The Succentor - The Revd Rachel Young
Duet 18.15-20; Rev 12.1-5a; Mark 1.21-28
Today is the first Sunday in our annual Season of Gifts. We are encouraged to consider again what we offer to God by way of a response to his love and gifts to us
You will see that there are three priorities this year, and in today’s sermon we will be focussing on one of them, the Pastoring of Disciples.
In September 2015, the following news item popped up on the BBC website:
“Two sheep farmers have started using smartphones to monitor and record their flocks.
A new mobile phone app allows them to record everything from the weight of a lamb to the medicines it is being given, all without leaving the fields.
Huw and Guto Jones said it saves them time.
“This new technology is a breath of fresh air,” said Huw Jones. “It has made the recording of sheep and lambs’ details so much easier and quicker. If a problem arises in the field with a lame ewe or a sick lamb, we can search for an ear tag number on the phone...”’
I wonder if you would be pleased or concerned if this technology had reached the phones of our clergy?...!
The metaphor of shepherd for a pastor of the people of God has a long and rooted history.
In the Old Testament, the leaders of the people of Israel were compared to shepherds. In Ezekiel, the prophet rails against the leaders for failing to be good shepherds. He says:
“You do not feed the sheep.
You have not strengthened the weak,
you have not healed the sick,
you have not bound up the injured,
you have not brought back the strayed,
you have not sought the lost.” (34:3-4)
As a consequence, God himself says:
“I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.” (34:11)
In the New Testament, Jesus is often compared to a shepherd. In John’s gospel, Jesus says:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Apart from using this metaphor, are there any other ways of describing pastoral care?
Here are two:
“Pastoral care is any form of personal ministry to individuals and to family and community relationships by representative religious persons (ordained and lay) and by their communities of faith, who understand and guide their caring efforts out of a theological perspective rooted in faith.” (Ian Bunting in ‘A History of Pastoral Care’, Ch 19, p. 385)
“Pastoring is bringing people to God…It is primarily about God and then people… it is sharing the life of Christ in the work of the pastor.” (John Frye, ‘Jesus the Pastor’)
So we could say that as Christians representing our faith we – both lay people and ordained clergy - offer personal ministry to others, through sharing the life of Christ in our own lives.
This means that we will learn much by taking Jesus as our role model.
The Gospels show us many facets of Jesus’ role and character. Our Gospel reading this morning showed him to be a teacher and an exorcist. More widely in the Gospels we see that Jesus:
- …took all people seriously and showed them respect and love;
- He especially respected the poor and those in minorities, women, children, and the ritually unclean;
- He listened, and offered healing;
- He washed their feet, and served them with humility;
- He prayed for them;
- He restored them in their relationship with God.
All Christians can take part in Jesus’ ministry to the world by doing as he did –
bringing people to God –
by taking him as our role model
and thereby taking part in the pastoring of others.
Clergy are, of course, specifically called to a pastoral ministry.
In the words of the ordination service,
“Priests …share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church…They are to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling. They are to teach and to admonish,
to feed and provide for his family,
to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions,
that they may be saved through Christ for ever.”
And so, the pattern of pastoral oversight of the people resides with the Bishop, in which priests share; and in which lay people also have a role – because the calling of every Christian is to set Jesus as our role model, to seek to become more like him, to reflect our love for him in our lives.
Here at the Cathedral, how does pastoral care work out in practice?
Canon Michael Rawson is our Canon Pastor, the person on the clergy team responsible for overseeing pastoral care; and all the clergy are involved to a greater or lesser extent.
Lay people are already involved, e.g. our two Southwark Pastoral Assistants, Marion and Heather; and many of our staff and volunteers may also feel that they are part of the more informal pastoring of people they meet and work with, as we work together as a team and look out for each other.
There are some specific challenges to be addressed, as we seek to develop and nurture a culture of welcome, care and access for all. In particular, it is a huge challenge to care for a mainly dispersed congregation, and to do so with realistic expectations. It is not as straightforward as caring for those who live in a geographical parish.
Some ways of overcoming this are already being discussed and are outlined in the Season of Gifts brochure. Here are three –
- First, to stop members of our Cathedral community falling through the net and losing touch with us, a pastoral team is being established to offer care and support. They will be looking at training in terms of listening, mental health issues, and how to care for people via phone conversations; a small group is also exploring being available for pastoral conversations on Sundays following the 11am Eucharist;
- Secondly, we would like to encourage existing groups and networks to be more intentional about caring for one another, and for sharing news and pastoral information with the clergy and pastoral team. It’s the same as in any church, that if no-one tells the clergy, they won’t know!
- Thirdly, during the year we would like to explore becoming a dementia friendly church and plan to provide appropriate training for staff and volunteers.
The Dean’s question in the Season of Gifts brochure is for us all to consider – what can we give to God, in love, out of all that he has given to us?
Do we have any particular gifts or skills in the area of pastoral care to offer? And are we willing to be challenged in our behaviour towards others, to more actively live the call of God to care for others by bringing them to him?
As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews concludes,
“May the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.