Epiphany 3 Year C 2019
Rev Mary Bowden
On Friday I did something I’d never done before – I went to the ordination of a bishop. There are some people without whom our lives might – would – have had a completely different shape, and this newly minted bishop is such a one for me. Some of you have met him – he preached here in September 2017. I first met him around the turn of the century, when he was a candidate for the incumbency of the small South London parish where I was PCC Secretary, and after that short meeting I told the wardens how sure I was that he was the right vicar for us. Little did I know what effect the decision to appoint him would have on my life. Indeed, it has indirectly had a significant effect on the life of this parish, and perhaps even on some of you. Andrew Rumsey, now Bishop of Ramsbury (see me afterwards….) was to lead me through the process of discerning my vocation to be a priest, inspiring me and showing me what that could look like in practice, to be my supervisor through three years of parish based training, and then to be my training incumbent through the first two years of my curacy – and since then a friend and mentor.
His most recent gift to me has been to remind me, by his ordination service on Friday, of the somewhat arcane matter of the three orders of priesthood – deacon, priest and bishop, and to prompt reflection on what it means to be a priest. I want to share this with you because it may help you to understand a less visible part of the process of appointing a new rector, and so to play your part in it by prayer and support.
There is considerable confusion in many of our minds about the difference between priest, vicar, rector, curate, deacon, ordained local minister, never mind the whole business of associate priest, house for duty, priest in charge…. I’m not going to try to explain most of those, but the thing to hold onto is that those three words deacon, priest and bishop are completely different from all the others. These are the three orders of priesthood, and each requires its own ordination service. The others are all jobs, requiring appointments or licenses, not ordination…. clear so far? Justin and Sandy will be ordained as deacons at the end of June, and then they will be licensed as curates here and at the Bourne respectively. I was ordained as deacon in 2007 and licensed as curate to Christ Church Gipsy Hill: then ordained as a priest in 2008, remaining in that appointment. When I moved to All Saints West Dulwich I was licensed as curate there and in 2011 I arrived here to be licensed as priest in charge and subsequently inducted as rector in 2016 – a particularly arcane bit of Anglicana. But the important thing for me, for the church and for you, the parish, has always been that I am a priest….. that’s who and what I am: the rest – curate, priest-in-charge or rector – is what I do, in the power and spirit of that priesthood.
So it was really interesting and inspiring to see my friend Andrew, who has been a priest since 1998, being ordained bishop on Friday – making some of the same promises and declarations that we make as priests, but building on them the commitment to leading, teaching and pastoring the church that belongs particularly to bishops. And those promises were universal ones – for the whole church and the world beyond it…. Yesterday he was welcomed into Salisbury cathedral and diocese, and to his particular responsibility for the northern part of it, around Marlborough, but that was in a way secondary to his ordination on Friday…..
And this reflection leads us, as we pray for the person God is calling to be the new Rector in our parish here, to remember the process by which he or she will have reached this place…. called by God first to explore the possibility of a call to ordination, through the years of preparation and training, to ordination as a deacon, to more training as a curate, to priesthood, more training, and on to whatever experience the next appointments may have brought. Every priest – every incumbent, brings with them not only their post-ordination experience in the church but also that of their upbringing, education, family life, and in many cases their previous careers – Justin Welby in the oil industry, the Bishop of London as the government’s Chief Nursing Officer. Sandy will bring to her ordained life all that she has done as teacher, youth worker and families minister, Justin all that he has learnt from working in the finance sector, and it’s no secret that one of the reasons I was appointed here was my experience of change management in the civil service…..
But regardless of experience, what we have, or in the case of Sandy and Justin will have, in common, is that after years of preparation – of formation, transformation: at a service of great pomp and also personal intensity, we have all knelt before a bishop or archbishop who has placed hands on our head and called on God to send down the Holy Spirit on his servant – Mary, Andrew, Justin – for “the office and work” of a, priest or bishop or deacon in His church.
So as you meet, assess, consider your new rector, against all the criteria that you have in your heads, against all the priorities of worship and teaching and tradition and, I hope, mission and outreach that you cherish for the parish, I ask you to remember that he or she will be part of this great tradition of ordained ministry and will carry its burdens. To quote the ordination service…
Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel. They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being. They are to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling. With the Bishop and their fellow presbyters, they are to sustain the community of the faithful by the ministry of word and sacrament, that we all may grow into the fullness of Christ and be a living sacrifice acceptable to God.
give to your servants now to be ordained the needful gifts of grace;
You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. ……
Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There is a link between Friday’s service and the readings for today…. the blessing at the anointing of the new bishop quotes the passage that Jesus reads from Isaiah in the gospel, asking God to anoint and empower him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to set free the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour….
We see from Luke’s account of this beginning of Jesus’ ministry not only how he makes the shocking, explosive claim to be the Messiah, but also how deeply rooted his very being is in Scripture, in the words of God to his people…. and we have already seen from Nehemiah how profound an effect Scripture has had on the people of Jerusalem, newly returned from exile.
So how rooted are we…. how rooted are you?
How much do you read your bible?
Do you read your bible expecting to be changed, inspired, guided, comforted, uplifted, challenged?
Do you read your bible… do you take it for granted…. Do you think you know what it says?
Do you allow it to read you?
At each successive ordination deacons, priests and even bishops are reminded of the need to keep on reading and studying it – they are given a bible – another bible – with the reminder that
Here are the words of eternal life:
and the injunction to
Take them for your guide and declare them to the world.
Our parish vision is rooted in Scripture – well of course it is – in the parable of the mustard seed, in fact. We won’t be able to live it out unless we use the food God has given us in the bible – as Jesus did, as we are all instructed to do, not just the clergy…. It feeds and nourishes us and reads us too, challenging us in exactly the places we are most vulnerable, and recognising the gifs and strengths we have to build the kingdom. It is living and active – we need to make it the foundation of our lives. Here are the words of eternal life: Take them for your guide and declare them to the world.
So with that thought ringing in our ears and, by Gods will, working in our hearts… let’s stand and share our vision
Together in Christ
Growing in faith
Serving in love
Let’s do it again!