Hurstpierpoint College Evensong
Friday 30 April
The Good Shepherd, John 10.11-16
The language and format of today’s service is a little different than many of the other Friday services we have had this year. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, which was finalised in its current form in 1662 and used in churches, chapels and cathedrals throughout England since. Its language can feel a bit archaic and you may find it hard to connect to these words.
But, when you think about it, there is something incredibly powerful about joining in words that have been used daily for over 350 years. Imagine just some of these occasions: the words we say and sing here today were said and sung during the years of the Great Plague in the 17th century; on the eve of the Great Fire in London; they were said and sung in 1918 at the end of the First World War, in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, and so on.
Not only were they used to mark significant moments in history, this service of Evensong has also been an opportunity to make a difference, to challenge the status quo. For example, at one such service money was raised in the 1950s for the Defence in the South African Treason Trials, in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were accused of treason. This service at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by a crowd of about 4,000 people that evening.
For us, here at Hurst, Chapel is one of the two moments of the week that we come together as a whole Senior School – albeit not physically in one place at the moment, of which we are acutely aware. It is a moment to remind ourselves of each other at the end of a busy week. We are one of the few schools who are still able to do this: to come together as a whole community to pause and to reflect, particularly in a beautiful building as this.
One of the themes that has come through in a lot of conversations over the last few weeks is what do we still have in common? In other words, what does it mean to be diverse, inclusive, but also a community? We so often focus on our uniqueness and our differences, but we can forget how much we have in common. So, for a moment, I would like you to think what you have in common with the people sitting next to you.
The obvious thing, given our seating arrangements, is that you are in the same house. You go to the same school, and you are probably looking forward to the bank holiday weekend, waiting for this service to be over …
But there are other, far less superficial, things you have in common. You sometimes worry about whether you fit in; there are times when you feel that people don’t really like you as you are; you have said or done things that you regret; you sometimes feel really happy and you don’t know why; and you make mistakes. Those are all things that make us human beings; they make us who we are, and as you grow up you discover the difficulties and the happiness that come with that.
Growing up is not necessarily about making fewer mistakes, but about trying not to make the same mistake again and again. Having spent quite a lot of time on the tennis courts in the last few weeks, forgive me for using this as an example. When you keep hitting the ball in the net and you don’t change your stroke, nothing is going to happen and you will never win a game. However, when you do try to get it over by changing your technique, you may find that initially you start hitting it out by miles. But then, with enough practice, you manage to find the perfect serve and beat your opponent.
That still doesn’t mean you will win all your matches though. As you get better, you move up in the leagues, and your opponents get better too. No matter which sport, at which level, there is not a game without human error.
That applies to life too. As you go through life and get better, hopefully, in making good decisions, life starts throwing more difficult situations at you. When you were in the Pre-Prep, no one asked you to sit an exam; no TikTok, no Instagram, no (still illegal) parties. No one asked you to plan your time or to start thinking about decisions about your future. Relationships get more complicated as you grow up too; friendships start to change, and you start having to manage differences of opinions in new ways.
In addition, this year, we have all been thrown by the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, which has made all these things even more complicated. Now we are starting a new phase, in which we can start doing the things we enjoy again, but we need to relearn them. We got out of the habit of living and learning together, and in some ways that is where we have missed out on some time.
That means that now is the time in which we all need to commit to living together once more. To take our individual and collective responsibility in forming happy, healthy and good relationships. In the imagery of our reading today, the story of the Good Shepherd, now is the time to stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep, but rather to start thinking of ourselves as shepherds. It is time to look out for each other, to give something of ourselves for those around us.
I’d like to finish with a question for you to take away, to think and maybe to talk about. What makes you you, and what makes you a Hurst pupil? What are our values and how are we going to live them out? And, as soon as we know the answer, how will we help each other to be the best possible version of ourselves?
Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves over the next few weeks as we come out of lockdown – hopefully for the last time – and resume, but also begin anew, our life together.