While celebrating Holy Eucharist this morning at St Mary’s Priory and Christchurch, Abergavenny the Bishop of Monmouth read the Pastoral Letter of the Bench of Bishops’ of the Church in Wales on call to ministry
The Sunday after Ascension, 12th May 2013
To all those who are disciples of Jesus Christ
and members of the Church in Wales:
Jesus prayed “I made your name known to them, and will make it known”
Last Thursday, the Church celebrated the occasion when Jesus took his leave of the disciples, and commanded them to wait for the gift of power from on high. Next Sunday, we celebrate God’s sending of the Holy Spirit. As they waited, the disciples must have had a sense that they were on the brink of something new. They had given their lives to become wanderers with the Lord. They had become living witnesses of Jesus’ betrayal and execution, of his Resurrection and of God’s vindication of his Son, yet they could not have guessed where they might be led, or how God would support them in their witness.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus prays for all his disciples, down from that first fellowship, that his followers may become bearers of “glory”, in the same way that he had revealed the glory of God to the world. Jesus had done this by proclaiming God’s grace in word and in action, in radical outreach and in divine power, and he prays in this reading that the quality of life of his disciples would be such as to make known God’s name, God’s character – a quality of life that would speak of the fullness of God’s glorious nature.
Such a witness was the mission of the early Church, and our reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles shows how Paul and Silas among others found themselves doing that in unlikely ways and unlikely places.
The Church in Wales today inherits not just the witness of these first disciples and apostles, but of at least fifteen hundred years of witness to Jesus by the saints and disciples of Wales. Our forebears in the faith witnessed the Romans leave these shores, the Saxons and the Normans arrive. They have seen conquest, war, union with England, industrial revolution. They have seen decline and revival, the flowering of Catholic spirituality, and the passion of the Reformation. In every generation God has raised up those who make known the glory of the fullness of life found in Jesus. When the Anglican Church would not or could not, God raised up others, and we have been through separation and division, and yet we have also been drawn back towards relationship with one another because our true relationship is founded on the one Lord Jesus Christ.
In every generation we have tried to work out what being a disciple of Jesus and a living witness to the name of God means. We have asked ourselves questions about the scriptures and our witness and our worship and our service. The world in its turn has asked questions of us about our way of life and our beliefs in ways which stimulate new thinking.
Such questioning has never been more urgent than today, and as we approach the centenary of our disestablishment [our separation from almost a thousand years living as part of the Church of England] we are beginning to learn that we have to be less of an institution and more of a movement: that we have to recapture the spirit of those first apostles; uncertain what our role might be, but excited by the knowledge that Christ reveals the glory of God and makes his name known through our witness.
Jesus called all people to turn their lives around in order to become ambassadors in God’s name, to receive from God’s hand the new heart of flesh, of compassion and love, to replace the hardened heart of life outside of God. He invites us into the glory of a fullness of life in which God’s name is made known through healing and justice and love.
The worth of the Church in Wales depends entirely on our being ambassadors for that same glory today. Unless our lives reflect God’s love and glory, and we live the sort of life that he wants proclaimed, then the witness of the Church in Wales is hollow and without power.
That is why we are talking today of “ministry” and of “calling”. There is not a person sitting in the congregation today who cannot offer ministry in God’s name to the world. God calls every one of us into the exercise of that individual service for which God has made us and equipped us. God calls every one of us to be a bearer of God’s name and glory for others.
We would not be your bishops today, if we were not aware in our own lives that God has been merciful to us, and if we did not in some measure know that renewal of our hearts by God prophesied by Ezekiel and prayed for by Jesus. We have confidence that God has called us to this ministry and will sustain us, in the very same moment that each of us feels deeply unworthy of the task. However, the question today concerns not just our vocation, but the vocation of every member of the Church in Wales. What has God called you to do and to be alongside us for his sake? How can we together make known the glory and love of God in our world?
Today, we are asking you to join us in making God’s name known. Jesus prayed for us that we might reflect God’s glory and love, and we believe he calls us to become a people together, ready for ministry and service. Each member of our family has a place and a vocation to contribute and adventure forth in God’s name. The letter to the Ephesians speaks of God’s vocation: God “gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”, and we could add “and some, priests and deacons and readers and lay ministers”. What gifts has God given you to equip you to make known his name?
Isaiah heard the Spirit of God, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?
There is only one answer which can meet such a call, and God waits for everyone of us to give it:
Here I am, send me.