Monday, 18 January 2010

Service is at the heart of all ordained ministry

New wine and new winseskins ... new curates and new parishes

Patrick Comerford

Collect (for those to be ordained):

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts,
by your Holy Spirit you have appointed
various orders of ministry in the Church:
Look with mercy on your servants now called to be
deacons and priests;
maintain them in truth and renew them in holiness,
that by word and good example they may faithfully serve you
to the glory of your name
and the benefit of your Church;
through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

I Samuel 15: 16-23; Psalm 50: 8-10, 16-17, 24; Mark 2: 18-22.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thank you for asking me for this quiet celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, with you, this evening.

The Lectionary readings for the Holy Communion today follow up on Sunday’s reading on the Wedding Feast of Cana, at which Jesus provides the perfect model of the servant ministry of a deacon at the table, more than serving the needs of all, and giving them hope in the future, not just dwelling on present needs.

But they have some good advice too for people preparing for the curacy round interviews, and who are anxious about the future.

I imagine when you first started here almost three years ago, your greatest anxiety was about the academic programme, the reading, the assignments and essays, and the exams.

Would I pass? Would I get through?

No-one told you that instead this was probably going to be the most anxious week during your time here.

You may be wondering whether you have made the right choices, asked to see the right rectors, have prepared your CV well enough, will be asked questions you can’t answer.

But this evening, just put all those questions, all those anxieties, all those worries and distractions aside. For that is what they are …. mere distractions.

For the next few days – indeed, for the next few weeks – do no be distracted, but keep before you what you are preparing for.

You are not preparing to be the best, the most outstanding, the brainiest, the most highly thought of.

You are preparing to be servants.

Even a king can be made to feel little by his own thoughts, as we see in our reading from I Samuel this evening.

You are not preparing to be kings, you are not preparing to be great in the eyes of the world.

You are preparing for that servant ministry that you believe God has called you to, and hat you are still in the process of testing and trying here. And it is to God who calls us to that servant ministry that you are first called to be obedient to.

Others may praise you for the great sacrifices you have made: the careers you have given up, the personal costs borne by you or your families … but it is your faithfulness, not to that call, but to testing that call, that matters at the moment.

In the past, there have been bitter tears and disappointment here.

But there would have been fewer tears and less disappointment if we had been more careful here about explaining that this is still a time of testing and working through your call and vocation.

And that testing and trying doesn’t end when you are ordained deacon and move into the curate’s house.

That testing, if you are patient enough, and you are open to God’s call, continues throughout ministry.

The call to priesthood in a year’s time, the call to your first incumbency, the call to move on when it’s time, perhaps even, for one or more of you, hopefully, the call to be a bishop – for you have offered yourself for ministry in the threefold ministry of deacon, priest and bishop in the Church of God.

And remember always that you are called to be servants, to wait at tables, which is what it means to be a deacon.

You always remain a deacon even when you become a priest or, perhaps, even a bishop.

Service … service of God. God’s people, and their Church … is at the heart of all ordained ministry.

The wedding banquet is always a Gospel image of the fulfilment of God’s promises in time. But the wedding banquet stories also include reminders of the need to be deacons, to serve God and God’s people at the table.

You are starting out on your ordained ministry. At the moment you are new wine, and you are being poured into new wineskins. Rejoice in that.

Whatever turns out to be at the end of the week, hopefully you will have the grace and the commonsense to accept that you are still on a journey.

In time, you will be older patches, and you will be stitched onto older garments. In other words, this is only the beginning.

Soon you will be called to serve God in other ways. But remember always that after this summer, you are always deacons. And rejoice in it, be happy in your ministry, be glad to be God’s servants, no matter what he calls you to or where he calls you to go.

And now may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
whose ascended Son gave gifts of leadership
and service to the Church:
Strengthen us who have received this holy food
to be good stewards of your manifold grace;
through him who came not be served but to serve,
and give his life as a ransom for many,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing (from the ordination of deacons):

Almighty God,
stir up in you the gifts of his grace,
sustain each one of you in your ministry;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This address and these prayers and readings were part of the Eucharist celebrated with Year III BTh students on 18 January 2010.