“Are you the new minister?” a lady asked as I was coming out of the parish church; I was slightly abashed, for after all, surely, it was only Free Church clergy who were described as “Ministers”.
“No”, I replied, “I’m a priest; one of the curates”.
“Oh, you’re a Roman Catholic” she said.
I tried to put her right. Being newly ordained, I was rather proud of my new status. There is nothing to be said for cocky young curates (of which, sadly, I was one).
Discussing this with Alfred, the senior curate, he agreed with me, until we were discussing it with John, our Vicar, who quickly disabused of such pretentious notions.
“Yes, you are priests, (he said), but there is no mention of them in the whole of the New Testament, only Bishops, and if you know your Church history, you will only find them, and any assistants were the forerunners of the priesthood. Eventually they were called “Presbyters” meaning “Elders” who were called into being to assist the Bishops as the local congregations grew.
Remember, that the Early Church was very much an embryo body, meeting in each other’s houses, and it’s quite possible that the host might have presided over the worship”.
Luke in the “Acts of the Apostles” describes the first mention of other assistants in the creation of the Deacons, whose task was primarily to oversee the day-to-day running of the pastoral work.
They presided over the organisation of the distribution of the shared goods to the Christian members.
However, as John the Vicar pointed out, Jesus described His role, as “One who serves”, also “I come among you as one who serveth”, to minister to God’s People and it follows from that, they in turn were to “serve” wherever there were needs, whether spiritual or just distribution of food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Therefore, if we are to think about the role of the congregation, not only are they to be ministered to, but in turn they are to be “ministers”. Servants who are to follow the example of our Divine leader.
I may be a priest, but foremost together with you, the gathered People of God we are “All in it together”, we are all called to be “Ministers”, servants; our Ordination is in our Baptisms, and unless we realise this and accept this role and seek to find our place within the Church where we can “Minister”, The Church has no future.
“The trouble with the Church of England” said my neighbour, John an ex-army officer, “It isn’t that we have no resources, we simply are not using what we have to the best possible end”.
I nodded in agreement, for it was (and still is, true).
We were discussing the future needs of The Church in providing pastoral care and leadership, when often there are problems that could be easily solved. These require the removal of prejudices and for common sense to prevail, especially among the upper echelons of The Church of both clergy and laity.
This was the late 1980s, when it was clear that not only were fewer candidates appearing for the Ministry, but more seriously, if we had the number of clergy really required, we couldn’t afford to pay them.
From the time that I was ordained nearly 70 years ago, there have been no less than 3 reports to deal with the problem. What happened to them?
Simply that the final one was too radical for some of the clergy to countenance?. The result? They were all left on shelves, gathering dust, which was also the fate of an earlier brilliant report on Evangelism in the 1940s, which was set aside so that the Church Assembly could discuss Canon Law revision!
Strangely, much of the opposition sprang from older clergy (including Bishops and the rest of the hierarchy) who saw them as an attack on their positions and standing.
After I had been installed in Holy Trinity (Taunton), after a couple of years, through careful planning, good pastoral care and innovations, there were no less than 120-130 communicants each Sunday at the Parish Communion.
My curate had gone to pastures new (London’s east end) as he thought that Taunton was too soft for an enthusiastic youngish priest.
There I was, with no one to administer the chalice, meaning I had to rush up and down the altar rail, first with the hosts and then the chalice. It was expected that this would usually be done by someone who was ordained, being at least a Deacon.
I saw help coming because the Church Assembly had decided that Licensed Lay Readers might administer the chalice, provided the diocesan Bishop approved. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, didn’t, so this relief wasn’t available, although the service was unnecessarily long as a consequence.
There was a fear that this might be the “thin edge of the proverbial wedge” and so in some way lessen the gap between ordained and lay folk.
Yet, we had at that time many parishes often with more than one Reader, so we struggled on, until common sense prevailed (too late) and provided they were authorised, anyone, not necessarily a licensed trained Reader, could assist in this important role, as they do today.
This reluctance to engage with anything that might lead to real changes, positively using our human resources in what currently might be unorthodox ways seems endemic in the Church of England.
The days when congregations could sit safely in their pews without being involved too much are past; priest and people, we are all in it together and we’ll think about that next week, if you can bear it.
How strange this is when we look at the early Church set-up. Compared with our present bureaucratic system (which was based on the political structures of the Roman Empire), in its infancy the Church was people-based. No longer so.
