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May 16, The Dean: A college, a comedy and hope.

Every spring the College of Canons holds its annual meeting at the Cathedral. Who are the College of Canons you may well ask! Up to twenty four beneficed or licensed clergy of the diocese (including the suffragan bishop and the archdeacons) are appointed by the Bishop to be members of the College, along with the Dean, the Residentiary Canons and the Lay Members of the Chapter. In addition we have been delighted, since 2006 to welcome our Honorary Ecumenical Canons.

As Dean I try not to make the duties of the members of the College of Canons onerous. The Cathedral’s Constitution requires that the College receives and considers the annual report and audited accounts of the Cathedral each year – hence the meeting we have just held. In addition, when there is a vacancy in the See – that is to say when the Diocesan Bishop retires or resigns – the College of Canons has to be summoned to “proceed to the election of a Bishop” as laid down by the appointment of Bishops Act of 1533. That election is all rather technical!

But the College when it meets also has the opportunity to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern and this year we were able to hear a presentation on Appreciative Inquiry and the part it can be play in helping organisations at a time of change. The Cathedral Chapter is also delighted when members of the College are able to assist with worship at the Cathedral – presiding sometimes at the 12.30 weekday Eucharist, or joining a summer Sunday afternoon sermon series.

We always begin the College’s annual meeting with worship and this year’s Shakespeare anniversary prompted me to reflect there on drama in the theatre and the sacred drama of our worship.

The theatre can lift us to the sublime – after all ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on’ - and it can face us with the kitchen sink. Similarly our worship, wonderfully, can lift us to the throne of heaven – we join our songs with the Hosts of heaven and sing Holy, Holy Holy - but it too must connect with real life if it is to bear fruit in our lives as we are sent out to live and work to God’s praise and glory.

Whatever stage we are talking about, from our point of view, behind it all is God – high and exalted and yet who walked among us and called us friends. Drama holds up a mirror to human nature in every dimension– from farce to tragedy. All sorts and conditions are here: saints and sinners, rich and poor, kings and clowns, philosophers and fools: all working out their divine destiny in the changing scenes of life. We see the panorama of God’s creation.

But it seems to me that there is one vital and enduring note of our worship which is not a guaranteed feature of drama in the theatre. That ingredient, I suggest, is hope. It is one of the givens of God’s story we rehearse in our liturgy; it can be missing on the secular stage. But when it does feature there, we notice it. We can certainly find it in Shakespeare. We find it in what the scholars tell us is Shakespeare’s first play – The Comedy of Errors.

If you remember the piece, it is full of blunders, confusions and misunderstandings – hence the title. It is full of coincidences, illusions and mistaken identities – with people looking alike and yet being uniquely different. But after all those errors and all the confusion, Amelia the Lady Abbess arrives and begins to bring order out of chaos.

She has a wonderful, final line: “After so long grief, such nativity.” There is hope. And, thinking again about worship, how good it is for us to know as Christians that whatever we bring into the worship that is offered across our diocese; whatever we lay before the throne of grace; how good it is to know that, by God’s grace, we can experience such a nativity. Whatever the grief we have known, however long it may last, we can depend upon the new birth of faith, hope and love which are God’s precious gifts to his people.


Mark Boyling

Dean of Carlisle

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