Sermons from St Faith's     


The Man with a Mission
Fr Neil Kelley's last sermon as vicar, St Mary's, June 24th,  2012 

When I think of the books I’ve read, the courses I’ve attended, the talks I’ve listened to – all on the subject of church growth – I could have made thousands by sharing the secret of how to get a full church.    LEAVE!

It is a great joy to see so many of you here in church today. People not just from our own two parishes but the Waterloo Group of churches with Christ Church and Saint John’s. There are people here today who first knew me before I’d left school, only two or three of you mind!

And I am touched that friends from other parts of the diocese are here today.

Focussing on John the Baptist today reminds us that all share in the task of preparing the way of the Lord. For that was John’s message: he preached a message of repentance to those who would hear, and his ministry was devoted to preparing his people to receive both the message and the person of Jesus. The little we are told about him in the Gospel tells us that John was something of an individual character. The Bible tells us that he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching, clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier but in those "of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins"; and "his meat" - he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33) - "was locusts and wild honey"

So if the term existed at the time he was probably a “trendy-lefty” or a “hippy”, dressed not in a smart tailored cassock from Rome (unlike your Vicar) but simple garments, enjoying a rather simple life of vegetarian fair rather than rump steak. Again, not like your Vicar!

In this United Benefice we have been privileged over the past few years to share in the formation of men and women preparing for ordination as we have welcomed them on placements. This is the time of year when most ordinations take place. This weekend saw the ordination of a former organist from here and next weekend some of you will share in Helen’s Ordination in the Cathedral. The time I have after leaving here tomorrow, and before I begin a new post next month will allow me to attend various ordinations and first masses up and down the country. Priests and deacons are called to be stewards of the gifts entrusted to them, and the greatest gift is God’s people.

The Gospel is an account of change, movement and transformation. And today as I look to a new challenge ahead of me I do so with gratitude for my time here and the people who have blessed my life. Today you in St. Mary’s and St. Faith’s look to a new challenge and chapter too.

If new chapters in church life are times for priests to reassess and refocus what they were ordained to do, so too, an interregnum is a time for parishioners to reassess and refocus on what they were baptized to do.

Of course, for some, church simply means turning up week after week without getting involved at all. But that isn’t the way of this United Benefice. I was speaking with Ray Bissex the other day….

Soon these two parishes will have to formulate a parish profile. This can on the face of it seem an arduous and academic task. But it’s actually, potentially, one of the most exciting things you will do at this stage in time.
The process of putting together a parish profile is an important one. And not simply because it may attract the person who will end up being your next Vicar but because it will challenge you to think seriously and maturely about what you reckon your priorities are? How should ministry in Crosby and Waterloo be shaped? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you want in a new Vicar? What ministry is important to you – Vicar or not?

It is a time for you to redefine your ministry and give it a sharper focus. A time to stand up and be counted.

Are you wanting the miracle person to come and fill the church and the bank account overnight all on their own? What gifts and ministries are you, the people, putting at the disposal of God and His Church?

This is grown up time. Your priorities. Your hopes. Your dreams and aspirations.

How easy it is to do ‘what Father says’. Having to do the thinking for yourselves as well as the doing is a very transforming experience.

Of course talk of priorities happens whilst an Incumbent is in place but so often we just get used to the fact that someone in a dog collar may generally call the shots and lead the way.

Each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, is called to love and serve the Lord and his world. Each and every one of us is called to a ministry within the Church whether that be as deacon or priest, as lay reader or Bishop. As a person in the pew as well as a person in the pulpit.  Active ministry is not dependant upon whether you have a Vicar – it is dependant upon your baptism and how you respond to the baptismal challenge to serve!

God calls all of us. Those who go forward for ordination are ordinary people who one day knelt down and said their prayers and heard a particular call to them. That could happen to any of you, beware next time you pray! Priests, contrary to popular belief, do not come from Planet Zog, they do not just materialize when the mood takes them, they are called, and examined, and chosen from among the pews containing ordinary women and men.

A most unlikely contender on the face of it, John the Baptist had an important ministry. He was a man with a mission, and that mission was to bring people to a deep knowledge of God’s love for them. That is the mission of the Church today and that mission can only be undertaken when we ourselves have heard the call to repentance and have experienced God’s overwhelming love. When we have come into contact with that life-changing force then we will want to stop at nothing until it is shared with all those around us.

I for one am determined to enjoy the music offered in our worship today. But I agonised a lot over the final hymn: Lord for the years.  For the future – take us. That’s fine. That’s a prayer we need to say daily. That’s what “thy will be done” really means.

Past put behind us – NO! No way.

Our past forms us, when we allow it. We learn from our successes, we learn from our failures. So often mistakes made by travelling down the wrong path are ultimately part of the greater lessons we learn – lessons about ourselves primarily and most importantly lessons about God and the transforming power of His love…. But we put the past behind us at our peril, individually and corporately.

So I’ve re-written that part of the hymn. Past – to inspire us… For the future – take us.

One of the things I want to do today is to thank God, and you, for the great joy and immense privilege of being your parish priest for the past 13 years. There’s no way I want to forget that! Nor should I. Nor should you – I hope!

Whatever I do in my next chapter of ministry will be most definitely formed by what you have given to me, in so many ways, here at St. Faith’s and St. Mary’s.

Priests, deacons, laity, we all have a part to play together in sharing in John the Baptists’ Message and Mission. John led his people to welcome and accept Jesus. That is the task of all the baptized.

I’m mindful that an interregnum can be a time of anxiety as well as a time of blessing. But faithfulness in prayer and worship will help you to face squarely what the future holds.

so my final words come from John; not John the Baptiser, but John Betjeman, who has an equally important message for us today:

        “Highness” or “Lowness” do not matter,
        You are the Church and must not scatter,
        Cling to the Sacraments and pray,
        And God be with you every day.

Be faithful in prayer and in attending the Eucharist. Cling to the Sacraments and Pray. Cling to each other for you are indeed the Church and must not scatter.

And if you ask God to be with you every day then you will be amazed at the blessings and the future he has in store for you.

Thanks be to God.

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