Sermon for the Staff Mass prior to the commencement of General Synod

Posted on the 6th Jul 2012 in the Category - Sermons

For I came not to call the righteous but sinners.

Matthew 9, v13


It seems basically to be the same agenda.  There are concerns about public life and civil disorder. People wonder how to bring lasting peace to the world.  There is an immense dispute raging over the right understanding of ordained ministry, where power ultimately resides when it comes to making hard decisions and how far dissenters can and should be accommodated.


No, I am not talking about the agenda ahead of us for the meeting of the General Synod but of the issues pressing in upon the national Church in the middle years of the reign of King Henry VIII. It was on this day, 6th July 1535, that Thomas More was executed, just two weeks after the same fate had befallen John Fisher, the saintly Bishop of Rochester.  In my more unguarded moments, something that gives me some consolation as I look through the names of the many Englishmen and women who have had their names commemorated in our Common Worship calendar, is that one of the qualities that so many of them share seems to be an immense capacity for always parting ways with the majority opinion within the Established Church!


Henry VIII’s England was increasingly at risk from civil disorder, not least as he moved against those who questioned his divorce and subsequent attack on parts of the Church. Perhaps, more threatening, as Thomas More, himself, clearly identified, were those who had imbibed parts of the new Protestant theology now gaining ground in mainland Europe.  They were busy telling folk that they were free under God to believe what they could discern from the Scriptures without need of reference to either king or bishop.  Changes were afoot as to how the Church should be governed.  For the minority who dissented, the choice was stark as the fate of Fisher and More demonstrates so clearly.  And, as this sad period of history moved onwards, there would be those who thought that mission and evangelisation should rather be the main claim on the Church’s energy.  By the time that Henry’s daughters were on the throne, people like Francis Xavier would be proclaiming the Gospel in parts of the world beyond Europe, despairing at a Church that had become so caught up in its own internal struggles.


There is then a real sense in the life of the Church of ‘what goes around comes around’.  In this, as in every age, the Gospel is entrusted to us.  With that responsibility, though, there ever comes both the demand for faithfulness and also, it seems, the persistent temptation to be distracted from the essence of our mission.  You and I rightly are warned, time and time again, of the danger of fiddling while Rome burns; though, perhaps, on this occasion we need to replace Rome with Canterbury!


Jesus says:

I came not to call the righteous but sinners.


The first response of any Synod to its Lord must be that of penitence, of a change of heart.  We can perhaps draw some comfort from the knowledge that only those who know they are part of an all too sinful Church can then use that self-awareness ever to generate a re-focusing on God and on His purposes.  A Synod that cannot do this would be all too like that man in the parable, who was so completely lacking in self-knowledge that he could only stand in the Temple and thank God that he was not as other men are.  Penitence is not just about continually beating ourselves up over the state of the Church but, rather, the constant stimulus to address our failings and then to move forwards.


Re-focusing on Christ in penitence can also sometimes lead us to revisit the statements that so easily slip off our tongues and so see them for being exactly that.  It is uncritically fashionable at the present time to set the frequent discussion within the Church concerning its right ordering against the pressing claims of the world, whether that be in terms of the Palestine-Israel conflict or the recent disruption that has taken place within some of our own cities.  And all that is before we consider the immense issues of world evangelisation.  It might just be that before we buy this package too uncritically you and I need to recall that this has not always been the prevailing wisdom.


Think for a moment of another great English churchman whose name has only recently been added to our Church calendar: Bishop George Bell.  Bell was passionately interested in world affairs, appalled by the indiscriminate bombing of Germany, and desperate to support the Christian church in that land as it sought to witness against Nazism.  It was this very concern that brought George Bell to focus on issues of Church order and to become such a prominent founding member of the Ecumenical Movement.  He realised, all too well, that only a Church that was seen as part of a united, greater whole could carry sufficient weight against Nazism and that, in similar terms, only a Church in England that saw the German Church as part of itself would be able to make the right moral judgements in coming to the aid of its Christian brothers and sisters.  A common ministry bonding the Church together was an essential ingredient in this quest.  We may well take our different positions on the ministerial questions before the General Synod during these coming days. You and I only do so because we see how much those decisions will bear on the future mission of the Church.  We should not apologise for such concern; rather we can only thank God for His call to an ever sinful Church to reform itself.


Jesus comes to sinners to make them righteous.  The Church, as and other bishops have been reminding countless people at ordination services these past few days, is Christ’s Body.  That is something to be taken seriously, so seriously that those to be ordained priests are warned of the punishment that will follow if they do harm to any of its members.  In our concern for the Church, you and I are concerned authentically to radiate Jesus Himself, sinless, completely integrated and seeking to bring the whole world within that integration.  Perhaps it is time to stop at least some of our apologies for giving time to the Church and its ministry.  It is all part of seeking to maintain the Church as one so that the world might believe.  Unity and mission are inseparable.


