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Bishop for the day

by Michael Ford last modified 18 Dec, 2019 04:17 PM

On the feast of St Nicholas, it is traditional that one of the Cathedral choristers gets to be Bishop for a Day.

Bishop for the day

Photo by Ash Mills

This year it was the turn of Eva Akerman, who said in the Cathedral staff she saw the perfect hockey team.

As well as dressing up in what she described as Bishop's Nicholas' "heavy and beautifully embroidered cope" and mitre, Eva also said she was "getting to experience the fear and expectation which all priests must experience when standing up to deliver their first sermon. A supersonic journey from chorister to Bishop in only a few seconds!"

Eva thanked the Bishop for keeping the ancient tradition alive and said she had learnt that this was "a chance to turn your adult world upside down and a chance to bring a child's perspective to hold alongside your own just for a moment."

The role of Chorister Bishop dates back to medieval times, when a boy chorister took up the office of Bishop, holding sway from the Feast of St Nicholas on December 5th until the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th. During that time, this 'Boy Bishop' could appoint clergy and distribute the Church's money as he saw fit.

In the 1980s, the tradition was revived and from 2015 girls as well as boys have been allowed to take on the role. However, the position is only held for the day and no money or clergy are harmed during the making of this production!

Eva clearly enjoyed being Bishop and told the congregation gathered in the Cathedral that it was very diffrent to normal:

"Usually at this point in the service I would be sitting only a few metres away from here, in my normal place alongside my chorister friends on the benches, maybe sharing a joke or settling in for a few minutes of peace within the middle of Evensong."

Eva said that growing up in a home with a German mother, she had been very familiar with the tradition of St Nicholas visiting children whilst they sleep during the night of on the evening of December 5th. Leaving a shoe or boot outside their bedroom door, St Nicholas would reward the good with gifts and teach the naughty by leaving a stick or coal in their boot.

"This St Nicholas tradition, along with our wonderful Advent calendar, was for me a special event, the first taste of Christmas to come."

And she said she had been doing a little bit more research into Saint Nicholas and said that as patron saint of children, she was convinced that "like me, St Nicholas would have also been a strong supporter of games and sports, in particular team sports."

"Sport makes me feel free and happy. I love the feeling after running around hard, the fun and enjoyment of doing something with my friends outside whatever the weathers, the fresh air, the excitement of winning and of learning a new skill; or (one which I don't enjoy quite as much) sharing the disappointment of being beaten.

"But possibly the best part of this is playing as a part of a Team. That same team feeling is also something I am lucky to experience by being part of the Cathedral Choir, where I and my chorister friends are part of a much larger team, working together to make the music which is such a main ingredient in your Cathedral's life. Can there be a more level playing field than the Cathedral Choir, where boys, girls and the lay vicars practice and perform together daily, tour together, laugh together?

"When I look around me at the Cathedral clergy and vergers I actually see a perfect hockey team - even if they don't know it themselves. Starting with the two Nicks, Bishop Nicholas would be in goal; with his cloak and staff and mitre he'd be impossible to get the ball past and he'd have that whole overview of the field that Bishops naturally have.

"Dean Nick I'm putting up front - I think he could use his height and long reach well and I think he is fast enough. Alongside him up front to score goals would be Canon Anna. Together they'd be a nimble attack force -different approaches, different styles, different voices but a great partnership on the pitch.

"Set out between Dean Nick up front and Bishop Nick in goal, conveniently in the shape of a cross would be the rest of the team. I've decided to put Mr Halls in centre half - this is a tough position, requiring an ability to watch both sides of the pitch at once, just like Dec and Can choristers on either side of the choir stalls. Supporting him on either side I am placing Canon Ed and Canon Robert. I have seen them both moving at speed around the Close - late for a service, perhaps?

"Stepping back towards defence I have selected three vergers: Mr Taylor on the left, Mr Ringwood in the middle and Mr Lycett on the right. Directly in front of Bishop Nicholas, I'm placing the Head Verger Mr Lewis and maestro Cathedral organist Mr Challenger. Both of them ever present. Always there. 100% reliable.

"I think the vergers in particular would keep their positions well - have you ever observed how precisely they hold their line when their pilot the choir daily to the stalls?

"Just like any successful sport team they have a large group of supporters usually not so visible but incredibly important. For us they are the stewards, flower arrangers, stone masons, the Holy Dusters and many others keeping our Cathedral perfect for you.

"Any sport is a great example of the power of teamwork and community and of the importance of fun, of daring and dash, as well as of stability and continuity, of fair play and determination. I think these are all characteristics which St Nicholas would have encouraged us to grab in our lives."

Eva ended her sermon with the thought:

"Perhaps only by turning our world upside down from time to time do we get to see how important the things and people and places nearest and closest to us are. I wish you all a very happy and sporting Advent."

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