Bishop Robert’s ordination charge, 2019

Published: July 1, 2019

Bishop Robert This charge is built around the liturgy that will shape your ordination tomorrow and on Sunday for which you have been preparing so long.

The roots of what we do this weekend are in the scriptures and the early Church whose practice was to call Bishops and Deacons and in time priests or presbyters, to share in the Bishop’s oversight and sacramental ministry, and to ordain them by prayer and the laying on of hands, with the consent of the people. I am not going to give you a history lesson, but it is important for us to be conscious of how this weekend we take our part in the living tradition of the Church which has sought to be faithful to God’s call, as we answer that call ourselves in these coming hours.

The liturgy of ordination that we will use, shaped by these deep roots, begins by setting before the people the nature of the ministry of the whole people of God, the calling of every baptised Christian, before setting out the specific calling of the ministries to which you are to be ordained.

Deacons are heralds of the Kingdom… agents of God’s purposes of love…they serve the community in which they are set, bringing to the church the needs and the hopes of all the people, searching for the poor, the weak, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be visible.

Priests are to do all this. You don’t cease to have this diaconal character to your ministry when you are ordained priest, you do all this and more, ‘delighting in the beauty of the Church and rejoicing in its wellbeing’.

Priests are servants (deacons) and shepherds, proclaiming the word of the Lord, watching for the signs of God’s new creation, messengers, sentinels, stewards searching for God’s people in the wilderness that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Priests tell the story of God’s love, nurture the people in the faith, unfold the scriptures, preach the word in and out of season, preside at the Lord’s table, bless, encourage, intercede, minister to the sick, prepare the dying for their death, discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people….

This is a high calling that demands humility and determination which is why having reminded ourselves of the nature of what is being asked, the focus turns from the congregation to you and the declarations you must make.

We trust, I will say to you, that you are fully determined, by the grace of God, to give yourself wholly to his service that as deacons you may draw his people fully into that new life which God has prepared for those who love him and that as priests God may sanctify the lives of all with whom you have to do.

Then in order to know your mind and purpose you will be asked to make declarations that I will put to you.

They begin, rightly asking your acceptance of the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ and your commitment to be diligent in prayer.

My friends never forget this, for these things are foundational to your ministry. In a few weeks’ time you might begin to look at your diary, and your email inbox and it will be filling up with all sorts of things, visits and groups and meetings, and you will be able to say look how busy I am about God’s work, you will text your incumbent and say I can’t come to pray because I have this important meeting! But without being rooted in the scriptures and in prayer, worship, sacrament of the Eucharist, without being rooted in relationship with God, it is but dust. Our plans for the different ways in which we will exercise this ministry, in work and parish and home and school and chaplaincy, will come to nothing.

It’s hard work sometimes. Sometimes you will forget to read the scriptures, forget even to pray, but always remember in rest and returning is our salvation. Here we remain connected to the one in whom life, life in all its fullness really is to be found. Remember and return.

I know there will be nervousness and hesitation alongside anticipation as you approach this moment, but I hope there is excitement too. It is the most wonderful thing this gift of God call to be a deacon, to be a priest.

I have been at it a few years – I was so young when I was ordained that early on I was mistaken for the paper boy, which certainly put me in my place – but it remains this extraordinary privilege and gift.

Over this time from the scriptures and my prayers and the practice of ministry I have learnt more each day of the glory of the gospel that as a priest you will be asked to ‘proclaim with Christ’s people, revealed in in the love of Christ’ and that as deacons we to ‘strive to make known’ with a particular care for those in need.

The doctrine of the Christian Faith as the Church of England has received it, that you as deacons will affirm as your belief in and which as priests you will minister in word and sacrament that the people ‘committed to your charge may be defended against error’. This has, at its heart, the love of God in Jesus Christ born among us; his life and death and glorious resurrection. Never forget that. God so loved the world that he gave his Son for us.

I heard a wonderful reworking by Andy Woolf, Deputy Director of Education for the Church of England of 1 Corinthians 13 for teachers the other day and this is my adaptation for clergy.

