How wonderful that a Bishop should leave a legacy of poems and hymns!
We recently sang at St Chrysostom’s church the lovely traditional hymn Hark, the sound of holy voices – the words of Bishop Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln (1869-1885). (Sung here, by the Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street). The Bishop was the nephew of the poet, William Wordsworth, and his son, John, was to become Bishop of Salisbury. The hymn, one of many he wrote, was written for All Saints’ Day, and was, he said, to be seen as a ‘triumphant song of a vision of the final gathering of saints.’
How wonderful that Bishop Christopher Wordsworth inspired Christians through scholarly writing and poetry, whilst also presiding over a vast diocese. Other bishops have done similarly. Bishop Reginald Heber and Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith are other examples. As is the less well known Bishop Cecil Boutflower who, reflecting on his ministry of Confirmation and Eucharist, articulated his thoughts in poetry and hymns for these occasions. And, of course, in more recent years Archbishop Rowan Williams has set a shining example. (Do you know others? – let us know in the comments here if you’d like to).
This aspect of christian vision and leadership has been found elsewhere in the history and geography of God’s people. As early as the fourth century St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, wrote hymns.
Blessed Anton Martin Slomsek (1800-1862), (Feast Day 24th September) was Bishop of Lavant, in Slovenia from 1846 to his death in 1885. He came from a humble background and was orphaned at the age of 11. He worked hard to gain an education and later served as a parish priest, before becoming a bishop. As well as being a Bishop he was also a great author, poet and song writer. To this day some of his songs are still popular in Slovenia.
Slovenia is a beautiful, small country, with a rich history. Bishop Slomsek was seen as a staunch advocate of the culture of the Slovene people, and a great poet, he encouraged the building of schools, and was a leading supporter of education for all.
Pray that more Christian leaders will follow these examples, encouraging culture and sharing their own faith and experience in poetry and hymns!
Where these bishops have gone, may we follow! Why not in the context of our daily life and work find time to articulate our vision – have a go at writing a poem or hymn of hope, vision or inspiration.