in society. In terms of how God sets out the importance of children in the Bible and how they should be treated, are we nearly there yet?  I would say no, that there is a long journey ahead.

We must seek the Lord’s help with this journey and pray for children all around the world to be able to have and enjoy their childhoods.

For us as children in our own school community, we need to understand how lucky we are compared with others. We need to learn how to look out for each other, and to help those who are not as fortunate as us in all ways that we can, both now and in whatever direction our lives may take us.         

One small step we can take is to help raise money for children’s’ charities. There is a retiring collection at the end of this service entirely for UNICEF, so please give generously.

Our Headmaster, Mr Marriott, has agreed that in the summer term after our exams, the year 8 pupils will be given time to organise and carry out a sponsored event to raise money for UNICEF.

As my year 8 friends and I go through our last few months as choristers and pupils at the Cathedral School, there will be many occasions to reflect on how fortunate we are and the kind of people that we are becoming, and what we want to contribute to society.

I’m not sure yet what I will do when I grow up. Don’t tell anyone, but when I was five I wanted to be an airport bus driver! Now, maybe I’ll be a musician, actor, TV presenter or journalist. But whatever I become,  I will be able to proudly tell my children and grand children that I was a Bishop once, just for an hour or so  when I was 12 years old,  and what an honour and privilege it was to take part in such an important  tradition in our Cathedral church.