The Example of Three Northern Saints

At the Northern Provincial Festival, celebrated in York Minster on Saturday 11 October, the Bishop of Beverley concluded his sermon with this reflection

We gather to celebrate on a great day for us as Christians here in the North, with two great days on either side. Today – in the North and indeed throughout the Church of England – we are celebrating the life and ministry of James the Deacon. Yesterday we celebrated the life and ministry of St Paulinus, and tomorrow – or perhaps transferred to Monday – we shall be celebrating the life and ministry of St Wilfrid. (I shall be doing that at St Wilfrid’s in Harrogate in the morning and St Wilfrid’s, Cantley, in the evening, and I’m looking forward to both of those occasions.)

Great men of God

The lives of these three great men of God, and their ministries, can serve as good examples to us as we look forward to the future – staying, rejoicing and keeping calm. St Paulinus came to this city in AD 625 and then, on Holy Saturday 627, baptized King Edwin on or around this site. This is where Bishop Paulinus built a little church in order to baptize King Edwin, who had been converted to Christianity through the prayers of Paulinus and others – and through the influence of a good wife. Paulinus was a great missionary bishop who proclaimed the Gospel in these parts but then, after the death of King Edwin, returned to Kent, leaving behind James the Deacon. One of the greatest thrills about serving here, in this cathedral church, was being able to celebrate the rite of initiation in the Crypt on Holy Saturday night, year in, year out – to see new Christians being initiated into Christ’s living Body here on earth.

Song school

It was also a great privilege to be conscious of the presence here of James the Deacon, whom we celebrate today. After the departure of Bishop Paulinus, he remained: he stayed on here in York. He worked as an evangelist, and he set up here in this little city (as it was then) a song school, and taught plainchant. It was always a great delight for the Precentor and me, when we talked to young probationers, and then to choristers who had been admitted to full membership, to say (it’s a little bit tenuous, but it’s fair enough!) that they were following in the footsteps of James the Deacon, who set up the first song school here in York. He remained behind, and continued the work of proclaiming the Gospel and ensuring that worship was of the highest order.

Complex character

Tomorrow (or on Monday, if you transfer him), we celebrate Wilfrid. He was a more complex character in some ways. He was sometimes very, very difficult: he had a reputation for being troublesome and quarrelsome. But he was a good man. He was an evangelist too, a great apostle. He was very instrumental in the outcome of the Synod of Whitby in AD 664. He was somewhat frustrated by what he judged to be the insularity of the Celtic Christians. He wanted to be, within the Church of England, part of something bigger – Roman Christianity, the Western Church.

Following their example

Paulinus, James the Deacon and Wilfrid, then, are great northern saints whom we celebrate at this time of the year.

Paulinus is an inspiration to us to continue to put mission at the top of the agenda in the lives of our churches – after, of course, worship that leads into mission. Mission is what the Anglo-Catholic movement has historically been good at. May God, by his Holy Spirit, renew the zeal and enthusiasm in the life of his Church for mission. And may he give to us – clergy and people alike – all the needful gifts and grace, and the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfil our calling, so that men and women and young people may be converted to Christ, and that we may engage with what God is doing in our communities, to serve the needs of all those with whom we have contact. Let us please continue to be proactive in mission, following the example of good Paulinus.

Following the example of James the Deacon, may we be faithful and constant in our service – remaining where we are, trusting in the providence of God and in his presence with us.

And dear Wilfrid: thank God for him, and the vision that he gives to us that we are part of something bigger – we are part of the whole life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Let us always resist the temptation to retreat into our own little world and not pay due regard to, and engage with, the wider Church.

Our future

We have a future within the life of the Church of England. Let us grasp hold of that future, thankful to God, and inspired by the missionary zeal of Paulinus, by the constancy of James the Deacon, and by the catholic understanding of the life and nature of the whole Church which we see in Wilfrid.

May Our Lady pray for us. May Paulinus, James the Deacon, and Wilfrid pray for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. ND