It was like watching an old member of the family return home after a long holiday by the sea. This had come from Blackpool and it could be described as rock, which conjured up all kinds of confectionary images in my mind.
But in this case, the rock was an Anglo-Saxon stone, and the holiday had started in the 1960s. Fifty years seems like a long break, but after a thousand years of never leaving Ripon, it could probably be judged to be modest.
What am I talking about? Well, we recently discovered that in the 1960s, a Cathedral Canon showed great generosity to a new church in Blackpool. The church was dedicated to St Wilfrid, Ripon Cathedral’s founder and patron. It must have been thought that the gift of one of our ancient Anglo-Saxon stones, with its associations with Wilfrid, would provide a sanctifying reassurance.
Over the decades the collective memory of the Cathedral had, for the most part, forgotten about this stone.
When we read the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture (Volume 8!), prompted by an expert in the Anglo-Saxon period, we discovered that it was well documented.
Why has it returned to Ripon? Well, sadly, the Church of St Wilfrid, Blackpool closed recently. The people there kindly asked if we would like our stone back.
Without any hesitation, we said yes! So, if you want to see a piece of Yorkshire history recently returned from Lancashire, you are welcome to view it in the Cathedral Library.
Commemorating our Founders and Benefactors
This ancient stone was presented to the Cathedral in a service held on Sunday afternoon: the Commemoration of Founders and Benefactors.
This was a first for Ripon; an event in which we traced the history of the Cathedral and the region from the middle of the seventh century.
It gave us an opportunity to count our blessings. We were then able to express gratitude for people, known and unknown, who have given of themselves in the service of Cathedral, City of Ripon and the communities of the region for over thirteen-hundred years. There have been monks, bishops, kings, scholars, donors and volunteers amongst them. Some of these, not least the financial donors and volunteers, have served the common good in the most generous of ways.
This is still the same today.
The truth is that we couldn’t run the Cathedral and charities of the region without such altruism. It was additionally pleasing, then, that on Sunday the Cathedral was also presented with a cheque for £40,000 by the Friends of Cathedral Music.
The Cathedral service provided the perfect opportunity to say thank you to those who give their money, time or skills – and for some people it is all three.
From what I see of parishes churches and many charities across this whole Episcopal Area of Ripon – from Wetherby and Harrogate to Richmond and Croft-on-Tees, from Bedale to Skipton and Settle – it is still the same today. There is much to celebrate and be grateful for.
This constructive, charitable partnership of Church and community certainly encourages confidence in the message of the Church and the kindness of people.
Stronger partnership for the benefit of City and Borough
I am pleased that in Ripon the appetite for partnership between different parts of the community, including the church, is still alive and, if anything, getting stronger.
Different sectors – charitable, business, civic, community, church, tourism – are working together to make a positive difference for the good of all. Over recent months this has been improved by the recently-formed Community Interest Company (CIC).
Already it has secured funding to develop a digital marketing project to promote the businesses and attractions of the city. It also hosted a breakfast meeting for those running businesses in the centre of the city.
Very soon it will be inviting members of the public to become members of the CIC, opening up the opportunities for people to work together for the good of all.
In Sunday’s service, we recited the long history of Ripon Cathedral. This helped to put into perspective the contemporary challenges facing our region and communities. Change has been constant.
And in all political, economic and social circumstances, whether challenging or comforting, it has always been better for individuals within communities, and communities within the region, to be united for the good of all.
Certainly, it seems clear from the Gospel of the one who gave himself on a cross for the whole world, who has been worshipped in this region through countless twists and turns in its history, the ways of self-giving service ultimately lead to greater blessings for all.