Ordination of Deacons

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It is 40 years since I was ordained a deacon at Sheffield Cathedral, and I have the privilege of being present for the ordination of 21 new deacons at Chester Cathedral today. These are people who have listened to God, heard his call, and responded with “here, I am”. These words are a commitment to being “present”, to “lifelong, disciplined attentiveness” according to David Runcorn in Fear and Trust.

Runcorn contrasts the failed leaders of 1 and 2 Samuel (there isn’t a success story among them) and offers the examples of Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) and Dumbledore (Harry Potter).

  • both bring the gifts of widely lived and well processed experience
  • both are significant guides and mentors to younger characters
  • both have taken the time and trouble to enter and understand worlds very different from their own
  • both are able to function peaceably without being the centre of the action
  • both display a combination of gentleness and decisiveness, authority and compassion
  • both are reconciled to their dispensability and accept that when the time comes, the world will continue without them.

That sounds good to me as a summary for ordained ministry and as a guide for theological education.

The words that wake us – a sermon on Isaiah 50:4

Words that wake us

A sermon preached at Mattins at Chester Cathedral on October 13th 2013.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher (or, of one who is taught), that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. Isaiah 50:4f

What are the words that waken us?

What are the words that weaken us?

To what extent do the words that waken us make us?

To what extent do the words that wake us break us?

 

What are the words that wake us?

I asked some Fb friends, and got loads of replies:

They ranged from the relatively mundane (but still wonderful)

“Do you want a cup of tea?”

to the “This is the day that the Lord has made”

there were those who said that they woke to the sound of silence.

Anna says that it isn’t really words that wake us so much as noises, events, images, light etc. To which jenny replied that it isn’t so much the words, as the tone of voice that wakes us

My friends didn’t think anyone used Rise and Shine any more. A bit old fashioned they thought. Though it strikes me as a good Christian wake up call with its associations with the Lazarus story. Perhaps it’s too upbeat and cheerful when waking from slumber.

The words that wake us have the power to make us or break us. The words pounded through the bedroom door – “you’ve got 10 minutes to get dressed and be on that bus”. What effect do they have on the day and family relationships?

Those who are haunted by fear and those who are anxious about the future have other words that wake them up – not just at the crack of dawn, but repeatedly through the night.

Words spring to mind when we are anxious, excited or depressed.

The words that wake the mother struggling to make ends meet are words of panic. What are the words that wake the child who is being bullied.

Words have power.

Words weigh heavy.They shape the way in which we see ourselves and others. Dismissive put downs can affect us for decades. Careless labeling of others mean that we misjudge others.

Many of the words we pick up from a world that is indifferent or hostile to us are so powerful that we come to believe them.

Be careful how you speak to your children. One day it will be their inner voice . Peggy O’Mara

We have to take care about what we say. Particularly with our first words of the day, or the first words of a conversation. An email reply comes across well with an opening response of “it’s good to hear from you”. Macdonalds aren’t far off the mark when their “servers” bless those they have served with “have a good day” – to which the correct response (probably not often said) is “and also with you”.

Malcolm Guite, a priest-poet, asks the questions in his poem “what if …..” Some lines:

“What if every word we say,
never ends or fades away?

What if not a word is lost,
what if every word we cast
cruel, cunning, cold accurst,
every word we cut and paste
echoes to us from the past,
fares and finds us
first and last
haunts and hunts us down?

What if each polite evasion,
every word of defamation,
insults made by implication,
querulous prevarication,
compromise in convocation,
propaganda for the nation
false or flattering persuasion,
blackmail and manipulation,
simulated desperation
grows to such reverberation
that it shakes our own foundation,
shakes and brings us down?

We must weigh our words carefully. The words that wake us are the words that make us and the words that break us.

The prophet, in our first reading, has the tongue of one who is taught. I suggest that it is not the “tongue of a teacher” as translated in our reading, but the “tongue of one who is taught” … by God – given by God so that he would know how to sustain the weary with a word. (Isaiah 50:4)

The words that wake the prophet are the words that make him. The words that wake him are the words of God.It is because God speaks and the prophet listens that the prophet becomes as one who is taught, as one who can sustain the weary with a word. The prophet says, “Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

The Bible often refers to the voice of God not being heard. There are various reasons for God’s word not being heard. They include God’s own silence, but also there are times when God’s word is not heard because it is not listened to.

Here we meet with the prophet whose ears woke every morning to the word of God.  We can perhaps feel the intimacy between God and the prophet as the prophet feels the breath of God on his ear as he whispers him awake morning by morning.

What are the words that wake us?

There is no shortage to the words that wake us. Newspaper headlines, breakfast TV, advertising – these are the hidden persuaders who know that the words that wake us are the words that shape us, and they want to shape us to their own ends.

The prophet shows us an alternative. His ears are awakened by the whispered word of God, a word which brings blessing to him and the weary.

There are many people who have this discipline of listening to God before first light. It is a discipline shared by very many faith communities.

