Theology Blog: Giving up a seat for a king: a story of… REJECTION AND ACCEPTANCE
The Revd Canon John Seymour – August 2014
I was not quite nine years old on 3rd September 1939. For many children whose school days coincided with WW2, it was a scary time. In our London suburban home bombs landed all around us, with one big one in our garden. Fortunately it was a big garden. We spent months in air raid shelters at home and at school, and when as a family we evacuated to the country the doodlebug flying bombs followed us there. Eleven plus? In 1941 I had no awareness that such a thing ever existed. So I left a village school just before my 14th birthday, where just three classes provided for the village children from age 5 to 14, and where much of the time was spent on local farms picking potatoes and gathering in the harvest.
This minimal schooling dogged me for years and set up a series of rejections. ‘Sorry, you’ve no school certificate or matriculation… we can’t give you a job in our bank,’ said the manager of the local National Provincial. Later, during National Service in the RAF when I was nominated as potential officer material, the interviewing officer echoed the same refrain: ‘I’m sorry, you’ve no… (ditto).’ Back home at our parish church, when I mentioned to our new Cambridge MA curate that I thought I felt drawn into the ministry, he said it was a nice idea but I’d never make it. Maybe the fact that a wonderful mother died before I was 15 is also part of the story.
Then came a significant experience of acceptance. The vicar had a different mind-set to his curate. His response was, ‘John. I’ve been waiting for two years for you to come and tell me this!’ Then a miracle. In 1950 it was called CACTM. After the usual three days’ selection conference came a letter of… acceptance. My first choice of college was St John’s, Durham, but (here we go again) the then principal (R R Williams) had to reject my application because the village schoolboy, now a clerk in a builder’s office, had no Latin. However, twelve or so years later Dr Williams, now Bishop of Leicester, accepted and welcomed me into his diocese.
Hence the day in 1982 when Bishop Richard Rutt offered me an honorary canon’s stall in the Cathedral is a day I still treasure. Acceptance is a basic human need, common to all of us. And being installed as a canon was a highly symbolic act of acceptance. I had been noticed and appreciated. In particular I was proud to have been allocated a stall dedicated to one of the Saxon bishops of Leicester: Bishop Werenberht, (c.801 – c.814). But from now on the good Bishop Werenbehrt’s and my old stall will no longer be there to comfort us. We are giving up what was our seat for the burial of a king.
And the king referred to has a particular significance, for when at the age of twenty I began to acquire something of an education (with a postal home-study course), I went straight to A-level modern history. The syllabus began at Bosworth Field in 1485, a somewhat significant year in the said king’s chronology.
Richard III and I developed this relationship still further in 1983 when I was installed as rector of Market Bosworth. I shared vigorously in the quincentenary celebrations in 1985. The Richard III Society annual services at Sutton Cheney later became my responsibility. So King Richard and I have met before. He, too, knew about rejection. Bishop Werenberht and I give up our seat in order that the final acceptance of a betrayed and rejected king may become a reality.
At the Cathedral Eucharist on 3rd August, the last service (almost) to be conducted in the ‘1927’ Cathedral, Ann Reddecliffe led intercessions which included the petition:
‘We ask you to bless the building work that will start in the Cathedral this week… Help each of us to deal with the changes, helping us to let go of old securities and move ahead under the guidance of your Spirit’.
With rather misty eyes I hope other friends of the Cathedral who share this sense of loss will pray Ann’s prayer and let go of, or at least reconsider, old securities. Dependence on a wooden seat, however precious and beautiful, can be overdone. There’s quite a bit in the Old Testament about this sort of thing and it’s not encouraged.
The image of Jesus with the outstretched welcoming arms is not just the logo of our Cathedral and diocese, it is at the heart of the Christian message. It is the image of the Servant King pictured in Isaiah. H e too was despised and rejected, in order to bring healing and acceptance: joy to every longing heart.
In a recent sermon the Dean bravely referred to the imminent changes in the Cathedral as ‘tectonic’. We who are on the sidelines need to support with our encouragement and prayers both him and the present Chapter, who together carry the responsibility of seeing this bold and brave plan through to fruition. This, under Dean David’s leadership, will, I’m confident, secure the continuing pre-eminence of Christ the King in the life of our much-loved welcoming and accepting Cathedral – in this progressive welcoming and accepting diocese of Leicester.
John Seymour (Honorary Canon Emeritus)