What a joy it is for me to preach on this great occasion. Alison was ordained a priest yesterday at Leeds Minster and this morning for the first time to use some words from that service she is presiding ‘at the Lord’s table’ and leading us in worship.
She has already declared ‘in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of our sins and at the end of the service she will ‘bless the people in God’s name.’
This is the stuff of priesthood, forgiveness, presiding at the Eucharist and blessing. So though Alison looks the same something has changed, she is a priest. Thanks be to God.
I was ordained a priest in 2004 and I’m still trying to work out what it’s all about. For whilst we can read something of what being a priest means in our service book, the ordinal, that’s just part of the story.
One thing I’ve learned is that a priest is called to be, as well as to do. So in these words I want to think a bit about being and doing, what is it to be a priest and how in some way that shapes what a priest does.
As people we tend to define ourselves by what we do, or what we have done. I was a nurse or I work at the bank. When it comes to the training of curates, the church is interested in what they do too.
So over the last year Alison has had to keep to keep a book filled with things she has done and though it may have been a little tiresome at times, it’s been a helpful way of making sure she has gained lots of competences or skills and experience.
And whilst this is important, the last thing the church needs in 2017 is incompetent priests, nor do we want priests who are idle and don’t do anything. There is also something important about rejoicing in simply being a priest.
Part of what priests give to the communities they serve is availability. Our sense of being here to take the time and just be with those whom we are given. To laugh. To cry. To have a brew.
Of course that’s not exclusive to priests, Alison has done this so well in her diaconal year, but it is perhaps more tempting for priests to be seduced by our many important tasks.
And so today I want to encourage Alison to remember that the world doesn’t need busy priests so much as priests content to be.
It’s a tragedy when priests are so busy that they have no time to spend time with those in their care. “I’m too busy” is sometimes heard and though that’s how things can sometimes feel, we need never lose sight how important it is to be.
Be with God in times of quiet and prayer.
Be with God in times of rest and refreshment.
And be with God as we spend time with those with whom we live, not wishing we were somewhere else.
I’m always rather uncomfortable when the parable of the Good Samaritan is told. For I know how tempting it is to walk by on the other side, to want to be somewhere else. Maybe going off to some important church meeting about how to care for those in need rather than being with those we are given whatever their need.
Priests are called to be there. This being there isn’t just about words but about presence, about making Christ known through our being in Whitkirk and Colton being visible in the community we serve.
Just walking around, taking the time to say hello to those whom we meet and being available to them. Priests should be an intriguing sight in our community, a mystery to some, but a physical reminder of the God who is always interested in our lives, and loves us all.
That can be hard, for sometimes the high expectations and demands of our work pull us in several directions at once. We can feel inadequate under the weight of expectation.
When that happens to me though, I try to remember that I don’t think Jesus, who we talk of as being our great high priest would’ve been thought of as being good priest. He wasted far too much time being with strange people and always going off praying – what use was that?
So a priest is someone who should try to resist the temptation to define themselves solely by whether we have done this or that, measure our effectiveness by outcomes and competences and instead trying to inhabit a life in which we take being seriously.
So always remember Alison that to be a priest isn’t just about having more responsibility and authority but about the freedom to be.
What then about the doing, and especially the stuff she can now do as a priest the absolving, the blessing, the presiding at the Holy Eucharist. How does this doing relate to the being?
I’ve come to learn that these outward signs of priesthood grow most authentically out of our being in a place. So whilst Alison was yesterday ordained a priest in the church of God, in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, priesthood is worked out and lived in the local community of faith in which she lives and works.
It’s what she spoke of in her sermon last week and as a deacon she has baptised those coming to faith. She has taken funerals. As a priest though she’s been given the authority to do more, and later this week she will lead her first wedding, as Jack and Rachel marry here.
Today though we share her joy as she presides over this Holy Eucharist for the first time. This presiding though isn’t just about saying words, but about doing things that bring the words to life.
A little later on, she will opens her arms for the Eucharistic Prayer. This gesture invites us to ponder the open arms of God seen in Jesus, who as our Eucharistic prayer today puts it ‘opened wide his arms for us on the cross’.
It’s a gesture of invitation too for all are welcome at this table. But in some way it also represents how a priest is called to embrace the stories of those whom they serve.
The priest stands behind the altar, as an icon both of the one who came amongst us and shared our life but also representing each one of us, and of how as our stories are weaved with his we are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see.
Over the years, time and again I have been aware that the struggles and joys of parish life are mysteriously gathered up and offered at every Eucharist. And as they’re offered something happens as we are transformed able to live ‘in newness of life’ to pick up some words from our Epistle this morning.
Alison is walking in her own newness of life this morning. She is a new priest, presiding at this Holy Eucharist for the first time.
I hope and pray that these words written with her in mind about how being and doing are weaved together in the life of a priest might in some way be helpful to her, as she learns, grows and works out for herself what it is to be a priest.
Beloved Alison, May God richly bless your life and ministry, now and always.