Sermon Preached at Father Stephen Locke’s Silver Jubilee Mass

Posted on the 29th June 2012 in the Category - Sermons


I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 16, v19

 

What a joy and a privilege to be here tonight for Father Stephen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations!  It has been my good fortune to see something of the fruits of Father Stephen’s priestly ministry, with Vivien alongside him, since I became Bishop of Burnley some eighteen years ago.  Then Father Stephen was vicar of two tough urban parishes towards the centre of Blackburn, helping folk as familiar landmarks changed, houses were demolished, and many moved away in order to be re-housed.  As the Church set out to foster good and happy relationships with our many Muslim neighbours, Father Stephen and his people were at the forefront of that work, even raising funds to help the local Mosque’s efforts to send relief to the suffering Muslim community in Bosnia. Then came the call to chaplaincy among the deaf community; some deaf Christians had been using Father Stephen’s course for worship, and Father Stephen had learned something of their sign language.  He willingly embarked on a course that would make him fluent in that language and able to serve as chaplain throughout the diocese.  No wonder, then, that when it reached my attention that Father Stephen was due to move on from the chaplaincy, I suggested he might be the right man for Owton Manor and, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

 

I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

You will pardon the pun; but is there any better theme to preach on than the power of the keys, for the silver jubilee of someone whose surname is Locke?

 

For the past twenty-five years Father Stephen has been seeking to set people free.  We know, all too well, of those parts of the world where people still live under tyranny, literally wondering whether they might survive another day.  Just as now we worry about the people of Syria, so in those early days of ministry in Blackburn, Father Stephen was concerned about the people of Bosnia.  But freedom is not only about distant places.  Freedom is not only about not being locked away.  Freedom is the capacity to become the person that God wants each one of us to be. Our new baptismal rites quite rightly contain the words of exorcism, of praying that God cast out from those who come to be baptised all that inhibits their growth into full and free human beings.

 

In our first lesson this evening, S Peter is miraculously set free by God’s angel.  Peter is physically free.  That, though, is not an end in itself.  Being physically free only offers Peter the chance to do more to enhance both his and others’ freedom.  That great hymn writer and, we might add, fellow Anglican priest, Charles Wesley, told the true meaning of the story when he wrote in his famous hymn And Can It Be?:

 

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

 

Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom.  Father Stephen and all of us who share in the priestly ministry, following Peter, are charged with that same ministry of unlocking every door that would bar people from the Kingdom of God.

 

I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Father Stephen, as a priest, you are entrusted with providing the ministry of unlocking.  You must start, of course, with yourself.  Before ever you are called to do anything as a priest you are called to be someone.  You are called to be someone who knows he is loved and set free by God, someone who nurtures that love and freedom, ever-encouraging these gifts to expand with Him.  One of the great challenges to those who, nowadays, have various of their body’s joints repaired, is the challenge of walking again.  Those of us who can still recall learning to swim will perhaps remember the amazement of trusting that water can actually keep us afloat rather than swallow us up.  You, Father Stephen, and every priest, must first and foremost be someone confidently free to be yourself under God.  You must constantly keep within yourself the knowledge that God keeps you buoyant in this just as truly as the ocean is able to keep afloat a vast liner built of heavy metal.

 

And then, Father Stephen, as would every priest, you will want to share that good news that unlocks the Kingdom with other people.  Yes, you will want to speak about the freedom that God brings.  You will want to campaign for it.  Yet, as might every priest, you will heed the great advice of S Francis of Assisi: Use words, if you must.  Jesus, as the Gospels portray Him, is arguably one of the greatest speakers of all time.  Yet it is in His manner of living and of dying that Jesus speaks most poignantly to the world.  It is where we priests give of ourselves in love, where we handle seemingly unlimited suffering, where we give sacrificially of ourselves; that perhaps we most effectively witness to the pathway to freedom, that we would encourage others to follow.

 

I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Two very special keys hang from the keyring with which God has entrusted you, Father Stephen. Deep down many people are desperate to know that they are right with God.  All of us, priests and people, and of course I include bishops, seem to have two emotions constantly at work in us.  On the one hand we are, at heart, so uncomfortable with what we are, the compromises we make, the anger we show, and so on; in fact, all those ways of behaving that put us miles away from being the kind of person Jesus holds out to us as being ‘blessed’ in His Sermon on The Mount.  So we seek to live with ourselves by trying to deny the reality and to sit lightly to the kind of person deep down we know all too well that we are.  And, at the same time, whenever we glimpse the reality, we want to be set free of it.  We want to know we are loved, forgiven, accepted by God.  Part of us comes out to make our confession.  You, Father Stephen, as is every priest, are entrusted with helping folk to come to an honest appraisal of themselves, to stop the denials.  Then you are to be generous is assuring people they are forgiven.  God loves us all and the Kingdom is open to us all.  God trusts his priests to turn the key in the lock that makes such assurance possible.