But our prayer, whether it be morning or evening, can be full of our own words, with God not being able to get a word in edgeways. We can say our prayers without hearing a word from God.

Hearing the word of God requires discipline and attentiveness.

We can choose the words. The words of God can be words of Jesus, words of the angels, words of scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, words spoken through the prophets. God has spoken many words. They have been repeated down the ages and brought many to life. They have wakened many morning by morning, and hearing them has signified the end of night and the break of day. We can choose the words and we can let the words choose us.

All the words of God are summed up in the one Word, Jesus. All the words of God can be translated as love. “Love is his word” is how hymnwriter Luke Connaughton puts it. All the words of God are for the weary, the lost, the last and the least. They are timed for the dead of night, the ending of darkness and the first light of day.

If it is true that the words that wake us, make us, then is it true that if we allow the words of God to waken our ears morning by morning, we too will have the tongue of one who is taught?

Do the words by which God wakes us make us a blessing to those around us who are weary and those who are oppressed and abused by words and deeds that break them?

Serious houses on serious earth

locked away
I am not one for visiting churches, but I do love to see a church that is open, rather than closed. There are various reasons why churches are closed (and communities deprived of what should be public spaces). Some are afraid of the security risks (even though, according to the Open Churches Trust churches that are open have a lower risk). Sometimes the gatekeepers are forbidding in their attitudes so people feel they have to be qualified to enter – the “good enough” test. At other times people have been priced out. I am delighted to see that the price barrier at Chester Cathedral has been dropped, and that the Cathedral is now open and free to enter.

In his book, Leaving Alexandria: a Memoir of faith and doubt, Richard Holloway speaks of his love of Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh, particularly when it was empty. Old St Paul’s is a church that is kept open so that people can drift in. Holloway has this to say:

Churches that stay open unclose themselves to the sorrows of humanity and alchemise them into consolation. And not a cheap consolation. Just as artists reconcile us to our ills by the way they notice and record them, so open churches console us by the way they accept the unreconciled aspects of our natures.

They are a haven for the homeless woman whose destitution is obvious, muttering to herself over there in the back pew; but they also accept the moral destitution of the confident man sitting in the dark chapel, gazing at the white star of the sanctuary lamp, heavy with the knowledge of the compulsions that have dominated his life and refuse to leave him.

There is no reproach. Churches do not speak; they listen. Clergy speak, unstoppably. They are ‘randy’ to change, challenge or shame people into successful living. Church buildings that stay open to all know better. They understand helplessness and the weariness of failure, and have for centuries absorbed them into the mercy of their silence. This is grace.

I like the story told by Jesus from the open “church”. It is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector and their respective prayers in Luke 18:9-14. You’d expect the Pharisee to be “there”. He is the religious one, who spends his life “there” saying his prayers and paying his tithes. He would be an approved key-holder. It’s the other one, the “tax collector” who has stolen in because the place is open. His prayer is the prayer of the people, including the prayer of the destitute woman and morally destitute high achiever referred to by Holloway. The qualification for being a tax collector was to have money for bribes, and the willingness to bribe. These were the people prepared to do the dirty deeds of the day. The building hears his confession and the cornerstone reorders his life.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people; thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.
Chester Cathedral, Chester
This photo, of Chester Cathedral, is by Xavier de Jauréguiberry.
The photo, “locked away” is by Kicki.

The title of this post is taken from the poem Church Going by Philip Larkin.

Ordinations

28 Farbenfroh
Chester Cathedral was the setting for a remarkable ordination service yesterday. All ordination services are remarkable.

The service begins with a reminder that God “calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood … to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” That “royal priesthood” is the church. “To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries. 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.”

The prayer of the people is that “in their vocation and ministry each may be an instrument of your love” and then particularly “the needful gifts of grace” should be given to those being ordained.

Their responsibilities are spelt out.

  • Priests are called “to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent.”
  • “With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation.”
  • They are to be “messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord”.
  • “They are to teach and admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions.”
  • They are to call people to repentance and declare “in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins”
  • “With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of Gods love.”
  • “They are to baptise new disciples”
  • “They are to unfold the scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season …”
  • “They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship …”
  • “They are to bless the people in God’s name”
  • “They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need.””
  • “They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.”
  • “Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.”

A tall order.

But they and the church have every confidence that they are able to do it. There is a “Will you?”, and a response “By the help of God, I will.” There is a clear understanding that “they cannot bear the weight of this calling in their own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.” And there is a commitment made by the church to continually pray for them, and to “uphold and encourage them in their ministry”. The church praises God for giving “his gifts abundantly, to equip your holy people for the gift of ministry” and prays “Renew them in holiness and given them wisdom and discipline … In union with their fellow servants in Christ, may they reconcile what is divided, heal what is wounded and restore what is lost.”

This follows a previous post for those being ordained

Simon Marsh has also blogged about the ordination.

