Gilbert of Sempringham: an example of a life transformed and potential realised, warts and all!

What I find particularly inspiring about the story of St Gilbert is the way he transformed from being what his father described as “a sad and desolate child, physically maimed, lazy and dull, poor at his studies, reticent and sullen and a disappointment to his father” into someone who is commemorated as a saint. It is said that his body was disfigured with warts.

Gilbert of Sempringham was the founder of the only medieval English monastic order. His feast day is celebrated on 4 February and within the cathedral, this famous Lincolnshire saint is remembered at the St Katherine’s shrine where the Gilbert pots are located.

The turning point in Gilbert’s life seems to have been the result of a family row when his parents vented their frustration and disappointment over his apathy towards learning and failure to tap into his advantaged upbringing. The youthful Gilbert runs off to France, turns his life around and finally comes to greatly value study and education. In the writings about his life, this moment of reckoning is described as: “like the oak when torn and buffeted by the wind strikes its root deeper into the soil, so the storms of life strengthened his mind and character.”

Gilbert developed a growing desire to lead by example and a focus of his attention was the young, the poor and the disadvantaged, drawing perhaps on his own experience of a difficult start and sense of marginalisation. Initially he established a local school at Sempringham open to all the village children regardless of their means or gender. Later, we see this spirit of inclusiveness again, when he founded a religious order open to men and women. Gilbert discovered that it was the local peasant women who had the greatest spiritual potential. He invested in their potential and nurtured their gift. This was something quite radical and beyond the times.

We see in the life of Gilbert an ability to respond to the challenges that confronted him. As he opened himself to God and discovered his own unique meaning and potential he then applied it to nurture spirituality and wisdom amongst those whom society ranked as of no consequence. It is interesting to note how the flourishing of the Gilbertine Order was founded on that decision to give dignity and worth to those from whom no great achievement was expected.  The grace that led to the transformation of his own life inspired him to lead others along the same path.

I like to sit and contemplate the story of St Gilbert at the Gilbert pots next to St Hugh’s shrine. But rather than seeing the depiction of the tall thin pots as the men and the short stubby ones as the women, with the very rough surfaced one in the centre representing the disfigured Gilbert, I prefer to ponder the clay that is formed anew through the hands of the potter. It speaks of the imagination and delight of God for all Creation. It reminds me of the beautiful latent qualities and yet-to-be-discovered potential that by grace and our openness to God can be formed and developed in each of us.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64 v 8


Worship & Mission

Resuming public worship
With local and national rates of transmission and infection dropping, we are hopeful that we can begin a staged return to public worship as we enter Lent.
At the moment, we are planning to begin the resumption of public worship with a service to mark the beginning of Lent at 7.30pm on Ash Wednesday. This is planned as a Sung Eucharist with organ and cantor. Details of the routine for other services will be made available on the cathedral website next week, and publicised in next week’s Sunday order of service and on the weekly service lists that are posted by the west door to the cathedral.

Lent 2021
Lent this year will begin with a Sung Eucharist for the beginning of Lent at 7 30pm on Ash Wednesday (17 February). The preacher at this service will be The Revd Alan Moses, Diocesan Warden for Spirituality, and the service will be streamed on the cathedral’s Facebook page for those not able to be present in person.

Alongside a resumed pattern of public worship, we are planning the following opportunities for reflection:

– Friday Lent Addresses
At the 12.30pm Eucharist on Fridays there will be a series of short addresses considering some of the key texts from the bible that have traditionally been used as people explore The Way of Christ.  These will be streamed via the cathedral’s Facebook page for those unable to attend in person.  If anyone would be interested in meeting for a short online follow-up discussion on Zoom please e-mail the Precentor (   This online discussion would happen after a short pause to give people time to have a little lunch!

– Clewer Initiative
There will also be an opportunity to reflect on the issues of social justice that arise for those forced to work in exploitative ways in our own society.  These will be led by the Dean; see right-hand column for more details.

Holy Week
We are not sure yet what the conditions and guidance will be for worship during Holy Week, but hope to be able to provide a programme of services that will enable us to commemorate the events of Holy Week and celebrate the joy and hope of Easter Day in ways that were not possible last year. Again, please look for details nearer the time.

Bishop of Lincoln
You may have heard this week, that the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson will be returning to his duties. You can read the full statement issued by Lambeth Palace here:

We are aware that the past couple of years have been challenging for many, and hope that we will all be able to be understanding of those who have been personally impacted by events. If anyone would like to talk to Claire Hunter or the Precentor, please do get in touch: or

Lent Course 2021: Women in the Shadows
Beginning on Wednesday 24th February for five consecutive weeks the Dean will be running this Wednesday evening Lent Course at 7pm online via Microsoft Teams,

The course comprises of five short films and a devotional booklet focussing on the different ways women and girls are exploited in the UK today. The films include haunting survivor stories, with insightful contributions from front line experts and campaigners. The devotional booklet was written by colleagues in the Clewer network who are all deeply committed to combating modern slavery in their dioceses.

Through Bible study, reflections and prayer, we will explore what the Bible says about social injustice, exploitation, and God’s heart for the poor. The devotional will also encourage you to reflect on how we can take action to help vulnerable women in our communities. The films can be watched as standalone documentaries or as part of the complete course.

If you are interested in joining this course, please send an expression on interest to


Andrew Stokes RIP
Many members of the cathedral community, and former parishioners of Holbeach Marsh, will be saddened to hear of the death of Andrew Stokes last month. He died peacefully, after a long struggle with cancer. Tragically, Jane, his widow, had been unable, because of her own illness, to be with him but his three children were close by, his daughter Liz having spent months caring for him at home.

Andrew became Precentor at a critical time in the life of the cathedral in 1992, when the Chapter was going through a very turbulent passage. He had been appointed by the Bishop, not for his musical abilities but because he could be a stabilising influence in the cathedral. As bishop’s chaplain he had been closely aware of the cathedral’s problems.

He became at once a firm, calming influence in cathedral affairs, and with Jane provided warm hospitality and a sense of humour. He maintained this invaluable ministry through that distressing period, culminating in the Dean’s resignation, and into the appointment of the next Dean.

Those who benefited from Andrew’s ministry at that time will remember him gratefully. Hopefully there will be a chance when restrictions are eased, for us all to gather to give thanks for a fine, brave man, and a priestly life well lived.
Christopher Laurence.

Lincoln Cathedral Community Association Annual General Meeting will be held virtually on 16 February 2021 at 7pm. If you are on the Community Roll and wish to join this meeting and haven’t already done so, could you please email to confirm your interest by Tuesday 9 February 2021, ready for when the link is sent out. Thank you.

Bible Readings

Sunday 7 February
Second Sunday before Lent

Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31
Colossians 1: 15-20
John 1: 1-14

Evening Prayer
Genesis 2: 4b-end
Luke 8: 22-35


Sunday 14 February
Sunday next before Lent

2 Kings 2: 1-12
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

Evening Prayer
1 Kings 19: 1-16
2 Peter 1: 16-end


Sunday 21 February
First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-end
Mark 1: 9-15

Evening Prayer
Genesis 2: 15-17, 3:1-7
Romans 5: 12-19