This time of year seems to me to leave us in a state of querulous anxiety.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Saturday, 12th January 2019 at 3.00 PM
This time of year seems to me to leave us in a state of querulous anxiety. Only a few days ago we celebrated the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles at the Epiphany and now the story has moved on so fast that we are dizzyingly preparing to celebrate tomorrow the baptism of the adult Christ. What has happened to the intervening thirty years? Gone in less than a week. And almost before we know it, we shall be preparing for Lent.
We do of course have one glorious insight into the development of Jesus, at the age of twelve, sitting amongst the doctors of the law in the temple at Jerusalem, debating with them no doubt some intricacies of theology, while Mary and Joseph desperately wonder where he has got to. The errant child is already preparing, St Luke tells us, for his adult ministry. The doctors of the law wonder at his understanding and his answers but he asks Mary and Joseph, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Perhaps Jesus is chastened as he goes back with his parents. St Luke tells us that he is thereafter obedient to them. Thus he learnt various lessons. We must understand that Jesus had to be formed as a child and no doubt even as a teenager, learning, enquiring, wondering, developing his perception of his loving Father, pondering his future ministry.
The manner of our formation for the Christian life and Christian service is a matter of fundamental importance to us all. Our formation begins when our parents begin to teach us about God and about Christ and about the ways of prayer and the Church in various ways takes us forward. As I look back on my time as chief education officer for the Church of England, I cannot say that I ever thought the Church had a comprehensive answer to how best to form Christian adolescents. The Sunday School model is not the right answer. Nor is any other of the passing nostrums.
One thing is clear. The best formation for growing children and teenagers is membership of a church choir, or cathedral or abbey choir. I feel greatly blessed that I was able to sing in a church choir as a boy and found Christian doctrine forming me through a process of drip-feed. And I find it a great privilege now to be chairing the Council of the Royal School of Church Music, founded here 92 years ago.
Our new Receiver General, Paul Baumann, whom I happily installed a few moments ago, is a linguist, who nevertheless has gone on to hold senior positions in financial management, and he and his wife and family are personally and professionally thoroughly steeped in music, including the music of the Church. Paul Baumann becomes, in addition to being Receiver General, Chapter Clerk and Registrar.
The Dean and Chapter of Westminster, and before them the Abbot and Prior and the monks of Westminster Abbey, were the happy possessors of large estates, scattered around the country, yielding valuable profits for the benefit of the Abbey and its community. The Receiver General here in Westminster received the revenues from the various estates. Now no more. In 1868, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners took the properties to themselves, some of them very valuable, in return for which they paid an annual sum of money, which annual payment ceased in 1970 with a final capital sum.
Paul Baumann is the 32nd Receiver General. The first, known as such, John Moulton, was appointed in 1537 and served through the dissolution of the monastery and the establishment of the Abbey as a Cathedral in 1540, the re-establishment of the monastery in 1556 and finally the establishment of the Abbey as the Collegiate Church in 1560: an admirably flexible record. The longest serving Receiver General was Charles St Clair Bedford, who was appointed in 1854 and served until his 90th birthday in 1900. In addition to being Receiver General and Chapter Clerk he was the Westminster Coroner. He died in 1902, a year before the by then decrepit Dean George Granville Bradley.
Happily, tourism has massively increased in the post-war era and the Abbey, receiving no money from the State or Church or Crown, but with the benefit of our visitors and generous donors, has been in a position to protect and enhance the precincts buildings and to extend the Abbey’s ministry.
So, now, in the 21st century, the Abbey is an extraordinary community of 350 staff and 500 volunteers, in addition to several hundred regular worshippers and hundreds of thousands of occasional worshippers every year and well over a million visitors. A flourishing Learning Centre welcomes almost 20,000 school children a year. The Westminster Abbey Institute connects the Abbey to the communities around us, and in particular Government offices, enabling public servants to reflect on the spiritual and moral purposes of their role. The Shop and Cellarium Restaurant and Café provide mementoes and comfort. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries yield a powerful additional sense of the history and significance of the Abbey. More great developments are planned.
And the story goes on of daily worship and great numbers of special services reaching out to ever wider communities, all supported by our exceptional musicians and vergers and marshals and honorary stewards. As an example, tomorrow evening we mark, with a congregation of 2,000 Polish people resident in this country, the 125th anniversary of the birth of St Maximilian Kolbe, commemorated since 1998 on the west front of the Abbey, one of ten 20th century martyrs.
The role of the Receiver General as the senior lay member of staff is to bring experience and expertise to the management and effectiveness of all these enterprises and to help ensure that, no matter the circumstances, everything is seamlessly smooth and efficient and apparently effortless. That is no small task.
The installation of a new Receiver General is a rare moment publicly to thank all the Abbey’s staff and volunteers for their commitment and hard work and to commend them to the blessing of almighty God.
With them we commend our new Receiver General and those he loves to God’s blessing and wish him a truly rich and blessed time in the service of God and the Abbey’s wider community in this holy place.
Listen to the Sermon (audio file on an external website)