The Visitation and an Anniversary

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. It also happens to be the anniversary of me coming to St Mary’s 8 years ago.

Those who were around then will remember that my ministry started here with a hugely exciting service of induction and installation. I had to be made the Rector and I had to be put in my stall as the Provost. It was one of those services where we threw just about every liturgical trick in the book at it and it worked.

To be honest, I find most induction services rather dull. We’ve got into the habit of using miserable liturgies for induction services in which there is a central drama of people putting gifts into the new priest’s hands to symbolise all that they are getting by coming to their new job. I hate it and tried to keep it to a minimum when it was my turn here. In particular, I refused to receive the keys of the church – one of the most silly symbols the church has ever invented, in my view.

I remember saying at one point in the planning of the service, “Well, you can put the keys on a nice velvet cushion and process them up the aisle and bring them to me and bow deeply and offer them to me and I’ll still say ‘No, I am not receiving these keys'”. In the end they never appeared and I didn’t have to publicly say no to them.

The giving of gifts symbolises things that I’m not comfortable with at all. It is an enactment of a system of power that exists in congregations which is very far from being healthy. (It is also a little bit of liturgy that doesn’t have a great deal of history to it).

When someone becomes a Rector in a congregation, they find themselves given a load of power right at the beginning. And right from the beginning, their success, or otherwise, will be marked by how they chose to retain that power, give it away or share it.

The appropriate letting go of power is one of the great themes of Christian ministry but one that is very rarely discussed when clergy are being trained.

I find myself now, knowing less about what is going on at St Mary’s than once I did. You have to learn to trust people and let go.

As it happens, I’m off sick for this anniversary and the church is coping without me. I wish I was around this weekend as I’d have enjoyed celebrating an anniversary mass this morning and would rather be worshipping at St Mary’s on a Sunday than anywhere else in the world. (We give ourselves permission to be excited by the worship in St Mary’s – when we are on form, the worship is allowed to be as interesting, moving, funny and passionate as it should be).

However, even though I’m not there, I’ve every confidence that all will be well without me.

Once upon a time, I’m not sure that would have been so. I’d have been off sick and still worrying about the place.

Looking back, there have been wonderful high points since coming here eight years ago. I think that the church is a happier place than it was then too. And I never think happiness should be dismissed. It matters rather a lot.

I’m happy here at St Mary’s too.

Eight glorious years.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon for Kimberly's Induction

I had an out of town preaching gig last night in Dunblane, where I was preaching for the induction of the Rev Kimberly Bohan as she took up her post as Rector of St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dunblane.

Blogging coverage of the service itself (from Rosemary, I think) is here. And here from Bishop David.

It was a lovely service with more faces than I expected to recognise – people from St Mary’s, clergy from the diocese of Dunblane, St Andrews and Dunkeld, people who used to deliver my political leaflets and folk from St Saviour’s, Bridge of Allan. All in all a treat all round. (NB some of those categories overlap).

And this is what I said:
The story is this. A young woman gathers herself up and takes herself off at some speed for a town in the hill-country. There she finds a safe and secure place to be. There she finds a place where she can sing her own special song.

The young woman Mary flew as fast as she could to the sanctuary of her cousin Elizabeth�s home in the gentle Judean hill-country. There she abided awhile and there she sang the song, the Magnificat, a hymn of praise, a hymn of justice, a hymn of putting the world to rights and a hymn that Christians find is just too good to stop singing.

And tonight we seem to be celebrating a remarkably similar event. [Read more…]