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Thought for the week - 25 July

I have been very moved by the messages of support following my homily (and thought for the week) last weekend. Bless you. Looking at the Gospel for this week it is tempting to say that despite all the plaudits and warm wishes, I certainly can’t live up to the example of Jesus! I sometimes read the ‘job descriptions for clergy posts advertised in the Church Times. I have not yet seen one which asks for a priest who can feed five thousand or walk on water – but some come pretty close!

But I have been thinking – and I ask you to think too. What do you actually need and expect of your parish priest? I wonder too if you have any idea what a parish priest does each week! Most people would be able to list some of the tasks of course – but few could come up with anything like a full list. And in any case, is priestly ministry all about ‘jobs done’ even if those ‘jobs’ include celebrating the sacraments etc.

Another way of thinking about this is to ask what you think should for the syllabus for a ministerial training course?

There is a kind of job description for a priest – it is to be found in the Ordination rite. It goes like this:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow-ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

It continues

In the name of our Lord, we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged, and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.
Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Whew! Did I really sign up for all that!? How does all that strike you?

I guess most of you would be comfortable with all that – except of course if your priest should admonish you or call you to repentance!

It is quite a list isn’t it! Of course, I like every priest am better and more faithful at some bits than others. Priests are human beings after all with different sets of skills, likes and dislikes, different failings too!

At the time when a new priest is inducted into a parish, all that above is pretty much repeated – but there is another element too. In response, the people are asked to reciprocate and each to play their part in supporting their priest. That support is both practical and spiritual – not least the people promise to pray for their priest – and I hope and trust that you do.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus shows just what his ministry is about. He is to teach, to feed and to care. But he does that in partnership with his disciples who gather to listen and who bring to him what resources they have – they give him everything they can find, every resource they have.

Notice too – the disciples do not think only about themselves – they are prompted by the needs of the crowd. We must be very careful indeed to think not just about those who happen to attend our services. How shall we attend to the wider community we are called to serve?

I turn the table on you now! What do each of you as individuals think you need to do to support your priest in the care of the parish? What practical tasks do you fulfil? How much do YOU as an individual contribute to the life of S. Stephen’s? Notice I am saying in you – you as an individual.

I don’t take back one word of what I said last week about passengers, and them being welcome. We all need time as passengers. But what of our WORKING partnership in the Gospel?

How do you feel about our partnership here? That is the subject we must return to over the weeks and months ahead as we begin to climb out of the pandemic which has caused us all to stand back and think.

In our life together in Christ we like everyone else, must think about and work at what our ‘new normal’ might mean.

Fr Andrew


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