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The Dean’s first Sermon September 2014

Sung Eucharist at Brecon Cathedral

13th Sunday After Trinity, Sunday 14 September 2014

The Very Revd Dr Paul Shackerley Dean of Brecon

Yesterday was a memorable celebration. At the welcome the Dean was given a Bible, a stole, water, blessed oils, and bread and wine. Then, after the collation and Declaration of Canonical Obedience the new Dean is vested in his cope. The congregation may be excused for seeing such gifts and vesture as being nothing more than ceremonial. However, for the Cathedral, the gifts and vesture symbolizes two aspects of a Dean's ministry: My role as your Dean and my role as your priest. Through the role and vocation, I hope I will faithfully serve not only the Cathedral and town, but also the Diocese and Province to express the great gift of God's love shown in the incarnation of Christ.

You may be wondering what your new Dean is like. What will he bring to the community of faith? And for some, the hope that he won't change anything that is cherished. So, let me assure you that there will be a process of consultation among you about the direction of travel into the future, which I hope you will contribute. Today, it is sufficient to say that, whatever the direction of travel in the future, our work together must be bound with core values and principles that that will anchor our lives together in building the Church and God's kingdom in this sacred place. It is a fitting day to begin looking to the future with hope as we celebrate the 91st anniversary of founding of this Cathedral and the Diocese. Those who have gone before us have faithfully served to leave us a legacy to continue their work as custodians of this sacred space.

But, any vision or ideals will only flourish where we trust one another and work together for the common good. The erosion of trust has flowed through our educational, ecclesial, judicial, health and political institutions. We have witnessed unprecedented disturbing interest in blaming others that has amplified through media and social network technology. And blame erodes trust and corrodes confidence among individuals, employees and employers, and communities and volunteers. Where trust fails, blame becomes the accepted moral norm, and suspicion and dis-ease will gain a foothold. Any leader, and that includes Deans, must do all we can to build trust as we put in place a clear vision and strategy for growth and mission. When we trust each other and the God who created us, we flourish and holiness will dawn.

If trust is to be built, we must find it in ourselves to trust each other without suspicion. But of course, this brings the potential of being vulnerable too. To trust is to taking risks. Risk can bring messiness and untidiness, but it can also bring creativity and new life as we share our stories and the story of Christ's birth, death, resurrection and ascension. And the thing with mess and creativity is, you have to enter into a deep understanding of each other's stories and take time to reflect to see where God is calling us as a Cathedral.

I have been fully aware of the challenges we are facing together. We must manage them well and responsibly as good stewards and custodians. And it will follow as we begin to trust, risk and be creative, that other values will bring new birth. In working together we need to be honest without too much disclosure. When there is pain, disagreement and conflict, we respond to each other and our differences, with grace and attentive listening. Rather than blaming when things go wrong, that we will take responsibility for our actions, decisions and behaviour. And the wonderful gift of God that we find in St Barnabas, the gift of encouragement will be the fruits that show others we are Christians. When we encourage each other we will flourish into the human beings that our God has called us to become.

If today's readings says anything to us, it is to focus on distant horizons because Jesus descended to the creative vulnerability of human endeavours. And it therefore follows that risk and vulnerability will be the precondition to creativity, encouragement and change. The contours of the Church in Wales and the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon are changing. There is a sea change happening, not only nationally and globally, but also in our Province and the Diocese in its 91st year. The journey has begun, and it is my hope the Cathedral will not be a passenger or left behind. In the midst of Provincial and Diocesan change and reorganization it would be easy to follow the example of the Disciples after the death of Jesus, and return to places that are familiar and safe. But if we do this, and resist, the Church will not be here for future generations. All their lives the Disciples fished for a living. They went back to what they always did, the familiar. When a new Dean comes to a Cathedral, as I have, the congregations, staff, volunteers and supporters and friends will wonder what I am doing here. But more importantly, how will the familiar and secure be shaped for our future together, and how will the creativity of the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire? The Cathedral will continue to be shaped, but through a different way of working, over time. Brecon Cathedral sacraments that already connects you to each other. Thank you for your invite and welcome to also drink from the deep well of God's love here in this sacred place.

I hope that we will look after each other. I hope we will tolerate each other's foibles and peculiarities with laughter and grace. You do laugh a lot here, which is a great attraction and gift. Let's continue the congregational gift of loving, giving sacrificially, and supporting each other when we are at our most vulnerable and make miserable mistakes and embrace uncertainty. We must protect each other's space and privacy, especially of your Dean and clergy in the close. There will be times when we may not realise that we need support. It is then that we will need gentle encouragement to assure our fellow companion is not alone and need someone to care for them. I know that Brecon Cathedral is host to many visitors, tourists and pilgrims, offering hospitality and a sacred space to encounter God. This Cathedral is an amazing sacred and peaceful gift where we are feed on the bread of life and where we become friends and pilgrims of Christ. One thing this will always be, and that is a place to meet with God and to worship. To worship God is the essence of what we do.

Let me end with a story:

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, "What are you doing?" and the man replied: "I am laying bricks." He asked the second, "What are you doing?" and the man replied: "I am building a wall." As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, "What are you doing?" The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, "I am building a cathedral!"