It is very unlikely that I will ever get to preach at an ordination again - but last week I had the immense privilege of speaking at the ordination to the Priesthood of our Curate, the Revd Kate Woolven. It is worth following the link to the lessons for the day before reading the sermon here....
Ordination Sermon – Kate Woolven
What a privilege it is to be here. Celebrating the ordination of Kate as priest within the Church of God as part of the people of God! Today is a good day, and a wonderful ocassion. Already in the weeks Kate has been with us she has proved herself to be a competent, compassionate, warm, funny, thoughtful, faithful, spiritually mature and committed minister – and I still keep being told how good her sermon was at the last Mission Community service we held! Now we share in the next stage of Kate’s journey of being and becoming who she is called to be under God. We are here to support her as Bishop Bob ordains her to the office and work of a Priest within God’s Church. Alleluia!
Kate takes on this role of priest in a changing Church that sometimes seems to be struggling with a changing world, and a changing role within that world. Yet in the midst of that change she – and we – hold on to truths that are eternal, and we continue to listen for where God, through his Holy Spirit, leads us. And in the midst of a changing world we would do well to hold on to the truths which we believe to be unchanging – the life and teaching, the death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God revealed in that story of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit of God still living and active in the Church and in the world, and in the lives of faithful people seeking the will of God.
And somewhere in all of that comes the Church. A Church which, though flawed and sometimes broken, is still loved by God. A Church which gives us a spiritual home, and from whose authority we who are called to be priests receive a calling to serve the people of God and minister to a world that cries out for the life and light of Christ.
So, what is this priestly role to which Kate is called? What is it particularly that we celebrate here this afternoon? For some idea of that we have to turn to our Scripture readings for today – taken from those suggested for any ordination service. I could speak at length to any of these passages, and got very excited reading them in preparing for this sermon, but I want to take one thing from each of them partly because I promised that this wouldn’t be a long sermon – and more importantly because all that we do here, in Kate’s ordination and in sharing bread and wine in this Holy Communion is so filled with meaning that I don’t need to layer too much on top of that!
In ordaining to the priesthood we carry on in a perhaps undefinable way the calling that Jesus gave to his disciples in the Gospels, and particularly in our reading from John’s Gospel chapter 20 that Priests proclaim peace, and forgiveness from sins. One of the great privileges of being in this ministry is the sharing of peace in the Eucharist, and being able to offer both absolution and a blessing on behalf of the Church – carrying on with sharing the breath of God in the Spirit that Jesus breathed upon his disciples. Though that breath sweeps not just through those of us called upon to be priests, but through all Christian people – but more of that in a moment.
What else particularly are we ordaining Kate to in this service? Well in my days as a university Chaplain a colleague of mine used to talk of the role of a Chaplain as ‘keeping the rumour of God alive in Academia’. But that equally applies to the everyday life of a priest. We are called to keep the rumour of God alive, sometimes to say those things which are uncomfortable and sometimes declaring the light, life and light of God against the darkness of the age. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me” says our passage from Isaiah “because the Lord has anointed me...” and the reading from Chapter 61 of the book of Isaiah goes on to talk of proclaiming good news to the oppressed, binding up the broken hearted, proclaiming liberty to to the captives and release to prisoners, comforting those who mourn and givng gladness and praise instead of mourning and ashes. But we also read that the day of vengeance of our God is proclaimed alongside the year of the Lord’s favour. The priest doesn’t always get to share good news, some of the things she or he is called to share might be difficult to say and even harder to hear. As you may have heard me say before, the Holy Spirit is the comforter of the afflicted, and afflicter of the comfortable. In prayer, study of scripture, pastoral care, sharing of the sacraments we speak out the word of God as we are bidden, and we cannot flinch from sharing the hard truths about our Church, about the true cost of taking up the cross of Christ, about the discipline that is inherent in being a disciple as we follow the way of Christ.
And there’s an uncomfortable, or potentially uncomfortable thing I think I need to say in response to the other reading of our three – that wonderful reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter four. And I hope this comes under the heading of ‘speaking the truth in love’ that Paul mentions....
The priest isn’t here to do your faith for you.
Though we celebrate Kate’s gifts and talents, and we rejoice that God has called her to this place to excercise the ministry of being a Priest and a Curate in our Mission Community. Though we hold to the ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons to serve and minister to, within and beyond the Church of God. Though we rejoice today that Kate’s journey has brought her to this place and that we in the Five Alive Mission Community get to share that and to support Kate in her ministry, even as she blesses us with all that she offers. We remember that in the Church of God no order is higher than another, that no calling is greater than another, that we are all a part of this wonderful body of Christ who have Christ alone as our head. Through our shared life in baptism we all have a vocation and ministry to serve and to share and to live and BE the Gospel.
St Paul writes ‘EACH of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ – not just the priests, or the bishops or deacons of the Church but each one of us. Even as we celebrate Kate’s calling and benefit from her leadership and service we remember that every one of us has a place within the Mission and Ministry of God’s Church. We all have our God-given gifts, we all have a part to play.
As Priest, part of Kate’s role and responsibility will be to foster and nurture the spiritual life of the people of God. This is in order that, as Paul writes, we may no longer be children. Small children, as we know, need everything done for them – but it isn’t long (and I speak from sometimes painful experience) before they are striking out, making a bid for independence and wanting to do things for themselves. So it should be in the body of Christ. Kate has her part within the body, just as all of us called to ministry and leadership have a part, but it is not her (or my, or any Priest’s) role to do Church on everyone’s behalf. As a representative of the Church she will preach, lead, preside at the Eucharist, Bless, Absolve and offer pastoral care and prayer – but it is the responsibility of all God’s people to find their gifts and offer them in the service of Christ and his people.
You may or may not be amazed to hear that I have heard the words ‘It’s good that you’ve got a Curate, another Priest, that’ll be a help to you’. In response to which I often want to say ‘actually it’s a help to you’. Kate in her priestly role is here to support the work that WE, the Church are doing, to reach out to those beyond our congregations, to live and proclaim the love of God in Christ. But she is here in partnership with each one of us as together we make up this wonderful, strange, challenging body we call the Church.
So we rejoice that God has called Kate to this work. We rejoice in the celebration of the life of this Five Alive Mission Community. And we rejoice that together we have such a great salvation to proclaim. May God join and knit us together as we are equipped for service, evangelism, worship and let us pray that we will be built up in love for the sake of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, our living head.
Bless you Kate in this ministry – in a wonderful place, with wonderful people. And God bless us all in his body, the Church.
Thanks be to God. Amen.