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Talk: Handbells Festival 2014

Education is a central aspect of the Cathedral’s mission.  We offer opportunities for learning, dialogue and engagement with issues of public debate.

At the Cathedral, people of all ages can learn about faith and discipleship. We run a Sunday School and are developing work with young people; there are occasional study groups and Lent Lectures.

The Cathedral is a theological and educational resource for the Diocese, supporting the work of clergy and parishes. The Cathedral works with the Diocese in planning and delivering an annual summer school.

Working with other institutions in and around Stag Hill, for example the University of Surrey, the Cathedral is committed to engaging with issues in the public sphere (including social responsibility, science, ethics, the arts and inter-faith dialogue).  There will be an annual series of talks alongside seminar based groups.

Transcripts of these talks are, where possible, included below.

For details of forthcoming talks, please see the Cathedral Diary and What's On 



Saturday 8th November 2014
Handbells Festival Service
Micah 4:1-15
Romans 12:9-18

Remembrance and Peace

The headline in  this morning's Independent reads: The First World War does not grow old as other wars grow old. This weekend in London will have three rivers: of water, people and poppies.

Millions of people will have travelled to the Tower of London to see the ceramic poppies variously described as a glorious, beautiful and respected monument to the 888, 246 British and Commonwealth deaths in WWI. The Culture Secretary Sajid Javid described it as public art at its most powerful and moving.

Yet as we gather hear today for this service of remembrance and peace, we recognise that reality is complicated - the scale of death wrought on every side in two world wars; the ongoing conflicts & threats of terror; legacies of empire, competition for resources & shifting global alliances.   Some of you may have been listening to Neil MacGregor's series Germany: memories of a nation over recent weeks; hearing him lecture on The moral uses of memory at Lambeth on Tuesday morning was profoundly challenging.  He reflected on the importance of contrition alongside commemoration to enable lasting peace. 

He forced us to confront the co-existence of the most nobel of human virtues in the service of the common good with the most brutal and violent actions within our European, let alone global, narrative.  The central ethical question for him was not just making sense of Goethe, Bauhaus and Buchenwald but also Newton, Shakespeare and the slave trade.

MacGregor pointed us to Ernst Barlach's  angel - commissioned by the congregation of  Güstrow Cathedral at the end of World War I, it hovers over their font and tells a story of ongoing reconciliation.  The sculpture is a sign of renewal and forgiveness in the face of the futility of war - you can see it at the British Museum until January.  The need for constant reconciliation for the sake of peace is something we are all called to enter into. 

My colleague Betrand Olivier is the Vicar of All Hallows by the Tower wrote in yesterday's Church Times about what it has been like to minister when surrounded by millions of visitors, drowning in a sea of poppies. He notes that question at the forefront of people's minds was the same as the question facing Barlach and the German people in the 1920s: the sheer futility of war. 

For us gathered here today, politics, history and faith are woven together: we bring with us our own memories and questions about war; you use your creativity and skill to give glory to God in the ringing of bells; we hear readings and sing hymns which name our earthly reality and renew our vision of God's Kingdom. In all that we hear today, there can be no escaping the complexity of life in the world.  In all that we hear today, there can be no denial of our need for forgiveness nor of our calling to work for reconciliation. In all that we hear today, we are drawn into the hope and vision of a Kingdom which is cosmic in scale, which manifests God's creative, redemptive and sustaining power.

The challenge of us is that we are called to narrow the gap between the vision of God's Kingdom and our earthly reality; we are called to given an account of the hope that is within us.   I vow to thee my country evokes for us the cost of earthly loyalties; the commitment to place and values and freedom.  Yet how do we face the futility and cost of such sacrifice; how do we retain a vision for a deeper unity among nations? Siegfried Sasson's words don't allow us to cling to romantic ideals - the sweet bells that were tuned for peace contrast sharply with the doom and storm and shells.


The bells for him bid farewell to the green vista'd gladness of the past.  Having turned a generation into soldiers, he points to the prelates claiming that Christ would be fighting on our side. Can we turn despair to hope? The vision set before us by Micah would see shells turned into bells; just as swords become ploughshares.

In this vision, people from many nations are drawn to the house of God: lives are reshaped by walking in his paths and learning his ways.  Instead of learning war, of arming nations and deploying military might we hear of stability and a peaceable kingdom.  Fig trees and vines become places of shelter, nourishment and abundance.  Fear is no more - as men and women in their diversity are drawn together in God.

How do we live in with hope and vision amidst our acts of remembrance? In part it is about a deep and consistent attention to God's love; but it's also about an equally deep and honest attention to our world.  That means weaving into all our acts of commemoration the necessary strand of contrition.  We have just sung a hymn that acknowledges God's reign over all people, but also our need for forgiveness. 

Our foolish ways, our complicity with violence and exploitation, are laid before God.  Here we are reclothed, we are called to follow in ways of peace; here we attend to the silence of eternity, which breaks into our world in love.  In the Jesus Christ the love of God abides with us, reaching out to all people. The abundance of that love is poured forth in creation. When we rebelled and got caught up in our quests for power, that love remained steadfast.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, love wins the ultimate victory.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we continue to walk seek peace.

We are called to make manifest that love in all that we do. That might be the small seemingly insignificant acts of patience, hospitality and compassion amongst our friends and neighbours; it might be in the demanding business of engaging with our social and political systems.  To build Jerusalem is to share in the building up of God's Kingdom here on earth.  It means listening carefully to the vision set out in the words, hymns and music of this service; it means listening carefully to the stories, hopes and expectations of our society; allowing God's story interact with and shape human lives.

Paul, when writing to the church in Rome, sets out this bold vision with clarity and directness:  So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  We can all make a contribution narrowing the gap between earthly reality and heavenly hope.   Let us allow him to challenge and inspire us today.  

In zeal, service and ardent spirit let us show love and honour to others.   Rejoice in the hope set before us; be patient in suffering, for that is not the ultimate reality.  Persevere in prayer, for that is what strengthens us.  Share in the tears and joys of those you meet.  Resist cycles of injustice or evil - instead be a sign of blessing to those who do you harm.  The music you make today, and all year, is a weaving together of diversity into harmony; a musical attention that opens our hearts and minds to beauty and inspiration.  Let your love be genuine; may we be a river not of water or poppies but of people building up our communities with mutual affection.  Amen.