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