Last Sunday, on the 29th November 2009, our Parish Deacon was Ordained Priest. It was a wonderful occasion and I shared this message.
The Ordination of Delfina Trail – 29th November 2009
The sermon – the Reverend Canon Cameron Venables
We gather in this Cathedral as part of the Anglican Diocese of Rockhampton. This Diocese covers a huge area for if you drive West for fourteen hours you’ll come to a place called Boulia, and you’ll still be in this Diocese. At our Diocesan Synod this year we were told that we cover a land area twice the size of New Zealand – ‘though we have less sheep and more cattle! However, though we are big in geographical area – we are small in population, and our communities are scattered.
Because we are small in number we do not often have Ordinations – indeed this is only the fourth Ordination in six years. Consequently, it would have been tempting for Bishop Godfrey to take the retreat, and preach for Delfina’s Ordination. It is a blessing for us to have a spiritual leader who shares the good things as well as the difficult things, and I thank him for his generousity in giving me the opportunity to do these things.
We have gathered this night from places near and far. It is wonderful to see some of Delfina’s family and friends who have travelled from North Queensland Diocese – particularly the communities of Home Hill and Townsville. I see friends who have travelled from Brisbane Diocese, and from different parts of this Central Queensland Region. More than this, I see friends from different parts of the world. It is so good to see friends from the growing Congolese community in Rockhampton that Delfina has come to know in the last three months. It is good to see friends from Botswana, Zimbabwe, and the Sudan – for they are a visible reminder that we belong to the world-wide Body of Christ.
It is good to see friends from different Christian denominations here tonight: from the Roman Catholic church, the Baptist church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, some Pentecostal Churches and the Anglican Church.
It is good to see people of different generations here: from those who are only a few years old to those who have retired… and those who are much older than that.
Clearly there is something significant taking place tonight, and it is worth celebrating. A woman called Delfina is being Ordained a Priest. It is fantastic… what does it mean?
To help explore this question we have some story and direction from the wisdom writing of our faith.
In the Gospel of Luke we are told that Jesus, recognizing the need for help, called some people who were already busy doing something else. The ones that we heard about tonight were fishermen, and we particularly remember Andrew….
In preparing for this night I’ve read some interesting stuff about the fisherman called Andrew, who became Saint Andrew. I’ve read about his travels, the legends that have grown up around him, and even stories of his bones being moved from place to place! Because we are remembering someone who lived two thousand years ago it is hard to get a clear picture, but I offer some highlights. Andrew apparently travelled from his homeland to preach and encourage Christian communities in the countries we now know as the Ukraine, Russia, Rumania, and Turkey. He is therefore a very significant saint in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches…
Saint Andrew’s much later association with Scotland and the Celtic Church did not develop until after the Council of Whitby in the seventh century, and it becomes a bit blurred in the church politics of that time. Consequently, my mother who comes from Scotland, may need counseling when I share this news with her! Andrew remains the patron Saint of those who fish, those who sell fish, those who make rope, those who sing and those who perform.
Delfina has responded to Christ and I would suggest that her primary vocation is the same vocation for all who are baptized, including all of us. Her primary vocation, our primary vocation, is to follow Christ, and in the following become Christ-like. That is not to say we are to grow long hair and wear sandals – it is rather to say that we are live in relationship with God as he did. We are to recognize those who are excluded in the world and respond to them, and we are to live and love with generousity and creativity – as he did.
Delfina is already a Deacon, and in midst of this service will become a Priest, so it’s worth thinking about the difference between these two vocations and their roles in the life of the church. There has been much literature written about this and it appears there is no single understanding about either role. Broadly speaking the Deacons role is often understood as a serving role which forms an interface between the worshipping community and the wider community. Bishop Godfrey has sometimes referred to this as a boundary rider role. In comparison a Priest is theoretically to spend most of their time gathering the church community while equipping them to share faith with the wider community.
I think in reality the roles are not so clearly defined. Hopefully all Priests never forget that they were first called to be Deacon, and that a serving / relating with the wider community role is still part of their ministry to a greater or lesser extent. But there is something that Priests are authorized to do which Deacons are not allowed to do. A Priest can preside at the Eucharist, which is also known as Holy Communion.
In this action the Priest is able to affirm to the gathered people that God meets us in the ordinary and extraordinary things of bread and wine… in the ordinary and extraordinary crucibles of human relationships… in the ordinary and extraordinary struggles for justice and peace… That God is somehow present in the ordinary and extraordinary gift of each breath, each life, and each day.
So, what do we look for in a priest, long for in a priest, and hope to find in the life and ministry of a Priest. An American Bishop who came to stay in Rockhampton a few years ago gave a profound insight to these questions. He suggested that ministry gifts and abilities are fine and have their place: pastoral gifts; administrative ability; the ability to teach and preach effectively; the ability to create worship experiences that give people a sense of God, and hope, and community; an inclination to advocate for social justice… and so the list goes on. in worship, social justice advocacy…
All these things he said were important and desirable, but, after twenty five years as a Diocesan Bishop the most important thing he looked for was a willingness and inclination to love the people and place they were sent to serve. However inadequately, however incompletely, a willingness and inclination to love the people and place they were sent to serve.
Don’t be surprised if this sounds familiar for it is not completely original! We find this same theme in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The christian community in Corinth was a rich and complex community who were divided in an argument about which spiritual gift was most important. Paul cut to the heart of things when he wrote ‘you can have the most extraordinary gifts, but if you don’t have love they are worth nothing.’
It also resonates in the response accorded to Jesus in the Gospels which were written several decades after Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church. In those Gospel encounters when Jesus was asked to identify the most important of the 613 religious rules of Judaism, he replied – ‘love God; love your neighbour; love yourself. With your heart, your mind, your soul, and strength; indeed with everything that you are: love God, love your neighbour and love yourself.’
As a priest Delfina is called to love in a very public way. Delfina already lives out her vocation to love as a wife, as a mother, and a grandmother… but as a priest her family is now bigger. The church community will look to her for love... and will look for encouragement in their journeys of living and loving.
We think Delfina is up for it, and is gifted and called by God to this new chapter of ministry – that is why we are here tonight. We give thanks to God for her willingness to say ‘Yes’ – and we pray for her…
But as we give thanks for Delfina’s willingness to say ‘Yes’, can I invite us all to reflect upon our own vocations – the different ways that we are each responding to God’s love and God’s call. Are you at peace doing what you are doing, or do you have some sense that God is calling you to do something new?
Let us pray…