We’ll talk about this again, if we may, next week. Subject “Every Christian a Minister”. GCR
Now that I am the age that I am, like many of my peers, I find myself going into the kitchen and then standing, wondering “What on earth am I doing here?” then returning back to the sitting room in the hope that I can jog my memory.
I realised that I had problems when I found myself putting my under pants into the ‘frig. Instead of the washing machine!
Yet, memory is a strange thing, for I have just finished writing my memoirs, dating back to the very beginning and names and events that I have forgotten come flooding back in incredible detail.
Vividly, although I was little more than 18 months old, I can remember the stormy night when a piece of cast-iron guttering plunged through the bedroom window, my mother (with whom I had been sleeping), snatching me up and leaping over the end of the bed.
“Poor old chap! He’s going back” you may say, but I’m not “going back”, for memory is when we are able to pull events of long ago into the present, experiencing even the smells and sounds of some particular place.
When we “remember” we don’t “go back”, but rather bring the past into the present.
Looking at photos of a Durham coal mine, where as a “Bevin Boy” I worked for 4 years, as we descended into the depths, I can still smell its particular odour although it is 72 years since.
Any who were serving in the forces then, when prompted, can relive events of long ago, particularly people whom they met in challenging circumstances.
Only those who lived through those years can truly “remember”, for that experience has been etched into our memories so that we cannot forget.
When we stand for 2 mins. silence, we who lived through those years will be re-living experiences which are but stories to later generations, and inevitably, to some extent, unreal.
Sunday by Sunday, Christians “remember”, for Jesus said that by taking and sharing bread and wine we “remember” Him.
“Do this“ He said, “in remembrance of me” but it’s not a memorial action, for what we are doing is bringing that Jerusalem Upper Room of the first century into St. Mary’s, or wherever and whenever we do so.
Many who were our contemporaries are no longer with us, but Chrstians are not “remembering” a dead Christ, but one who was raised by God to be with humanity for ever, with a promise that we too may share in the benefits of His teaching, His life, death and resurrection.
Jesus said, “When two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”.
John Wesley in a hymn he wrote for singing at the Communion, reminds us that in that service, Christ is present;
“Lo, God is here, let us adore and own how awe-ful is this place”! Let all within us feel His power, and silent, bow before His face”.
I sometimes feel that many, even church-goers fail to appreciate what a privilege it is to be sharing in a service, where the central figure is the Risen Lord who comes among us, not in mighty splendour, but humbly through the medium of simple bread and wine.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence and in fear and trembling stand,
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessings in His hand,
Christ, our God descendeth, Our full homage to demand”
So sings a very ancient Christian Greek hymn.
It is in the confidence that this Remembrance-tide, we through our prayers, and by the mediation of Jesus and His cross can be reunited with “Those whom we love, but see no longer”.
Climbing onto the ‘bus that was taking me to Wells for the Ordination Retreat prior to my becoming a Deacon, the happy Somerset ‘bus conductress urged me to “Pass along the ‘bus ‘m’dear’”.
M’dear duly obeyed.
On the return journey, now a “Revd.” with my shiny new clerical collar, she greeted me with “Please pass along the ‘bus, Sir!”
I confess to a certain glow of pride, being thus elevated to my new status, yet realised that this wasn’t right; I had only the day previously began the first phase of my Ministry.
I had little more status in the eyes of The Church, when only after my ordination as a priest a year later could I celebrate the Eucharist or even give a Blessing or Absolution.
I could only do what I had already been doing as a Licensed Reader; true I was empowered to carry out pastoral duties (which I loved), such as regular home visiting, but little more.
It was a parish where the priests were called “Father”, which implied that I had to have a father-like concern for everyone whom I met, and it was a title that I thought should be earned, rather than arbitrarily bestowed.
Incidentally, thinking about that, I remember a fellow priest, calling on our large Council estate, the door opened revealing a rather large rebellious lady. She greeted him, with “Oh, it’s you; I’m not calling you any B****** Father”, to which he replied, “You may call me Mother if you wish, as long as you are polite!” She slammed the door in his face and wrote a letter of complaint to the Bishop for him “being rude”!
It used to be commonplace that clergy were treated with great respect, the higher they rose in the clerical “pecking order”. Not so much so now and perhaps that is just as well. It belies the words of our Master, “I am among you as one that serveth” as He carried out the menial “Slave’s task” of washing the guests’ feet.
