Sermon preached at Eucharist marking 25 years of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in the Diocese of London (4 June 2019) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor
The Canon Pastor reflects on the ideas of 'home', 'shelter' and companionship' in the context of this celebration and the recent arrival to the Cathedral of a former refugee tent, 'sheltered...for a time within this vast, solid Cathedral'.
In two services held on consecutive days in April, 25 years ago, 74 women were ordained as priests right here.
25 years on, as we gather to mark this anniversary, a certain art installation has just arrived in the Cathedral.
This piece is by artist Kate Daudy. In 2016, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, gave Daudy a tent from the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. It had been home to a family from Syria. The father of the family had written his name in biro over the front door – ‘Abu Teim’. The tent has now been embellished with floral motifs, created by internally displaced women in Syria, and inscribed with the words of refugees, diplomats, aid workers, medical staff and soldiers involved in the refugee crisis from nearly 60 different countries.
I find meaning in the way these two come together – our celebration of this anniversary and the arrival of the tent.
For ideas of ‘home’, shelter’ and ‘companionship’ are at the heart of my understanding of the Christian faith, speaking of our human longing for the home and shelter we find within the generous heart of God.
The vulnerability and transitory nature of the tent, sheltered as it will be for a time, within this vast, solid Cathedral, I find truly moving; and the gathered decorations, the appliqued words, a reminder of the community of shelter which we are called to be for one another.
Gathering to mark 25 years, we give thanks for the community of shelter God has woven around and between us.
We give thanks for those pioneer women, whose determination to follow God’s call shelters those of us who have only more recently begun to see what in God might be possible.
We give thanks for the many other men and women, lay and ordained, who prayed, believed, hoped and worked, and who continue to provide radical companionship in the way of Ruth and Naomi.
And we give thanks for those who take a different theological position, yet are able to draw upon deep and gracious kindness as we work together, praying ‘Thy, not my, Kingdom come’.
Our presence here today points to the prodigality of that Kingdom – the absurd, excessive hospitality which God extends and the lavishness with which God’s gifts are bestowed. The abundant diversity of the people made in God’s image, and drenched by the God who says:
‘In those days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy
Your old men shall dream dreams
And your young men shall see visions’
Yet, if our gathering points to the prodigality of the Kingdom, the presence of the UNHCR tent among us may be a reminder that the kingdom is not
In celebrating so many gifts and ministries brought to fruition in the past and in the present, might we also remember those whose potential, whose God-given callings, are being lost to the church and the world?
Called ‘Am I my Brother’s Keeper?’ Daudy’s installation takes its title from the question defensively posed to God by Cain, a question which still reverberates within and between us today.
‘Am I my brother’s, my sister’s keeper?’
It’s a question being answered affirmatively in the lives and ministries of lay and ordained women and men who give themselves day by day to God’s coming kingdom of justice and peace and the dignity of every human being; in sharing the good news of the love of God in Jesus through funeral visits, dementia cafes, in PCC meetings, as school governors, as artists, musicians, bankers, teachers and in so many more ways,
But that question still remains: ‘Am I my brother’s, my sister’s keeper?
If I so, in this year of celebration we might also ask, where are my other brothers, my other sisters?
Who is not here on this day of celebration?
Who has not yet been included in the generous sheltering that God intends for them within Christ’s church?
Whose God-given gifts, whose heavenly call are being dissipated by circumstance, indifference or discrimination?
25 years on from those momentous days in 1994,
as we give thanks for the courage and the sheltering of those who broke the ground,
as many of us go about our glorious everyday ministry - #justapriest
as we turn towards the season of Pentecost once again,
what are we be being called upon now to prophesy, to dream and to work for, that God’s kingdom might come and all God’s people might be
With whom are we to create a community of shelter in which each may abide and find in Jesus our shared home?
At both services, on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April 1994 a hymn by June Boyce-Tillman was sung, set to the tune of Londonderry Air.
I would like to end with her words which invite us into a future even bigger than our past and all our imaginings:
We shall go out with hope of resurrection;
we shall go out, from strength to strength go on;
we shall go out and tell our stories boldly;
tales of a love that will not let us go.
We'll sing our songs of wrongs that can be righted;
we'll dream our dream of hurts that can be healed;
we'll weave a cloth of all the world united
within the vision of a Christ who sets us free.
We'll give a voice to those who have not spoken;
we'll find the words for those whose lips are sealed;
we'll make the tunes for those who sing no longer,
vibrating love alive in every heart.
We'll share our joy with those who are still weeping,
raise hymns of strength for hearts that break in grief,
we'll leap and dance the resurrection story
including all in circles of our love.