Robert Hinsley starts his new ministry as Rector of the South West Ipswich Team Ministry


John 4.7-15

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)* Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water.’

It’s wonderful to be here, and to be part of great group of churches and ministers welcoming a new Rector for their team, who will also be Vicar for St Mary’s here. Thank you all for coming, and thank you Robert for coming: we couldn’t be doing it without you. It’s worth raising  a glass or two to, and we’re all looking forward to doing that after the service and getting to know you a bit more.

So cheers! But, I wonder how many of us are running on dry? That’s not just a comment on how it must feel at end of a long interregnum, though I bet it does: and thank you so much for all you’ve been doing. Every one of you. 

No, I was making a comment on life, how life is for most of us most of the time. Jesus is in the business of turning water into wine, offering new lives for old and healing for our hearts, but our knees still hurt and our work and our families still worry us silly, and that’s before anyone has mentioned the parish share or the state of the roof – or roofs as you have here.

One of paradoxes of modern life is that overall we are better off than ever, with more stuff, and better healthcare and living until we’re 200: but we’re dry, we’re full of worry and stress: we’re dying of life.

Which is of course precisely why Jesus is turning the water into wine, offering living water from a well that will never run dry. Life Mark 2 we could call it. And  what becomes clear quite soon is that it is the people who are most on their uppers and most on the edge who “get it” most.

So in tonight’s reading there’s a Samaritan women, a descendant of foreigners bussed into Israel in the time of Sennacherib centuries ago, who took on Judaism but kept their old gods too – it’s all there in the Bible – and they aren’t, well, they just aren’t clean, are they? Or that’s what the good Jews of the south felt.  But bold as brass this Samaritan woman takes on Jesus and he opens up a new life for her. And the whole community starts to come to faith too. It was amazing, and I can remember so clearly when I was working myself in a big housing estate parish just how much I longed for the water to flow like that there too.

What the story teaches us is that it all begins with one of us, and the new life spreads one by one, and it’s often the least likely ones first who get it first. So a real question is how long it will take those of us who like to think of ourselves as entirely more respectable to get it too.

When we do get it, things start to happen.I think you know that. I think you want that. And I think you’ve seen it happen. But I’m not sure all you have quite dared to say yes: yet… Robert may have ideas about that. He chose the reading, and though I don’t know just what his reasons were, I think I need to say – watch out for the water.

But, Robert, you watch out too. Being a vicar these days is a killer of a job. You too will be dry before you know it. Just listen to the list of things you’ve got to be.

Experienced in working in an urban environment; multi-cultural; a creative person with a sense of vision

An effective enabler of lay Ministry; a team player; with good collaborative leadership skills; good communication skills; interpersonal Skills; and a sense of humour; approachable;  adaptable to different styles of worship; collaborative ; patient and always understanding

A person of prayer;  an experienced & gifted Parish Priest, a person with authority

God help you! But with God’s help, precisely, you can do it.

As long as you are first in the queue for the water.

The clue is actually hidden there in that long list. But we have to look for it.

First in the list there was that exciting but scary and exhausting bit about being an urban animal, at home on the street, fluent in Punjabi, full of vision and creativity. I love it. The church is here to make a difference, to see the whole of society transformed. That’s the point. And as I hinted earlier I’ve been there. I’ve been an urban team rector and picked people up off the pavement dead on Easter Monday morning, cleaned up after the tramps and druggies, been the only professional on the estate and a godparent to kids going into care. And I’ve been shattered. So tired I couldn’t go on.

And what then? Well then you discover that you’re not alone. You fall back on your friends. They drive you off to somewhere to rest and be healed. They pray with you and share the work with you. They’re amazing. They’re amazing here too. They will find ministries in them that they never suspected. They’re stars.

They’re there for you. But you’ll be there for them as well. Night and day.  All that stuff about enabling lay ministry, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and patience is there for a reason and the reason is they need you: there with them and for them. And it can be overwhelming.

So what then?

Well then, quietly hiding in amongst all the big words and the noisy words is that little phrase “person of prayer”, a priest for the parish with authority, and not the shallow authority you put on like clothes in the morning, but the deep authority that comes to you from inside out, from God, from prayer. The living  water. It’s time for a drink.

It’s time for a drink. Yes you heard it right. The bishop says its time for a party. But a party with a purpose. Get drinking. Get drinking the water of eternal life. Open up to it now. All of you. Why wait any longer. The feast has begun, and the well is deep. It’s time to drink.