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40 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 09 September 2012

A service from Bath Abbey: Pearls of wisdom
The Revd Prebendary Edward Mason and the Revd Dr Sarah Hartley consider the value of wisdom handed down from generation to generation with stories from those involved in teaching and learning.
Music from Bath Abbey choir and children from the Abbey Schools Singing Programme.
Director of Music: Dr Peter King
Sub-organist: Marcus Sealy
Producer: Clair Jaquiss.

  • Bath Abbey 09/09/12

    BBC Radio 4. [TIME CHECK] and time for Sunday Worship. For many, holidays have come to an end and a new term is beginning. This morning Bath Abbey welcomes all ages as they reflect on how education helps one generation to search for - and another to hand on - Pearls of wisdom. The service is led by the Rector, the Revd Prebendary Edward Mason.

    Introit All Wisdom Cometh From The Lord

    Welcome and Introduction
    “All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with him for ever. “
    - the opening bars of Philip Moore’s setting of Words from the Book of Proverbs, an ancient collection of wisdom from the Old Testament.

    Welcome to Bath Abbey. Bath is a city literally bubbling with energy as thermal springs force their way to the surface feeding both ancient and modern spa baths. All year round Bath is teeming with visitors from all over the world. At the heart of the city heart is the Abbey - a thriving Christian church committed to following the way of Jesus.

    Today, we’re all faced with multiple and complex challenges: how to live together in peace, how to feed the world, and how to protect the environment.
    More than ever, we need pearls of wisdom and to find ways of helping our children to discover them in their life journey.

    That’s the theme of this service which also marks the time of year when many students, children and teachers are returning to school, college and university life. Alongside our choirs, we’ll hear children from the Abbey’s Singing in Schools programme and reflections from practitioners in the world of education.

    So, Holy Spirit, Wisdom of God, sharpen our senses and inspire us to worship you.

    Hymn Praise to the Holiest (Gerontius)

    How often do we find ourselves turning a deaf ear to God’s wisdom? We think we know better, leading to broken relationships and regret. So let’s return to the Lord our God and say:

    Lord God, this is your world and we are your people.

    We have not listened to your word. We’ve seen the ill-treatment of others and not gone to their aid;
    Lord, be merciful:
    All Forgive us and heal us.

    We have not respected your commandments. We’ve condoned evil and dishonesty and failed to strive for justice;
    Lord, be merciful:
    All Forgive us and heal us.

    Rector We have not loved your way. We’ve misused your gifts and our beautiful environment is degraded.
    Lord, be merciful:
    All Forgive us and heal us.

    Rector May the Father forgive us by the death of his Son and strengthen us in our commitment to follow his way.
    All Amen.

    One place we might look for wisdom is the Bible where large sections are described as Wisdom Literature. These include the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon and the Book of Proverbs. We now hear some of these proverbs followed by a longer passage from Chapter 8 of the same book.

    Reading Verses from Proverbs
    Read by David and Louise Grendon and their children Tom, Hannah and Harry

    David When you run out of wood, the fire goes out;

    Harry When the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.

    David The lives of good people are brightly lit streets;

    Hannah The lives of the wicked are dark alleys.

    David Some people dig a fork into a pie but are too lazy to raise it into their mouth.
    Harry Stolen bread tastes sweet but soon your mouth is full of gravel.

    Hannah The start of a quarrel is like a leak in a dam so stop it before it bursts.

    Tom Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
    On the heights, beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand;
    beside the gates in front of the town,
    at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

    Louise ‘To you, O people, I call,
    and my cry is to all that live.
    O simple ones, learn prudence;
    acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
    Hear, for I will speak noble things,
    and from my lips will come what is right;
    for my mouth will utter truth;

    Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold;
    for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

    This is the word of the Lord.
    All Thanks be to God.

    Anthem A Song of Wisdom
    (Words from the Apocrypha, Music Charles Villiers Stanford)

    Talk 1 Kate Wilkins

    Kate Wilkins is headteacher of Widcombe Church of England Junior School here in Bath.

