The Dean's Reflection with the Very Rev John Dobson
In my article last month, I was suggesting that St Wilfrid '“ the man who built the original church at Ripon Cathedral '“ encourages us to look beyond our local concerns to the opportunities for flourishing on a global stage.
Well, this conveniently leads in to celebrating the efforts of our Olympic athletes in Rio. What achievement we have seen, not least by Ripon’s Jack Laugher.
I can’t help thinking that, like St Wilfrid himself, Jack has brought gold, silver and success to this area.
I was pleased to see the victory displays both in Ripon Town Hall and the cathedral – plenty of gold balloons and flowers.
At the time of writing, we don’t know the final result of the Olympics.
What is already crystal clear, however, is that over the last couple of decades our national Olympic performance has been transformed out of all recognition.
Many have looked back to the dismal result of 1996 in Atlanta when we secured only one gold medal, 15 medals in total and came thirty-sixth in the final ranking. 2016 has resulted in a very different achievement.
Some have suggested that the difference in fortune results from a willingness to invest seriously in sport.
As a priest and cathedral dean, this leaves me wondering what a difference could be made to the Church’s mission in this country if there was a similar willingness to invest public finances in the churches.
The fruits of the Christian faith are life-giving and positive for both individuals and communities, and yet the public purse under normal circumstances is reluctant to invest in us.
There is great rejoicing and genuine gratitude in the Church when we do receive support for our efforts to serve the common good.
The cathedral has not only been celebrating the success of Jack Laugher but also the award of a significant grant to do long-needed repairs to the cathedral building.
You may remember that a couple of years ago the previous Chancellor made £20 million available for the repair of cathedrals as part of the nation’s commemoration of the centenary of the First World War. We at Ripon Cathedral were delighted to receive £354,000 for stone repairs (do you remember the new gargoyles?) and £31,000 for window repairs.
Well, things got even better when earlier this year George Osborne provided a second tranche of £20million for the same purpose. A grant from this of just under £400,000 for Ripon will mean that more essential high-level stonework repairs that we would have found impossible to fund can now take place over the next year. It will also mean yet more new gargoyles!
It’s good to acknowledge when pubic investment makes a positive difference to things that matter.
I guess the same could be said about private and charitable efforts. Next month will see the cathedral host the Great North Arts Show, the Black Dyke Band concert, Ripon International Festival’s Royal Northern Sinfonia concert, the Dean’s Banquet and a Harvest Ceilidh.
These all make a positive difference and illustrate how the cathedral seeks to serve the well-being of the wider community.
Do come and take advantage of it.
In relation to the spiritual health of the nation, however, it is a moot point whether serious financial investment and human effort would be the answer to all our prayers.
St Paul famously compares the Christian life to an athlete taking part in a race. He makes the point that the runners all compete, but only one wins.
He then encourages Christians to run to win, reminding us that this requires self-control and discipline.
The athletes of Rio can be an encouragement to us at a spiritual level, then. But there is another dimension to this which is of some comfort to those of us who are less athletic and who possibly consider ourselves less successful in life; those of us who would never wear the gold medal of achievement.
The good news that St Paul was keen to share and that inspired St Wilfrid to build his first church at Ripon was that of the man who was crucified as if a failure and criminal and yet who was raised to new life by God’s love.
At the heart of Ripon Cathedral is St Wilfrid’s crypt – you can still visit it. It has been a place of worship and prayer for more than thirteen hundred years.
It was built to represent the empty tomb of Christ and to remind all visitors that the foundation of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ.
Thanks to that we don’t have to win the race to receive the prize.
Christ has invested heavily in our success and he gives it to us freely.