Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another sermon, as it's been quite a busy week...

I've prepared quite a few sermons this week, and because of the unique nature of all the events I haven't even been able to reuse bits of older sermons, or the framework of older talks - so I thought I might as well get some use out of them and pass them on!

St Michael & All Angels (2010) RCL Principal

Problems with Angels

Let me start with a confession. I have a problem with Angels… Not that I mean I have Angels under the bed or falling out of cupboards or anything like that, but I struggle with the whole culture of Angelic beings that has sprung up both within and beyond the Christian Church. Guardian Angels, Healing Angels, Warning Angels. New Age Spiritual Beings. All the Angelology (if that is a word) that I’ve heard about since I was a child. And this obsession with Angels isn’t a new thing – the Church wasted far too much time in the medieval era talking about how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin, or what the exact order of rank in the nine heavenly choirs is. [more]

A picture from the Ordination

Thought I should let you see a bit of what happened and what the last posting referred to - here's a picture of the Bishop of Crediton, Kate (our new priest) and myself after the service on Saturday last. With a bit of lovely Devon blue sky in the background...and the roof of my Vicarage in the background too!

An Ordination Sermon

It is very unlikely that I will ever get to preach at an ordination again - but last week I had the immense privilege of speaking at the ordination to the Priesthood of our Curate, the Revd Kate Woolven. It is worth following the link to the lessons for the day before reading the sermon here....

Ordination Sermon – Kate Woolven

What a privilege it is to be here. Celebrating the ordination of Kate as priest within the Church of God as part of the people of God! Today is a good day, and a wonderful occasion. Already in the weeks Kate has been with us she has proved herself to be a competent, compassionate, warm, funny, thoughtful, faithful, spiritually mature and committed minister – and I still keep being told how good her sermon was at the last Mission Community service we held! Now we share in the next stage of Kate’s journey of being and becoming who she is called to be under God. We are here to support her as Bishop Bob ordains her to the office and work of a Priest within God’s Church. Alleluia! [more]

Sunday, September 05, 2010

And now a sermon for this Evening!

St Giles Patronal 2010

Saintly Calling

It’s a pleasure to be gathered here with the people of God to celebrate our patronal festival at this evensong this evening. A pleasure because our remembrance of Saints, and today we remember particularly St Giles of Provence, is an uplifting way of reminding ourselves our our heritage of faith, and because a patronal festival reminds us of our heritage and history in this place, and calls us to faithfulness as God’s saints here and now in our parish and as part of our Mission Community.

As I said this time last year (though I would be interested as to who could remember that, I had to look it up). We have a good example for us in St Giles of Provence whose feast day was actually on Wednesday of this week just gone...[more]

A sermon from this Morning

It's about time I posted a sermon up here, so here's this morning's offering... or at least a taster, click [more] for the lot!

Proper 18 (2010) Year C RCL Principal

Grow Up!

One of the subjects that comes up again and again in our household, as is probably the case in any household with small children, is ‘growing up’. What do you want to be when you grow up? Is one of those questions that Katherine and Jack seem very happy to keep replying to, despite giving different answers most times its asked. Or there are comments about ‘how grown up they look’ or ‘aren’t they growing up fast’. Most of us have probably heard all this before and if we don’t remember people saying it to us, then we probably remember it being said to our children, or grandchildren, or other family members or friends... [more]

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Slight correction, addition, amendment, or something....

I am grateful for the feedback I've received on my post yesterday about ministry, and on reading it back (as you do after a bit of a rant) there was one statement I particularly wanted to say something about. Actually there are lots of parts I could expand on, but one thing I think bears a bit of scrutiny.

I said that Clergy are 'defined by their education and the way they dress'. What I meant by this is that people often defer to me in 'matters spiritual' because they know that I have some kind of training for this ministry business. I also have a fair amount of experience, and have made my share of mistakes and hopefully learned from them. I think that trained and resourced members of the Church are crucial, though it isn't just Clergy that fulfil those criteria - we have gifted and dedicated Readers, and various members of our communities with oodles of training and experience under their belt. My experience of Readers in the three Dioceses I have worked in has been that their training has been excellent, and in places (particularly with regard to preaching and homiletics) better than some of the training I received. At the Theological College I attended the Theological teaching was excellent, the pastoral training very good indeed, the liturgical and worship leading treaching was good too and overall I felt very well supported, but it seemed to be just expected that I could preach and that the parish I was attached to for two years in Cambridge and my wonderful training Parish of All Saint's Hampton would tell me if my preaching was too grim....

Straying a bit there, but wanted to say that to define Clergy by 'you're trained to do that' - a phrase I have heard a number of times over the past fourteen years - is to both limit the involvement of the whole people of God (see last post for that rant) and to assume that somehow training might equip a person to lead. But more on that in a mo.

As for 'the way we dress'. I do tend to wear a clerical collar when on duty, which is most of the time, for worship I usually wear robes, not big flouncy stuff but traditional Anglican robes and a few bits that have worked themselves into usage (Cassock Alb, Chasuble) in the past few decades. I like robes because they point beyond me and my dress style (or lack of) and say that "this is the worship leader (or, as I prefer, 'lead worshipper')" without making a great statement about who the person inside the robes is. Hmmm, that might be a discussion for another post.... I wear a clerical shirt most of the time because it says that as a representative of the Church I am available to people and hopefully just reminds folk there are still a few of us involved in Church. On a purely pragmatic level it opens quite a few doors - metaphorically speaking, and even literally once when I lost a key - though some would argue it closes some too!

