What should I write about Sunday's licensing service?
Above all that the church was full of loved and loving people.
My St Mary's family were there to hand me on to the care and companionship of my new communities while those two communities extended a warm welcome in word, symbol and smile. Friends and family surrounded me with prayers and support (and I'm so thankful for those who prayed in very different and distant places as this new chapter began) and clergy colleagues from my new deanery stood beside dear friends who've shared this whole journey with me. Again and again the Bishop reminded us all of why we were there, why the church is there at all
“Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
- both words and response getting louder as the service progressed and our combined confidence grew “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
The first part of the service seemed almost overwhelming in its weightiness, so that there was no doubt that the answer to a long series of episcopal questions could only be
“With the help of God I will”
but then, much like the ordination service itself, that help became tangible. I knelt in front of the Bishop while around me everyone sang
“O thou who camest from above...” with its wonderful words that said so much that I was feeling
“Jesus confirm my heart's desire To work and speak and think for thee Still let me guard the holy fire And still stir up thy gifts in me”
In an echo of the ordination my hands were anointed, as a reminder that come what may I am a priest, called and graced for a task I couldn't attempt alone, but won't ever need to.
To my surprise, as the Bishop handed me my licence and invited me to
“Receive this cure of souls that is both yours and mine” I found myself smiling...Perhaps after all this wasn't an alarming burden (as it had seemed as the slow anxious morning had unrolled) but a privilege and a joy. I was settled into my new stall, together we prayed and a wonderful range of people from the community welcomed me (including, to my joy, some children from St Matthew's Primary School) . Then suddenly we seemed to have reached the Offertory, and my “desert island” hymn, Wesley's great
“And can it be?”
Once again the words were just what I needed to sing
“No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine...”
Wonderful words, wonderful singing
Next members of my new congregations came forward bearing symbols of the ministry ahead...water, oil, Bible and Prayer Book, bread and wine...and invited me to share in the life of those churches. The official responses once again said all that I would have struggled to articulate
" Together, by God's grace, we will grow in our faith and discipleship...Together by God's grace,we will be a Christ-like community of love...Together, by God's grace, we will tell the good news of Christ to the world...Together, by God's grace, we will worship him in spirit and in truth...Together by God's grace, we will seek to be the living body of Christ...
I pledge myself to care for the community that gathers here, to share with them the Word of God and the work of ministry, to celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenantand to encourage them in their discipleship. Together may we make this a place where Christian people are equipped for their life and witness in God's world."
The Blessing and another hymn and we proceeded to the west end, where the beautiful glass doors (pictures to come, I promise) showed snowflakes swirling against the dark green of the yews outside. This only increased the slight feeling of unreality, of being outside time in a space apart as I rang the bell to confirm to the world that I had indeed arrived and a new adventure was beginning for us all.
Finally I was taken to the south door and reminded to seek God outside the church too, and to work to love and serve the whole community for God's sake. I opened the door wide and invited the whole congregation to share God's mission for this place
“Go in the power of Christ. We have a gospel to proclaim! Go in the peace of Christ. Thanks be to God!”
For the moment, I know that much of my time will be taken up with learning how these church families proclaim that gospel through worship and the minute complexities of their internal life, but I have, please God, the time I need to learn these communities right through. I know I can't do everything by Thursday week (and promise not to try to, at least not all the time), but I can and will be here, trying to live out the all that lies behind the impossibly wonderful Anglican vision of the parish, the recognition that this is God's world and that God is completely involved in all of it.
Jesus has already gone before me into Cainscross and Selsley...There I will see him, as he has promised as I grow into an understanding of these places in all their aspects, and try to serve them as best I can.