Sermon preached at the Making of Deacons
St Columb’s Cathedral, Derry on 28th June, 2009
I’m delighted and honoured to have been asked to share in this service of ordination with you. Thank you to Bishop Ken for inviting me – and of course I am really here as a part-time member of the congregation at Holy Trinity, Dunfanaghy. It’s been a particular pleasure to spend time in retreat with Mark and Judi as they prepare for this deacon ministry of love and service.
Things sit side by side in my life and I think about what links them. On Friday back in Scotland, I shared in the funeral of one of our best loved clergy. Randal died suddenly in the early years of a well-spent retirement. In his inner contentment and love, he was an icon of ministry for many of us.
Several people described how Randal asked people to do things. He knew people. He chose well. He would appear smiling and discuss what needed to be done. It wasn’t delegation. It was call. No pleading or cajoling – no Mrs Doyle saying, ‘Ye will, ye will ..’ – no time to consult the diary – no opportunity to say, ‘I’m honoured that you should think of me but .. The conversation would reach a point at which Randal would simply say, ‘So David .. ‘ And that was it. And because the love between Randal and his people was all mixed up with the love of God, people sort of realised that they had been called, they had responded and they were glad.
So in a few moments, Bishop Ken will put all sorts of complicated questions to Judi and Mark. But what he is really saying in the name of the God who loves them and calls them is, ‘So Mark … ‘ and ‘So Judi’ And as they hear that call, they have already answered it long since.
The second thing which strikes me is this. This service comes at the start of a new chapter of ministry and service for Mark and Judi. It is a moment of calling, commitment, blessing. It is wonderfully affirming. This moment is for Mark and Judi – and also for those whose love has supported and encouraged them – and for all sorts of other people – perhaps work colleagues and friends who admire the commitment which Mark and Judi are making and want to be part of it too. And at the end of life, Friday’s funeral was a wonderful thanksgiving for a rich and faithful ministry. It’s just the bit in between which seems so difficult.
Why is that? Because the society in which the priest, deacon or minister received automatic respect is long gone. We meet a dismissive shrug .. or draw towards ourselves the hurts and anger of people who don’t know why they are angry with us … even as they say religion is gutless and irrelevant. And that happens because the gospel is not gutless. It challenges us all – particularly those who minister.
In our time together, Mark, Judi and I have explored what the scripture readings say to us. We looked at the awestruck humility of Isaiah – talented and committed people do not always find humility easy. We looked at Paul’s challenge to be ‘not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern’ We saw that as the challenge to the kind of lively and engaged spirituality which will help the spiritual searchers of our age to discern meaning in God and the world. And we felt the force of ‘We want you to do for us whatever we want’. It’s the desire to enlist God in our service .. to cherry pick the gospel .. to offer the part for the whole .. to create small, sectarian Gods. Yes ministry is difficult and personally challenging. We can become as Rowan Williams said, ‘an unreliable friend’ – never content to be enlisted by person or cause.
As Mark and Judi enter this ‘in between’ period, we gather around them with our love and our prayers, seeking for them the inner strength and the wisdom to do God’s work in challenging times. We pray that they may know the joy which comes to those who hear the call, ‘So Judi, So Mark’ and know that they have answered with their whole heart.
Archbishop Michael Ramsay’s Ordination Prayer
Lord, take my heart and break it:
break it not in the way I would like,
but in the way you know to be best.
And, because it is you who break it,
I will not be afraid,
for in your hands all is safe
and I am safe.
Lord take my heart and give to it your joy,
not in the ways I like,
but in the ways you know are best,
that your joy may be fulfilled in me.
So, dear Lord, I am ready to be your deacon,
ready to be your priest