SAINTS AND FATHEADS

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Ann Hyde prepares to be ordained Deacon

I DROVE MY NEW COLLEAGUE over to Bishop’s House this morning, and drove home with a full heart, praying a bit, and hoping a lot, for Ann and for all who are preparing to be ordained this weekend. I pray they’ll have a good retreat, one and all. Whatever they hear there will live on in their hearts for the rest of their lives; along with Sunday’s episcopal bidding, already well rehearsed:

In the name of our Lord, we bid you remember the greatness of the trust in which you are now to share: the ministry of Christ himself, who for our sake took the form of a servant. Remember always with thanksgiving that the people among whom you will minister are made in God’s image and likeness. In serving them you are serving Christ himself, before whom you will be called to account. You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened. Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Elation, I remember,  at my Deacon’s Retreat in 1982, alongside a gnawing terror that came upon me suddenly. Neither the years of training, nor the cathedral rehearsal, prepare you for the day: “we bid you remember the greatness of the trust”. Glory be! This is serious, serious stuff. About as serious as serious gets. And seriousness has remained. But so too elation.

Amongst the joys and the sorrows, trials and tribulations, great faith and lost faith, hectic round and R S Thomas’ absence of clamour, a theological twinkle has remained a constant companion:  Geoffrey Paul, on the occasion of his Enthronement as  sixth Bishop of Bradford, in 1981, said

I don’t find faith any easier than any of you, and must echo the words of the epileptic boy’s father in a modern translation: ‘Lord, I believe but not enough.’ I shall want to do everything I can to help you to believe in practice what you say you believe, and I shall rely greatly on your faith and love and prayers to help me in my unbelief, so that by enlarging the area of believing, we may give God room to demonstrate his strange Christalmightiness in our midst.

And then, being a Christian is a matter of belonging to Christ with those who are his, and of course there is no way of belonging to Christ except by belonging, gladly and irrevocably, to all that marvellous and extraordinary ragbag of saints and fatheads who make up the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Enthronement Sermon, in The Pattern of Faith, an exposition of Christian doctrine by Geoffrey Paul, Churchman Publishing, 1986, page 135

And all who heard him knew that he was a holy bishop, and serious, and humane, and Christ-like and absolutely-hit-the-nail-on-the-head-dead-right. Encouragement there for retreatants tonight. Elated and serious, “remember the greatness” … gladly and irrevocably you’re to be marvellous and extraordinary, in company with all God’s people, both a saint and a fathead. Thank God,  and sing alleluia!