The text of a sermon preached by Canon Myles Davies at the ordination  to the priesthood of Fr Martin Jones,
Liverpool Cathedral, Sunday, 8th June 2008


About six miles north of Liverpool there stands the small village of Little Crosby. It has long been the proud boast of the village that in it there are no pubs, no paupers and no Protestants. The Blundell family have been the squires of the village for centuries, and they are one of the great Catholic families of South West Lancashire, So, to a large extent, the proud boast still holds good.

When I was at theological college and in the first couple of years after my ordination, my mother and I were good friends with the Parish Priest of Little Crosby, Fr Laurence Anderton, known affectionately as Pop. Pop Anderton was in his seventies, and he hoped very much to be allowed to end his days at Little Crosby. Roman Catholic clergy have never enjoyed the inestimable benefit of the parson’s freehold, and he entertained a sneaking suspicion that the bishops followed a policy known as last seen, first shifted! So he adopted the strategy of avoiding at all costs any occasion where a bishop might possibly be present. It served him very well, and he got his wish. I recall a summer evening when my mother and I joined his many friends and walked behind his coffin through the village as it was born to its last resting place. Pop lies buried just inside the lych-gate of the church.

My mother and I often smile when we recall one particular conversation she had with Pop Anderton. For some reason, I shudder to think why, they got talking about the will of God. And Pop gave my mother a rather wicked smile as he said, “Doreen, the will of God is a very wonderful thing – especially when it happens to coincide with your own!” 

Bishop Michael Henshall, for many years Bishop of Warrington used to dine out on a tale of one of the clergy of the diocese who was receiving gentle encouragement to move to a new parish. His response was a little slow, but eventually he wrote to Bishop Michael that he felt he would be a lot more sure of God’s will in this matter once his wife had been to see the vicarage!

In a few moments, Bishop James will ask all of us if it is our will that these 12 men and women should be ordained, and we shall reply It is. Will we continually pray for them? We will. Will we uphold and encourage them in their ministry? We will. We should not fail to notice that these are our ordination vows today, as solemn and binding on us as all the things those being ordained will also promise. There is nothing conditional, nothing provisional about the support which is being asked of us. Sometimes in ministry, the priest is called to be a prophet, to speak God’s word to God’s people which it may be hard to hear, something which may court unpopularity. The support we promise includes those moments, and we must not fail to offer support through all the days to come.

Is it their will that they should be ordained? In a former life as Director of Ordinands I walked alongside ten of these twelve men and women as they thought through their sense of God’s call and I saw them through the testing process of going to a selection conference. This is why it is such a privilege for me to have shared their ordination retreat with them and to preach at this great service today. A bit like Custar’s Last Stand, I suppose!  As we sat and talked together earlier on in their journey, there was often laughter and sometimes tears. Some reminded me of my own sense of call. I am one of those who can hardly recall when I did not believe and hope that God was calling me to be a priest. Others received the call with much less certainty and with far greater reluctance, but in the end all have found they could do no other but to go forward and take the next step, perhaps even hoping that somebody somewhere along the line might say No! And perhaps we should beware this morning! For in so many conversations I had over the years with those enquiring about ordained ministry, when I have asked asking when did the call of God become real for you, on not a few occasions, it was attending a great service of ordination, here in this great building, when God spoke with the still small voice which became more and more insistent as time went on. Is it their will that they should be ordained? There will be 12 different responses to that question this morning, but each of them have reached the point on their journey when all they can do is to step forward in loving obedience to God who calls them.

Most important of all: is it God’s will that they should be ordained? One of the tasks of the Director of Ordinands is to organise the retreat for those to be made deacon. In my first year of doing this at Loyola Hall, the retreat conductor asked me to look after the service of Morning Prayer at 8am on the Sunday morning, a couple of hours before the ordination itself. This is a wonderful moment of stillness before the excitement of the day begins. It happened that the reading appointed for that service was chapter 3 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I found myself reading it slowly and reflectively, followed by a profound silence. The reading was so staggeringly appropriate that every year from then on I asked to lead that service and every year, the reading always remained Ephesians 3. It became my last gift to those about to be ordained before they passed into someone else’s care. We heard part of that chapter a few moments ago.

It is when Paul gives glory to God at the end that a phrase comes leaping out to me, nearly 33 years after I knelt where the twelve of you are about to kneel. It resonates completely with my experience. Paul offers glory to God who is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. That sums up in just one phrase what God has given over the years: more than we can ask, more than we can imagine.
The next moments of this service are not first and foremost about the gifts and talents that these 12 men and women bring to their ministry – though, make no mistake, their gifts are many. These next moments are about all that God waits and longs to give, so that in you God will accomplish more than you can ask, more than you can imagine.  God who calls is faithful. You have the wonderful support of those whose love has sustained through the years of enquiring, testing and training. God will go on forming you, so that you may tell the world what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know it, though it is beyond all knowledge.
As you come forward to receive from God all that he now waits to give you, our prayer for you is this:

May Jesus confirm your heart’s desire
To work, and speak and think for him. Amen.

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