But of course what really defines a minister, lay or ordained, is their calling from God. In the Anglican Church that calling has usually been tested, recognised and affirmed by the process of training, ordination and/or licensing. I do believe there is a place for Ordained ministry - my frustration is when Ordained ministers are seen as the only valid expression of Christian ministry. We definitely need to move beyond that one!

I hope this conversation will continue. I've still got lots of things I probably need to explain and plenty of holes in my argument and am always open to correction, debate, and every now and then a bit of a disagreement. Thanks for comments so far, here and on FB and Twitter - Keep the Faith, then share it around a bit!

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Nice bit of ASBO Jesus

Taken from here... thanks ASBO...

The Vicar is dead.....Long live the Vicar!

On return from holiday I had lots to deal with, a pile of mail that was nearly as tall as me, various calls to respond to, and an update on all that had been going on in my absence. All good, or rather everything went well, though it had been extremely busy and very well covered by my colleagues.

In the week since I've got back though I have had a number of conversations where people have expressed disappointment that 'The Vicar' didn't do X or Y, or that Clergy haven't visited certain folk - despite the fact that I know I have extremely competent colleagues and very good lay pastoral visitors from all of the Churches who have handled things as well, if not better, than I ever could. It boils down to the erroneous belief that things are somehow more 'kosher' if a man (preferably a man in many cases, but that's another issue which I am not going to rant about today) with a 'dog collar' does it, be it opening fetes, visiting people or services in the Church.

The Church, if it is going to survive, must get beyond this idea that faith is done on their behalf by a person in a dog-collar! It's not unique to the C of E, but is prevalent in our structures and history, including the very job title - Vicar comes from 'Vicarious', which does mean 'on behalf of' - though the history of that title can wait for another time...

It is, though, both impractical and theologically lacking to expect one man or woman to 'be' and to 'do' the work of the Church. The Bible is quite clear that the body has many members, not just one, and that the only head of the Church is Jesus, not a bloke in a funny shirt who wears dresses on Sundays (or a woman in a funny shirt who may well wear dresses every day).

The problem we have in the Church of England is that the parish system has worked so well! By this I mean that there is, particularly in rural areas, quite a strong feeling of belonging to a parish, and a sense of ownership of the local church - even if someone never goes in to the building or joins in the life of the Christian community. The myth of 'every parish had a Vicar' (which apparently was never the case, though there were many many more Clergy full time in the Church of England with fewer Churches to cover between them) has hampered the ministry of the Church in recent decades as so many people still expect 'their' church to work with the same model of one man (and it was a man) doing everything 'Churchy' for one village.

Purely in practical terms this is an impossibility, there are seven full time ministry positions for thirty six parishes spread out over a very large and not always very accessible area in this Deanery. That number of ministers is likely to halve in the next four years, and by the time I retire (still twenty five or so years away, God willing) there may well be only one Stipendiary Priest for the Deanery. We hope this will go hand in hand with an increase in voluntary and self supporting ministers (both lay and ordained) but the days of one Vicar, one Parish are long gone (if they were ever here) and are unlikely to come again.

But the idea that there is only one 'religious expert' in a place and s/he should have all responsibility for teaching, pastoring, leading and administering the life of the church is a nonsense from the start. It denies the giftedness of many Christian people and the shared vocation of the people of God to mission and service. It locates 'spiritual power' and the exercise of power and authority in one person who is, ultimately, defined by their education and the way they dress rather than sharing that spiritual authority to live and proclaim the gospel in the power of the Spirit between all the believers in any community. It's a flawed model, the Church of England particularly needs to move beyond it very quickly and to move towards 'every member ministry' in a decisive way and to share a new way of working that allows those called to specific ministry within the church, whether ordained, licensed or 'authorised' to exercise that ministry as part of the whole body, rather than as a special individual that just happens to have a body of people attached to them.

Our struggle, again perhaps mostly in rural contexts, is that the perception both within and beyond the church is that things only have proper religious kudos if the Vicar or a member of the 'ordained class' are involved. It is this generation of ministers that will have to change this mindset and move people beyond a narrow understand of what both 'Church' and 'ministry are'.

But it is so easy to fall into the trap of trying to live up to people's expectations - hence the title! I catch myself trying to do visiting which is more than adequately done my other members of the Parishes. I tend to take control over services where I could hand over much more of what goes on to other people in the local fellowship (though this is sometimes because those originally charged with certain tasks don't turn up...and even the most resilient worship leader can end up with trust issues having been let down a few times!). This model of ministry will be hard work initially, it involves training, resourcing, supporting people in their expressions of ministry, it involves letting go of some of the power that Clergy have had in the past, in involves taking risks as people discover their gifts, and discover what they're not gifted at (sometimes very publicly), it involves communication, organisation and even a level of conversion - to a new mindset and a new way of being Church. It's 'easier' for many ministers (including myself) to seek to prop up the failing models of ministry and to fall into a maintenance mode which actually is more like a downwards spiral; trying to live up to false expectations, trying to do work which others could do perfect well, trying to hold on to things 'as they were' and failing to move forward as the body of Christ in our shared calling and vocation.