The ministry team at Chelmsford Cathedral where I now worship has just inducted (in Anglican terms, ‘licensed and collated’) its latest member – she will specialise in the key tasks of evangelism and discipleship. I went along to the ‘service of welcome’, which took the form of ‘a celebration of a new ministry’. I love the words which were chosen to describe this service.
I loved too the prayers which were said for the new minister. One of the great things about Sunday worship at Chelmsford Cathedral is that everybody is given a full order of service, containing not just the words of the hymns and of the Scripture readings, but also the full text of the liturgy, including the prayers. As a life-long Baptist I have had to adjust to every prayer being read -and have come to appreciate not only the craftsmanship of the prayers, but also the opportunity to reflect on the prayers. Although I agree with Stephen Windward (a former Baptist minister with a particular interest in liturgy) that “warm, direct, intimate, personal extempore prayer corresponds to the nature of prayer as conversation with God”, in the context of public worship I think there is much to be said for prepared prayer.
I was particularly struck by the prayer used by the bishop to ‘license’ the new minister.
God give you grace to fulfil your ministry,
reverence in celebrating the sacraments,
faithfulness in proclaiming the word,
diligence in pastoral care, tenderness in comforting,
power in healing the wounds of his people,
and humility, self-sacrifice and courage in all things.
May you follow the steps of our Lord Jesus
and lead others in eternal joy.
Every line resonated with me. For instance:
- I loved the opening prayer for God’s grace. Without God’s undeserved blessing, there is no hope for us in ministry
- I was surprised by the prayer for reverence in celebrating the sacraments, but then realised there is indeed a place for such a prayer, even within a Baptist context. I confess that I feel uncomfortable with the practice in some churches of applauding candidates when they are baptised; as also with the casual approach some ministers seem to have in celebrating the Lord’s Supper (let alone, as in church where I was preaching, doing away with the Table and putting the bread and wine on the floor!)
- As a Baptist I happily assented with the concept of ‘faithfulness’ in preaching, not least in ensuring that ministers work hard in expounding and applying God’s Word.
- I gladly assented to the need for ‘diligence’ and ‘tenderness’ in pastoral care. Alas, my perception is that many younger ministers spend far too much time grazing on the computer, rather than getting out and about and being with the people.
- The prayer for ‘power in healing the wounds of his people’ reminded me of the truth that ‘everybody is wounded’ – including those who minister.
- I liked the way in which ‘humility’ and ‘self-sacrifice’ were linked with ‘courage’. All three virtues are essential for leadership in today’s church. There is no room for bullies in God’s church – but nor is there need for ‘wimps’!
- With so much emphasis on ‘celebrities’ today, even within the church, the prayer to follow in the steps of Jesus is a prayer ministers need to pray every day. It is so easy to look to others, rather than to him.
- What a marvellous definition of evangelism and also of discipleship: leading others in the way of ‘eternal joy’. To what extent is that a reality in the way in which ministers exercise their ministry? There too is cause for much thought and reflection
Here then is a great prayer to offer up at the beginning of a ministry. However, it is not just a prayer for the first day of ministry – it surely is a prayer we can pray regularly for those who minister to us – indeed, it is a prayer that ministers themselves can adapt and make their own at every stage of their ministry.