Dear Friends …
I’m thinking this month about ordination and calling for two reasons. The first is the sermon that Chris preached a couple of weeks ago in St. John’s, in which she very rightly pointed out — and I hope I’m paraphrasing correctly! — that, whatever ordination may be (and there’s been a lot of debate about that over the centuries), it does not, should not, and cannot hog for itself the reality of Christian vocation at the expense of the Church at large. As Christians — as a People — we are, by definition, called to the service of God’s Kingdom.
We have heard in recent weeks that, as he prepared for his Ascension, Christ advised his disciples that “it is good that I go; for if I do not go, I cannot send you the Advocate, but if I go, I will send him to you, and he will lead you into all truth.” When Christ said this — and this is important to note, because English muddles the point — he did not use “you” in the singular. He did not say “I will send him to you” (and to you and to you and to you). In the vernacular of my own southern homeland, he said, “I will send him to y’all” — “you lot” in British English — “and he will lead y’all into all truth.” The distinction makes all the difference in the world, because it tells us that the Spirit is about in each of us, collectively, not just individually, doing one great work for one great faith in one great Kingdom. We all receive the same Spirit (as Paul tells us), and as such we are all integral to God’s work in the world today.
Paul, of course, speaks of a “variety of gifts” from the Holy Spirit, meaning that we may not all be called to the exact same roles and tasks. Indeed, even clergy have their own particular strengths and weaknesses (which is partly why we need to work as a team). Yet vocation pertains to us all: people in particular, and as a church collectively. As with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper themselves, we all partake, and we are all obliged to partake. In a clergy licensing service, the Bishop tells the priest: “receive the cure of souls, which is both yours and mine” — ours together — and, to my mind, this principle shapes our own priestly ministry amongst the People of God.
The Eastern Orthodox teach that a priest or Bishop not surrounded by the whole people of God is a theological nonsense; to imagine the work of the ordained as something above and beyond, operating in distinction from the life of the church as a whole, is to miss the entire point: namely, that the sacraments are ours; the Gospel of Christ is ours; the prayers of the church are ours; and that, by the Advocate’s power, we make the church what it is.
Thus, in that spirit, I tell you, as the Bishop told me, that you too have received the cure of souls which is both yours and mine (and his!). My job is not to do Christ to you, week by week, but rather to live Christ with you, alongside you — to encourage you, as we pray together, to build up your own gifts, practical and spiritual, so that together we may, in God’s Spirit, make God’s grace known in the world. If we truly find the confidence to own for ourselves open-mindedly the privilege of serving the Lord, and if we trust God to guide us to the right times and places, we may well be amazed at what fruit begins to grow.
The second reason that ordination presently looms large in my mind is, of course, my wife Sally’s ordination, which takes place in the Cathedral on the 23rd of June. Sally and I are both aware that, because of her full-time training, and now because of her full-time ministry elsewhere, many of you will not have had the chance to know her as well as I and she would have liked. In fact, Sally has always enjoyed the role of “vicar’s wife”, and it’s a source of sadness that she’s not been able to take up that role here more in the way she would have liked. This is not, I assure you, for any lack of love or care. Still, I have celebrated the chance to watch Sally thrive in theological college, and now to become the Curate-in-Charge (Ministry Area Leader Designate) in the Wentwood Ministry Area. So I hope that you will be gracious enough to join me in my prayers at this critical juncture for her as a member of our extended parish family. We also wish you to know that you are ever so warmly invited to the Cathedral on the 23rd to celebrate this new phase of her ministry. There is no obligation, of course; but, whoever amongst you would wish to come, please know that your presence would be deeply cherished.