Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

01 February 2019

Malcolm Guite attends a memorable consecration in Southwark Cathedral

I WAS in Southwark last Friday — a borough I venerate as a place of both continuity and renewal. Walking up the High Street towards London Bridge, I glanced down an alley at the George Tavern in its old stable yard, a glorious inn already marked by name in the first known map of Southwark in 1543, and celebrated for all its literary associations in Pete Brown’s entertaining book Shakespeare’s Local. Tempting as it was, there was no time to slip down to the George; for I was on my way to a service at Shakespeare’s other local: the parish church where his brother is buried and which has now become a cathedral.

As I passed through the rich sights and scents, the gregarious and multilingual hubbub of Borough Market, I was poignantly aware of that other day, on the eve of Pentecost, when I had walked through that same market minutes before the deadly terrorist attack in 2017 (Poet’s Corner, 9 June 2017). The attack had left Southwark stunned and in lock-down — but not for long. Soon, the market was thriving and buzzing again, and the cathedral, which had been cordoned off as a scene of crime, was soon the scene of prayer, comfort, and, most of all, resilience and renewal for the community.

The cathedral was certainly buzzing when I got there on Friday. It was, you might say, thick with bishops, resplendent in their white and red rochets and chimeres, the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury in their midst. They were all gathered there for the consecration of Andrew Rumsey — a man with whom I once played rock’n’roll in a band, the Crocodiles — as the new Bishop of Ramsbury. I was there to witness it all and pray for him as he underwent a change in position which was still a continuity of ministry, just as the church that we were gathered in had been consecrated as a cathedral, but continued, as richly as ever, to be a parochial and local presence.

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And, if there was anyone there who would share that rich sense of place and locality, it was Rumsey himself, whose excellent book Parish: An Anglican theology of place celebrates not only these historical continuities, but also the radical way in which Christ stands in our place and stands with us in every place and parish.

I was up in the choir with the visiting clergy, well away from the throng of consecrating bishops, but I heard the long echo of those beautiful words “To heal, not to hurt, to build up, not to destroy . . . a faithful steward . . . with all your household. . .”.

I glanced across the sanctuary at the one bishop who was up there with us, lying comfortably on his back, the fine lawn of his rochet gathered in at the wrist of a hand that was holding the Bible, in whose translation he played such a part. Even in effigy, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes was a central presence for me in that place. The man whose sermons had helped to convert T. S. Eliot, whose work on the Authorised Version had so renewed our language and our faith, would have been glad that the new bishop, who today took the ancient title of Ramsbury, was also a poet, and a translator of ancient wisdom into new words.

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