The photo is of the Creation Window in the Cathedral Refectory. The photo is by JuliaL49. The window was created by artist Ros Grimshaw. Its story is told here.

For those being ordained

Man on the beach head

I wanted to write a post for those who are being ordained at Chester Cathedral on Saturday. They are Avril Ravenscroft, Collette Jones, Grant Cohen, Heather Buckley, Heather Pang, Lorraine Reed, Nikki Eastwood, Patches Chabala, Paul Cumming, Rob Wardle, Sandra Langerhuizen, Stephen Callis, Steven Hildreth, Tim Watson and Trevor Legge. They will be preparing for this great event in God’s mission over the next few days. My own priesting was in Sheffield 38 years ago. I have to say that I am as enthralled today as I was then.

People are ordained as a response to vocation. This is a call for and in the church for the enabling of God’s mission. It is a call to the church that is heard within the church, and it is the church which tries to discern who is best to respond to that call and which then goes on to support and equip them. The discernment is concerned with whether the person has the gifts to minister to others given the needs of a situation in the capacity of an ordained minister or whether they are gifted for ministry in another form.

God’s call and his gifts are all God’s ministry to the world and his way of serving the needs of his creation. They are also God’s ministry to us personally. Ordination focuses on God’s ministry in and to his church, and on his ministry to and through us. The joy in this realisation is, for me, personified in the great laughter of Desmond Tutu.

Sadly, for all of us, the pressures and responsibilities can be overwhelming. Worldly pressures, anxiety and fear can be allowed to get the better of us. I joined this morning’s prayer of the church and read what Jesus said to his disciples. “Don’t worry about your life.” (Luke 12:22) I then joined the church’s response based on Psalm 73. “Lord, you will guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me with glory. For I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (That has to be the left hand for those who are left handed).

This hand in hand counselling reminded me of the consultancy model painted by Charles Margerison as “arm in arm consulting”. There is considerable responsibility in ministry, but that responsibility is not given to us to overwhelm us or weigh us down. It is given in love and for love. Those with heavy burdens are invited to yoke themselves to Christ to make light work, to lighten heavy hands and hearts and to be blessed and blessing. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). (Yoke and yoga have the same Sanskrit root denoting union).

Jan Richardson’s If the Yoke Fits would make a wonderful design for stoles or chasubles. The traditional yoked chasuble is a visual reminder of the light work of ordained ministry and God’s ministry to his ministers, ordained and lay.

Here’s the link to the Service of Ordination.

The photo is of one of Gormley’s figures in Another Place on Crosby beach. It is by Lou Murphy.

Understanding Samaritans

Water of Life
Water of Life by Stephen Broadbent at Chester Cathedral
Photo by James Preston

Gordon McPhate, Dean of Chester Cathedral, preached this morning on the gospel for the day – the Samaritan woman – depicted in this sculpture. (The sermon is here from Curate’s Corner). Gordon described how a social worker won the trust of a difficult London community in a situation where so many before him had failed. He moved into his flat on the estate, but had no tools. He went asking for help – to borrow saw, hammer, ladders, screwdriver etc, etc. And that was it. He presented himself as needing help.

Likewise Jesus presented himself to the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar – asking her for a drink. Jews and Samaritans despised each other – and men looked down on women. So this meeting of Jesus is remarkable. Jesus, a Jew, is asking a woman and Samaritan for a drink. Their relationship is captured perfectly by Stephen Broadbent. The woman is on top of Jesus. Jesus stands under the woman – and understands her to the extent that she is able to tell her friends “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”

Our social worker friend is in similar posture – as the one asking for help – standing under his neighbours whom his predecessors had quite possibly looked down on. Was the under-standing the secret of his success – plus the fact that his neighbours felt under-stood and needed?

Elizabeth Day has written a moving article in today’s Observer highlighting the predicament of those who are gay in Uganda by telling the stories of John Bosco and Florence Kizza. Their treatment has been abominable, not only in Uganda, but also by the immigration authorities in this country. They have been shown such little under-standing. The authorities have been tyrannical and overbearing – postures without understanding. We think we know so much till we stand under other life stories – and allow them to move us and shake us.

>Cathedral Retreat

>Jeanette and I have just had a really refreshing “Passiontide Retreat” at Foxhill led by Christine Bull and Trevor Dennis. Both sets of input were really challenging and thought provoking – but perhaps the most profound challenge was in Christine’s implied question of what happened to Judas Iscariot. She referred to stained glass windows which Whistler was asked to produce. He produced 13 pictures – one for each of the apostles and one for Jesus. Apparently the church objected to the one of Judas. They did not want him to be included. However, apparently, there is a somewhat overlooked tradition regarding Judas’s redemption. One picture has Judas being dragged into heaven by the rope round his neck. One of Julian’s visions took her to hell – and there was nobody there. And Catherine of Sienna inisisted that she did not want to go to heaven as long as there was even one person in hell. So, what happened to Judas?