THE QUEEN’S FIAT

THERE’S A LOVELY PIECE by Liz Dodd in The Tablet this week about the “anti-Jubilee resolve” in her that hadn’t yet considered what two archbishops (Canterbury and Westminster) had: the Marian-like “fiat” or “yes” uttered by Queen Elizabeth II sixty years ago, and the resolve, perseverance and dedication with which Her Majesty has fulfilled that promise.

Impressed by

“Prince Charles’ speech at the end of the concert (‘my father has been taken unwell’); the Queen, accompanied only by a Lady in Waiting to the Service of Thanksgiving; Archbishop Williams’ brave words about ‘ludicrous financial greed’ at that same service – [which] will stick in my memory long after I’ve forgotten the hymns, the hats and the pearly sword”

Liz writes of the importance of the humanity revealed in the celebration, and of how

“My own anti-Jubilee resolve eventually crumbled when I found myself stuck in a pub in Hackney that was showing the concert. As the national anthem brought the event to a close everyone – every hipster, drinker and cynic in the bar – stood up. Including me.”

This is really important stuff. A theological college Principal recently suggested to one of our ordinands here that “I would really have to see the whites of their eyes before I preach.” The way we feel about people, and their celebrations and circumstances, and the way we speak with and to and amongst them, is changed irrevocably when we’ve truly met them as human persons, as “one of us”. That, of course, involves a very particular kind of “fiat”, a very particular kind of commitment to the persons we presume to know, address or speak about. Preachers and would-be teachers in the life of the Church (or any institution) absolutely owe it to their hearers to make some real effort to know WHO it is they’re addressing, to know something of the issues going on in the lives of the human persons seated before them. (And actually, whether you’ve a congregation of 20 or 2000, or a Commonwealth of billions, that’s really not an easy thing to do).

Proximity

Once upon a time I worked with a church council who were exceptionally unkind and discourteous to one another and to the people they were called to represent and serve. Meeting in a cavernous ecclesiastical space, all parties felt at liberty to “slag off” any and all others at will. So we moved to a much smaller space and we sat round a table that made for a tight fit. Behaviour improved immediately. Falsely inflated opinions about persons are deflated by proximity to them.

Still, however, we all find it easier to be rude about others than to them. Proximity ordinarily makes us more civilized (and we really are pompous buffoons if it doesn’t). Close up, one can almost hear the heartbeat. Close up, one can feel warmth and loving kindness, or isolation, illness, anguish or pain. Close up, one can feel one’s own falsity and neediness, and hear one’s own balderdash and blustering. Close up, we wonder, embarrassed, how we ever came to be in possession of such grandiose ideas of our own importance in the scheme of things. (Sight of Archbishop Rowan’s desk and study in the recent Lambeth Palace video left me thanking God for a gentle, humble, scholarly GIANT of an archbishop, at around the same time as I spotted an account of his reading The Gruffalo to playschool children). Close up, the idea of inclusivity feels a better idea than we’d hitherto imagined (and we’re acutely aware of our own longing to be accepted for who we really are). Close up, a particularly vociferous and homophobic “Christian” of my aquaintance, suddenly saw, in the Bishop Gene Robinson he’d hitherto despised, a loving, warm, kindly and Christ-like human being – and repented of his former arrogance and “theological and doctrinal certainty.” Close up, we’re faced, and others are faced, with the reality of our character, values, and virtues – or the lack thereof.

Shaping society

Moving, forgive me, from one ecclesiastical journal to another, I was delighted to read the Church Times account of the University of Birmingham’s having been given “a multi-million pound award” by the Templeton Foundation (great videos) “to support [The Jubilee Centre] the first UK centre dedicated to research into the character, values, and virtues that shape UK society” … The director of the new centre, Professor James Arthur, said:

“In the aftermath of the August 2011 riots, there have been many calls for the renewal of public and private virtues. As a country we appear to want to change people for the better and so improve the quality of public life. However, there is very little definition of what these changes might be and how they might be made. The Jubilee Centre will not simply research past and present attitudes to character, but help to develop new knowledge and understanding of character that will benefit civil society.”

The same edition of the Church Times carries an extract from a sermon of Dean Jeffrey John who, attending St Alban’s Cathedral as “an ordinary worshipper” a week before being installed as its Dean, was approached by someone who didn’t know him and invited to sign a petition protesting his own appointment! That’s nearly as odd as one of my own, more straightforward – if impatient – parishioners who complained directly in my first week: “but we don’t know you …

Liz Dodd’s article in The Tablet, some reflection upon the Queen’s “fiat” – and her 60 years of absolute commitment to making real effort to know her peoples, together with an ever more widely adopted willingness to “see the whites of their eyes before I’d preach” would make for a really encouraging, exciting start to the Birmingham project. Well done the Templeton Foundation (again). This is research I’d really love to be involved with in depth. But, then again, I am. We all are. Her Majesty the Queen, the governments of the nations, the faith traditions, the philosophers and thinkers, the peoples of the world, we’re all involved. And I do not doubt that yet further grace will flow from Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Magnificat! There’s real hope.

” … every hipster, drinker and cynic in the bar – stood up. Including me.”

UP, UP & AWAY!

Tracy – photo/emmaward

REALLY GREAT first sermon from Tracy Ward here today. We’ve had some inspirational first sermons here in the last year or two and I’m thrilled to bits that we’ve currently 3 aspiring priests at Bramhall Parish Church, and we’re also sponsoring the theological training of an ordinand for the Diocese of Newala, Tanzania.

God’s Spirit calls hearts and souls and minds and bodies today, as ever. Tracy voiced the Word of God’s Spirit with an encouragement to Live Your Life – being exemplars of the kind of in-love-with-life-and-Love-service that can truly be described as a more excellent way. Great sermon. Great eucharistic worship. Great Spirit of God right here in the midst of us. We hear the commission. We’ll act upon the call: the uniting, embracing Body of Christ.

VOCATION, VOCATION …

vocation, vocation, vocation, vocation ...

JOHN THE BAPTIST was really talking about vocation out there in the wilderness, wasn’t he? Prepare yourselves for a new world. That seems to have been the message.

Bring together the best of the old with the best of the new. Leave the dross behind. Take a cold bath and rise up out of it renewed, ready to rise and shine. Look about you, every day and always, for the coming of a Word who’ll proclaim that the hands in which the new world will be held and shaped and moulded and nurtured belong to you, and you, and you …

The City of Peace will be built not of stones. The new Jerusalem will be built upon the hopes, the aspirations, the “sacrifice” of those who prove willing to risk traversing lonely highways in the desert because they somehow just have an instinct that there’s a voice to be heard out there (or in there) in the wilderness that’s just too important to miss.

And that’s why, in what has been one of my busiest months in a long time, I’m as happy as a sandboy. I’ve been doing what parish priests love doing. I’ve been talking with one willing disciple after another about vocation, vocation, vocation. And the light in their eyes is reflected in mine. Yes, yes, again:

let earth to heaven draw near;
lift up our hearts to seek thee there,
Come down to meet us here.

This is the day of light 
Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised 42
John Ellerton, 1867

see: Paul David Deakin & Rachael Elizabeth

HOW CAN I SERVE?

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? …

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