Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

Opening of St Cecilia's CofE School Wandsworth

Tuesday 23rd March 2004

An address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at the opening of St Cecilia's Church of England School, Wandsworth.

The first thing I must say is simply a very big thank you for the invitation to be here for this wonderful occasion in a really wonderful building. One of the jobs that bishops get to do is go round quite a lot of schools and not all of them, by any means, have the space and the light and the sense of purpose this one has and it's been a real joy to be here and to meet some of you already, and get some sense of the enormous gifts there are around which of course you will see in this service as well.

I'm going to begin by telling you what I do first thing in the morning. You may not want to know but there you go. Apart from the terrible unequal daily struggle of getting out of bed that takes longer than it ought to, I go downstairs from the top flat in Lambeth Palace to the crypt underneath the chapel in Lambeth Palace to say my prayers. And that crypt is about 800 years old and the first thing I really do in the morning therefore is to sit down there and look at the wall; a wall which is made up of very old stones. Not at all like these walls where everything seems to be in straight lines and very neat but a lumpy rather untidy wall, full of very different shaped stones that only just manage to fit together but somehow have managed to stay up since about 1200. Sometimes they've fallen down and needed to be rebuilt, sometimes they've been plastered over and cleaned and then plastered again. But there they are, and I sit there for a while every morning and just look at them, and sometimes I think about walls, about stones and about bricks.

You probably noticed in the reading that we had a few minutes ago St Peter telling the Christians that they've got to be like living stones. And I think it's quite interesting that he didn't say that we have to be like living bricks. If we were meant to be like living bricks we would all be neat and tidy and we'd all stand in rows much the same size looking organized. But we are stones and stones are different sizes and shapes. Sometimes they look a bit lumpy and a bit untidy. But If you can really get them to fit together they do last, like those stones in the crypt at Lambeth which have lasted for 800 odd years.

One of the things that's saying to us is that when Christians get together in any kind of community, whether it's a school or a church or indeed just their life together in society, God doesn't ask them all to be the same size and shape or to stand in straight lines and be tidy. He asks them to be living stones – very, very different, fitting together because they are different. But that kind of fitting together with very, very different people is the great strength of a school or a church or a whole society.

So that's the first thing I want you to think about this morning. Picture to yourself that ancient wall in Lambeth Palace, with all those lumpy and untidy stones and think of yourselves as lumpy and untidy stones. A good school is a place where people are not ironed out flat and made all the same, it's a place where the lumpy and untidy stones – that's you – are brought together to make something really strong. A good school makes you more yourself, not less. And a large part of that learning to be more yourself not less does involve you sometimes in sitting in straight lines and looking reasonably tidy. Underneath what I hope and pray is that you are actually getting to be more different, more wildly and unpredictably yourself. And learning how to be yourself in a way that helps and supports the person next to you. That's the living stones in church and school and the whole of society; that's what we need to be praying for. Ask God to make you more yourself. But not just for its own sake but to help you to be more yourself so that you are there for the person next to you. And if that means being lumpy and untidy well so be it, at least you are supporting each other, you are building each other up and your building really will last like that chapel at Lambeth Palace.

That's one of the things about the early morning in Lambeth Palace. Another is, of course, something that I have absolutely nothing to do with, and that's that at some point early in the morning all being well and it isn't always, the heating goes on. So by the time I get up and go down to say my prayers in that chapel it's not – or not always – freezing cold.

One of the things about a home where people really are living and working is that the people in it warm it up. Somebody is there first to get things moving, to get the place warmed up, to get it ready for others. And now that is the very special job that you have at this moment in the life of this school. You children and teachers and staff, who have come together at the beginning of the life of a new school to warm it up for lots of other people. That is quite a task if you think of it as coming down early in the morning to put the central heating on for everybody else. You may be able to remember as you go through the school, part of what you've got to do is make this a homely and a welcoming place for all the children who are going to come in after you.

You've got a really unique job here – that of warming the place up. Nobody else is going to have quite the same responsibility, quite the same job as you have. And it's a very exciting job, it's a very demanding one. And unlike what happens at Lambeth Palace early in the morning you don't do it just by pressing a switch. Warming a place up, warming a school up is about making sure that your own commitments and your own courage, your own patience are really alive day by day. And that when new people come in you are prepared to be generous to them, make them feel at home and to walk with them as they learn what you've been learning. So that they in turn will be "warmers-up" for the people who come after them. Because again one of the things that happens in a good school, or a good church or a good society is that people warm up the atmosphere for those who come after them: they make it welcoming, they make it nourishing. So human beings will feel at home and really begin to grow.

So there are two jobs for you when you first come here – be living stones. Don't expect to be ironed out flat and made uniform and boring, expect this school to make you exciting and lumpy and untidy. Expect the teachers and all the others who help here to help you with that task. Come to this place with that positive feeling, "I'm going to be made more myself and I'm going to learn how to be myself so that it is good for others and helps others along." And be glad of each other's difference and lumpiness and untidiness – which is sometimes quite hard to be grateful for, I know, but have a go, because part of what that does is to warm it up for the people who are going to come – for your second job make this a welcoming place.

It's said sometimes that the church school is like a kind of church, and what we learn here is part of what the whole life of the church is meant to teach. Jesus Christ did not ask his friends to be boring, it's the very last thing he wants of us. He wants us to be different, he wants us to be exciting. When he first chooses his friends for his ministry on earth he doesn't choose twelve clones, twelve people exactly who are like each other, behave exactly the same way and are all good all the time. He chooses twelve people rather like us who are lumpy and untidy, and who get things appallingly wrong, make terrible mistakes, tread on each others' toes all the time and yet learn from Jesus how to be glad for each other, making each other more human, showing each other better how to love God day by day. And those first friends of Jesus started the long process of warming up the human race which has been going on ever since in the life of the church.

So what we are doing here in this school ought to be something that gives a message to the church which has invested in this school, the church which is so proud of the work you've done in this school. And the church in turn that learns about this has something to say to the whole of society around that as we're human as we're there for each other, as we build each other up and make each other more human and more in love with God, there is something about how to keep the atmosphere of humanity warm and welcoming.

When you come into this school you see the Christ on the cross, the risen Christ on the cross by the front door and the little plaque that I unveiled just before this service, with a few of you present. And that tells you straight away who is in charge here. Jesus Christ who gave his life for us and then rose from the dead to pour out his life on everybody from one end of the universe to another. Jesus Christ who has called us to be living stones in our difference, in our poverty, in our individuality – come together as a strong wall, hold together a place where people are supported by each other. And in his cross and his resurrection he first lit the fire of love that still warms us – the church and world and school.

When you come in remember that, think of the strong wall that you are building and the home you that are warming up and this school will indeed be a place more and more that people are proud of, glad of and delighted to visit as I've been delighted this morning.

God bless you all.

© Rowan Williams 2004

Back · Back to top