I may speak the most wonderful crafted sermons, eloquent, doctrinally sound, with angelic prose but if I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have such power to motivate and persuade my congregation to up giving by 40% and explain the deepest mysteries of biblical exegesis and liturgical purity, and if I have all faith so as to move the pews but I do not have love I am nothing. If I do the best wedding and the most moving funeral and work 70 even 80 hours a week, and answer all my emails, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient even with those who don’t get my grand idea. Love is kind, even when kindness is hard to find. Love is not envious, because God’s love is not measured in numbers. Love is not boastful especially at clergy chapter when discussing the Christmas attendance, or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way in the PCC, it is not irritable or resentful of the next-door parish! It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, (clergy gossip, even if ‘only for your prayers’ is still gossip); love rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love, God’s love, for us never ends….

This is the love of which we have just heard in our Gospel reading, of the one who washes the disciple’s feet.

Will you deacons strive to make the love of Christ known through word and example…. Will you priests knowing yourself to be reconciled to God in Christ (through the love of the cross) strive to be an instrument of God’s peace in the church and the world.

How will you do it? Only by the help of God.

Will you live this love in your lives, to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ, to know that love for yourself and be a pattern and example to Christ’s people. Don’t neglect the people, sometimes you just have to go, there is nothing worse than arriving at a parishioner’s bed side… five minutes after they have died. But don’t neglect your own needs. I see too many clergy who don’t take their day off, or their holiday and don’t care for themselves or their family, don’t take time to visit friends.

How will you do it? Only by the help of God.

Will you do all this in fellowship with each other and accepting and ministering the discipline of this Church, giving due respect to those who exercise in authority within it.

How will you do it? Only by the help of God.

We began rightly with the scriptures which teach us all things necessary for salvation, which teach us of the love of God whose word and sacraments we are to minister.

Love, of course, does not simply mean we do what we want. To live life in all its fullness, that commitment which is at the heart of our faith and indeed our diocesan vision, we need to be obedient to God’s call, and as we come to exercise this ministry within the Church, to do so in obedience. This is profoundly liberating. A reminder that it does not depend on me. Paul, who give us a treatise on love in 1 Corinthian 13, reminds us also in the very next chapter that all things must be done decently and in order, and just so you know that when Bishops are ordained our promise is similarly to accept this discipline and also to exercise it but only with justice, courtesy, and love, always holding before us the example of Christ. There are things that your Bishops rightly expect of you, there are things you can rightly expect of us, your Bishops. You are not on your own. You belong to God and to God’s Church. Members of the college of clergy of this diocese.

The last declaration you will make brings all this together, asking if in the strength of the Holy Spirit you will continually stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit that is in you, to grow yourselves in holiness and grace and as priest to make Christ known.

How will you do it? Only by the help of God.

To know Christ’s life and love and to make it known. This is what the people ask of you.

Remember, the liturgy reminds you of the greatness of the trust in which as deacons you are to share and as priest is committed to you. Remember that ‘you cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength but only by the grace and power of God’. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged, and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then with prayer and the laying on of hands, giving thanks to God for His goodness, you will be ordained.

Through your spirit, heavenly father, we will pray, give these your servants grace and power, deacons to fulfil your ministry, priests to proclaim the gospel of salvation, may your words proclaim God’s love and your actions God’s glory, may you declare God’s blessing to God’s people and proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

Remember though he calls you by name. At the heart of the prayer, you will come one by one and with the laying on of hands we will pray ‘send down your Holy Spirit: on your servant Rosie, Susan, Andrew, Adrian….  for the office and work of a deacon or a priest in your church. At the heart of the prayer is your name. God is calling you, not some idealised deacon or priest that does not exist but you, as he called his first disciples, with all your nerves, and uncertainly and frailty and love and gifts and skills, he calls you, all of you. Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43).

It has been a privilege to share these days with you. It will be a privilege in these coming two days to preside at your ordination. It will be a privilege to share in the ministry of the Church with you in the years to come.

Be assured my prayer is and will be for you, and please remember me and Bishop Rachel and all your Bishops in your prayers.

 

God bless you.

+Robert Tewkesbury

June 2019

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