    ‘Widcombe Church of England Junior School’? The ‘Church of England’ bit seems to suggest that you have to have faith to come to our school. It doesn’t sound very inclusive. The reality is that our school couldn’t be more enthusiastic about serving its immediate community, in all its diversity. This is what makes our lives fun, vibrant sometimes challenging! This openness is written in to our Admissions policy. And just recently we’ve won an award for being inclusive.

    Church schools often give preference to those who attend a church. But we want to be a genuinely inclusive community and it means that a school can serve all its families equally, with faith as a choice not a requirement. For us wisdom means welcoming and celebrating diversity in all its forms and being prepared to put that into practice.

    Wisdom is also about openness to different ideas and beliefs. And I believe a truly Christian school will be inclusive. It will demonstrate respect, not just tolerance, for the views and beliefs of each member of its community and beyond. Faith will not be presumed or imposed but children will be encouraged to be spiritually inquisitive and develop their own values.

    Wisdom is knowing who you are and being true to yourself and the role of a school is to encourage children to develop this self-awareness and sense of identity.

    The balance between open-mindedness and self-awareness is the foundation for all learning. With open-mindedness comes inquisitiveness. With inquisitiveness comes understanding and with understanding wisdom. At the same time, the wise person is all too aware that they do not have all the answers!

    So finally, wisdom means living out our beliefs and schools can, and should, be places where this happens. By embracing values of community and acceptance, children feel valued for who they are as people. By embracing the values of service and honesty, children can question and explore. And that exploration, that nurturing of inquisitiveness enhances their ability to achieve lifelong fulfilment with the hope that, in some sense, the gift of faith is at the core of this happiness.

    Bath Abbey has a city-wide Singing In Schools Programme working in sixteen schools with over a thousand children every week. Some of these form the Melody Makers and they’re going to sing for us a song based on a story Jesus told in Matthew’s Gospel about how a wise man sets about building his house.

    MM Child
    It’s called, Don’t Build Your House On A Sandy Land by Karen Lafferty.

    Song Don’t Build Your House On A Sandy Land
    (Sung through once in unison and then 1.5 times as a round.)

    Talk 2 John Abbott

    John Abbott was head teacher of a comprehensive school and is now President of the 21st Century Learning Initiative developing educational policy with governments all around the world.

    John Abbott
    The Start of a new school year is often a time of mixed emotions ... I enjoyed school, but I never wished the holidays to end! I enjoyed greatly doing my own thing, and working things out for myself. In ways which I didn’t understand at the time I found “being taught” significantly less attractive.

    Years later, when I was old enough at least partly to understand Einstein I suddenly realised why I had felt like that. Einstein once wrote,

    “It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy spirit of inquiry; for this delicate little plant stands mainly in need of freedom...”

    Then one of the least well explained of Sunday School lessons....the 12 year old Christ quizzing the priests in the Temple (St Luke 11, v.41-52) suddenly started to make complete sense. Youngsters going into adolescence need to ask questions more than they need to be told by us what we think they need to know.

    It is here that English schooling has a difficulty. We pride ourselves on an education system based on the Latin word ‘Educare’. Educare for the Romans described the way a general leads well-disciplined troops out of the security of the camp onto the battlefield. Roman military success depended on every soldier doing exactly what he had been drilled to do. Roman soldiers were not expected to think things out for themselves. Drill and practice was the key to the Roman’s military success.

    Roman schooling was based on that same ‘drill and practice’ model. Describing his time as a pupil in a Rome school in 325 A.D. a boy wrote in his diary...”Oh my God how I suffered. I was told that, because I was a mere boy, I had to obey my teachers in everything. I did not understand what my education was meant to be all about and I was beaten for my ignorance”.

    A lifetime later and that boy, now known to history as St Augustine, emerged as one of the greatest intellects of the First Millennium. He wrote,

    “I learnt most, not from those who taught me, but from those who talked with me”.

    (Contemporary research suggests … or I believe that) … If every parent, teacher, Sunday School teacher, politician or preacher, remembered that, and put it into practice, this September would indeed be the start of a brilliant new school year!

    Anthem Oh For A Closer Walk With God

    “O For A Closer Walk With God” by poet William Cowper and set to music by Stanford.

