We have a couple of really exciting days ahead of us at Southwark Cathedral. Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is the day on which we gather on London Bridge with the Parish of St Magnus the Martyr, our neighbour across the river on the other side of the bridge. For as long as the bridge and the Christian church has existed in London our two churches have had the care of the bridge and its residents (during the mediaeval period). We live out that responsibility by meeting where our parish boundaries meet and have a short service during which a cross is thrown into the river as a sign of blessing. The river has been such a feature of the lives of both churches as has the bridge and that concern for both continues in this very public act.
On the following day we will be blessing the twelve bells that were removed from the Cathedral tower in July and have now returned. Two have been recast and so will be baptised but all will be blessed by the Bishop of Southwark. Bells have rung out from the tower since before the fifteenth century when we know that the original ring of seven was augmented for the royal wedding that took place in 1424 in the Priory of St Mary Overie.
At that time, the Bishop of Winchester, of which Southwark was his liberty, was Cardinal Beaufort. His niece, Joan, was to marry King James I of Scots and, as at that time he was in prison in the Tower of London, he was let out in order to come across the bridge and to the Priory to be married. And the bells rang out as their marriage was blessed.
Priests get called on to bless all kinds of things. In the next few weeks I’m going into the Borough Market to bless the ‘First Flush Darjeeling’, very special tea that is sold at one of the stalls. What reading we will have for that goodness only knows. But I’m delighted to be able to do it, just as I’m delighted to bless the First Loaf at Lammas and bless anything else that is shoved in front of me. After the Mass on Epiphany a young women asked me to bless two prayer books she had bought in the Cathedral Shop for a friend, lovely.
So we wait with anticipation to see what the House of Bishops will recommend to General Synod and the church at our meeting in February. After the Shared Conversations – which had gone so well as far as I was concerned – they went off to deliberate what we might do and be able to offer to those in our congregations, as well as those in every part of our society, who wish to marry their same-sex partner and do so with a blessing.
It just seems odd to me that I can bless a river, bells, books, tea, bread, cats and dogs and not two people who love each other. Perhaps if I can’t bless two people, who happen to be of the same gender and who have decided that they want to spend the whole of their life together in a loving committed faithful relationship I shouldn’t bless anything.
God seems to treat us all equally, for as Jesus says of God in St Matthew’s Gospel
‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5.45)
and as I cast out indiscriminate blessing from the altar at the end of every Eucharist it falls in the same way. But perhaps we are going to have to think differently about blessing in the future and, against the will and action of God, bless only those who REALLY deserve it.
you bless without distinction,
love without discrimination,
may your church
bravely reflect your nature.