The Rt Revd Michael Colclough, Bishop of Kensington, and the Revd Sue Groom at Revd Groom's licensing as Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers
Press Release (pdf, 64kb)
Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons
Are you hefted? If not, that's a pity...
Sermon Preached at All Hallows Church, Twickenham, 1/03/2007
The Rt Revd Michael Colclough, Bishop of Kensington
Today we celebrate St David, the great sixth century Welsh monk and bishop whose ministry was noted for his emphasis on mission. His style of mission was centred on the founding of many monasteries: strong centres of worship, teaching, mission, healing and service. They were, if you like, similar to good parishes today. The author of St David’s Life, Ricimas the Wise describes today’s saint as ‘the supreme overseer, the supreme protector, the supreme preacher, from whom all received their standard and pattern of living virtuously.’ David was a good shepherd, responding in his life and vocation to that strong biblical imagery of the Good Shepherd, which was in our Gospel reading tonight.
Tonight’s Licensing of Sue marks the beginning of a new initiative in the training of women and men for ordination in this Diocese: the Deanery Licensed Ministry Scheme. This Scheme is distinctive in that vocations will be locally discerned and men and women will be locally trained and nourished. This will give us priests who already know well their locality, their Deaneries and the Boroughs of this Episcopal Area. This Scheme, and its base at St Augustine’s Queens Gate, will I hope be a strong centre for worship and teaching, ministry and mission in the Area. As Director of the Scheme, Sue will have responsibility for the training and formation of those with a priestly vocation among us.
I believe Sue comes to this post well equipped by her academic background. She has a proven academic record with several degrees to her name and she is currently studying for a Doctorate in Ministry at Durham University. She has a depth and love of theological learning. She also has proven pastoral experience in parish ministry gained through two curacies and an incumbency in the rich pastures of the Willesden Episcopal Area I’m grateful that people from Willesden are here to support Sue tonight.
But more importantly, Sue comes with a known and respected love for the Lord, for the Gospel, for the Church and for the world. In Sue’s case this love is rooted, grounded and nourished in the Franciscan tradition, where she lives the life of a Franciscan tertiary.
I have every confidence that Sue will train and educate the men and women entrusted to her care well, and that she will nurture in them a deep love for our Lord, for His Gospel, His Church and His World. Her centeredness on God in prayer will equip us to produce prayerful priests for the future. But, of course, Sue will have no work to do unless the clergy and laity of our parishes pray for vocations; unless our clergy and Readers prayerfully teach and preach about vocation; unless clergy and laity together learn to cast a discerning eye round our congregations for people whom God may be calling to this ministry. Sue is here to help with all of this. St Paul’s letter to the Romans comes to mind: “how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (10: 14-15).
I first started thinking about this sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany as I travelled on the tube, reading the Times. I happened across an article which seemed to sum up for me what our Deanery Licensed Ministers Scheme is for.
The title of the article was ‘Are you hefted? If not, that’s a pity…’ The author, Ben Macintyre, lives in Scotland, and has a small flock of sheep. These animals suffer from the weather and the difficulties of living outside all year round in a boggy, rocky, rainy terrain, but they have one great advantage for their survival: they are hefted. That flock has been on the same land for decades. Those sheep have an inbuilt, inbred knowledge of their land and where they come from - knowledge that has come down through countless generations of the flock. They know where to go find the salt lick, where medicinal herbs grow and which part of the valley gives them the best protection from the snow, depending on the direction of the wind.
For me, the priests to be formed by this new scheme are to be hefted. In some sense they will already be hefted: they know their terrain the parish, the Deanery and Borough they come from and will return to. But through their training on this Scheme they are to be more deeply hefted into the Christian life, to be become familiar with the rich, rugged and varied terrain of the Church. They will learn and grow in their knowledge of the theology, doctrines and traditions of the Church that have sustained Christian living through many generations. They will learn to how live the tradition and how to pass on the tradition.
Students on this Scheme will learn to know more deeply the healing herbs, the physick of the gospel, for wounded souls. They will learn how the Church offers shelter and protection to those who come in need. They will learn how the Church is a salt lick for the world a distinctive presence through lives lived in the light of Christ. They are to be hefted into the life of Christ and His terrain, the Church so that they are fully equipped to be heralds of the Gospel.
This new team of priests will be trained to work along with the Bishop and their fellow priests in the cure of souls. The Bishop’s role, as the Shepherd, is to have an overview of the whole mountainside, not just one flock or one field. And the Bishop has the responsibility to discern where priests are needed to feed the flock most effectively, where their gifts can be most appropriately used in the mission and ministry of the Church. The flock needs to be fed, but so too do the shepherds. Here is a wonderful paradox in ministry: that in feeding others, we find ourselves fed. Sometimes in the expected places, but also at times and in places that are unexpected.
So these new priests will be called out from old familiar ground of their sending parish to nearby ‘new’ terrain, but they will be able to go ‘hefted’ in the life of the wider Church and locality and with confidence in the Good Shepherd who calls them and leads them to new pastures.
The Scheme is not simply about numbers and the cost of clergy. This Scheme is a mission initiative for the formation of ‘hefted’ priests - people who will make a difference by knowing their world and scratching where it itches in their daily ministry. Today, as ever, the world needs the Christian life to be lived out in its midst that pattern of Christian living which is as compelling and attractive today as it was in St David’s day. In Our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…” (Matt. 5:13,14).
And it does make a difference the way we live our daily Christian lives as laity or clergy. I recently came across a wonderful example of this in a fascinating book on the court of that notably dissolute French King, Louis XIV. In 1669 a dashing, charismatic Jesuit priest, Fr Louis Bourdalone, hit Paris. He was a gifted preacher with a challenging message and style. Soon he was filling the churches of Paris. A present day John the Baptist, Fr. Bourdalone did not soften his message when he was invited to preach at the court. King Louis was impressed by the new chaplain who, midst the excesses of court life, modelled a true Christian life. To the King he said, “Live as a Christian king, and you will merit salvation”. Louis was compelled by the example and words of his Chaplain “Father,” he said, “you have made me dissatisfied with myself.” Louis reformed his life, even to the extent of giving up his mistress. Further reading went on to show that Louis’ reformed character lasted but 18 months - but the witness of a good Christian and priestly life did have an influence on the King and the court. We are here to make a difference: and not simply to bless the status quo.
The Christian life, if it is to last, has to be hefted: it has to be rooted and grounded in the life of Christ and of His Church. I want the Deanery Licensed Ministers Scheme to be a strong centre for the forming and shaping Christian priests who are hefted into the life of Christ. A centre for the forming and shaping of men and women with a deep love for our Lord, for His Gospel, His Church and His World. Men and women like St David whose minds, hearts and eyes are so fixed on the Good Shepherd that their lives reflect His love and draw others into that love. May you, Sue, as Director of the scheme, be hefted to Jesus the Good Shepherd as the standard and pattern of your life.
And what about the rest of us here tonight? “Are you hefted? If not, that’s a pity…” but, thank God, there’s also time! Amen.