God the Father,help us to hear the call of Christ the King and to follow in his service,whose kingdom has no end;for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, one glory. Amen
I was so looking forward to preaching ‘Christ the King’. Then Tuesday happened, and I said to the Vicar “how can I stand and preach now?” His reply – “if you are able, tell them how you feel”.
How I feel? How can I have the cheek to stand in front of a congregation and rant through my pain, my grief, my feelings of rejection, my anger? That’s not a sermon, it’s abuse of a pulpit. How can I preach church as a Bride fit for Christ the King, when I am so angry? What can I say about a church which debated so unkindly from all sides on Tuesday? Where is the hope?
Then Friday happened. I met a man, who was nearly crying with the effort of keeping his rage in check, shaking with anger at Bishops who were ignoring what Synod said. Bad enough that there are women priests, bad enough that he doesn’t know whether the Reserved Sacrament is Sacrament, but to watch bishops and others tear his beloved Church of England apart was unbearable.
So we sat for an hour in our shared pain, rage and grief. We talked. We listened really really hard. I came away exhausted and enriched. All we had done was talk and listen about what we thought and how we felt. And this is what I invite you to do now, quietly, prayerfully. Write down how you feel and what you think about women bishops [post-it notes]. Tell us. We will gather them, and offer all our feelings and thoughts to God. And I ask again, do so prayerfully, kindly, with grace.
And don’t feel picked on. You don’t have to participate, you don’t have to write your name. We are doing this at every service in the Benefice today, we want to know how you feel and what you think, so that we can move forward as a church, a bride for Christ the King.
Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And bless them, both times they sat in silence and scribbled away. I have read the 8 o’clockers. Six affirmations, one who will never stomach women bishops. All as expected. One who was delighted to be asked what she thought, and angry that that sermon slot had been used “inappropriately”.
Before the 9.30, my lovely training incumbent came (unscheduled) to deacon, and he did the notices. He told the congregation about the Bishops’ letter to the Diocese, and he prayed for all the women who minster in our benefice – whatever they do. And I felt my composure start to fail. I kept it together all the way through presiding, although I was nearly undone by kind words at The Peace. Afterwords, I hid in the vestry, where the most unlikely of the three servers found me. “Don’t know what you’re looking like that for. You’re a big girl now. Get out there, you’ve got a job to do, you know you can do it”. Which from that particular server, is as close to a hug and a big wet kiss as I will ever get. It made me cry more, but did have the desired effect pretty quickly.
Trying to hold the tension is exhausting. Grace hurts, but it must be given, received, and lived out. I will be “preaching” this sermon once more at Evensong. I pray I’ll never need it again.