Most little girls dream of being a princess, or dress up to play being a queen, but for one seven year old, being a bishop was very special when she was the most important person at a recent event in Woodbridge.
Sunday, 5th December was a double celebration day at St. Mary’s Parish Church, for not only was it the second Sunday in Advent, it was also the day that the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, was celebrated.
At the morning service, the emphasis was firmly on children and young people. In the procession, youngsters were very much to the forefront: the boat girl carried the incense, her red and yellow wellingtons much in evidence below her red cassock; two young lads were acolytes; at the back of the procession, behind the Rector, walked a little girl aged seven (“I’ll be eight four days before Christmas”) dressed as a bishop in full cassock and purple vestments, with a gold mitre on her head, and carrying an appropriate sized crosier. Behind her came the not-so-young Mr. Michael Booth, Reader, acting as the bishop’s chaplain!
And the children played a major role throughout the service. A group of young children from the choir and Sunday School led the prayers quite beautifully. The acolytes read the lesson and the Gospel with confidence. St. Nicholas took her place with the clergy. As her parents glowed with pride, she censed the altar, assisted by the Rector; invited the congregation to confession; spoke the words of the peace, joining with all the children in sharing the peace with each adult present; said the words of consecration with the Rector whilst standing on a chair at the altar; accompanied the priest as he administered communion to the people and blessed bags of chocolate golden coins, distributing them to all the children, reflecting the actions of the first St. Nicholas.
In his address, the Assistant Priest, Rev. Dr. John Hare, referred to the story of St. Nicholas who had thrown bags of gold into the backyard of a poor man with three daughters, so that each could have a dowry and be able to marry, and how he had been asked to become the bishop of his community. John spoke the words of Jesus, that only if we become as children can we enter the kingdom of God, reminding us of the essential childlike qualities of hopefulness, joy and indestructible trust which we must rekindle in our adult years. He also told the thirty plus children, seated on blankets in the aisle, about the St. Nicholas service which takes place in Salisbury Cathedral, where the Bishop vacates his seat and the Bishop’s Throne is taken by a child dressed as a bishop, representing St. Nicholas. It was most appropriate that children be at the heart of our service today.
Our St. Mary’s bishop was a solemn and deliberate assistant and it was so moving for us all to see her understanding that she was performing sacred actions. And when she spoke the words of the Blessing at the end of the service, everyone felt truly blessed. In spite of the freezing weather, she stood outside with the Rector to greet each member of the congregation as they left. A most moving, beautiful and memorable service which touched the hearts of many.
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