Bishop Sarah’s sermon at the St Paul’s OBE Service

Bishop Sarah’s sermon at the St Paul’s OBE Service

Sermon Preached by the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE

The Most Excellent Order of the Britsh Empire Service of Dedicaton 15th May 2024

St Paul’s Cathedral

Isaiah 58.6-11, 1 Corinthians 3. 6-15

May I begin by saying how encouraged we are to have His Majesty The King with us on this occasion. Your Majesty, you continue, along with your family, to be held in our prayers.

I have been fortunate to have been travelling recently as part of my study leave. Travelling through different continents and time zones has made me reflect on the words of the Bishop of Newcastle, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley, who recently spoke about her time as a Bishop in New Zealand, and the Māori idea of ‘tūrangawaewae’.

Bishop Helen-Ann explained that tūranga means ‘to stand’ and waewae means ‘feet’. And when you put it together you get a word that means ‘the place where you put your two feet on the ground, and you just know ‘I’m home’.’
I wonder where is the place where you put your two feet on the ground and know that you are home?

For some this may be a geographical place. For others it may mean a group of people or a spiritual place.

In this congregation a great variety of kinds of public service are represented and celebrated. You have touched the lives of millions of people in ways which are both diverse and inspiring; transforming the lives of people and communities for the better. But is it solely
within your achievement that you find your tūrangawaewae?

I suspect that rather than finding our tūrangawaewae in any single thing or place, we find it through a host of people, places and experiences from which our identity is drawn, and our personal history shaped.

The Dean, preaching recently on the biblical passages we have just heard, reminded us that there are many memorials in this Cathedral many of which are literally under our feet. I, like him, would highlight the memorial to Florence Nightingale – remembered simply for her
mercy – but I would also highlight Gordon Hamilton Fairly, Professor of medical oncology at St Bartholomew Hospital and killed by a terrorist bomb in 1975, and Sir Henry Wellcome, founder of the Wellcome Trust.

The Dean reminded us that we are all simply building on the foundations laid by others. Standing on their shoulders or walking in their footsteps on the ground of our being. As St Paul tells us, we are God’s co-workers. We are called to work with the grain of God’s righteousness – the missio Dei.

The American spiritual teacher and psychologist, Ram Dass, once said ‘We are all just walking each other home’. I don’t think he meant literally. He seemed to mean two things: home as in death and our soulmate place in God; and the place of home within ourselves where we know ourselves to be loved and wholly accepted by God. In our shared acts of service, we hold the potential to help one another to plant our feet on the ground and walk each other home.

I am sure each one of us recognise that there are many things which can unbalance us and our feet on the ground – health, relationship, financial security, coming to terms with lost ambitions, to name but a few – and the world soon begins to look very different. The place
in which we stand begins to change and we find ourselves in uncharted territory. Our foundations may feel that they have been undermined and we lose our tūrangawaewae.

In the North aisle of this Cathedral is Bill Viola’s Mary. Installed in 2016 it is a 13-minute art installation which shows a beautiful Madonna gazing straight out to us with an expression of compassion as her baby suckles at her breast. Behind her, traffic and floods move though a high-rise modern city scape. The intensity of the traffic seems to build up as the sky changes from day to evening to night, but the woman keeps looking back at us with unwavering composure. Then the lone figure of Mary wanders among cliffs and the scenes of the Annunciation, Visitation, and the birth of Christ, reflecting her life and her dreams – biblical images transposed into a modern setting making ancient narratives alive in a new way. The final image is the Pieta – the Virgin Mary as pale as chalk holding the dead Christ – her hand caressing a lifeless cold leg – infinite sorrow.

The installation encompasses the great themes of life, of birth, relationships and death – the themes of light and darkness, all of which are our shared experience. It reminds us that in our common experience the foundation on which to build our lives is Christ, the ground of our calling: our tūrangawaewae.

Florence Nightingale, born on the 12th of May 1862, was motivated by her faith and she made no secret of the experience of a literal calling from God, a call to service. In an address to nurses in 1873 she said ‘Feeling God has made her what she is, (a nurse) may seek to
carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God. Remembering that Christ died for her, she may be ready to lay down her life for her patients’. [1]

Florence Nightingale knew about the long-term cost of her experiences and that the hardest of challenges could only be overcome with the support of God and others. Christ was her cornerstone, the ground of her calling, her tūrangawaewae.

It is there, in the ground of our calling, that we can know what it is to have a home with firm foundations, even if the world around us is falling. But it is also together that we can walk each other home.

It is from this foundation that we can loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our house.

For Florence Nightingale, it meant not just improving nursing care but also reducing infection, redesigning the London sewage system which runs under our feet, and developing epidemiology to save lives.

I wonder what that means for us today – wrestling with climate change or reducing health inequalities or working for peace in places of conflict across the world?

These challenges and so many more can feel overwhelming and the ground on which we stand can at times feel very unstable. How do we keep going?

Just over a year ago at the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles, one of the processional crosses was the Cross of Wales, which bore the words of Saint David written in Welsh on the recycled silver bullion ‘Be joyful. Keep faith. Do the little things.’ They remind us that it is not huge miracles and big programmes and grand schemes that make the difference, but joy, faith, and little things. That is what David saw as essential to the Christian life.

Let us not grow weary in doing what is right. In other words, we need to keep doing what needs doing. Despite present company, doing what is right is not always earth shattering. Doing what is right is often doing little things with kindness, courtesy, generosity and gentleness. Welcoming the stranger, sitting with the bereaved or, as encouraged by Her Majesty The Queen, reading books with children, So, we need to keep working for the good of all, but especially for the person who is right in front of us.

The words of St David remind us of the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who once said: ‘Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.’
Let us pray that together we may walk each other home to find our tūrangawaewae – the place where we put our two feet on the ground and know that we are where we should be.


1 Lyn McDonald, Florence Nightingale, p10