Welcome, Bishop Sarah
Around 300 people gathered in Shrewsbury Abbey yesterday to welcome Bishop Sarah to her new ministry.
The congregation included representatives of many groups in the county including the High Sheriff of Shropshire, the chairman of Shropshire Council, education, the military and ecumenical representatives, as well as clergy and laity from the diocese who each welcomed Bishop Sarah in their own ways.
Most insightful was Mrs Diana Flint, representing the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, affirming that as Bishop Sarah already knows how to drive a tractor and ride a racehorse, she will be a welcome visitor in the rural parts of the county. She also noted that Bishop Sarah has a liking of modern communications and social media. "Times change rapidly," she said "and while your predecessor received a map to help navigate the county, we are assured that you may not need a map as you like to keep in touch from above, through some sort of ether or cloud, not some a heavenly cloud, but a cloud of social media and internet, a quicker way of keeping in touch."
In welcoming on behalf of young people, Lily Beers from Gobowen prayed that Bishop Sarah would "be a good servant of God, a good steward of his people and teach young people to not care about what our society thinks of them and that it's fine to offend people because of our faith and to do it all with quite and peaceful spirit, praying unceasingly."
Beginning her sermon at the front of the nave, Bishop Sarah said "Thank you for your welcome. I'm afraid I don't do pulpits, I know I'm quite small, but hopefully if I move quickly you'll be able to see me. And this," referring to her episcopal cope, a kind of cloak "is quite bright..."
She went on to describe the intricately illustrated cope (designed and made by Yvonne Bell) as a story of her spiritual and life journey, incorporating three strands of places in her life, features of Lichfield Diocese and key scriptures that hold it together.
"Part of the preparation for taking on a role like this is thinking about the significant things in your own spiritual journey. For me, one of the key parts of my own spiritual journey was the reading which we heard that comes from the prophet Jeremiah. Now I'm a bit of an Old Testament girl. That doesn't mean I do fire and brimstone... many of the prophets of the Old Testament you read and think 'good Lord, really?!' but actually there's some fantastic encouragement for us there," and Bishop Sarah challenged the congregation with those words which have been painted onto her cope:
"Do you believe that God has a plan for you?... Do you believe that? Do believe it's a plan for good, to prosper you? Not to harm you?"
The process of talking to Yvonne over five hours in planning the design "was the best spiritual direction I've ever had - because Yvonne made me think really carefully about my spiritual journey, about what it means to me to be a Christian, about the things that had formed me and made me who I am as a follower of Jesus Christ."
"Five people asked me before the service asked 'are you Welsh?'" due to the inclusion of a welsh dragon and a couple of welsh hymn tunes. "...not just to keep the Archdeacon happy - though he was VERY happy when I chose them! I spent a lot of time on holiday in Wales. The images that are represented here represent my family life, my spiritual journey, my time as a Christian from early childhood to where i come to today. They represent my journey with Jesus. So you'll see all kinds of things - representations of the Yoriba people in Nigeria that my parents served as missionaries, Indian drummers from the congregations I served in Manchester... There's also an empty toilet roll. The reason for this was throughout my ministry, one of the key things I've been involved in is changing the toilet roll in church toilets because there only appeared to be me that ever did it!"
"I tell you all of this is because I want to tell you stuff about me, but because we all have a story of our journey of faith, we are all a part of God's story and we all have a home in God's heart, and we need to remember that day by day."
She went on to refer to the icon of St Chad painted on the back of her cope, remembering the founding bishop of Lichfield Diocese. "St Chad apparently had two years as a bishop before dying of the plague. I was quite worried about this as I read it. Two years before dying of the plague - I hope it's eradicated in the Shrewsbury area, it it? But what an impact he made in that time, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He features all over the writings of Bede, that's quite a big impact. A great man of faith, and a great example for all of us, walking in the way of Christ: to follow in his footsteps, to share the good news of Jesus Christ - that is the plan that God has for you. And I really look forward to journeying with you in that.
Further images from the service can be found here.