As we mentioned in the notices last week, this weekend marks the beginning of two new ministries in our Parish.
On Saturday morning, Peter Elsmore was licensed by the Bishop of Grantham as a Reader. In my sermon at that service, I suggested that part of the ministry of a Reader is to disturb and unsettle us. If anyone doubted the legitimacy of such a ministry, a little reflection on the Old Testament prophets would be a good antidote. These were folk who were called by God to a role of challenge. Challenging power when it is exercised unjustly; challenging complacency in the face of urgent and unmet need; challenging complicity in structures and systems that prioritise the comfort of the privileged over the sufferings of the marginalised – these are all present in the role of the prophet.
They are also present in the role of the Reader, a ministry that has many overtones of the Old Testament prophets bound up in it. Readers are ‘lay theologians’, people called to proclaim the word of God, like the prophets of old. So we might well expect the ministry of a Reader in our midst to unsettle us, to disturb us. Although this may not be comfortable, it is vital to keep us alert to the challenges of living out our Christian faith with authenticity.
On Sunday morning, Alan Moses is being licensed as Honorary Assistant Priest at St Nicholas. The ministry of a priest may sometimes be prophetic, but it is really rather different in character from that of a Reader or an Old Testament prophet. More pastoral, certainly more focused on the internal life of the church, Priests are called to occupy the space where heaven and earth come into closest contact. We call that space ‘sacrament’ – a moment in time, an action, in which the truths of heaven come true on earth. So while Readers may unsettle and disturb us, Priests will often comfort and reassure us.
Of course, these are over-simplifcations. I fully expect to be challenged by Alan’s ministry and comforted by Peter’s! Nevertheless, it’s important to attempt to understand these distinctive roles in the church. Too often our Christian lives and the work we do for the church is an attempt at conservation. We forget that God calls us forward, always forward. Growth in faith, like growth in numbers, requires a willingness to change. Sometimes we need the challenge of a prophet’s voice to shake us out of our established patterns and presumptions. Sometimes we need the hand of a priest to help us take the next small step in our discipleship. Most often, we need both.
That’s why I’m delighted that we have both Peter and Alan being formally added to our ministry team this weekend. I encourage you to pray for them, and to benefit from their ministries.
May God bless you all,