Sermon given at Evensong with the Installation of Canon David Stanton as a Canon of Westminster

5 October 2013 at 15:00 pm

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster

Relations were not always entirely comfortable between Westminster Abbey and the Diocese of Worcester. Two particular disputes came to a head towards the end of the thirteenth century.

One resulted from Edward the Confessor’s munificence to Westminster Abbey when he granted a great manor at the heart of Pershore’s lordship to Westminster. This was to lead to a series of difficulties. In his recent book on two great thirteenth-century abbots, Richard de Ware, who built this church, and Matthieu de Vendome, abbot of Saint-Denis, William Chester Jordan is diverted by accounts of the guerrilla raids encouraged, so it was said, by the Abbot of Pershore, on Westminster’s possessions. Ware enclosed his estates and eventually the raids ceased.

Another dispute, more serious, later in the century, concerned the question whether the Bishop of Worcester or the Abbot of Westminster had jurisdiction over Great Malvern, a dependent priory of the Abbey. On 22nd September 1282, Bishop Godfrey Giffard summarily deposed William de Ledbury, the Prior of Malvern, and sent William de Wykewane to the Abbot of Westminster for confirmation as his successor. The Abbot refused to confirm Wykewane and imprisoned him and his companions here at Westminster. The dispute dragged on and finally involved both the King and the Pope. The Bishop of Worcester lost the case and agreed not to exercise visitational rights over the Great Malvern priory but in compensation received the grant of a manor at Knightwick. Ledbury was restored. Incidentally, both the Bishop and the Abbot were involved in disputes at that time with Archbishop Peckham of Canterbury over the overweening exercise of his metropolitical jurisdiction. Let no one say of the twenty-first century that for the Church it is the worst of times.

There is no dispute between the Diocese of Worcester and Westminster Abbey in our own day and we are glad to see the Dean and Chapter, and other friends from Worcester, as they graciously deliver their Canon Precentor, David Stanton, who with Sarah and their daughters Charlotte and Olivia we are delighted to welcome into our collegiate fellowship, and certainly not to imprisonment.

Indeed there are various happy connections between Worcester and Westminster. One of David Stanton’s predecessors as Canon is a former Bishop of Worcester, Charles Gore. He had been vice-principal of Cuddesdon, David’s and my theological college, and then principal of Pusey House and for a few months rector of Radley, before becoming a Canon of Westminster from 1894 until his consecration in 1902.

Gore’s new semi-monastic community that would eventually establish itself at Mirfield was partly here and partly at Radley during his canonry. Not everyone was persuaded that Westminster Abbey would be a good place for Gore. In his biography of Charles Gore, Leonard Prestige quotes Walter Frere as saying, ‘We aren’t strong enough to survive such prelatical splendour: poverty and obscurity are what we want: and really Westminster is enough to stifle anyone’s religion.’

In fact Charles Gore seems to have preserved his religion. He promoted several amendments in the ordering of the Abbey for worship. One was furnishing for worship the chapel of St Faith that had previously been employed as a lumber room and was filled with carpets and matting and the dismantled case of the old organ. The chapel of St Faith remains the place of Morning Prayer through the week. A second reform was the institution of the daily Eucharist, still flourishing. He also secured a decent improvement in the vesture of the Abbey choir. These impacts all survive, more than a hundred years later.

Indeed it is not to ‘prelatical splendour’ that those of us called to serve at Westminster Abbey find ourselves attracted but to the power and the beauty of the regular, quasi-monastic, pattern of daily worship that forms the basis and focus of the life of the Abbey community. If we were ever to fall away from holding the daily round of the worship of almighty God as the very centre and core of our life here, all that the Abbey would have to offer would be spectacle and confusion. Without this foundation to our corporate life, the great number of tourists and visitors we receive would find no opportunity to discover here the profound joy of the knowledge of almighty God, the occasional wreath-laying and other ceremonies we host would be no more than earthly vanity, the special services of memorial or of celebration would be isolated events lacking the spontaneity of heart and familiarity.

In the daily worship of almighty God, the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer faithfully offered and beautifully sung, the daily Eucharist, restoring 120 years ago the memory and reality of 600 monastic years of multiple daily offerings of the one eternal sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, we set right the relationship between ourselves as his creatures and the God who makes and loves us. In the daily worship of almighty God, we create a context and meaning for all our multiple activities and responsibilities and enable them to be undertaken in a true and laudable manner to God’s glory and not to our own advancement. In the daily worship of almighty God, we are sustained and fed, kept true to our calling, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and enabled to do and perform his gracious will.

David Stanton as Canon Treasurer and Almoner will have oversight within the responsibilities of the Dean and Chapter for the finances of the Abbey and for its fabric and also for its generosity to other charitable purposes. His experience and knowledge fit him admirably for the tasks he will fulfil and for his role in the corporate and communal life of the Abbey.

He will have a part to play in the major series of developments we are undertaking. The Queen opened our new education centre in 2010 and The Duke of Edinburgh the new Cellarium café and restaurant in 2012. Within the next few years, we plan to develop a new Song School for the rehearsal of the Abbey Choir and visiting choirs, to create a new access route to the Triforium galleries from outside Poets Corner, and to open in the Triforium The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, to display much more of the Abbey’s historic collection than can be shown now and to give much better access to our visitors to the amazing story of the Abbey past and present. We also have a plan to reunite parts of the historic eleventh-century Abbey buildings within the dark cloister area which have been divided since 1861. There is much to achieve as we look forward to celebrating in 2016 the 500th anniversary of the dedication of the Lady Chapel and in 2019 the 750th anniversary of the dedication of the current church building.

None of this can be achieved without the blessing of almighty God. It all depends ultimately on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit received as we come daily and humbly to God in worship. May almighty God bless David and all of us and enable us to fulfil our high calling.

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