Friday, 23 September 2016

The Ceremony of the Keys, Portland in Dorset

My Address at the Ceremony of the Keys on Portland in Dorset as the Community gathered in Easton Gardens to observe and share in this traditional annual event.  

Welcome Honoured Guests, Visitors and members of the Community.

As we gather to share in this simple but important ceremony we use it to remember and value the importance of our communities and all that safeguards them.  This safeguarding and protection of the community of Portland is represented by keys today.  The four keys relate to the castles and citadels of Portland.

Keys have a resonance for all sorts of reasons.
Does someone have the key to your heart?
Have you lost a key lately?
It was the custom to get the key of the door at the age of 21.
There is the Master Key that can unlock every door.

I wonder what you think of when you hear the word “key”.

One thing I think of is doors.  Doors that can be locked, with a key or bar or bolts.  Or doors that can be unlocked.  Then I think that keys and locks are not just about physical doors.  They can be about societies and communities and individuals that might want to shut something orsomeone out or let them in.  I wonder how many relationships have heard the words “You keeping shutting me out!”.  No actual door or key but the effect can be just the same.

I want to tell you a story.

In 1492 two Irish families, the Butlers of Ormonde and the FitzGeralds of Kildare, were involved in a bitter feud. This disagreement centred around the position of Lord Deputy. Both families wanted one of their own to hold the position. In 1492 this tension broke into outright warfare and a small skirmish occurred between the two families just outside the city walls.

The Butlers, realising that the fighting was getting out of control, took refuge in the Chapter House of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The FitzGeralds followed them into the Cathedral and asked them to come out and make peace. The Butlers, afraid that if they did so they would be slaughtered, refused.

The Earl of Kildare concluded that the fighting was foolish.  Here were two families worshipping the same God, in the same church, in the same country trying to kill each other.  As a gesture of good faith the Earl of Kildare, Gerald FitzGerald, ordered that a hole be cut in the door. He then thrust his arm through the door and offered his hand in peace to those on the other side.  Upon seeing that FitzGerald was willing to risk his arm by putting it through the door the Butlers reasoned that he was serious in his intention. They shook hands through the door, the Butlers emerged from the Chapter House and the two families made peace.

Today this door is known as the “Door of Reconciliation” and is on display in the Cathedral’s north transept. This story also lives on in a famous expression in Ireland “To chance your arm”.

It seems to me that communities and individuals could draw some very important things from that story.  We have choices to make about whether we put up barriers, shut people out, prolong conflict, escalate disagreement.  Or we can choose to chance our arm, to reach through barriers and show that we really are serious about building a relationship.

Every day we make decisions as individuals and communities about whether we are going to be welcoming and hospitable or try to keep those strangers out.

In our Methodist churches on Portland we are spending a number of weeks on the theme of Generous Living.  Linked with that is Generous Hospitality.  It may be something that is not so natural in this country compared to yesteryear.  For my part as a Christian I have a God who makes me welcome and I want to try to reflect that in my life.

Keys are funny old things.  You can turn them and lock someone out or turn them and welcome them in.  I pray that wherever possible we might do the latter.