Preaching at the Civic Service for new Abergavenny Mayor Cllr Martin Hickman JP, Fr Malcolm Lane JP, Mayor’s Chaplain said:
Firstly, may I say how delighted we are to host the Civic service today for the New Mayor Councillor Martin Hickman with his wife and Consort Mayoress Alison ,The Deputy Mayor Councillor Mrs Maureen Powell and the Town Council with other Civic Dignatories.We are also delighted to see David Davies, our Member of Parliament.
I must say that for me personally ,it is good to return to a Abergavenny and find myself this morning in this Priory Church of St Mary where my vocation to the sacred Priesthood was nurtured all those years ago in nineteen hundred and frozen to death when I but was a junior Chorister It took almost forty years for that early seed to the germinate
I am also delighted to return to a town which cherishes its history.For now we live in an age which generally has a negative view of tradition. Ceremony and tradition are increasingly regarded as irrelevant to the world which we live in.
So much of value has been swept away and so very often the past is treated by many people as something which may be slightly embarrassing.
But we all need to remember our past and in a community like Abergavenny our corporate traditions give us a sense of continuity with those who have gone before us. Our traditions give a dignity to human affairs.
For me it is always an impressive sight to see the mace lead the mayor and councilors to church. But its far more than a quaint old ceremony; or a trip down memory lane. It reminds us that to provide leadership and service to a community is a noble purpose.The word “community” is one we hear so very often. It is certainly a word that is valued in this small town of Abergavenny
One of my former colleagues well known to you all ,Dean Jeremy Winston said to me that in his nineteen years as Vicar of this Parish he had never known a place with such a strong sense of community whatever our political persuasion may be !
When I was a boy growing up, my grandmother used to say to me that whenever I was in company , there were two things I must never talk about Religion and Politics
I am not sorry to say but her advice did not work for me
as I became a committed member of a political party and eventually ordained as a priest in the Church of God and I talk incessantly about both topics and even in company,and often in Church and so I am going to do it again this morning .
I am going to even suggest that politics and religion are in point of fact very similar .Perhaps this would imply that the Church and the local Town Council have similar and overlapping functions .Quite simply , we both seek to serve our community , to improve the lives of our people generally and parishioners in this Parish Church
For we must not forget that this is the Parish Church for the whole of Abergavenny not just those who attend regularly
We all must address and where possible meet their needs and challenge injustices or what matters affecting peoples lives are impoverished
Of course we both suffer from bad press from time to time This may or may not be justified
In m my own experience and in my opinion the church often behaves as if it out of touch with reality , and obsessed with matters that to so many are not really important and sometimes clergy are portrayed as somewhat wimpish , such as the Revd Tim Farthing ,the Vicar in “Dads Army” or even the woman vicar ,The Reverend Bodicea Geraldine Granger, so ably acted by Dawn French in the vicar of Dibley, although she at least has some personality ,For so many people now the church and the clergy are irrelevant in their lives , except of course when they are wanted or needed Likewise with Councils and councillors , who like clergy ,really do love one another .Sometimes the petty becomes the defining characteristic or caricature.
Published notices such as one I recently observed Gates not to be opened or closed due to health and safely regulations, confirm in the minds of many how silly certain rules and regulations can seem to the world at large.
Even giving a priest a parking ticket acting as an ambulance to transport elderly and diasabled people from a good Friday service, confirm in the minds of many how immoveable and intransigent a local authority can seem.
The church and the town Council both have a duty of care and responsibility and in doing so live out the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in and real and living way.
We may not go around healing the lame.We may not behave like shepherds and our respective constituents are not like sheep,
But in times of austerity which we have lived through and challenged with increased poverty and vulnerability ,we must look to the needs of our people and parishioners who have been most affected by the cuts benefits and public services and unemployment
We must possess love and compassion , so exemplified by our Lord Jesus By being focussed towards action and as John reminds us , if we see our brothers and sisters in need we must love not in word and speech but in truth and action .I want to conclude by paying tribute to our Mayor and Mayoress just beginning their year in office and to their predecessors
I have been privileged to have been Chaplain to Councillor Martin before and also Ray Hill and they have all in their own way made a difference to this town. Long may that continue
I will finish by telling you all what I consider to be a lovely story about a priest who went to the races. He was observed by a punter in the Paddock saying a prayer over the horse which had No 1 and it went on to win the race
At the next race , the priest was observed praying over the horse with No2 and it went on to win that race
When the said Priest was noticed praying over the horse with number three the punter went and put £5000 on the horse to win. Horror!
The horse died after two furlongs. The Punter naturally was very annoyed and challenged the Priest and asked why the first two horses had won their respective races and the third had died .The Priest replied that anyone with any knowledge would know the difference between a blessing and the last rites
Today we thank God for our town and for those who are our neighbours here for this is a good place to live.
May we together rededicate ourselves and redouble our effors to the service of our neighbour. Now! Councillor Martin we send you out,
not with the last rites , but with a blessing for all that you are going to do and all that you have done along with your predecessors ,The Church and the Town Council with Gods grace must continue to serve the people of our community ,
After all, as a contemporary amateur economist has said , we are all in this together! So at least then I can talk about religion and politics with a clear conscience.