Many years ago, when the film A Man For All Seasons was first being shown, I enjoyed a meal with my with local GP.  A good and pragmatic lady, she remarked to me of Thomas More: “I could not help thinking he could have saved himself a lot of trouble.”  But even the pragmatist must base his or her pragmatism on some principles.  More said that ultimately, if the world were to grasp the true faith, then the ministerial issue, in his day the one of papal or royal supremacy, mattered.  The integrity embodied in Jesus had to be something both witnessed to and offered by the Church.


It is in allowing that process to be done and done well that those who service the work of General Synod play such an essential part.  I believed it when I once worked in Church House.  I believe it even more having experienced that work through the eyes of a Synod member.  As long as you and I do not forget that we are but sinners in need of Christ and being sought by Him, we will all be genuine agents in ever seeking to bring the Church into greater conformity with His will.  And, now, in this Eucharist, we enjoy a foretaste of that perfect Church which is completely one inChrist.

Letter to the Times from Catholic Bishops

Posted on the 3rd Jul 2012 in the Category - News

Sir, We support the initiative to promote unity and our common life and mission within the Church of England called Better Together.


The Church of England finds itself in a difficult place as it approaches the General Synod in July and the debate on the ordination of women to the episcopate. There remains, frustratingly for us all, a clear lack of consensus on the best way to proceed.


We believe that two principles, long accepted by the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion, remain at the heart of this debate. The first is that it is the will of the majority that women be ordained as bishops.


The second is that a way must be found to respect the minority who are unpersuaded that this is a theological development which they can, in conscience, embrace. Recognition of this conviction must benefit the Church of England as a whole.


This debate is grounded on sincerely held theological convictions. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, this is not simply a matter of opinion but of obedience: obedience to Scripture, to Tradition, to the wider consensus of the universal Church.


On the one hand there is the majority wish of members of the Church of England, voicing, perhaps, the perceived norms of wider society around issues of equality.On the other hand, our attention is being called to the mind of the Church catholic East and West. This is that “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” of which, in its Declaration of Assent, the Church of England claims to be a part.


As bishops committed to furthering the mission of the Church of England to all the people of this nation, we are also deeply mindful of our vocation to be guardians of the faith and to work for the full visible unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ. We pray for consensus and a way forward.


We are wholeheartedly committed to honouring those women whom the Church of England calls to the ordained ministry. We ask, too, for that proper respect for conscience which will continue to allow all traditions in our Church to flourish without detriment to one another.


The Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe; 

The Right Rev Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Ebbsfleet; 

The Right Rev Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester; 

The Right Rev Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn; 

The Right Rev Norman Banks, Bishop of Richborough; 

The Right Rev John Ford, Bishop of Plymouth; 

The Right Rev John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley; 

The Right Rev Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley; 

The Right Rev Tony Robinson, Bishop of Pontefract; 

The Right Rev Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham; 

The Right Rev Peter Wheatley, Bishop of Edmonton



Sermon for the ordination to the priesthood of the Grant Naylor

Posted on the 1st Jul 2012 in the Category - Sermons

The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me for the Lord has anointed me.

Isaiah 61 v1


A new priest soon discerns that just about everyone knows exactly how he should be spending every moment of his time.  It is made even more unnerving when the new priest quickly learns that everyone also knows that, by some wonderful miracle, he has at least thirty hours in every day of his life rather than the modest twenty-four allotted to us by God in His wisdom.  And, cheer up Father Grant! When and if you come in due time to be a parish priest you will soon find that the expectations placed on your new ministry continue to be as vast as they are unrealistic.  Be consoled, though.  It seems highly likely that Jesus suffered from the same kind of false expectations.  People everywhere long for a Messiah.  And, by a Messiah, men and women usually mean someone who will meet their own personal agendas and give them everything they happen to want.  If anyone doubts me, just think how we are eager for every new government to bring down taxes, improve education and the health service, deliver a higher and higher standard of living, and all that must all cost us nothing!  The folk of Jesus’ day knew exactly what they wanted.  Jesus stands up in the Temple and, instead of giving people what they want to hear, He puts on His own lips the words of Isaiah, spoken some five hundred years previously.  Now, as in the time of the Prophet, there is good news for everyone.  There is to be no protected or privileged group.  People everywhere are now to be free to be their true selves.  If, by any chance, there were to be a group of people who are more favoured then others then Jesus repeats Isaiah’s words.  It is the marginalised in society, those who have least, those who are captives, those who are sick; those are the people who are to have first claim on Jesus’ ministry.  With the coming of Jesus it is potentially open house for everybody in God’s Kingdom.


