Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Bishop of London's Ordination Sermon

This sermon, from the Diocese of London website HERE was preached by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres, at the ordination of thirty deacons this last Saturday. 

You could have been at Wimbledon; you could have been with Mick Jagger at Glastonbury but you have chosen to be here because this calling and commissioning of thirty new deacons as agents of the compassion of God that we see in Jesus Christ this has the potential to make a transforming impact on our church, our own country and beyond.

The bishops assembled here are acting in the name of the whole community and your contribution is vital. One of the most ancient parts of this service is also one of the most contemporary. The community identifies those who have the gifts to serve as deacons, servant leaders who embody the compassion of Christ.

We shall soon come to a point a decision. You must declare your consent for this ordination to proceed. In the old world they shouted 'Axios!'. We are C of E and it will be more decorous, but I shall be listening carefully. If the response is luke warm or tentative we shall probably pack up and go home.


At some point in almost every media interview I am asked the question "aren't you depressed by the empty churches and dwindling congregations". I talk about the diverse talents of the latest cohort of thirty deacons; the fact of a sixty per cent growth in electoral rolls over the past twenty years; I mention the increasing numbers in our church schools which now educate over 53,000 young Londoners a day – Offsted judges 84% our schools to be good or outstanding and that compares with a national average of 70%; I point to St Mellitus College, an embryo Christian University founded only six years ago which is already the largest theological college in the country and which has just established a hub on Merseyside; then if that were not enough we are poised to build our first entirely new church in North London for forty years. By this time the eyes are beginning to glaze over. They pass to the next question but you can see that they are not really convinced.

My conclusion from all this is that we do not get out enough. We speak words of fire among consenting adults but we have hardly begun to realise our potential as a community to make a transforming contribution to the life of today's London. I do not blame the media still less do I subscribe to the idea that Christians are being persecuted in our country – tell that to our fellow Christians in the Middle East. I am glad however that at a time when as it says in the scriptures "visions are not widespread" the Diocese of London has received and distilled a vision as a result of more than two thousand conversations with believers in the capital.

Capital Vision 2020 is part of the context for the work to which these deacons are being called. The themes which have emerged are confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ; compassion which expresses the love of God the Father and creativity in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The question for every generation of Christians is what form should Jesus Christ take in our own day?

The gospel is not simply the communication of information about God and Jesus Christ. The gospel is a living truth. We re-member Jesus Christ rather than dis-membering him by our petty squabbles. We re-member together by sharing our gifts and talents so that Christ's whole body and spirit can be seen, touched and felt in our time. As we re-member him and become fully aware members of his body the reality is that he is at work re-membering us; we are transformed as the early friends of Jesus were transformed into a world converting community.

We have a long way to go before this is fully a reality in our own time but we have pledged ourselves to inspire and commission 100,000 kingdom builders in our part of London by 2020 with a brief to work with allies from other communities in the transformation of our city. Conversion these days involves turning away from seeing ourselves principally as consumers; and instead turning towards life as generous citizens and contemplatives – which is where true joy is to be found.

The second theme follows the first – after confidence in the gospel then compassion which expresses the love of God the Father – this is the deacons' special calling.

The church in London has an astonishing record of responding to need in literally hundreds of projects; food banks; winter night shelters; debt counselling and so much more. But you know that hectic do-goodery can be merely exhausting and very oppressive to the beneficiaries. Compassion works its miracles when we are sane and poised enough to love without the hidden agendas which all of us bring to our attempts to do good.

Prayer is the essential education in moving us beyond the mental level of the ego at which we spend so much of our time; through the waste of our fears, wraths and cravings within, to the place, the spiritual heart, where the Spirit is already at work praying within us. Living from this level sane and poised, loving without twisted motives brings healing.


I do not think that as a church we have begun to appreciate the impact of the social media. Facebook has been the most successful missionary movement of the past few years and the capacity of the new media to challenge and sometimes dissolve corporations and long established institutions is huge.

In other ways as well the world is changing profoundly. The unchallengeable Western hegemony of the past 250 years is giving way to a more multipolar world. China with its fast growing Christian community is regaining the economic and political place it held until the eighteenth century.

We need the insights and the creativity of the young. We must improve our invitation to the young to participate in the church not as it is, with our tired structures and over-elaborate systems but as agents of change in a community which looks more like Save the Children and less like a civil service department of the day before yesterday . We are determined to double the number young people actively involved in church life by 2020. We are looking to build on some of the work already being done in sports based ministry and in the creative arts.

We have huge opportunities in London to use our gifts for the common good and who knows how long the opportunities will last. Why should we continue to enjoy our rich heritage unless we are fruitful?

We are being given a little more time to develop a transforming confidence not in ourselves but in the love of God; to deepen a healing compassion and to bear fruit in the creativity with which we use our gifts for the common good. These thirty deacons will have a major role to play in the coming years in response to the vision we have received but this is work for each and every one of us if we dare to call ourselves a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that there is nothing that is impossible for a Church that has heard and seen an authentic vision; a church that is confident, compassionate and creative in the power of the Spirit and in union with Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.


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