David Hope preached at the episcopal ordination of David Thomas and found in the Celtic past a model for the Anglican future
ALL THIS IS FROM GOD, who through Christ …. gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor:5.18)
The temptation on an occasion such as this is always to eulogise too much the person rather than the Office. And having known you, David, so well and for so many years now, the telling of stories – apocryphal and otherwise – and there are quite a number of them – does have considerable attractions. Nevertheless, it is a temptation to be resisted. So what then of the work and office of a Bishop? – the reason why today we are all here – supporters and friends from the Province and further afield still, gathered in this holy and venerable place.
I came across some very appealing lines a couple of weeks or so ago which I think may be of some help David, not only to you, but to us all. “I saw Dewi strolling from county to county like God’s gypsy, with the Gospel and the Altar in his caravan”. The lines are of course about the saint whose name you and I share, well celebrated by David Gwenallt Jones and set out in his book by Patrick Thomas Candle in the Darkness. God’s gypsy, David – “sipsi-duw’ – how’s that for a description of the Episcopal office. And judging from the fact that you are to be commissioned/licensed to exercise an Episcopal ministry in each of the dioceses of this Province then perhaps Jones’ poetic words may have something more of the reality about them; not a flying bishop, rather a strolling gypsy – God’s gypsy. I hope already your caravan is hitched.
You are however being ordained on a day, the feast of St Thomas, which reminds us that you are entrusted with an apostolic ministry. The Apostolic Commission is both pastoral and evangelistic, and it is expressed chiefly I would suggest through the ministry of presence and encouragement – your presence and your encouragement with and among those you serve, for that is the force and the meaning of “this ministry” to which the apostle Paul particularly refers in the fifth chapter of his Second Letter to the Corinthians – “this ministry” is actually “this service”. And this is precisely what you are now ordained to do and be a servant to the servants of God. Yes, a slave not to the desk and endless committees and administration and meetings, and the impossible amounts of paper which increasingly descend upon us; nor for that matter to be a slave to the impossible expectations which clergy and people alike will have of you as a sort of sanctified Mr Fix-it. But as a servant and slave you are bound to the people to build them up in the faith of the apostles; to encourage them in their fight against the world, the flesh and the devil; to promote unity, peace and love among all Christian people; and not least to give them all joy in believing as together we seek to live Christ’s risen life amidst the confusions, anxieties and complexities of our present age.
There is much about which we can and should take heart. For there is good news about this Church of ours, the good news of consolidation and growth, fresh and green shoots of new life and of new members, and the resolve and endurance of communities and churches even in the most unpromising of settings and circumstances. We should not underestimate the words of the Prophet Zephaniah – “A day for small things no doubt but who would dare despise it” – a sentiment endorsed in the Blessed Dewi’s final message to ,his followers – “Be happy and keep your faith and your belief, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do”. “All this is from God, who through Christ …. gave us the ministry of reconciliation”.
It would be foolish to pretend that the life of any Bishop is likely to be easy going. There are differences, tensions, disputes within the Church in these islands and universally which threaten the long-held bonds of communion whereby we recognise ourselves as members one of another – the Anglican family likeness. To you, David, is given a special commission today the martyrdom of Pontifex – the ministry of reconciliation – not to lord it over others in the grand manner which you may be tempted to do now and again, but to be the servant and slave of all – the true Pontifex – the bridge builder – to keep open the lines of communication and the possibilities of reconciliation with and between those who find themselves in profound disagreement; to assist them not to pit themselves over and against each other; but rather to stay with one another for each other’s well-being and the good of the wider community – both church and society.
It is at this point that I recall and commend to you those virtues especially evident in the life and mission of the blessed one whose name you bear. For in seeking to hold together and bring together the tribal groups and extended families who formed his churches, Dewi placed a special and particular emphasis on certain qualities – qualities such as “parch” – the sort of respect that can only be earned by actually showing genuine respect for others and for the opinions of others, no matter how strongly we may disagree; the importance of being “cartrefol” – at home with God and one’s neighbour whoever one’s neighbour may happen to be; and, mindful of the communion given us in Christ through the Holy Spirit with the Father, “Perthyn” that sense of being and belonging as a community – members one of another – quite irrespective of our divergences and differences, because in the very roots and at the very heart of it all there is the shared and overwhelming gratitude to the God who through Christ has reconciled us to himself and even more astonishingly has given us this ministry of reconciliation.
Such a ministry can only be effected to the extent that all of us whatever our views allow the love of Christ the more to control us, ever striving to hold fast and build up yet further the bonds of mutual understanding, of reconciliation, pardon and peace, to be fervent in prayer for each other and not least for those with whom we most disagree; and all of this in the one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has called us into His service. How else can we expect the world beyond and outside these walls to take us at all seriously.
This is precisely the point of it all – the world for which Christ died, and for which daily we pray – God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
So the Bishop is also called to the martyrdom of protest. Protest for the sake of the Gospel; giving voice to the voiceless, standing with the poor and the afflicted, protesting against injustice and not least the viscous voices of prejudice, hatred and intolerance. Whether we like it or not, we are in the thick of it – let no one be in any doubt that Bishops are actually in the real world. Daily we are called upon to protest the poverty of spirit, the purity of heart, the mercy and the meekness which are the Gospel signs of a people faithful to the Lord and in Him to each other.
But then it is fatally easy to become captive to issues, to become wholly caught up in the “doing” and in those relentless and feverish activities which can so often serve our own “feel good” factors more than they do the grace and mercy of God.
You will need therefore, David, to beware, lest in preaching to others you yourself become a castaway. In other words, as you take to your gypsy caravan you will need to guard your own inner life – to hitch it up now and again in a place apart – to take heed to yourself and the good of your immortal soul and your wife and family too, especially when there is so much and so many clamouring endlessly, ceaselessly for your attention, your support, your care your time. For whatever else the Bishop may or may not be – pastor, priest, prophet, evangelist, enabler and all the rest of those things we are told we are or should be – always remember first and foremost you yourself are a disciple of Jesus Christ – yourself a follower, a pilgrim on the way. Thus Bishop Leslie Newbiggin aptly reminds us that “The Bishop is not so much facing towards the Church as facing towards the Lord … his ministry is so to follow Jesus in the way of the Cross, that we find it possible to follow too”.
“All this is from God, who through Christ …. gave us the ministry of reconciliation”
So now through the outward and visible sign of the laying on of hands we invoke the grace and the power of the all Holy Spirit upon you, David, for the work and office of a Bishop in the Church of God. In union with the whole Church throughout the world and down the ages, and with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we pray fervently for you and for Rosemary and for your wider family as well as for ourselves – that entrusting you with this awesome ministry of reconciliation which is both of such great excellency as well as so great difficulty, we pledge our continuing prayer and support for you, with you and alongside you.
It was the great Bishop Augustine who long ago now, caught so exactly and so succinctly the work of a Bishop – “To rebuke agitators, to comfort the fainthearted, to take care of the weak, to take heed of snares, to teach the uneducated, to waken the sluggish, to hold back the quarrelsome, to put the conceited in their places. To appease the militant, to give help to the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to encourage the good, to endure the evil, and – oh – oh to love them all”.
Yes, it is an impossible task … but then with God nothing is impossible. And so as you begin your strolling from county to county – God’s gypsy with the Gospel and the Altar in your caravan, I conclude with an ancient Celtic prayer for protection – the protection of the Blessed Trinity all the days of your life:
“Be the eye of God dwelling with you, The foot of Christ in guidance with you, The shower of the Spirit pouring on you, Richly and generously”.
To the same God be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and to the end of the ages. Amen.
David Hope is Archbishop of York