Faith not Angst

The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown.  The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline.  However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.

The Dean of Canterbuy, the Reverend Robert Willis in the greenhouse in the Deanery Garden

Every morning, no matter what chaos has been caused getting the day started — six of us in a three generation family, plus two puppies — the Dean, in his garden, gives me sanity, security and the assurance that God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world, really.  With consummate skill, he draws together the reading for the day, the needs of the day, a special person or event of the day and the wonders of the Deanery garden in a particular spot every day.  All these elements are woven into the fabric of Morning Prayer, directly, simply and with eternal truth.

On Wednesday morning I found it unusually powerful. The reading was Luke, Chapter 7 vv. 2-10.

The Dean among the irises – May 20th, 2020

It is a story about a Roman officer in an army of occupation and his sick servant.  However, the soldier, a Centurion, is a man of wisdom and understanding.  Far from being a hated enemy he has taken a keen interest in the local people, their culture and religion and has even built a place in which they can worship their God.  He also keeps abreast of local affairs and has the sensitivity to listen when he hears of a remarkable man doing remarkable things.  As a man of authority he recognises authority in another.

As the Dean tells the story it is all about Faith.  Jesus himself says as much.  “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Even as I was listening to the Dean amongst the irises the memory of another sermon on this story was bugging me.  At the same time, as I tried to concentrate on the prayers, two words from a poem were buzzing in my brain.  ‘Fools’ and ‘traps.’

The Dean with his cat.

Later, over a cup of coffee, my brain cleared and I remembered both the elusive sermon and the poem.  The sermon had been given in Liverpool Cathedral by Revd Jeffrey John in May 2016 and the poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

After a lot of history about homosexuality in the Roman Army the point of Dr John’s sermon was not faith, but, because Jesus would have known the Centurion’s servant was gay, proof that Jesus loves gays. 

Here is the bit of the poem I was remembering:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . .”

What I remember now of Dr John’s sermon was a complex convolution by an angry man. I still find those two lines of poetry most apt.*

Long may the Dean, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom and faith amongst the flowers.

UPDATE Saturday, 23rd May

Oh, Joy! This morning the Dean was in the Wild conservation part of the garden. And we had pigs!

They are called Winnie and Clemmie, in honour of Sir Winston Churchill. He liked pigs. Cats, he said, look down on you and dogs look up to you but pigs look you in the eye. As well as the garden and the animals I also appreciate the fact that the Dean wears a cassock. No casual mufti for him. He is a priest, he looks like a priest and as a priest he looks you in the eye.

*I blogged about this sermon in a blog entitled “More than just good friends” on June 11th 2016

7 thoughts on “Faith not Angst

  1. Oh, I could not agree more. I adore him!

    I am excited each day to see where he will be positioned and which animals he will have with him, be it chickens or pigs or cats. I am in the United States and with our churches still shut down, his team for morning and evening prayer have really been my lifeline. Father Willis has become a staple of my morning. His poetry and reflections and musings as necessary As a morning coffee. (Love your action photos with the cats.)


  2. He is indeed a wonderful comfort every day. He reassures me, every day, of how deep and rich the love of Christ is. I am in Australia. I’m so very thankful for delightful cats who brought him to my attention. I hope his daily reflections don’t stop.


    • I’m so glad you have found the Dear Dean. He has a genius for not only expounding the gospel in a way that unites past, present and future, but he, and the glorious menagerie, seem to root the Gospel firmly down to earth in our ordinary lives. At the moment Dean Robert is bringing the Acts of the Apostles alive as if it happened yesterday. Certainly the best thing to have come out of the pandemic as far as I’m concerned. God bless. AM


      • I have learned so much from his reflections in Luke and now Acts. I can’t remember when I have last been inspired. Thank you, too, for your reflections. I’m loving them.


  3. Each morning here in Australia,I too join Dean Robert Wallis in morning prayers.I find his deep knowledge of the Scripture for the day, his vast knowledge of many Saints,Poets,Music etc.down the ages brought into his thoughts for the day connected to the scriptures of great interest.It is a time before the rush of the day to quietly come together in these beautifull gardens.To smile with the animals who often wander through and even share breakfast or a quick taste of the Deans morning tea.I too have the joy of cats,dogs ,ducks and the many birds who visit us here in our garden beside the top reaches of the Yarra River in the quiet Country town.May God continue to bless the Dean and all who share with him morning prayers around the world.Margaret


  4. I just came across this blog post. I live in the US and I’m not an Anglican–I don’t even belong to any specific faith–but I’ve come to love the Dean. The daily morning prayer videos have become a comfort and inspiration to me. And the usual setting–the beautiful garden and the wonderful animals–adds its own form of spirituality, I think.

    When the Cathedral reopens for visitors–whenever that might be–I hope he will keep making these videos. I think they’ve come to mean a lot for many people around the world.


  5. I’ve just come across this blog and so agree with the comments made. I’m a retired Methodist minister and have been having chemotherapy through the winter and lockdown. I joined the garden congregation when the Dean was going through Luke’s gospel. I’ve learnt so much from his daily exegesis and going through whole books at a time is genius. It’s like listening to a serial that I mustn’t miss any part of. Is there any subject the Dean doesn’t know? His knowledge and wisdom is vast and to keep these daily posts going for over a year is nothing short of miraculous! Long may they continue.


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