+ ‘Guard the good treasure given to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us’
It’s unusual for a priest to preach at the start of his new ministry, it’s usually the Bishop or Dean, but what is starting today is an unusual ministry that doesn’t quite fit established patterns so Bishop John thought I should explain what’s going on (I think I know… in all the discussions it has felt a bit like making it up as we go along, but I have had a strong feeling that the Holy Spirit has been leading us). Basically, and it will be made clear from all the stuff that follows this sermon, I’m being put in as Priest in Charge of St Salvador’s in succession to my friend Andrew Bain. So far, so normal.
But I am remaining Rector of Holy Cross, Davidson’s Mains. Again it is not unusual for a priest to lead two Churches. Today Bishop John also licenses Br Joseph Emmanuel as assistant priest, the first Franciscan to be licensed for ministry in Scotland for a few decades. Today we welcome Ross as curate to these two Churches & it was a joy for some of us to be at his ordination last Sunday. It is with the mention of Ross that things starts to get unusual, really weird.
Ross has been training for ordination here as a ‘mixed mode’ student for a few years – this is a new way of formation for clergy where they learn ‘on the job’. It’s very rare for a full-time curate to be ordained to the church where they have ministered as a lay person, though this is also true of Br Joe (I’m glad to be joining a community of exceptions). So it’s the same Ross, but he’s different. Ordination is a real change.
In the last few years, under the exceptional leadership of Andrew Bain, St Salvador’s has seen some remarkable growth. Holy Cross has also grown in recent years and so our aim is to ‘Guard the good treasure given to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us’. This is not a joining of Churches caused by decline but by growth. St Salvador’s and Holy Cross are rooting themselves as Christian congregations in their own local communities, so they will remain distinct Churches with their own Vestries but sharing a clergy team of me, Ross & Joe. While I will have overall responsibility for leading both churches, I will be mainly at Holy Cross and Ross and Br Joe mainly at St Salvador’s. It is good for each community to have clearly visible local clergy, but I do intend to take my responsibilities as priest in charge of St Salvador’s seriously, I look forward to getting to know you, and I will be around regularly.
The ministry team will also include people who are already doing great work in one of the Churches, the Lay Readers Amanda and Jenny with Fr Mariusz here and Izzy as children’s minister at Holy Cross. I first came here for Mariusz’s licensing and thought it was a special, holy place with a great congregation, something also said by our former bishop, Richard Holloway. [Richard responds and talks about his love for St Salvador’s & being encouraged seeing the spire of St Salvador’s each time he took the train as a boy to go to Kelham to train as a priest]
That’s roughly what is going on today but what of these words of St Paul I’ve repeated twice, written just before his martyrdom in Rome to his young disciple Timothy, ‘Guard the good treasure given to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.’ Through my contact with Andrew, I have seen the Holy Spirit active here at St Salvador’s over the past few years. In the food bank & in new people finding a spiritual home and experiencing God’s love in Christ in this place. A common saying is ‘find out what the Holy Spirit is doing and join in’. I hope to do that here – I don’t believe in great plans and mission strategies, God has a way of laughing at them, but I want to help us continue to grow and develop in the light of what the Spirit is already doing here.
Two other sayings in the Church are ‘be careful of what you pray for’ and ‘flee from Bishops’. In June last year, as covid restrictions loosened, I did a novena, nine days of prayer leading up to St Columba’s day, asking what I should do to help Holy Cross flourish post-covid. It’s not a type of prayer I usually do, but on the last day I finished my prayers, went downstairs to my study and the phone rang. It was Bishop John. ‘Stephen, how would you like to become priest in charge of St Salvador’s and Ross’s training incumbent for his curacy?’ You can imagine the sort of things which went through my mind, but I said yes and here I am.
As I stand here I am certain I can’t do this alone, I need God’s help. I am glad of the support of the other clergy and ministers but ministry is not just a thing for the ordained, it is something we all do. Let’s pray for each other and may we all say what Jesus says of all Christians in today’s gospel, ‘we’ve just done our duty’. One unique thing in the other reading is the mention of Timothy’s grandmother, Lois. Grannies are great, are there grannies here? – you know the song ‘You cannae shove yer granny aff a bus’ [Sing. Richard Holloway points out the song teaches you CAN shove yer other granny aff a bus, just not your mammie’s mammie]. Paul’s mention of Granny Lois reminds us that we live in tradition. Christian tradition is not preserving ashes but handing on the fire of faith. Timothy’s mother & grannie were important in his own faith journey, as was Paul who ordained him by prayer and laying on of hands, just as Bishop John did to Ross last week. We live within Christian tradition.
I am aware I am entering into a tradition here at St Salvador’s, the Anglican Catholic tradition of Scottish Episcopalianism. It’s one that is close to religious life, hence it is so good to have Br Joe with us. ‘Guard the good treasure given to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.’ The good treasure is our faith in Christ and it doesn’t exist in the abstract, wherever we come from we receive it here in this Catholic tradition, but it is an open and inclusive tradition, ready to respond to the promptings of the Spirit. As we start this new stage in the life of our church here in Stenhouse, let us stand together in Christ, in this tradition and go forward together listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
- a written text is often adapted in preaching and some of the adaptations and interjections have been added here. I would also like to thank the folk of St Salvador’s for such a fantastic welcome. SMH