Dean John’s thought for the week on his 30th anniversary of priesting

July 1, 2020
July 1, 2020 Joe

This period in the church’s year is known as Peter-tide; the days around the feast of St. Peter the Apostle which was on Monday. Usually, this would be a season for ordinations – when people having completed their theological preparation for ministry are made deacon, and then mostly, usually a year later, ordained priest. And they will all have had the experience of chatting with people who could only make sense of what they were doing by seeing them as vicars in the making.  

I was delighted when a wonderful priest and scholar in the north east, Alan Bartlett, wrote a book last year celebrating the role of the Church of England vicar and his or her parish ministry; the priest and the parish church ‘matters to England itself’, he claimed. Amen to that! And in thousands of communities over recent months we have been reminded of the truth of this by much imaginative and responsive ministry.  

Yet we are all now beginning to consider what the church and its ministry will look like after our prolonged experience of living with the COVID-19 threat. What have we learned and discovered during the disruption of lockdown? What have we discovered about how the church can be? How it needs to be to meet the needs of individuals and communities? What have we discerned about the nature of God and his calling of us? 

Every person is called by God to become the best person he or she can be, to discover and embrace life in its fullness – freed from external inequality and injustice that might prevent that, encouraged to overcome the internal forces of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence that would hold them back. Every human has this vocation, and every baptised person is called to respond within the life of the church. And yes, we thank God when some respond to God’s call to be ordained. 

The delay of this year’s ordinations by a few months hardly seems significant when we consider the difficulties being endured by health workers, and school children and students, and those who face the reality or threat of unemployment, and couples having to postpone weddings… and so on. But it’s easy for me to say that, my ordination to the priesthood by Bishop David Jenkins in Durham Cathedral thirty years ago today, all went to plan. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if such a significant step had been delayed. So, I do feel sorry for this year’s ordinands, 

And yet, life always delivers its ups and downs; it is full of surprises – some welcome, some not. The key for all of us is to discern God’s calling and blessing in every situation.

St. Peter responded to Christ’s call to follow him. He left his fishing net behind them. He could not have imagined where his vocation would lead. Peter became a bit of a spokesperson for the disciples and bravely said that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God. He was equally as brave when he told Jesus he should never suffer, and was reprimanded for doing so – ‘get thee behind me Satan.’ There was less bravery about when he was challenged after Jesus’s arrest, despite his assurances that he would never deny his friend and master. He did! And the cock crowed, as Jesus had warned. Where was his vocation now? In tatters in the face of this catastrophic disruption of his planned apostolic career? It was to be discerned more fully – in the confusing mix of disruptive tragedy, disappointment and elation – when the risen Christ commissioned him to feed his sheep. This was a high calling, and showed that he, Jesus Christ, had more confidence in Peter than he himself had at that point. Peter would share the gospel with many communities, small and great, even to Rome. How could that young fisherman on the shores of Galilee ever have foreseen that? 

So, as we celebrate Peter, one of the patrons of this cathedral; we remember those whose ordinations have been postponed due the disruption of the Coivd-19 pandemic; we give thanks for all who are exercising ordained ministry in local churches and communities; and we praise God for our own calling, praying that we might discern how God continues to call us anew in all the ups and downs of life.  

Almighty God,
Who inspired your apostle St. Peter
To confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
Build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reign s with you,
in the unity of the holy spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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