Giving her first sermon as Bishop of Dover, The Rt Revd Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin urged people to refuse to be divided, instead focusing on their common humanity.
Speaking at her installation at Canterbury Cathedral, she said: “Let us think what it might look like for us here in Kent, if the name of Jesus enabled us to be a unifying body. That instead of focusing on the things that separate us, we focussed on the things that we share in common. What if we were to discover that God, through Jesus does indeed sneak out those great doors and is right there in the community with us, urging us to think of his justice, mercy and his compassion for the whole world. What if we were to recognise his presence as we seek to ensure that the resources we have been blessed with is not for amassing personal wealth but to be shared in such a way that our brothers and sisters in poverty is no longer in need?”
She added: “We are deeply mistaken if the kind of relationship we seek with God is so personal and private that we exclude our brothers and sisters around us or indeed as we are in Kent, on the frontier if we exclude our brothers and sisters from another mother!”
Bishop Rose urged those present to focus afresh on Jesus, opening themselves up to God’s transforming power: “He is ready to walk with us, today I invite you to shed the cultural barriers that have locked him into special boxes and so called religious sites and enable the spirit to change our lives so that we can in turn be changing other lives through the message of the Good News.”
The Rt Revd Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin was consecrated as Bishop of Dover at St Paul’s Cathedral on 19 November and installed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Honourable Justin Welby, at Canterbury Cathedral on 30 November.
Photo credit: Jim Drew
The full text of Rose’s sermon follows:
Another woman also said “yes” – ‘You’ve got it, Mary said yes and look at the revolution that her yes started! But the yes that I begin with is your ‘yes’.
So thank you Archbishop Justin, thank you to the Crown Nomination Committee and Canterbury Diocese for saying “Yes” to me! Without your “Yes”, those of you who have travelled from Jamaica, Bermuda, the USA, Hackney, Parliament, from other parts of Britain, (and I must mention of course) Canterbury Diocese that journey would not have been possible today. And let me also say thank you to my family and friends for your support, your prayers and your encouragement over the years.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a God who has knowledge of us before we were born. A God who has chosen us to be his messengers of Good News and has given us a name. The giving of the name is important as it is meant to reflect something of the character of the messenger. In the New Testament reading Jesus speaks of making known God’s name, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.” His name is his bond, you can trust him, because you know what he is like. I am reminded of the words of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” Such confidence! The name that was once so sacred and could not be spoken, is now available to all – we have access to him through the coming of the Lord Jesus – ‘Emmanuel, God with us.’ Another name carrying much meaning.
God’s presence in our midst changes the kind of relationship we have with him and with each other. This is at the heart of the Good news message we are called on to share. Jesus captures it brilliantly in our New Testament reading. Here we discover a kind of symbiotic relationship – “All mine are yours and yours are mine”. We are deeply mistaken if the kind of relationship we seek with God is so personal and private that we exclude our brothers and sisters around us or indeed as we are in Kent, on the frontier if we exclude our brothers and sisters from another mother!
I am reminded of the quote, “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see, I sought my God but he eluded me, I sought my brother and I found all three.” The name Emmanuel, which will be highlighted in the Christmas season, captures the kind of relational work that is at the heart of God’s kingdom and which we are called to be engaged in. To do this kind of work, we need to commit to working together not apart. To build the body of Christ together; not to create mini kingdoms according to the numerous labels that that we appear to attach ourselves to.
If we are going to experience that oneness of purpose that Jesus prayed for then we will need to seek to be identified more with the name of Jesus. For too long we have been embarrassed to be associated with him. We have kept him hidden in our beautiful churches and cathedrals that we visit on our terms, for weddings, baptisms, funerals or other such special occasions like Christmas or the mandatory school service. If we are going to ignite the communities from which we come, indeed the county of Kent, then everyone of us will need to reassess our relationship with the name of Jesus.
Think of the onset of social media, how quickly we adapted to it; how willing we are to capture images of things going on around us to share: places we’ve been to; opinions we have requested or not – it is almost as though we have a compulsion to express the thoughts within. How might this translate with regards to the gospel? And I don’t just mean filling up another person’s inbox with endless scripture verses. This is about being present and engaged: How might we share with others in a very natural way what God is doing; has done in our lives.
At the age of 14 years, I felt God’s call on my life. At that time there were no women in leadership roles behind the altar. We were there though as cleaners and teamakers and flower arrangers. But I knew I was being called and naturally responded with the kind of yes that said, I will be faithful to your call but will leave you to work out how it is going to happen. Four years later I joined the Church Army (they had women) and 16 years after that ordained as a deacon and waited another 3 years when women were first allowed to be priests. During that time there was always that hunger to share Christ with others.
Today is the feast of St Andrew – here we find someone who when he discovered Jesus, happily introduced others to him. This was an aha moment for him – so he shared it with his brother, Simon Peter. This is a good place to begin – to start with the people around us – sharing our “Aha!” moments, those moments where we see the hand of God guiding us, protecting us and doing something special in our lives, like Andrew let us be prepared to follow Jesus and of equal importance to say to someone else “we have found the Messiah” and in turn to bring others to him or better yet to let them experience the light of Christ shining in your lives.
But let us think what it might look like for us here in Kent, if the name of Jesus enabled us to be a unifying body. That instead of focusing on the things that separates us, we focussed on the things that we share in common. What if we were to discover that God, through Jesus does indeed sneak out those great doors and is right there in the community with us urging us to think of his justice, mercy and his compassion for the whole world. What if we were to recognise his presence as we seek to ensure that the resources’ we have been blessed with is not for amassing personal wealth but to be shared in such a way that our brothers and sisters in poverty is no longer in need?
This prayer for us to be one is very real at a time when we’re struggling with the kind of party political discourse that seeks to separate us one from another. As the people of God, it is imperative that we stand in solidarity alongside those who are most vulnerable in our communities and this should not simply be about increasing our food bank stations but also challenging our policy makers and our political leaders at local and national level to create the kind of policies and take decisions and actions which will make all our community flourish.
Today is a new chapter in our diocese, let us commit to renewing our walk with Jesus, that name above all names that calls us to unity; let us recommit to consciously inviting Jesus, as in the words of the spiritual, “I want Jesus to walk with me… in my trials Lord walk with me; all along life’s pilgrim journey, Lord I want Jesus to walk with me.” He is ready to walk with us, today I invite you to shed the cultural barriers that have locked him into special boxes and so called religious sites and enable the spirit to change our lives so that we can in turn be changing other lives through the message of the Good News.
We are about to embark on the season of Advent – a season of hope for that which is yet to come. Let us use this season to practice this walk with God everywhere we go.