Welcome + Worship + Witness
Bishop Thomas Ken

The Rector: Less is more

2nd Sunday after Trinity
13th June 2021
Sung Eucharist

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Unless you are an exceptional observer of the Church calendar, you could be forgiven for having the missed the celebration of Thomas Ken on Tuesday

I would probably have missed it too had I not sent my children to a school in Warminster where there was a “Ken House”

Rather taken by this unusual name, I inquired why the House was called Ken?

I was told that it was named after Thomas Ken who had been Bishop of Bath and Wells in the eighteenth century

His association with the school was that he had strongly supported its foundation in 1707

He was buried not far away at the Church of St John the Baptist in Frome and his tomb is at the east end of the Church outside the Chancel

It was shabby and decayed when we went to visit as a family on a rainy day

However, the rather prosaic name belies a, peculiarly, distinguished career

He was ordained in the same year as the restoration of the Prayer Book in 1662 during the reign of Charles II

After serving in a very poor parish in the Winchester Diocese he then became chaplain at Winchester College

From thence he became Bishop of Bath and Wells in a preferment which would be unimaginable today

However, this meteoric rise through the ranks were shortly to come to an abrupt end

Within three years, he was imprisoned by James II, along with six other Bishops, for opposing the abolition of the Restoration Penal Laws

Luckily for Bishop Ken, James II had to flee into exile the same year and he was released from prison as a result

However, there was just one small problem

Despite the Bishop’s differences with the King, he had sworn allegiance to him and therefore felt unable to swear an oath to William and Mary

Unable to swear loyalty to the new King and Queen, he was deprived of his living

And, as a result, he had to retire and spent his days years as a hymn writer and Bishop to his household only

Peculiarly however, Bishop Ken is remembered more for his life as a deposed Bishop rather than one who remained in post

First of all, despite his misfortune, he continued to serve the Church both as priest and hymn writer

And gave us wonderful hymns such as “Awake my soul and with the Sun” and “Glory to Thee my God this night”

These are a lasting legacy to this day

Secondly, he chose the Gospel rather than preferment in the Church

Indeed, it is his adherence to the Gospel – and the integrity it brings -that speaks far more loudly than most utterances from the pulpit

He had made an oath to the King – before Almighty God – and that was that – the king was still alive

And thirdly, and above all, he modelled discipleship

As many of us know, there is a cost to discipleship and that cost can be considerable

But he bore witness to a love which did not count the cost and took him on a path that loosened his relationship with power and privilege

Ironically, this “failure” was the beginning of his success

For once you have given up trying to live a life of faith it under your own steam – you begin to adopt a proper reliance on God

Put another way “less is more”

And it is this idea of “less is more” that has been so apparent to me during the past year under lockdown,

Most noticeably with funerals and weddings

It goes without saying that one of the most difficult restrictions we have had to endure, is the limit on numbers attending funerals

This was most pronounced at the funeral of Prince Philip where the Queen cut a very forlorn figure at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

This sense of isolation was repeated up and down the country as churches and crematoriums alike were forced to restrict their numbers

And it still remains the case today and possibly for yet another month or even more

But despite the restrictions, the various funerals I have conducted been wonderfully uplifting

Above all else, I have been reminded of the death and burial of our Lord, where only a handful of his family and friends were in attendance-

But so close to the miracle of the resurrection as a result

Once again, in a peculiar way, “less is more”

And so too with weddings

The smallest wedding we had last year was just five people but it was a very moving occasion which I will never forget

The Catholic commentator Catherine Pepinster said that Coronavirus was one of the best things that had happened to weddings

She had a point

I am conscious that are wedding couples are here to today and I don’t want to detract from your day

But the most important part of the wedding are the wedding vows the couples make to each other in the sight of Almighty God

In the midst of the pandemic, couples have been able to focus, above all, on their vows to each other

The heart of the wedding becomes much clearer once other distractions are removed

Once again, “less is more”

And so to the New Testament reading this morning where we hear about the great feast which also did not go to plan either

Those invited began to make their excuses and fell away

The great feast planned by the master of the house was now not going to be the grand occasion he wanted it to be

Instead, the guest list was radically altered and, as we heard, “there was still room” – it was half empty

But the point of the story is not about the grandeur of the occasion but the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God is often not to be found in the grand occasion but in the small gathering instead

It is not to be found at the large funeral but in the small band of disciples round the cross

It is not to be found in the large wedding feast but in the midst of the couple as they make their vows to each other

It is not to be found on the Bishop’s throne but in the humble household where hymns are composed and integrity preserved

Indeed, in the Kingdom of God, “less is more”

Welcome to the feast