FRANK BENNETT IS OUR CHIEF SIDESPERSON. He arrived in Church the other day and greeted me, as he very frequently does, with the words “what can I do?”. Frank’s entire life as a churchman arises from the fundamental question he asks of God. “How can I serve?”. And this morning he will have celebrated the fact that his wife was serving the gathered Church in the office of Reader, his daughter (our former Young Church leader) and son-in-law were away in Cambridge (at Ely Cathedral) spending time with other friends engaged in ministry, before Paul begins training for the priesthood at Mirfield in September.
One of Frank’s grandsons served alongside him as a sidesperson today. Another grandson read the Epistle. When I thanked one of these grandsons for the encouragement he and his brothers are providing for their parents, at what is a time of upheaval in their family life, his reply was “Thanks. But it’s time we stepped out of our comfort zones isn’t it? And with Dad you can see the call written on his face”. I honour Grandfather Frank and his whole family.
One of the signs of spiritual maturity in the life of any church is a steadily growing number of vocations to ministry – in its many and varied forms. Tonight I heard the Reverend Gill Newton – our local Methodist Superintendent Minister – tell a large gathering that “we Methodists believe in the ministry of the whole people of God.” It was good to hear the murmurs of approval and assent, for we Anglicans do, too. So it’s an especial joy when we see the fruits of God’s call in our very midst.
I’ve mentioned already that Paul Deakin’s off to Mirfield in September. Verger John Baker will, in the same month, be licensed as a pastoral assistant. Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor are getting stuck into new ministries in the office of churchwarden. Yvonne Hope and Jill Elston have just completed a marvellous first year as Young Church leaders (aided warmly by a very substantial team of willing voluntary ministries). Bob Munn is serving a term as Chairman of our Diocesan Advisory Committee. Graham Knight, our Treasurer, asks how the ministry he offers might be of service to others beyond St Michael’s. PCC Secretary Ann Walker is interested in furthering the work of prayer and meditation. Tracy Ward has just been accepted on the Diocesan Foundations for Ministry Course, following in Verger John’s footsteps. Tricia Munn is overseeing Growth Action Planning. Administrator Janet Ketteringham continues to undergird and sustain all of our ministries every day of the week. Bryan Goodwin clipped the fearsomely difficult and unfriendly holly hedge at the vicarage. Dianne Goodwin acts as unpaid assistant verger. David and Maureen Want tend the church gardens assisted by a large team of helpers. Joanna Yeates folds pew sheets – every week of the year. Sexton John Hanlon will turn his hand to pretty much anything … the list of ministries numbers over 200 volunteers at St Michael’s alone so it rarely seems appropriate to single out particular individuals. And yet it also seems important to try to describe what’s happening sometimes.
Rachael Hunt, baptised only two years ago, already has an established pastoral ministry among us, at the age of just 17, with a special and hugely appreciated concern for older members of the church family particularly – and every member and non-members more generally. Rachael, who hopes to read Theology at University and eventually to become a priest, is well known in our local churches as she has a keen interest in ecumenism and in fostering respect and understanding between different religious traditions. Rachael invited me to hear her first ever sermon this morning. Delivered with only scant reference to her notes, I was spellbound. Rachael will be preaching for the benefit of all of us, as will ordinand Paul, in September.
All of these wonderful people, and many more, seen and unseen, upfront and quietly in the background, leading public prayer and praying at home, have a passion for Gospel. Good News for a world in need of good news in a million different situations. (Eleven and a half million starving situations in East Africa). And as I pray for them, each and every day, I thank God for the miracle in our midst of a host of “angels and archangels”, on earth as it is in heaven, who are responding to the Divine call with the hallowed words “How Can I Serve?”. God is good and no word that comes from the Divine mouth ever returns to its Source unused or unheard. The Church today is not the same as it was. The Church today is not the Church it will be. But tonight I offer heartfelt thanks to God for the Church – and the many-membered Body of Christ that constitutes the Church – that is.
How Can I Serve? …