 

There is, though, one key that hangs on the keyring that God entrusts to his priests that seems larger in size than all the others.  Jesus entrusts to you, Father Stephen, and to every priest, the privilege and duty of celebrating the Mass.  Every Mass remembers Jesus.  Re-membering is putting back together, making present here and now among us the sacrifice of Jesus who is ultimately the true key to God’s Kingdom, in whose ministry we are all called to share.  Every time you celebrate Mass all of us have the opportunity to be brought into this wonderful action in which we are made one with Jesus, offered, imperfect as we are, by the one we hold as perfect and counts us as being part of Him.  Here in this Mass we have a foretaste of what it is to be fully set free to be the persons God has planned for us to be for all eternity.  Here in the Mass the key is turned that opens a doorway into heaven.

 

Father Stephen, that is the ministry you exercise for tonight.  We praise God for your exercising of the ministry of the keys across the past twenty-five years.  We entrust you to Him as you now go forward with us further into God’s glorious future.



Catholic Bishops' June 2012 Pastoral Letter

Posted on the 20th June 2012 in the Category - News

Bishop Martyn Announces His Retirement

Posted on the 6th December 2011 in the Category - Announcements


The Bishop of Beverley, the Right Reverend Martyn Jarrett, has announced that his retirement will take place on 30th September 2012.  Bishop Martyn, formerly Bishop of Burnley, has been Bishop of Beverley for the past eleven years.  Over that time he has been much encouraged by renewal and growth he has experienced among those for whom he has had particular pastoral care as well as by their increasingly significant contribution to the life of our church.  Now in his sixty-eighth birthday year, Bishop Martyn and his wife Betty look forward to retirement in Worksop.  He is immensely grateful for the privilege of having been able to serve the Church as the Northern Provincial Episcopal Visitor, a ministry he has thoroughly enjoyed.

 

The Archbishop of York said: “Bishop Martyn has served the Province with a real pastor’s heart, with cheerfulness and Christian virtue.  The people and parishes he has looked after as the Provincial Episcopal Visitor will miss him greatly and so will the Bishops.  I will miss his generous and wise counsel, and his friendship. His wife Betty, as a professional counsellor, has helped so many people. She will also be greatly missed.”



A Paper on The Society at the Forward in Faith National Assembly 2011

Posted on the 22nd November 2011 in the Category - News


Perhaps understandably, I have lost count of the number of times I have either written about The Society or have spoken of it. During a recent conversation it was suggested that I should find a more headline-grabbing name. You can tell that the conversation took place in the North when I tell you that the first suggestion was that we rename it ‘The Co-op’! The subsequent proposal was that we name The Society ‘The Mafia’! That would certainly have produced more interest but there was always the fear that such a title might just be a little too near the truth.

 

But, let me start in what to some might seem an unlikely place. I want to begin by paying genuine tribute to those who have felt led by God to join the Ordinariate. Some of my oldest friends are among their number. On a personal note, over the past months what Newman famously called “the parting of friends” has literally at times brought me to the point of tears. I begin here because, right from the first suggestion of forming The Society, some immediately responded by saying it was a swift proposal to try and produce an alternative to the Ordinariate. Nothing was further from the founders’ minds. What we recognised was that just as some were driven by conscience to join the Ordinariate so many others were equally driven by conscience, at least for the time being, to remain within the Church of England. Such people surely had the right to explore how best to organise for the future and especially to identify what might be the most likely ecclesial provision that might be not only acceptable to them but also to the Church of England. Our friends who have in conscience joined the Ordinariate must surely now give us space to try and bring this about. Perhaps I should just say at this point just how much I have appreciated the understanding and encouragement for working towards a successful establishment of The Society that I and others have received from some of our Roman Catholic colleagues.

 

Indeed, I am sure some of you will have heard Bishop Geoffrey Rowell speak of his recent visit to Rome and of his audience with Pope Benedict. Bishop Geoffrey came away confident that Pope Benedict understood why some of us sought to stay within the Church of England to work for the establishment of The Society. The important thing was that we should remain close to each other in our journey towards Christian Unity.

 

The key question in seeking to establish The Society is how can we produce something which still enshrines a basic understanding of what it means to be a church of priests, deacons and people gathered around its bishops, given that the Church of England, were it to admit women to the episcopate, has steadfastly set itself against permitting separate dioceses for those of us who could not assent to such an act. I doubt I need to set the problem out in full. Most of us here have lived with the dilemma for many years. We want bishops who are truly our fathers in God, who are the font of our sacramental life, and so also have the care of us that flows from such a position. We want priests who are clearly the priests of such a bishop, alternates with him and with one another as, by their ministries, they bind us more and more into the authentic life of the catholic church.