Father Grant, your first responsibility as a priest is to stand in Jesus’ name, making your own that message of Isaiah, just as Jesus did, but with an added dimension.  Jesus told his hearers that:

                                                Today in their midst this reading has come alive.


Here and now people can begin to enjoy the Kingdom of God because Jesus is present among them.  You, Father Grant, are sent as Jesus’ minister, both to tell people of the presence of God’s Kingdom and to help them experience it.  As long as you remember that you personally are not the Messiah but one sent in His name and totally dependent upon Him, then you will not let this awesome responsibility go to your head!  The Spirit of the Lord is truly given to you this day and that should provide appropriate confidence for the task.


Remember, Father Grant, that if you are to bring people to God you must first do what Jesus does. S Paul tells us in our second reading today that Jesus, the Lord who ascends to glory is also the one who descended right down to the lower regions of the earth.  Not for one moment are we saying that to be a priest in West Auckland is to be especially placed in the ‘lower regions of the earth’!  S Paul is reminding us that Jesus is completely identified with this world He comes to save.  Jesus is found time and time again in the Gospel story giving His friendship, His time, and His attention to those who are at the margins of life, both in terms of the class system and of the religious life of His day.  The character we have come to know as the Good Samaritan is hardly one who would have been found in the front row of worshippers at the Temple; indeed, he would have been refused entry.  Remember, though, that even within our own church congregations most of us carry, deep down, our shame, our sense of guilt, our feelings of inadequacy, our uncertainty about the Faith.  We all long, too, for that one who will descend to us in the lowest parts of our being and then lift us, once again, upwards with Him into the security of God’s Kingdom  If that is an uncomfortable place to be then every priest need remind himself, from time to time, that it is the uncomfortable place to which Jesus goes before us.  The more we know something of the pain of the One who sees this world both as God intends it to be and also as what it has become, then and only then can you and I dare to talk about the priest as the one who is especially identified with Christ as the one who suffers specifically for others.


The tools for such a ministry, Father Grant, are those given you by Our Lord and Master.  You are to preach and to teach as enjoined by Our Lord in tonight’s Gospel.  Take that responsibility seriously.  Remember, though, S Francis of Assisi’s profound advice about preaching Christ: Use words, if you must.  What you are, Father Grant, what you are open to becoming, what you do and your motivation for your actions, will speak just as eloquently of Jesus as the message you rightly put into words.


Above all, be a faithful minister of the Sacraments.  Jesus encounters people today as healer and as reconciler in the wonderful mysteries entrusted to you to preside over in His Church.  When people long to know they are God’s children, it is the Sacrament of Baptism that will powerfully convey that truth; when people need healing or reconciliation they will need your special ministry.  The men or women sick, in pain, depressed, may hear all the comforting words you and I can offer, but a tangible sign of God’s presence in anointing or in receiving absolution will speak to them far more powerfully than anything you or I could put into words.  The Sacraments are visible guarantees of God reaching out to enable His Kingdom to break in on people’s lives.  It will ever be both your duty and your joy to provide such a ministry to those entrusted to you.


Greatest of all duties and privileges, Father Grant, will be that of offering the Mass.  In the Mass the one, full, perfect satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, Jesus Himself, is once more present with us, and for us, offering Himself to the Father and carrying all of us with Him in that offering.  You will literally take the place of Christ every time you, as a priest, offer the Mass.  Yes, such an experience may well be overwhelming for you and so it should be.  Remember, though, that this ministry is entrusted to you so that others may know, at the deepest level, what it is for God to reach out to captives and to humanity, wounded in so many ways, yet lifted into the healing presence of God Himself.  You are to offer the Mass also for a world which does not yet know God, for it is only Christ whose sacrifice will ultimately bring the world to the fulfilment of His purpose.  The child has little if any  understanding of the sacrifice made for him or her by parents and many others.  Still, those sacrifices are made.  There, perhaps, you and I have a glimpse of what it might mean that, in every Mass, Christ’s once-and-for-all offering is yet again present for all of us who, in this world at least, will never fully grasp the point.  Offer Mass regularly and you will be drawing both yourself and the wider world more deeply into that mystery of God’s self-giving love.


Dare you do these things?  Only because The Spirit of the Lord will be given to you.  He will anoint you.  So now it is to that giving of God’s Spirit in ordination that we will turn.


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