IF YOU had told the terrified young ordinand, wondering whether anyone would notice if she ran off before the ordination service began, that, 30 years later, she would be standing in the self-same spot as Interim Dean and Assistant Bishop, she would have laughed her socks off.
I returned to Lichfield to retire, but the three days a week as a house-for-duty Canon became four, and then five, and then. . . How true the oft-quoted saying, “Never tell God your plans.”
Assisting with the ordinations this Petertide, I reflected on how much has changed for the better for the women now being ordained. Not for them the choice between a man’s clerical shirt, complete with cufflinks and tails, or a Laura Ashley-style clerical blouse with pie-crust collar and puffy sleeves. Not for them “the look” — down the nose, slight sneer, faint huffing sound — when they process down the aisle.
Not for them the sense of having to prove themselves as “the first woman” to take up every post along their ministerial journey; nor the wondering how to be themselves in a position where there have only ever been men before them, or how to compose their face when, at their ordination, a man with a placard objects, and tells them that they are an abomination. It’s not been easy, that’s for sure. But, non, je ne regrette rien.
THE Knife Angel sculpture made his flight to Lichfield, and rested, somewhat apologetically, behind the council offices. He recognised, I suspect, that knife crime isn’t big in Lichfield. But we welcomed the team who created him, and the council officials, to a closing ceremony in the cathedral, acknowledging that, while Lichfield itself is a very safe place in which to live, that can’t be said of many other areas in our huge diocese.
As the mother church, we stand in solidarity with the clergy and lay leaders faithfully ministering in areas where churchyards host amnesty bins, nestled among the Victorian gravestones.
The Knife Angel played his part as messenger, as we reflected together on the challenge of encouraging young people to recognise that life isn’t a video game. In real life, if stabbed, you don’t get up again. Lichfield is changing, as all cities are, but reassuringly slowly. “Were many knives handed in?” we asked. Yes, lots, came the reply. In Lichfield? “Yes, an elderly couple were clearing out their cutlery drawer.”
BUT death is all around us, and never far away, and the cathedral was full to overflowing for the funeral of a young teenage girl, knocked down and killed on her way home one summer’s night.
For some of the young people, it was their first real experience of church; for most, it was their first experience of death. They sat, in school uniforms, swimming-team tracksuits, netball-team hoodies; and the atmosphere was respectful, tearful — and angrily defiant. There are no easy answers to the question “Why?” and it would have been foolish even to try to offer one.
Acknowledging the meaningless of a tragic accident changed the atmosphere. Reminding them that the place in which they were sitting is one where, for more than 1300 years, generations of Lichfieldians have brought their pain and their anger and their questions, and have found a degree of comfort and hope and peace, toppled the defences, and allowed healing tears to flow.
Our hope and prayer is that they heard loud and clear that this is their cathedral, and that they are always welcome here. And that they will come back again, and again, and again.
ONE of the joys of ministry is never quite knowing what the day will bring — especially in a cathedral. The 21 services each week give structure and rhythm, reminding us three times a day of why we are here. But we must keep the roof on, too. Exhibitions and concerts and the like need to bring in money, besides being opportunities to engage with an audience who might not otherwise come through the doors.
A morning helping a man with dementia who has “run away” from residential care and is seeking sanctuary with us because he remembers us from years ago; a lunchtime meeting where examining a spreadsheet and understanding about listed buildings is essential; a discussion about where the elephants might best be sited next year, and where exactly we’ll get the sand for “The Beach”; a volunteer who apologises for being late because she had to walk and bath a visiting tortoise — truly, there is never a dull moment.
A colleague holds the instructions for my funeral, with the gravestone inscription “She was bemused and bewildered”.
THE central spire — we have three — is scaffolded, as stonemasons replace the crumbing masonry and eye up the south spire, which is surely next. The Forth Bridge has nothing on us, built as we are of locally quarried sandstone, which dissolves almost before the eye each time it rains.
One summer’s evening, as we huddle under the metal-clad edifice, I stand to announce the hymn, and the boom is so loud that I can only assume a plane has hit the Lady chapel. Not a plane, thankfully, but the stormy weather, and a lightning conductor that has done its job. A text message from the organ loft: “Was that a direct hit? All the stops flew out!”
The congregation recovers, and I return to announcing the hymn: “Come down, O Love divine”.
“You’re telling me, duck!” exclaims a visitor, surely from Stoke. Oh, it’s good to be home.
The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane is Interim Dean of Lichfield and an assistant bishop in the diocese of Lichfield.