A challenging commissioning

The other Sunday I attended the ‘installation’ of a new ‘residentiary canon’ at Chelmsford Cathedral – or as the Free Churches might say, the ‘induction’ of a new ‘member of the church’s ministry team’. It was a most uplifting and encouraging service. In particular, I found the words of the formal commissioning unusually fresh and challenging.

After the service I spoke to Nicholas Henshall, the Cathedral Dean, and asked him where the words came from – from which worship ‘manual’ had he taken them? To my surprise he said he had written the words of himself. I had somehow assumed that on a formal occasion like this everything would be taken from a book – but I was wrong. As I am increasingly discovering, liturgical creativity is very much alive within the Church of England. Would that the same creative spirit were at work in the Free Churches too! Alas in many independent churches responsibility for worship has been handed over to the leader of the ‘worship band’, whose choice of language is often limited, if not banal. Would that every minister could recover their calling to be creative liturgists and ensure that the words used within the prayers and at other points of the service enrich and broaden the church’s devotional life.

But to return to the commissioning of the new ‘staff member’, the Dean as ‘leader of the ministry team’ began by saying:

Today, we inaugurate your new ministry. You begin this work at a time of fresh challenges and new opportunities… A core part of your work is to move beyond traditional boundaries and be a model of new possibilities. Therefore I ask:

Will you strive to work always in collaboration with others, to listen as much as to speak, and to be a person of wise counsel among your colleagues?

Will you be diligent in study and seek always to lay your work before God in prayer?

Will you seek always to hold before those with whom and for whom you work, the person of Christ and the message of the Gospel as the well-spring of your calling?

I was challenged by four things in particular:

First, the recognition that a core part of ministry today is “to move beyond traditional boundaries and be a model of new possibilities”. Ministry can never stand still.  Constant change if the order of the day. Would that every churchgoer and every minister recognised this! This doesn’t mean that we throw out all that we did in the past – but it does mean that we need to create fresh ways of doing church.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the emphasis in the first question on ‘listening’ as well as ‘speaking’. All too many ministers are rugged individualists who believe that ‘leading’ involves presenting sets of new ideas without really consulting others. Of course, new ideas are needed – but what a difference it makes to a team when team members (and team leaders!) listen to one another.

Thirdly, I liked the balance in the second question between diligence and dependency. Yes, ministers are called to be ‘diligent’ in their study and preparation – there is no place for constantly ‘winging it’. On the other hand, we also need to recognise our dependency upon God – “apart from me”, said Jesus, “you can do nothing” (John 15.6).

Finally, in the third question I was struck by the challenge to hold “the person of Christ and the message of the Gospel as the well-spring of your calling” not just before those “for whom” we work, but also before those “with whom” we work. I am not sure what was intended by the crafting of these words in this way, but they reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Rome, where he spoke of being “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom 1.12). What a difference when a team’s way of working proves to be spiritually enlivening!

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