|4:45pm||Sunday Organ Recital - Jean-Luc Thellin|
Sermon preached at the Installation of Tricia Hillas as Canon Pastor and Pim Baxter as Lay Canon (4 March 2014) by the Very Reverend David Ison, Dean
Jeremiah 2. 1-13 John 3. 22-36
It’s a joy to welcome Tricia and Pim, their respective Andrews, and wider family and friends here to support them in this new step they’re taking. Thank you for your support which means so much to them, and to us. At least we’ve been able to organise the installation when there’s still time for a bit of feasting and rejoicing, before we all go together into 40 days of fasting and penance for Lent…
There’s something important which Tricia and Pim have in common. I don’t mean that they’re both female, welcome though that is to St Paul’s and the wider church. I mean that they both have had extensive experience in what it means to work for God outside the Church.
When I was involved in training clergy, one of the things I used to say to them was, ‘Remember that you’re employed by the Church of England, not by God’ – though hopefully the Church will give you more opportunities to do God’s work than many other jobs might. But there has been a bit of a conspiracy among some clergy over the centuries, as with any profession, to see their own work as a more important form of work than others. Many of my ordained colleagues will have stories about how ordinands in training were told to forget whatever they’d done before. My favourite bit of clerical chutzpah concerned a college tutor and future dean whose only working experience had been a two-year curacy who would run courses on teaching skills when he had former head teachers sitting in the class.
It’s not only clergy who don’t get the balance right, however. Some lay members of the church find it hard to see a connection between what happens in church on Sundays and the place of God at work on a Monday: sometimes it’s easier to keep the world in compartments.
But the good news is that there’s no fundamental divide between clergy and laity, between dog collars and pinstripe suits and overalls. All of us stand before God as human beings, charged with the task of using our gifts, talents and experience to further the work of God in the world; all of us are required to give account of how we have or have not loved God and our neighbour. Some of us do churchy stuff and some of us do other stuff: but all the stuff is of concern to God, and is judged not by how religious it is but by how just and compassionate and truthful it is.
And what a delight it is this evening to welcome Pim and Tricia to remind us of that reality.
Tricia brings her experience as a senior social worker as well as doing vicaring, and her wider interests and concerns in reconciliation and Christian engagement with the world; and we want her to use those gifts and experiences not only here at the cathedral, but in going out and engaging as a pastor who cares for the lost sheep in a way consistent with her past training and career, just as much as she will be drawing into the life of God those who have already found their way to the cathedral.
Pim has a broad portfolio of experience in arts administration and a place in national cultural leadership. Her experience in all sorts of ways will be of great relevance for the governance of the cathedral, and that’s her main ‘official’ contribution here. But part of Pim’s role, as with Gavin our financial lay canon, is to help St Paul’s to be better engaged with the lives of people who aren’t focused on church, whose Christian service is worked out in the boardroom and the office, the supermarket and the school.
Sometimes people talk about clergy as ‘having a vocation’ or being special. Actually, all of us have a vocation: like John the Baptist in our
second reading, our vocation is to point to God we see in Jesus Christ, the God who the prophet Jeremiah describes as the fountain of living
water in dry and dusty places, the one who befriends us with joy.
Whoever we are and whatever we do, we can bring life and joy to people on God’s behalf.
We can further the work of God through caring for people in difficult circumstances; opening people’s eyes to truth and beauty; enabling others we work alongside to flourish and find purpose in the work that they do.
To quote words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins [in The Principle or Foundation]: "It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to Communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live.”
You don’t have to be a vicar to do God’s work – you just have to live a whole life, open to God in everyone and everything you do. Inspired and supported, of course, by our two new canons; for whom also we pray today, that they too may know in the tasks set before them the grace and love of God.
For it’s in the doing of our vocations that life is truly lived.
As the American novelist and minister of religion Frederick Buechner reminds us [in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC]:
"The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”