    Reading Verses from the New Testament
    Reader 4
    A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 13

    ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
    ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
    This is the Gospel of the Lord.
    All Thanks be to God.

    Talk 3 Sarah Hartley

    Rector –introduces Sarah Hartley

    Sarah Hartley
    Pearls of wisdom – a phrase that’s become part of our everyday language – rooted in the wisdom literature of the bible and picked up by Jesus in his teaching. He speaks of the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field which are worth giving up everything for.

    Many people over the years have taken this teaching literally: giving away all they have to live lives consecrated to God as monks or nuns, or surrendering their careers to serve in the church or devoting their lives to others - not for money but out of goodness. The challenge is there for everyone who follows Christ – to surrender our wills and wallets or even lives to the demands of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    The kingdom of Heaven isn’t just something that happens after death.
    The idea of earning your way into God’s favour is pretty much the same as self-interest: Pie in the Sky when you Die. It’s like motivating children by telling them that if they study harder and therefore get better grades they’ll have better careers and make more money to buy bigger houses and more things.
    But what if the Kingdom of Heaven is something else? What if the kingdom of Heaven is not simply a place where we go when we die but a present reality of God’s wisdom in action, whatever the person or place or situation. A place where the hungry are fed, where injustice is overturned, where the sick are healed, where truth reigns? A place where we see the glory of God in a human being fully alive?

    And what if Jesus told those stories about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price not just to tell us what the Kingdom is worth and how we obtain it but to tell us something about ultimate wisdom?
    That the Kingdom of God is about what appears to be foolish: selling your house and livestock and plough and cart and then emptying your pockets to buy what seems to be an empty field. Like the creator of all worlds emptying himself and coming to live with us and give up all his power and even his life because he knew that he was buying treasure.

    And that’s why among so many other treasured memories of the Paralympics my favourite will remain that of guide Mikhail Huggins who accompanied Libby Clegg to victory in the T12 100 m final. It was not for his glory that he ran his heart out, not for his fame that he trained for all those long hours. Instead, giving all the gifts at his disposal he ran, pelting down the track linked at the wrist to another athlete, like the best of teachers, his every action and word enabling her to cross the line first, to be the person she was always intended to be.

    Song/Hymn Jesus, God’s Righteousness Revealed SOF

    Prayers (+ All Wisdom Cometh)
    Today we’ve glimpsed pearls of wisdom found on the deep ocean bed of the Old Testament, in the open and diverse environment of a truly inclusive school and in every place where a child’s instinct to ask questions is respected.

    We’ve heard the words of Jesus who gave us pictures of God’s kingdom so, in our search for what makes life worth living, we’ll know what to look for and where to find it.
    And we’ve been reminded that Jesus himself is the expression of God’s wisdom, showing us that it’s in giving we’ll receive, in weakness we’ll find strength and in surrender we’ll live.

    Jesus promised God’s Spirit, the very wisdom of God, to all who ask. So, confident in his presence, we now pray:

    Gracious Spirit of God, help us as we bring to you now the deepest yearnings of our heart and take them to the very throne of heaven …


    Rector Bidding 1
    We pray for wisdom that will challenge the way
    we live and transform our communities.


    Rector Bidding 2
    We pray for all who bear the responsibility of
    helping our young people to learn, for governors, teachers and pupils.


    Rector Bidding 3
    On this Racial Justice Sunday we pray for all who work for an inclusive community, marked by racial justice and equal opportunity for all.


    Rector Bidding 4
    We pray for peace in Syria, and for
    peacemakers everywhere for they are children of God.


    Rector Bidding 5
    We pray for ourselves, that we may be open to your loving and gentle Spirit, O God.


    Rector: As Jesus taught his followers, so we pray;

    Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
    Give us today, our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
    Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
    For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
    now and for ever. Amen.

    Hymn Be Thou My Vision

    May Christ, the wisdom of God, inspire and encourage you with his life and love, and the Blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you always.
    All Amen.

    Organ Voluntary
    Sunday Worship came live from Bath Abbey. The service was led by the Rector the Revd Prebendary Edward Mason. The Director of Music was Dr Peter King, assisted by Shean Bowers. The organist was Marcus Sealy and the producer was Clair Jaquiss.


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