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Out of the mouths of babes… - Diocese of Norwich

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Out of the mouths of babes…


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In a tradition that dates to medieval times, child bishops are elected on 6 December, the feast of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, and their authority lasts through Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December).

Owen aged just 10 years, preached his first sermon that had a depth which belied his years, according to the Rt Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, who installed him as boy bishop. “Owen lived the verse from Psalm 8:’ Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants you have ordained strength’!”

Owen’s sermon:

“I am excited to have been chosen to be Boy Bishop for this feast day of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, recognised the wisdom of children. This is why we have the ancient tradition of Boy Bishop, which reminds us that children have an important part to play in the Church and in society in general.

“For those of you who may decide that you don’t agree with what I am saying, please simply stick your fingers in your ears, as demonstrated, and go la la la. I promise I will take no offence. I have to do it quite often myself…

“As Sister Thea Bowman said, “I think that children carry a message just by the way they are, and it’s a message that needs to be heard.” Children have a power source. A power source that many people think adults forget, but the truth is they don’t, it’s still there, a little spark of wisdom. It’s just that, over the years, the adult mind pushes it away and people start thinking more about money and power than the other things.

“But what is this mysterious power source, which children possess an adults attempt to hide away? It is play! When children play, they are mindful and notice everything around them. Imagine, for example, that a child goes into their garden and starts playing in the long grass. As they are playing, they find a small froglet, just hopping around minding its own business. It is not aware of the child’s presence. It has a completely different perspective of the world. The froglet shifts the child into a silent, more mindful, more open sense of the world. And that is the moment that something goes click in the child’s brain and they start to get interested in nature and animals.

“They realise that animals are in a lot of trouble because of humans and, as they like animals, they ask themselves: “How can I help?” For some that may be by feeding the birds in their garden, while others take a bigger leap and do scientific things to help animals. And some, like David Attenborough or Greta Thunberg, may go on to give very big, public talks about the dangers that nature faces. But it all started with play!

“If adults forget about the importance of play, as many do, not all hope is lost. They may at some point get to sit with a child while they’re playing and, through watching them, be inspired. Children are the medicine that can bring back the spark. Children have an inner wisdom. And so maybe adults, especially ones who find themselves in positions of power, might consider becoming more like the children that Saint Nicholas so loved.”

North Walsham vicar, The Revd David Warner, said, “We were delighted to formally welcome Owen and Oscar into the church choir on Advent Sunday – Owen was a natural choice for boy bishop, a custom that reminds us of St Nicholas’ care for children and the need to remind adults of their responsibilities to the young. This care for all is at the heart of our message and invitation to all who will join us for worship this Christmas: as a benefice we seek to weave faith, hope and love throughout our communities.”