OUR cathedral has been filling up with sheep this week.
Fortunately they’re not real, but they are life-size models that have been decorated by local schools.
It’s all part of our Ewe Matter project, which involved us sending out white fibreglass sheep to our Church of England schools a few months ago.
Children and staff have been decorating them in all sorts of ways to reflect their school’s identity – using paint, glitter, glue and even wool.
This week the flock has been reunited in our cathedral for our three leavers’ services.
So on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, sheep kept arriving in the back of teachers’ cars or in minibuses.
Five of them came on a Wightlink ferry from the Isle of Wight and one came on the Gosport ferry from Alverstoke.
Hundreds of Year 6 pupils, who will shortly be leaving their C of E primary schools, took part in workshops in the cathedral throughout the day.
Then we hosted a sheep-themed leavers’ service on each of the three days, and admired the creative ways each school had found to decorate their sheep.
We told them one of Jesus’ best-known parables about the Lost Sheep – the one in which the shepherd loses one of his 100 sheep and goes on a frantic search to find the missing one.
Jesus says God searches for those who are lost in the same way.
It’s one of my favourites, because it says something powerful about the fact that God is concerned about each one of us.
All of us have something to offer, all of us matter to him and all of us can have his forgiveness and new life.
As a bishop, I get to carry a stick which is shaped like a shepherd’s crook.
It’s a reminder to me that my job involves caring for people, just like the Good Shepherd looks after his sheep.
In my case, the flock is all those people who live in south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – not just those who happen to go to church.
I share that job with all the clergy and churchgoers in our churches, who do a fantastic job of caring for those who are homeless, vulnerable, ill, bereaved or otherwise in need.
For us, each individual person really matters.
And I’m so glad the fibreglass sheep are there to remind me of my responsibilities.