Leavers' Service 2016

Sermon for Dauntsey’s School Leavers
All Saints’ Parish Church
July 2016
Revd David Johnson


A reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus

Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil,
and do not be ashamed to be yourself.
For there is a shame that leads to sin,
and there is a shame that is glory and favour.
Do not show partiality, to your own harm,
or deference, to your downfall.

Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment, and do not hide your wisdom.
For wisdom becomes known through speech,
and education through the words of the tongue.
Never speak against the truth,
but be ashamed of your ignorance.

Do not be ashamed to confess your sins,
and do not try to stop the current of a river.
Do not subject yourself to a fool,
or show partiality to a ruler.
Fight to the death for truth,
and the Lord God will fight for you.

A reading from Chapter 12 of St Pauls Letter to the Romans

By the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in energy, and remain strong in spirit, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I want to speak about time and about belonging and to celebrate the people you have each become. One of the ways we measure time is in comparison to the lives of others. I have been preaching here at Leaver’s Services here since you were in your pre-school years. That is not to make me sound old or wise but to acknowledge that another way we measure time is in relation to the places we belong and the people with whom we share our lives.

We are saying goodbye to many staff colleagues this year and, in the context of this service I would like to acknowledge my great friend and colleague Miss Gifford, who started here with me at Dauntsey’s 14 years ago. Dauntsey’s has been a special place; and it is the people with whom we share our lives that make it so.

You have been here for 7 years, 5 years, 2 years or perhaps somewhere inbetween. You have belonged to the school, you have contributed to the life we share; and Dauntsey’s has contributed to making you into the young people we celebrate today.

One of the things I have come to experience about today is that amongst this sense of celebration there may also be moments of tears. As well as the excitement of looking forward there is the acknowledgement of what you are leaving behind – an important place and a special time in your lives.

Maybe as we get older tears come more easily. For me, and perhaps your parents here might acknowledge this too from you own lives, the birth of our children marked a new vulnerability to the world. The wishes and hopes for our own children and the care we offer them also opens us to a deeper awareness of the tragedies and suffering of the world and tears come more easily. We see that life is not just about ourselves and our own opportunities. Life is about what we share of ourselves: at one level it is about families and friendships; but it moves to become being part of a wider community, society and as people who belong to the course of human history throughout the world. Tears are sometimes the response of realising this wider sense of belonging and the gaps and divisions humanity needlessly creates between ourselves.

There have been two or three times this year when I have been moved to tears. I am not going to tell you about them all – today is about you and your thoughts and emotions – but one of them was associated with an annual school trip that some of you would have been on.

On the History department’s First World War battlefields trip there is a visit to the Thiepval Memorial in the Somme region. There are 250 commonwealth graveyards across that region but the Thiepval Memorial is a single immense arched structure whose marble walls are engraved with 70,000 names of those whose bodies were never recovered from the battlefields of the Somme. It is a place that brings me to tears with thoughts of the violent loss of so much life; so much potential.

As a nation, at 7.28 yesterday morning on the first of July, we kept two minutes of silence to remember the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that battle; a day on which 19,240 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives, and more than twice that number were injured: the greatest single day’s loss in our entire history, and the beginning of 141 days of fighting that would lead to 1,000,000 more casualties. The fight as we understood it was to defend Britain and to liberate France and Europe.

For those who have stood under the immense arches of the Thiepval memorial the sheer number of names is overwhelming. The scale and magnificent of the structure makes it a place to reflect on the potential, the goodness and the beauty within each human life – some lives we commemorate, other lives we celebrate.

Life is not so much measured in length of years. Life is defined by what we give ourselves to; not what we take or make from it for ourselves. Life may be most nobly seen in relation to an ideal, to a value.

As well as historical events we may also measure time in relation to the contemporary world in which we live. Sadly your school years have coincided with what some economists now call the Great Recession – the collapse in world markets 8 years ago. The political climate of austerity you have lived through is not business as normal – a lack of investment in public life and services, growing inequalities in society, a lack of trust and generosity based on a sense of insecurity. This is not how society should always be. I hope it will change. I hope you will become a working generation that contributes to changing it.

Because today marks the point of you going out into the world to express the choices; and gain or be trained in the particular skills that will form your futures. I hope that all Dauntseians would leave with a wish to contribute to the world; to change it for the better. You all have so much good to give.

There are, of course, immediate challenges for us a nation. Last week’s vote has shown us that we are a divided nation. If you had a vote I very much hope you used it – without using your vote you lose your voice to express what you believe and you certainly lose your right to complain. Some of you will have voted for the first time and three quarters of your age group are know to have voted for Britain to remain as a member of the European Union. You have an openness to the world; you see that other people and other cultures contribute to life rather than take something from you; you have a sense that it is better to belong to a larger union and to look forward than to try to isolate yourselves and to look back.

There are challenges ahead; some of which we have not chosen. I believe that Dauntsey’s will have equipped you well for that world.

The words I would like you to take from this morning, are not mine, but the words of the two readings that I have printed in the order of service in the hope you might take them away and think about them sometime. The first reading is from a book of Old Testament wisdom, reminding all of us to speak up for the truth whenever it is necessary.

“Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment,

and do not hide your wisdom.
For wisdom becomes known through speech,
and education through the words of the tongue.”

The second reading is words of St Paul, reminding members of the earliest Christian community in Rome, as they have for people for nearly two thousand years since, to allow love – to allow God – to guide our actions and to shape us into becoming the kind of people God would want to us to be. If you look down at those words for just a moment, you could find inspiration in almost any of his phrases. Just the final sentence are words to hold in mind:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,

live at peace with everyone.”

They are all words that express our understanding of a God of love; a God who simply wants us to be the best people we can be so that we can fulfil the purpose of finding happiness in the years of life that are God’s gift to us.

Today we celebrate your few years here in this small place. My prayer is that this time and this place has helped you prepare and shaped you in a good way for the whole of your lives as you go out into the wider world.

I hope that you will look back and see these as significant years and to remember Dauntsey’s as an important place that has offered you values, learning, opportunities, friendships and contributed to your character. I hope you will look back to this time and to this place with thankfulness for the whole of your lives.

I wish you great happiness and offer you God’s blessings.

The Revd David Johnson
Dauntsey’s School Chaplain
July 2016