Dean Catherine’s Installation Sermon

February 11, 2017

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Preached by The Very Rev’d Catherine Ogle on the occasion of her Installation as Dean of Winchester on Saturday 11 February, 2017

In the Name of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is with an enormous sense of gratitude that I stand here now as 38th Dean of Winchester.  I am deeply grateful for your welcome, for your presence today and the blessing that it brings: to the Bishop of Winchester and to the Cathedral Chapter; to the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire; to the Mayor and High Sheriff and to all the visiting dignitaries; to partners from Fleury, Stravanger, Namirembe and Newcastle; to fellow Deans; to visiting clergy and diocesan clergy and parishes; to the Cathedral staff and community, to those from other churches, the wider community, city and county institutions and organisations; thank you for your welcome.  I’m greatly looking forward to working with you and to all that the future holds, by God’s grace.

And thank you to those of you who have come today from Birmingham, and from earlier ministries, and stages of life.  I’m deeply grateful to the parishes, people and places that have shaped me in ministry, and thank you to my family and friends for your faithfulness.  And to all of you for whom a service like this is a new experience, thank you so much for being here.  (Someone said, ‘A Service of Installation, Catherine?  Makes you sound like a piece of software’).

It is an enormous privilege to be entrusted with this role.  To be Dean in this profound place, where Christian faith has been lived and shared for 1400 years.  A place bound up with our national identity, where the earthly remains of early English monarchs rest.  We are rooted here in the way of St Benedict, (whose rule devised in the 6C did so much to shape Western society and culture).  Christian faith and worship here have offered both stability and transformation, to shape and inspire daily living, over centuries.  Here is deep wisdom for the modern world.

It’s a privilege to be entrusted with the care of this holy place, designed to overwhelm the senses and draw us into a different perspective: to an experience of life lived in the context of eternity, to inspire awe and wonder and direct us to the presence of the living God.  This place is a sign for an inexhaustible well-spring of faith, hope and love for an uncertain world.

And of course in reality, as well as metaphor, Winchester is a place of flowing fresh water, bubbling up, all around.  Winchester, the first capital of England, became centre of King Alfred’s Wessex partly because of its plentiful water.  As John Arnott, son of Hampshire, said, in a talk broadcast in the 1960s, ‘above all its river country. The water comes up cool and pure from the chalk and runs pearling over the gravel…it’s the streams, the maze of waterways and water meadows that have shaped the history of Hampshire.’

There’s a maze of waterways through this city.  A bright stream runs at the bottom of the Dean’s garden here, neatly separating it from the Bishop’s garden, (I’m glad to say that our forebears have provided a bridge!).  And of course well water floods the crypt here and an abundance of clear fresh water runs unseen in rivers below ground.  There, but unseen, ‘never spent’.

When Jesus comes to a well, stops and asks a stranger for a drink, he really is thirsty.  In fact, he’s thirsty, hungry and tired.  To be human is to be needy, we can’t cope for long without something to drink, especially in the heat of the day.  The glorious conversation recounted in St Johns gospel, between Jesus and the woman from Samaria, begins with a simple request and becomes an utterly life-changing, life-giving encounter for her.  Their conversation is both human and heavenly.  She can draw water, which he needs to quench his thirst for now, and Jesus can offer her a different water, a spring welling inside her gushing up to eternal life, so that she will never be thirsty again.

This water that Jesus offers is the life of the Holy Spirit, the spring of love and energy of God so apparent in the life of Christ.  And this spring of water is offered to each of us, to transform us from within, giving life beauty and purpose.

Meeting Jesus that day at the well changes her life. We’re told that the Samaritan woman is astonished that Jesus even speaks to her, let alone that he’s prepared to ask her for a drink, (which crosses the great chasm of differences and barriers between them) and she is astonished to discover that Jesus knows all about her and her painful life and the astonishment of realisation that Jesus is Messiah.  She is restored to her community and transformed into an evangelist: ‘Many Samaritans’ we are told ‘…believed in (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony’.  (John 4: 39)

Meeting with Jesus was life giving and life changing then, and so it is today.

It’s been a great privilege for me to live through a time of transformation in the church as the vocation to ordination of women has been recognised. I remember my sense of surprise, and for a while, denial, that God could be calling and the astonishment that God could mean me.  That a new thing was bubbling up, irrepressible, and that Christ was calling me in this particular way.

Christ is calling us all, offering us all the life-giving spring of the Holy Spirit, the energy and love of God that changes us from within.

When Jesus arrives at the well that day, needing rest and food and water, he has returned to the source of his people’s history and religious faith.  The well is named after Jacob: the one who first named Israel.  (Genesis 32: 28)  Today, we are still needy people, who hunger and thirst and search for meaning and purpose and a place to belong.

As we gather here, in this ancient house of prayer, rich source of our nation’s history and faith, where the ancient waterways flow beneath us, we can be aware of our spiritual heritage and the resources freely available to us today.  There is no scarcity, only abundance.

My hope and prayer, as your new Dean, is that this cathedral and its warm and welcoming community, its hospitality and worship, its music and beauty, can continue to be a place where people can meet with Jesus and the love of God, human and heavenly.  Where everyone may know that they are welcome, where barriers between us are overcome, where life giving conversations take place, where thirsts can be satisfied.  And as the living water of the Holy Spirit flows, may thirst for justice and peace increase, and our desire to see Gods kingdom, come on earth, as it is in heaven.

Amen.