Just when I thought I was back in Ely, I seem to have found myself surrounded by a sea of blue-scarved Ipswich supporters. It’s very confusing! In reality, it is of course a real joy to be back on this side of the border, and back amongst friends – so many faces I know, and so many names I still remember, though please do prompt me if I look even more vacant than usual.
Back too with a renewed brief to do most of the bishopping on behalf of Stephen and myself for lay ministers, and not least alongside our first LLM Warden of Readers, Steve Mashford, for this honourable company, who really ought to have their own Livery Guild by now.
Today we are admitting and licensing three new Readers – Ann, Andrew and Pat, whose vocation and ministry celebrate, and in the context of both a wonderful inheritance of long service by those who have gone before them, especially those who will receive their awards today, and also of significantly increased numbers of new people starting training now who we will be welcoming in the future. Whatever the future of the Church of England in these interesting times, licensed lay ministry is clearly going to be part of it round here.
What we do know about the future, even if its organisational and institutional shape is living through a time of change, is that its own vocation and ministry remains unchanged. The words that begin our Diocesan Vision statement may be newly crafted, but their sentiment is as it has always been: we pray to be generous and visible people of Jesus Christ. And LLMs, who give so generously of their time and talents for a very visible public ministry, are part of our response to that prayer.
When St Paul wrote to the young Christians in Rome, church looked very different from how it looks now, but the calling was the same, on it as a body and on its ministers and members as individuals. He calls them to a generous life of self-giving not self-getting, which he daringly calls a living sacrifice – or lively sacrifice as those of us who were brought up on the Prayer Book remember it and which captures the sense even more richly, because we know that to give is to receive, and that the more we are generous to others, the more we are a people fully alive ourselves. This, Paul sees, is the real heart of worship: not the hymns or even the words of the prayers, but the hearts opened and offered in service to God.
Our fallen nature means that this does not come naturally to us. The Fall of Volkswagen has been all over the news this last fortnight, as the fragility of even apparently admirable human operations is exposed. It is so very east to become conformed to the way of the world. So we need to work at our transformation, at being not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. And that of course is just what Ann and Andrew and Pat have been doing during the long years of their training. Not just picking up a few useful skills, but soaking themselves in the scriptures, in prayer, in the wisdom of those who have gone before us, the three-stranded rope of the Anglican tradition which becomes our ladder to heaven. If all has gone well their character will slowly and sometimes strikingly have been stamped afresh with the image of Christ, like a coin fresh minted, gaining new worth and usefulness, new currency. It is a personal transformation in fact from which no Christian in fact can stand apart. We need to come to Christ and be formed afresh by him, or there is no life in us.
When we do come to Christ though, are conformed to him, then Paul teaches us that we start to see and understand, to discern what the will of God for us is, a will that is always good and for the good – and what other could we want. We start to share in the prayer of Jesus that God’s will might be done, and that prayer becomes our mandate and our marching order for our mission and ministry. Continue reading