TIME AND AGAIN this week I’ve wound up in conversation with people who were deeply touched by Rachael Elizabeth’s Epiphany Moments sermon (audio, readings and homily here) last Sunday. Members of our pastoral team have headed back to base at St Michael’s with accounts of conversations all around the parish about “a stillness and a directness that ‘stopped me in my tracks'”. And I’ve been enthralled by the number of people of “advanced years” who show themselves ready to learn from a young teacher.
This is wonderful, exciting and hopeful. Our parish is blessed with four people at various stages of the discernment process on the road to possible ordination, one of whom, Paul Deakin, currently revelling in life at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, will join our ministry team as a Deacon (assistant curate) in July this year; Tracy Ward is the imaginative leader of our pastoral team and is presently engaged with a pastoral placement in neighbouring Norbury, whilst also preparing to co-lead a retreat with me in May, and enjoying the Diocesan Exploring Faith Matters (EFM) course; Yvonne Hope, one of our Young Church co-ordinators and a founding member of our Puppet Ministry, will preach for us about her work with homeless people at Barnabus on Sunday 20th January at 10am; Rachael Elizabeth spent time over the Christmas holidays preparing for major pieces of work on Christian states, and on Unitarianism – as well as assisting in eucharistic and baptismal services and preaching on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Further, we’ve thirty+ excellent lay people working to maintain good pastoral care in a parish of some fifteen and a half thousand people; together with an energetic retired priest whose pastoral vision is generous and inclusive, a licensed Reader, two licensed pastoral workers, a large team of children and youth workers, excellent churchwardens, church council, administrator, finance team, links with the Diocese of Newala in Tanzania (the Rev Anita Matthews will be our preacher on Newala Sunday 27th January), together with the usual host of parish-based organisations and friendship groups whose influence for good reaches out into the wider community seven days a week.
This is wonderful, exciting and hopeful because, in the words of one gentleman’s reflections upon Rachael Elizabeth’s homily – “I’m challenged, even in these, my advanced years, to take stock, to think again about what has been revealed to me and what I’m asked to do about that. How profoundly grateful I am to have encountered a young teacher and the “sudden and striking” message her life and hope presents us with.”
Epiphany: A moment that stopped you in your tracks and made you think, made you re-evaluate life. Maybe it was when someone looked you right in the eye and told you that you were beautiful, maybe it was the time you could look in the mirror and say the same to yourself, believing it. Maybe it was the time you played the piano for the first time or sang with a choir or painted or had your first day in a new job and found a passion for it. Maybe it was the time your partner smiled at you, maybe it was the time you found a new home like I found this home, and you knew it was going to be ok. Maybe it was the time you held a child in your arms, a beautiful new-born baby, completely dependent, harmless, vulnerable, perfect. Like the baby Jesus.
None of these moments can happen without a degree of personal vulnerability and openness. Jesus came into the world a child not a king in a palace. Today our day of Epiphany in the Church remembers the wise men that thought they knew so much, but were completely changed by the humility and vulnerability of an experience that healed their souls. – from Epiphany Moments
I thank God for such epiphanies: for
the sudden and striking realisation, a revelation, a stunning manifestation of some truth.
These moments, these babies, these people are changing the world and working for the building of a wholly new kind of “kingdom” every waking moment of our lives. And I pray that epiphany-tide may ebb and flow in all of us, always. What more hopeful a subject for contemplation could there be in the contemporary life of the English Church and Nation – indeed in the life of the Worldwide Church, and the panoply of faith-traditions amongst all the Nations – than the possibility before us of further “sudden and striking realisation”?