Wednesday 21 November 2012

St George's Cathedral: Heritage and Witness

Remarks made at the book launch of 'St George's Cathedral: Heritage and Witness', edited by Mary Bock and Judith Gordon, at the Cathedral on 19 November 2012.

Thank you, Dean Michael, thank you Mary, for your words of introduction. Thank you also, John, for your reflections, and for reminding us of who we are; from where we’ve come, and where we ought to be heading. As I start, I’m just checking that I have the right notes – having just come back from New Zealand, being in Swaziland at the weekend, and having spent today in Worcester listening to farmers and farm workers and their families. I ask your prayers for the whole situation.

I am particularly grateful for the invitation to say a few words this evening, since it is here that I have my ‘Cathedra’ – my seat, as Bishop of the Diocese of Cape Town, and as Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. And so it has been since 1847, when the Church of England decided to send Bishop Gray here, to establish Southern Africa as a Province of the Anglican Communion.

This was, of course, after a visiting Bishop of Calcutta, stopping at the Cape on his way to India, commented ‘The Church in this colony wants a head. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes’ (pp.19-20). And though we have come a long way since then, perhaps the continuing legacy of that characteristic of Cape people is what led Dean Ted King to remark that more Christian charity had been lost in the Cathedral’s car park than anywhere else – something I recognise today when I come here, often to the 8am Sunday Eucharist, on those days when I am not required elsewhere.

This place and its people have a very special place in my heart. It is wonderful to come and be quiet in this building, and to breathe in its history – and the longer history of this site – as a place of worship, and also as a place of equipping for ministry and mission, and being sent into the world. Here God has, again and again, met people, and sent them out to proclaim his truth, with clarity and courage, through difficult and challenging times.

Earlier today, at Morning Prayer, our reading from the Letter of St James told us firmly that ‘faith without works is dead’. Well, now we have a wonderful record of some of the godly works of this community of faith, especially through the hard years of the struggle. So thank you – to Mary and to Judith – who themselves have had faith, since 2007, to continue the hard work of commissioning chapters, conducting interviews, collecting photographs, and getting to grips with all the details of publishing! Thank you for all you have done – and thank you to everyone else, who has contributed their time and their talents to this project.

Reading through, though I see the firm guiding hand of the editors, I also see it as a labour of love of so many who hold this place and its people in their hearts. Without the whole Cathedral community, and its wider circle of friends past and present, I doubt there would be any book at all. It is wonderful that so many voices, in such variety, are given space to speak; and that we have a glimpse of the rich tapestry of the stories of so many different lives, woven together to reflect the vibrant history of St George’s.

Mary and Judith, I know you have both worshipped here for close on 40 years, and been more than active. I ought to tell everyone here, if they don’t already know it, that, even today, alongside all the work for this book, you, Mary, are the current President of the Friends of the Cathedral, and you, Judith, are the Cathedral Archivist. So thank you again, for your hard work and dedication – and especially for your selflessness, in that all profits from the book will go to the Cathedral.

Let me also, on behalf of us all, express thanks to Brian Gannon and Martin Stabrey of PreText, the publishers – whom I know well from a project we did together in 2004. I was not surprised to hear that you have been enthusiastic supporters and wise guides to the whole project since its early days. Thank you for all you have contributed, in so many ways, to enable the production of this excellent publication, at such an affordable price.

It is my hope and prayer that many will buy this book, and be inspired by it:
• not just by the splendour of the building,
• or the beauty of the windows,
• or the recollections of stirring music,
• or the moving poetry of Harry Wiggett and others,
• or even by the fascinating accounts of how the history of the Cathedral and its people intersected with the wider history of our nation.
Of course, all that, and much more, is to be found within the covers.

But it is my hope that people will also see through to the deeper truth behind it all – which is best summed up by quoting some words of Ted King, from the chapter on ‘What is a Cathedral’. He wrote in Gateway: ‘… it is a grave mistake for Christians ever to believe that we can somehow separate human and social life, as it happens, from the life and death of Jesus Christ’ (pp.165-166). For it is to God to whom our greatest thanks are due today – for his faithfulness over more than 160 years; and for the outworking of his redemption, won for us through Jesus Christ, and declared and experienced in so many different ways through the Cathedral, in the generations before us, and even in our own times.

And so I want to end by recalling other verses set in our lessons today – from the Eucharist, where we heard the letter to the church at Ephesus from the Book of the Revelation to St John. It begins ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance ... I also know … that you have not grown weary.’ Yes, I thought, as I heard the passage read this morning, these are words that might equally be said to St George’s Cathedral today. But then, for the Ephesians came a warning ‘you have abandoned the love you had at first.’ I hasten to add that it has not been the case here – as Dean King attested; and reading further in that same chapter there are many personal accounts of the way the Cathedral has been a place of deeply encountering God, and of spiritual growth and renewal, through the times of Colin Jones and Rowan Smith and to today. It is my fervent prayer that it may continue so into the future.

Dean Michael, your chapter, which ends the book is also in many ways a beginning. ‘Seeding God in our Midst’ you have titled it – looking back at the many unknown individuals who reflected the gospel in some way. And yet is it also a call to go forward – sometimes clearly hearing the call of Christ to follow; sometimes journeying in perplexity but finding the risen Christ alongside as on the road to Emmaus. But through it all, it is a reminder that, much though we may be taken up with the work of the Lord, we must never forget that, above all else, it is the Lord of the work to whom we first owe our hearts, our minds, our spirits, our lives. And it is his joy to bring us newness of life, and a message of hope for the world.

So, finally, I heartily commend this book to you all. Please buy it – it will make a wonderful Christmas present for yourself, or your friends and family! And may it inspire you, as individuals, and as part of the Cathedral community, or wherever you may be – may it inspire you in your own life of witness in God’s world. Thank you.

The book is available at the Cathedral Book and Bric-a-brac shop at R190, or by telephoning 021 689 1800. It can also be bought on line, at, at R220 including postage and packing, and R390 for overseas orders.