Canon Martin Onions charge to the Annual Parochial Church Meeting 17th April 2015
Luke 5. 1-11 was read
Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’
Have you got a vocation? I ask, because there seems to be a widespread assumption that a 'vocation' is what clergy have, or monks or nuns - or perhaps, at a push, Readers and maybe even ministers of communion.
Sometimes we hear people talking about 'praying for vocations' and sometimes even 'preaching about vocations', when what they mean is trying to do something about the perceived need for more clergy or those called to the religious life. (Don't get me wrong we should be doing this too and we are looking forward to Tuesday 2nd May when Fr. Mitch will be ordained to the priesthood and Saturday 19th September when Sheila will be licensed as a Reader.) But, the truth is that each one of us is called by God; therefore each one of us has a vocation.
Each one of us has been given gifts and abilities by God to be used for the building up of the kingdom. You may be sitting there right now thinking, not me! But I can tell you that everyone I know who has responded to the call of God has said to begin with - surely not me! Indeed everyone in the Bible who is called by God has said initially - not me and given a lot of excuses to say why it shouldn't be them.
Have you got a vocation? I want to suggest to you that we all have a vocation and therefore you have a vocation; you have a call from God on your life which it is rooted in the resurrection, and that it is a vocation, a calling, to know the risen and transforming presence of Jesus, and to know him first of all in the stuff of our day-to-day life - and those are all words of one syllable!
Martin Luther said: Be the monks and priests never so holy and arduous, they have not one whit more of a calling than the rustic in the field, or the housewife going about her household tasks in the home (Luther, Babylonian Captivity 3:42).
Over the years, the plurality of Uckfield has had a goodly number of clergy in post, The Rector, a curate, a curate at Isfield, a few non stipendiary, and the odd retired....this has naturally led to a delegation of tasks taking place - the clergy do anything that we would perceive as liturgical or pastoral and the laity, everyone else, organises the social aspect of church life and turns up on a Sunday. Please don't get me wrong - I am in no way criticising - but I do want to challenge this evening about our responsibilities today, and to say that we need to redress the balance and reclaim something of the truth that we all share in ministry.
Firstly in prayer: If we are the body of Christ here in Uckfield, then like our Lord, we must meet together regularly with the Lord, we must, as he asked, break bread together and share the scriptures. The shortest sermon I ever heard was this: a man and a women got married. They met together for lunch once a week. It wasn't much of a marriage - was it? First and foremost we must build our relationship with God or else everything else we do will be in vain. What do we offer to people if we are not offering he new life of Christ which lives in us and is nurtured and fed and growing within us? I am very pleased that we now have two home groups meeting and there is the opportunity to attend worship in church every day where we pray for the work of the church on a daily basis at the offices of morning and evening prayer and at the daily celebration of the Eucharist. If we are to make a difference we must be rooted in Christ ourselves, we must be being fed by him. It is always wonderful when people want to join the clergy in the daily pattern of worship in church - something we value greatly as clergy is the shared prayer, the offices of morning and evening prayer and the daily Eucharist. Maybe this is something which you could make a commitment to join in.
So, having established that we need to be rooted and grounded in God and have an ever growing relationship with him we must then ask ourselves some basic questions about our lives.
- What is the meaning of what you do?
- How is God there?
- What does the incarnation of the Son of God mean in the office, cooking a meal or waiting for a bus?
- Where, in whatever you do, is the Spirit of God creating reconciliation, peace and prosperity?
‘Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.’ Jesus said. Think about those words to Peter, it is not just to him that the call comes; it is to him and all who are with him. The call of God in Jesus Christ comes to each of us as individuals; but it comes also to us collectively, to work together.
So what about our relationships, our worship, our reaching out in this community? Where are we called to put out into deep waters?
This evening we have witnessed the many ways in which individuals contribute to the whole here at Holy Cross; dusters and polishers, those who care for the education of our young people and families, to those who lead worship and those who help us enjoy ourselves together. This evening gives us the opportunity to say thank you to God for each of them, responding in some way to the call of Jesus and to say that collectively we should be really excited by all that God is doing here in the building up of his kingdom in this place. We have seen the beginnings of growth in people worshiping with us week by week; both Christmas and Easter have been absolutely incredible and with the Family Worship now well established, and I have to say that Reflections are doing an fantastic job in supporting this and moving things forward - we should not be pessimists, God is certainly not dead! - Within people the spirit of God is stirring and he calls us firstly to worship him and then to work with him.
Week by week I am amazed how people do look to the church for all sorts of things and the opportunities this gives us to share the good news of the Gospel we have received. I am particularly pleased at the work with children as this now really is bedding in: we have great numbers and great kids turning up to youth club, from this we have developed the junior choir and we are just beginning to see growth within Junior Church, this growth comes from the careful work which Gill Comber and Fr. Mitch do in baptism preparation, and the ongoing work which goes on both in our church schools and the other schools in the town. There are churches that would give their left arm to regularly have contact with the number of children and young families we do - though of course we are only at the beginning and there is no room for complacency!
Our vocation as followers of Christ is about being faithful in our response to the trust that Jesus puts in us, a trust which is placed upon every believer at their baptism to live out the Good news in their every day lives. It is important that we have Christians involved in industry, business, education, how important it is that we have Christian teachers, nurses, and electricians, shop workers and farmers, Christians working in every field of life. Of course for many of you here you will have finished your formal working lives and I am aware of the number of people here who are living out that vocation in the voluntary sector, the hospital, hospice, local schools to name a few and it is important to remember that the call from God doesn’t have a retirement age.
This vocation, our call by God, is lived out through the care which we give. I know that as a Church community there is an awful lot of care for one another in the congregation. Indeed the overwhelming majority of all pastoral care is given by lay people, one to another, and I am pleased to say, by lay people to clergy as well as the other way round - something for which us as the clergy are grateful for.
Ruth Etchells, has written this:
To be called to lay service is to be called to live fully in the secular world, to be at ease in it, to know its idioms and assumptions, to engage in its arguments and affairs, because its real centre is there. It is not to sally out from one's 'real' centre, the parish church and its affairs, or the diocesan structures, for sorties into industry and trade or education or politics or whatever. It is to live in industry or trade or education or politics, to earn one's income from them (or be unemployed by them); to be committed to them; and there, in that place where one's energies are committed, to engage quite consciously in mission and ministry.'
I agree that we are 'short of clergy' - if we are to go on understanding and performing that role in ways that we always have done. But I bet that the 'shortage of clergy', crucial problem though it is, is nowhere near as crucial as that of the nature of Christian vocation. Indeed, it might even be that we need to get this right in order to be able to address the other.
Have you got a vocation? We all have. It may be a hazardous undertaking; it may present us with difficult theological - as well as practical - questions (and the fact that they are theological neither rules out nor excuses lay people from addressing them); it may require of us new commitments; it may threaten our security and our existence. But to respond to it is the only way to be and to make sense of our life together:
I wonder then, as we seek to move forward in faith together, to continue to build the kingdom here, will you think again about the risk of ‘Putting out into deep water, and letting down your nets for a catch’? So as the challenges of developing ministry, of developing our social outreach, developing our role within the community of Uckfield makes demands upon us as a church - and therefore as individual members of the body of Christ - I hope that you will not shy away from responding, knowing that God has given to you particular gifts and skills for the building up of the Kingdom here in this place.