 

We want to be empowered in mission to make that church flourish as many more are brought into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. We are far from convinced of a view of the episcopate which sees bishops as some kind of quasi-magical characters. The idea that we can answer to any bishop regardless of gender or orthodoxy and then be grateful for someone whom we regard as being genuinely a bishop being parachuted in for us to undertake certain sacramental actions falls far short of a truly catholic understanding of the Episcopate. I might add, in passing, that the present legislation does not even propose that measure of sacramental and pastoral care for us. It is doubtful that any code of practice would make such provision either.

 

So it is that in this near last ditch situation some of us are trying to persuade the Church of England to let us live within a Society model. What does this mean? It means that the Church of England entrusts the care of traditionalists to that of traditionalist bishops. They might be orthodox diocesans or suffragans. It is hard to see how any meaningful provision could be made without also having at least three provincial bishops based on the present sees of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough for those diocese and regions that do not make more local provision. Such bishops would necessarily need to be given such jurisdiction (to use the technical term) that enabled them to be the fount of sacrament and pastoral life for their clergy and people. It might just be that this could be brought about even at a late stage by the re-introduction into the General Synod of something like the archbishops’ ill-fated amendment. Such an amendment would be far from perfect but would probably enable much of what we seek to come about.

 

There would still be, of course, some anomaly in all of this as we try to work out the basis on which priests of The Society are then, with their Society bishops’ permission, licensed and employed in the various dioceses of the Church of England. Perhaps we might be thinking of something rather like, in the Roman Catholic Church, where the monks of Ampleforth, for example, are firstly monks of that community and then parish priests active within a local diocese; or when, for example, an Ordinariate priest is released for work in a local diocese while, of course, remaining a member of the Ordinariate and answerable to his Ordinary.

 

Clearly, the parallels are not exact. I admit I am doing some kite flying in an area where much more detail would need to be worked out in the future. Who knows? Addressing such practical implications could even make the code of practice relevant and useful to us.

 

Is this tidy? No. Is this perfectly reflecting of Catholic order as we have known it? Probably not. But is it a bearable anomaly such as Catholic Anglicans have had to live with since the Reformation and, more precisely, that we have had to live with since the first women bishops appeared within the Anglican Communion, or the first women priests were created within the Church of England? Coping with bearable anomaly is an essential ingredient of being an Anglican in a divided church. If we cannot accept the truth of that then I guess we would not wish to remain members of the Church of England whatever the outcome of our current dilemmas.

 

What we can do now is to formalise the life we have in fact already been living for the past seventeen years or so into a proper ecclesial body. The Society can, here and now, be our way of living out what it means to be the Church. And up and down the country, in places as diverse as Chichester or Blackburn, Wakefield or the West Country, this is beginning to happen. We have our constitution in place and Catholic bishops are overseeing our journey forwards. We have thousands of people signed up to the idea and need thousands more as we send out a signal to the Church of England that this is not only what we want. It is, rather, the very basic bottom line of what we need if we are to be enabled in good conscience both to stay and to flourish within the Church of England.

 

Be sure there will still be a need for Forward in Faith. The Society is not a rival society. It is our way of being the Church. We can be sure that, at some time, we will still need a strong and uncompromising campaigning body to help maintain ground won and to help achieving with more in the future.

 

And finally, a note of caution. We have to be realistic. The evidence so far is that every olive branch we have held out has been refused. Every time we have explained what are the bare essentials for us to stay within the Church of England we have been told instead that we do not understand our own position and that others know what is better for us. I do not know what odds I might put on succeeding in our endeavour. I suspect they would be disappointingly low. The history of the past few years gives little ground for hope.

 

I do know that God has put me and, I trust, you here at this time to persevere in the attempt and to do our best to make it succeed. If there be only a thirty percent chance or even only a ten percent chance of bringing The Society permanently into being, and I would put the odds a little higher than that, we have no choice but to go for it, being equally realistic and determined.

 

So, please, support, join, encourage The Society and let us see where God takes us with it.



Resolutions A and B

Category - Resolutions


The following resolutions form part of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure and should be read in the context of that legislation.

 

Resolution A
That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the minister who presides at or celebrates the Holy Communion or pronounces the Absolution in the parish.

 

Resolution B
That this parochial church council would not accept a woman as the incumbent or priest-in-charge of the benefice or as a team vicar for the benefice.



 

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