Bishop Cherry reflects on her own calling in Sunday's sermon
Bishop Cherry reflects on her own calling in today’s sermon, to mark Vocations Sunday.
She encourages us to “pray that God will raise up more women and men, specifically called to ministry or the religious life. But let’s pray too that each of us will play our part, in living out the good news, in helping our children and young people grow into a faith that’s real and alive and in encouraging those who we sense might have call to formal ministry to explore it further.”
Also, keep a look put in the coming weeks as we will be meeting some of the people who are exploring God’s call to a licensed ministry here in Monmouth to share their stories
You can read the full sermon below and You can watch today’s Holy Eucharist herettps://youtu.be/wb6CmmqzaD4
Easter 4 – Vocations Sunday
Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is commonly known as Vocations Sunday. It was designated ‘A World Day of Prayer for Vocations’ in the Roman Catholic Church in 1963 and now, many Christian denominations use the day as an opportunity to pray for and encourage vocations to ministry, ordained and lay, and to the religious life.
The paths to formal licensed ministry are many and varied. One of my roles as Archdeacon up in Manchester was to be an Examining Chaplain, which meant interviewing people who were deemed ready to go a discernment panel. It was an extraordinarily humbling experience to read about their lives and how God had led and guided them towards offering themselves for ordained ministry. It goes without saying that no two were the same. The stories were as many and varied as the people who came to see me; each person shaped by their life experience and the ways in which they’d discerned and encountered God. The same will be true for Readers and other Licensed Lay Ministers.
My own story begins as far back as I can remember. I was taken to church from my earliest days and took faith very seriously from a young age. I joined the choir and became steeped not only in the liturgies of the Eucharist and Evensong but in the music that were part and parcel of the services. Faith and prayer became very important to me and not only an integral part of my life then, but a foundation from which all else followed.
I say all this because I think it’s easy for us to underestimate the spirituality of children and how open they are to the things of faith. Whilst only a very few families go to church these days and most of our churches don’t have any children attending at all, most of us will have children in our families - nephews, nieces, children and grandchildren (perhaps even great grandchildren) all of whom we have a relationship with; often a very close relationship. An important question for all of us is how are we passing on our faith to the younger generations and helping them to come to know the story of Jesus and God’s immeasurable love for them? Vocations don’t spring out of nowhere. They begin with someone finding faith and hope in Christ. And for the children who are being drawn into faith and are beginning to take it seriously - whether at church or school - how ready are we to entertain the possibility that God may be seeking to call those children we know into formal ministry?
A key factor for me in discerning God’s call was the encouragement of other people. Right from being a child, I was encouraged by my parish priest and his sister to think of what God might be asking of me. And as I grew older and left home for London, others continued to encourage and sow seeds which helped me to remain open to the fact that God may be leading me in a particular direction, even though I didn’t yet know what that direction was. So that, as the possibility for women to be ordained to the diaconate became a reality (this was in the mid 80’s in the Church of England), that sense of call became more clear and focussed for me.
In all the conversations I’ve had with people offering themselves for formal ministry in the church, every one of them includes the encouragement and nudging of other people: some comment or conversation will sow the seed that then begins to grow, some will confirm what is already growing within. And we’re never too young to begin to hear God’s call.
Over the next few months, we’ll be inviting some people who are exploring God’s call to a licensed ministry here in Monmouth to share their stories. Some will still be at the stage of exploring, some will be training for ordained and lay ministry and others just starting out in their ministerial journey. Each story will be personal, inspiring and a demonstration of the many ways in which God works in and through us. Please do pray for everyone who’s on that journey, but also for the children and young people who you might encourage to think of ordination or licensed lay ministry as a possibility that God may call them into.
But there’s a very real sense in which all of us who are baptised and confirmed are called into ministry. It may not be an authorised or licensed ministry but it’s a vocation nonetheless: a vocation to ministry and service wherever God has placed us. At our confirmation, the bishop said the words, ‘God has called you by name and made you his own’ and we’re formally commissioned to go out and be lights of his love in the world.
And God knows, both the church and the world need every single one of us to be active in living out the good news as much, if not more than ever before. We don’t know at this stage what church or world are going to look like when we no longer live with the threat of the virus. But we do know that both church and world needs the transforming love of God and the hope and joy of the gospel in these strange times, and will continue to do so whatever the new normal will be.
In a speech on evangelism and mission at the C of E’s General Synod some years ago, a well-known bishop stood up and said, ‘Friends, the harvest is plentiful out there but the labourers are few, and all we seem to be doing is arguing amongst ourselves about what colour the tractor should be.’ God has called us to be his workers in the vineyard (to use another of Jesus’s parables). That’s our vocation, our call whether we’re lay or ordained. So, let’s pray that God will raise up more women and men, specifically called to ministry or the religious life. But let’s pray too that each of us will play our part, in living out the good news, in helping our children and young people grow into a faith that’s real and alive and in encouraging those who we sense might have call to formal ministry to explore it further.
I’d like to finish with a prayer, and I invite you to join me.
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry, each may be an instrument of your love and serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name. Amen