There is a favourite Hymn where we sing “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you”, but how much do we carry that out when we get outside the confines of the church?
I remember a newly appointed priest, who at his first meeting with me and a fellow priest, bade us stand and sing that hymn and I have yet to meet a more dictatorial “Priest in charge”, for he liked to remind us (his colleagues), that he was boss!
Fine singing it, but different if you have to go out and live it.
Our Free Church friends describe their pastors (people who care for sheep) as their “Minister” and it was a while before I realised that this was the right title, for we clergy are here to “Minister”, to “serve” God’s children (of all ages).
Paul reminds us often that we are to be Christ’s Body here on earth to carry out His work, the first of which is to proclaim the “Good News” of the Father’s love, for ALL.
We, priests and people are here to serve the community in which we are set; although many of us do not live in Brading or Yaverland, we are gathered as the Church, to be Christ’s Body wherever we are. We are all called to be “Ministers”.
The question we need to ask is “How can we be Christ in our communities, where we daily meet those for whom Jesus died, even if hey don’t know or appreciate it.?
People outside The Church are often asked to “help” (usually with money) but do we ever seek to find ways in which we may help our parishioners?
Priests and people are, like Jesus, to be “Among people as ones who serve”. He performed His greatest act of service for our benefit as He hung on the Cross, where He, the Lord of all, became servant of all, bringing salvation.
Think and pray as to how, we here can be “Like Christ to them” as the hymn says.
"I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come"
It was kind of an animal charity to send me condolences when my beloved collie Ness died rather suddenly, and with it came a poem designed to comfort me.
Beautifully written, but it described heaven as a place where dog and owner will be joyfully united, a meeting for which the dog has waited and now reunited they walk through to eternal doggy (and owner) bliss.
Unfortunately, a meeting for which there is no theological or Biblical justification, much as I would love it to be so.
There is the problem that Ness was the last in the line of dogs we have owned, so where do Bumble, Rupert, Joe, Lottie our previous dogs fit in?
We are constantly trying to think (and say) that when we enter Eternal Life it will be similar to what we are living now, but we need to face up to the fact that whatever it is, it will not simply be like this life continuing for ever and ever.
In more respectful days, as a curate taking funerals, while the cortage passed through busy Taunton streets, people stood in silence and men removed their hats as a sign of respect.
Simply because the owner of the body lying in the coffin now knew something that the onlookers didn’t; namely, what happens when you die.
Jesus gave no details of the after-life that supports so much funereal thinking.
He tells His disciples that when we die, we do not “marry nor are given in marriage”” even if we may have had more than one partner.
The truth is, that as St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, carefully explains to the enquirer as to “What sort of body shall we have”? Suitable for an eternal environment is the answer.
The Apostles’ Creed simple states that there will be “Resurrection of the body”, but this does not necessarily mean we shall in the eternal realm have exactly the same body by which we now live, move and express ourselves.
It does mean that we shall be individuals with the kind of body suitable for eternal life, “We shall all be changed” says St. Paul “in the twinkling of an eye” and a change for the better.
Jesus gave us no clear indication, talking of “sitting with Him at a heavenly banquet” but cannot be understood as a prophecy
Paul (2 Corinthians 4, v16 - 5, v5) talks about our present bodies, as being like “tents”, fragile, temporary dwellings for the human Spirit on our earthly sojourn, but death is the moment when the fragile and temporary is left behind, to be clothed with a body where we may retain our individuality and suitable for an eternal existence.
Jesus is at His most explicit as John records in his Gospel, chapter 14, when He talks about “Going to prepare a place for us” and “He will come and take us to Himself”.
Drawing on common practise in His time, people travelling on a journey would employ a servant (a “dragoman”) to prepare the way, ensuring that they arrived safely and refreshed.
He talks about “many mansions” for our dwelling, but that word can simply mean “Places of refreshment” indicating that there may be further journeying after we die, for who among us will be fit to face God as we are?
In the picture that Jesus gives us, in our post-death journey, we shall not be alone, but accompanied by Him, who like the dragoman who accompanies his master, leads us towards our eternal destiny, so that we are not alone.
That is why we Christians have a responsibility to pray for our departed loved ones, who may still be journeying to “The life of the world to come”.
Through such prayer we can be linked to those for whom we pray, “whom we love, but see no longer” and to me, that is a great comfort.