On Sunday the 1st October I celebrated the 35th anniversary of my ordination as a priest. I also decided that was a good pointmot step down from leading public worship. Several people have asked for copies of my sermon so here it is.
Philippians 2 v 5-8
Today feels a bit like retirement as I look back over 35 years of ministry as a priest, but, of course, it isn’t. Proper retirement happened nearly 19 years ago, but because priesthood is about who I am, I will be a priest for the rest of my life.
And so, today, I want to think about how being a Priest has changed me, and possibly others, over the years, and I want to try and create a vision of what the Christian Faith, the faith within which I have exercised my priesthood, will look like in the future.
I was ordained a priest in 1982 and for a few years prior to that, I had harboured doubts about that which, all my life, I had been told were the unchanging and unchangeable beliefs of Christians. I was fortunate to spend 3 years with tutors who shared the doubts, and I was encouraged to continue on my journey and see where it led me. My tutors viewed doubts, not as negative, but positive contributions to critical study. To question, to search, to examine critically, leads to a strengthening of faith, even when that faith appears to be shaking in its foundations.
Those words from Paul to the Church in Philippi just happen to be today’s New Testament reading . They are words of hope for the future. Jesus had a human mind because he was fully human, and his love was freely given to those he met, a love which was so powerful that it survived death and touches us today through what Christians call resurrection. I found fulfilment in my ministry, because it hasn’t been about beliefs or dogma, but about relationships with individuals and communities.’
In Parish News this month I wrote ‘ a priest is someone who leads his or her parishioners on their journey of faith, and points them towards the mystery of God.’
Important in my faith development has been the interaction with other faith communities where we have explored places where our values and concerns meet. And those places are many. In my last parish we established a link with a mosque, and the Iman and a group from his congregation cane to our midnight mass. Coming to Gainford I discovered there were Buddhists who have many values and beliefs we can share, and pathways of prayer that can bring us together .
It is tantalising that we really know very little about Jesus . We do know he saw himself as a servant, he humbled himself. In him, we see a perfect picture of God, a unique vision, so I can call Jesus ‘Lord’. Over the past 35 years I have been searching for ways of articulating the impact he has had on me and on others who have placed him at the centre of their lives
Bishop John Spong has written I am a Christian believer. I don’t define God as a supernatural deity who can help a nation win a war, intervene to cure a loved one’s sickness, or affect the weather for another’s benefit. I can’t believe that these things are possible when everyone I know about the natural order of the world proclaims they are not!’
Our understanding of who God is and what he can do are bound in the past and tend to ignore the tremendous leaps in scientific and psychological knowledge. To continue as though these never happened, and without taking them into account will result in the Church becoming even more irrelevant to people.
Canadian priest, Gretta Vosper wrote ‘“The future of any discipline does not survive wrapped in the trappings of the past; it can come about only when the carapace is cracked and something new, related to but distinct from what went before, is freed and allowed to thrive.”
My faith is nurtured by friends:Christian friends, friends of other faiths and friends with no religious faith. It is nurtured by reading the scriptures, true in the sense that they reflect the beliefs of generations of believers, even if not the literal truth. It is nurtured by worshipping with others with forms of prayer that reflect my needs and values.
The Buddha wrote ‘Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
I thank God for the last 35 years. But it’s time I stepped down from leading public worship, and take my place beside Kathy in the congregation. That I will do as from tomorrow, and as I do so, I wish Eileen and Frances the same fulfilment that I have had.
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend. (Albert Camus)