The sermon given by the Bishop of Liverpool at the ordination of Fr Daniel Howard
On St Columba’s Day, 10 June 2015, the Rt Revd Glyn Webster, Bishop of Beverley (as an Assistant Bishop in in the Diocese of Liverpool) ordained Fr Daniel Howard to the priesthood at St Columba’s Anfield. It was an occasion marked by mutual generosity as well as integrity.
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, in cope and mitre, processed in and out alongside the Bishop of Beverley, each carrying his pastoral staff. After giving the opening greeting, Bishop Glyn thanked Bishop Paul for the arrangements he had made for the service, and this was greeted with prolonged applause. Also present and robed were the newly ordained priests of the diocese, whose ordination in the Cathedral Fr Howard had attended, and the female Area Dean, who answered affirmatively the questions about Fr Howard’s suitability and vocation.
The Bishop of Liverpool preached this sermon, read the address about the office of priest which begins the Liturgy of Ordination, and gave the blessing. Only priests in full communion with the ordaining bishop and the ordinand joined in the laying on of hands and concelebrated the Eucharist.
This inspiring and uplifting occasion, in which bishops, clergy and laypeople of differing views joined together to worship God and celebrate the ordination of a new priest, was one of great encouragement that charity and generosity can be held together with integrity, to the mutual flourishing of all.
We are grateful to Bishop Paul for permission to print his sermon.
The main thing
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
In this sermon I am going to talk about four priests and about their Lord.
Firstly, Fr Ralph. When my mother died, Fr Ralph Crowe came to do the funeral visit. Fr Ralph came because we were part of the people of God at St Chad Toller Lane Bradford, and my father kept the garden around the church there. Fr Ralph as some of you will know has been Vicar at St Chad’s since 1969, that is for 46 years, saying Mass daily and using the English Missal as he does to this day, in his only incumbency. He is 83 years old now, but when my mother died he was in his 40s.
My father had relied on my mother all his life to do the practical things, and when Fr Ralph came he was flustered and he said – ‘oh you’ll want some tea, I’ll have to get you some, I’ll –’
Fr Ralph said ‘I don’t want a cup of tea, Jack, sit down. I just want to talk about Freda.’
As they spoke – I’m Jack and Freda’s son, I was there, I had been ordained five years or so – I saw in Fr Ralph what it was to be a pastor, how to cut through the Englishness and talk about the main thing.
It was Fr Ralph who, when I went to see him to say that I wondered whether I might be called to be a priest, gave me a little book of Catholic devotion – The Sanctuary of God, I have it here – and said to me ‘Don’t worry, Paul. If God wants you, he’ll have you’.
An Irish firebrand
So, Fr Ralph. And then Fr Colum Cille.
When 3,000 people died, Fr Colum Cille left Ireland and went to Scotland. The 3,000, according to later legend, were killed in the battle of Cul Dreimhne – tradition states that Colum Cille disputed with St Finian of Moville over a psalter. Colum Cille had borrowed the book from St Finian and had copied the manuscript, intending to keep it, but St Finian disputed his right to keep the copy. From this and other conflicts, says the legend, came that battle, the battle of Cul Dreimhne, the battle of the book, 3,000 killed, and two years later, they say, Colum Cille left Ireland to atone for his sins and to engage in mission and evangelism in Scotland. The rest is not legend but history. Colum Cille means ‘Church Dove’; Columba, this church is named for him; this is his feast day. He died in the same year Augustine came to Canterbury, 597. Cut through the Englishness, this man never touched it, he was an Irish firebrand who went to Scotland, a great evangelist, a shaper and a renewer of the church in these islands. And he turned from the battles of the book to the main thing.
Fr Ralph, Fr Colum Cille. Then Fr Arthur – that is, Fr Arthur Stanton.
His only post was as Curate at St Alban’s, Holborn from 1862 to 1913, so he was there for 51 years.
A time of struggle
In the days of Fr Mackonochie St Alban’s had its own battles of the book, in this case the Book of Common Prayer and the Canon Law, and although in this case 3,000 people did not die, it was a time of conflict and struggle for the Church as the defenders of a Catholic understanding sought to make their way, and Fr Stanton was in the midst of all that, and he sought and received no preferment but to be a curate and a pastor, and someone wrote this about him:
‘He was always spending and being spent in the service of others, and the poorer, the more miserable and – humanly speaking – the more worthless they were, the more he gave himself for them. He once said to me: ‘I would lay down my life for the roughs’.’
Fr Stanton was once asked what he hoped might be carved on to his tombstone. His answer was this: ‘He preached Jesus and only Jesus.’
All about Jesus
And once he went to Oxford to meet undergraduates and ordinands and he is reported to have said this to them:
‘Some people think our religion began with Henry VIII. Oh no’ (shaking his head); ‘we want a religion older than that. We want the old Catholic Church. We want to go right back to the Lord Jesus Himself – ‘foreordained before the foundation of the world’.’
And then as he was closing, ‘Now, my dear boys, some of you I know are going to be priests. Now when you are priests teach your people to love the Lord Jesus. Don’t teach them to be Church-of-England; teach them to love the Lord Jesus Christ.’
Cut through the Englishness. It’s all about Jesus.
Fr Ralph, Fr Colum Cille, Fr Arthur. Moving to the margins, and turning away from battles of the books, and a great work of God in simplicity.
And finally Fr Daniel. Not yet a priest, not quite. But when Bishop Glyn and your brother priests gather around you in a moment you will join this company, this large and troubled and Godly company, the people of God, in this Church of England Catholic and Reformed. And I commend to you the lives I have mentioned and I say to you, and to your brothers here, the Church of England needs you and the richness you bring. A richness that calls you to love your people and to immerse your life in their lives, and that calls you to cut through the Englishness and to remind us all that it’s about Jesus.
A belonging and a praying
Ten years ago I was at a meeting at Lambeth Palace and in the course of the meeting Fr Philip North, now Bishop Philip North, said ‘Catholicism is not a style.’ Not a style, Daniel. Not a style of speaking, not a style of chasuble, not a style of liturgy. Rather it is a belonging, and a praying. Belonging to a worldwide and an ages-long tradition, and praying for a deep unity, and an overcoming of strife, and a pointing to Jesus. To Jesus Christ who said to his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ To Jesus Christ reflected in the faces of Fr Ralph, Fr Colum Cille, Fr Arthur, Fr Daniel.
My last word is for you, Daniel. In your priesthood you will stand in this tradition, and within it you will be yourself as a priest who loves the Lord Jesus. I charge you; point us all to him.