Friday, December 6, 2013

Sermon for the Eve of St. Nicholas, at the Ceremony of the Child Bishop

On December 5, 2013, the Eve of St. Nicholas Day, the service of Choral Evensong included for the first time at St. Andrew's Church the ancient ceremony of the inauguration and investiture of a Child Bishop.  At the opening of the service our bishop, the Right Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell, offered the prayer of institution and presented his Pastoral Staff to the Head Chorister of St. Andrew's Church, Maighread Southard Wray.  Following the lesson from First Samuel and at the Magnificat, with the words, "He hast put down the mighty from their seat* and exalted the humble and meek," Child Bishop Maighread was escorted to Bishop McConnell, blessed the congregation and community, and was seated in the Sedelia--Bishop McConnell then removing his cope and miter and taking a seat in the Choir. 

At the conclusion of the Office Child Bishop Maighread offered this sermon. 

It was all blessing and joy.


“He hath put down the mighty from their seat”

The time had come, the Choristers were singing “he hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek.” The Bishop stepped down from his throne, and the Boy Bishop stood up. The two traded places, and as the Bishop tried to find his place in the music, the Boy Bishop tried to get comfortable in his robes and immense hat.  This boy is one of hundreds who have done the same thing and felt the same way.

 The tradition of the Boy Bishop stretches back over many hundred years. “Earliest reference to a boy bishop at Hereford is circa 1250,” the Bishop of Hereford says.  Henry VIII abolished it in England in 1542.  He didn’t feel the need to have the throne taken away from him.  Ten years later, in 1552, Mary I restored the tradition to England, only to have her successor, Elizabeth I, abolish it again.  Ordinarily, English monarchs were tightfisted about the throne.  However, the tradition couldn’t be suppressed forever.  It was revived, once, in 1973 during a special service for children at Hereford Cathedral.  Four hundred some odd years later, in 1982, the Boy Bishop became an annual tradition again.

On Saint Nicholas day, a boy (traditionally the Head Chorister) is chosen to be the Boy Bishop. The boy is completely in charge. He leads the services, the prayers, and gives communion.  Until December Twenty-eighth, his are the sermons the congregation will hear.  The reason for this reversal is to teach humility to the powerful.   Humility is a lesson that powerful people don’t often learn, because they don’t want to give up their position, their authority, their title.  However, Jesus often says things like, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This suggests that if, like St Nicholas, we put our time and effort into helping others, there will be a reward.  The rule of Heaven is the reward we should seek.  Jesus says, “A child shall lead them.” 

 Adults often have supreme power. They are older and perhaps wiser.  However, it is often the case that children notice something adults do not. The power that the Boy or Child Bishop has is making adults realize the other side of the story: sometimes children aren’t the ones who need to learn something.  Unlike adults, children may not have unwavering ideas or beliefs to be stuck in, and from time to time adults overlook the important part of something.  Nobody is forced to agree with anything the Child Bishop says, but listening could teach something that has never been noticed.  Jesus says, “No man shall enter the kingdom of heaven if he shall not do it as a child shall.”

As the Child Bishop processes into Hereford Cathedral during the ceremony, the Choristers sing: “They are seated in heavenly majesty:  they humbly adore thee and cry out: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, all things are full of thy glory.”  This teaches that the reign of the powerful on earth will end.  But God’s reign will not.  Originally, the Boy Bishop would have fellow boys dressed up as priests and deacons.  Together they would make their way around the village, blessing people.  

Here at St Andrew’s we are not going to do that.  Pittsburgh is far too large.  But somehow it seems that the congregation will still be blessed.  They are blessed with new ideas and a different personality, another opinion, an eye opener.  The lesson that the Child Bishop teaches is that everyone can, and sometimes needs, to have a new way of looking and listening.  


Penn Hackney said...

A brilliant sermon: an important message very well said. Thank you.

But what's a Sedelia? I can't find in the online dictionaries I use.

Eliza Littleton said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Bruce, and to you and Bishop McConnell for leading us to follow the child. Thanks to Maighread for leading so beautifully. Thanks to her parents who prepared the way for her, and thus, for us. To her sister who stands by her. And to Peter and Mary Pat for the idea and the work of bringing us the first Child Bishop in Pittsburgh.

Aunt Andrea said...

Such a wonderful honor, Maighread! Your cousin, Zachary (8), said he were Bishop for a day he would give everyone strawberry cake and tell them to go play outside. Sounds good to me! Children are definitely wise. We all need to learn when to go play. There is a time for everything. Love you Miss Maighread, Child Bishop! Aunt Andrea (Pinetop, Arizona)