Cathedral Blog

Search all blog posts

Pulpit Door: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Sarah Meyrick, posted on Sunday, December 9, 2018

Pity the poor preacher who climbs the steps and opens this door to address the congregation.

View from the pulpitHe or she is following in the footsteps of some big names. John Wesley, the founder with his brother Charles, of the Methodist Church, for instance.

And Samuel Wilberforce, the son of the great anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. Samuel was once Bishop of Oxford, and famous for his preaching. So famous, he was known as ‘Soapy Sam’. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli described his manner as ‘unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous’. That’s us told.

Not all pulpits have doors, of course. The reasons why some do is lost in the mists of time. Is the door a marker of the importance of the task of the preacher, such that the person is stepping into some kind of sacred space? To keep out the riff raff?

Or is it the more mundane reason that churches are often cold and draughty places, and the door offers a little protection, just as ‘box pews’ were often put in during the seventeenth century to keep the congregation warm during long services?

It’s sometimes said a flight of steps up the pulpit positions the preacher ‘six feet above contradiction’. But in truth, it’s no picnic for anyone to find themselves expounding the Bible in front of four canon professors and their eminent academic colleagues. Not to mention the other ‘great and good’ who have emanated from the House: the 13 British Prime Ministers, the founders of Oxfam, the poets, philosophers and Olympic gold medallists. And so on.

In the end, of course, there’s no point in being overawed by those who have gone before us. We can learn a lot by following in the footsteps of others.

A well-loved carol familiar at this time of year reminds us of this. King Wenceslas and his pageboy are out in the snow and come across a man in need. The King asks his servant who the man is. The page plays his part by identifying the man in question, and the two set off to provide him with food and drink. And then the page begins to struggle with the weather.

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page…’ says the King, inviting the page to follow him closely. The carol ends with the rousing words, ‘Therefore, Christian men, be sure/ Wealth or rank possessing/Ye who now will bless the poor/Shall yourselves find blessing.’