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Celebration Service in the presence of HRH the Earl of Wessex

October 11, 2019

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Preached by The Very Reverend Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester on Friday 11th October 2019 at Celebration Service in the presence of HRH the Earl of Wessex

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

Consider three men at work, all apparently doing the same thing.  A traveller comes to them.

She asks the first man, ‘What are you doing?’ he replies, ‘I’m labouring, lugging stone around’

She asks the second man, ‘What are you doing?’ He replies, ‘I’m building a wall’

She asks the third man, what are you doing? ‘Me?’ He says, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’

It takes vision to build a cathedral. Winchester Cathedral as we see it now, in all its glorious, layered splendour is testimony to the vision across 1000 years, of generations of faithful people.  From Norman Conquerors re-purposing stone from the Saxon Old Minster, to Bishops of the middle ages remodelling the Nave, through centuries of conflict and restoration, of wear and tear and repair, to William Walker the diver who saved the cathedral with his bare hands, and to our own time; each generation has made its contribution, to the ongoing vision.

This cathedral is soaked in meaning. Here is a resting place for Kings and the place where a nation was born, where English people were first united in one identity.  Here is a living witness of local and national memory and history. And all finds meaning because here is a place of prayer, the house of God and a gate of heaven.

We read in scripture that in ancient days, Jacob lay down and dreamt of a ladder connecting earth and heaven, at Bethel. Here, beneath the cross of Christ, we too find a place where time meets eternity, heaven meets earth and all of us are invited to meet with God.

And today we come together to celebrate the achievements of the last decade, an extraordinary period in the life of the cathedral.  With ambition nothing short of heroic the work has included restoring the roof, conserving the presbytery vault and bosses, conserving the stonework and clerestory windows, cleaning the great screen and installing new sound and audio-visual systems, building the beautiful Wessex Centre and all culminating in the opening of the new exhibitions in a restored South Transept and we delight in the quality of craftsmanship and skill of those who’ve worked on these unique projects.

Today we celebrate with everyone who has envisioned and planned, who has laboured, conserved or made, who has given support in time or money, and everyone who has cheerfully carried on working around the projects, everyone who has prayed or encouraged.  In this generation, we too can say, ‘We’ve been building a cathedral’.

Because a cathedral isn’t built once.  Cathedrals are built and built up each and every day, by those who conserve and repair what is there, and by those who have a vision to develop and take the cathedral into the future.  Cathedrals are built and built up every day by those who clean and mend, those who welcome and guide, those who steward resources, administer, those who teach and share the faith, those who worship, make music and those who pray.  And here is the heart of the matter, the cathedral’s praying heart.  For the last thousand years, prayer and worship have taken place every day and our earthly praises have joined the heavenly worship and so time meets eternity.  And in all these things, together, we build the cathedral.

Each generation is called to renewed vision, under God.  The cathedral vision, newly restated springs from the words of a prayer: Lord, renew us with your spirit, inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And we pray for renewal, inspiration and unity in our own lives, so that we can share these blessings in a world in so much need.  As God says to Jacob, the people of God are to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

As we give thanks to God today, so we can rejoice with cathedral builders over the centuries, and look forward in faith and with hope. To Christ who is Alpha and omega, the first and last, the beginning and the end, to whom belongs all time, we continue to dedicate this place and continue to build the cathedral.   AMEN