Revd Canon Helen Newman, Chaplain Launde Abbey
What a great joy it is to be here today, as family, friends and ministerial colleagues, to celebrate Jackie’s consecration as bishop, and to pray for her at the start of this new ministry.
Today is a first – the first consecration of a woman bishop in this beautiful cathedral, and the first consecration in the Anglican Communion of a Bishop Jackie……. And those of us who have known Jackie for some time are perhaps not surprised that this day has come.
So first a few words for you Jackie –
God has called you as you, so ‘be Jackie’. You are called to serve Christ’s church as bishop with all your gifts and strengths, and carrying the wounds which are all part of what makes us human, and few may see, but which will be part of the gift you bring to those you shepherd as their bishop. As theologian Dr Cathy Ross said at our Leicester Diocesan conference last year, speaking out of her experience working in Rwanda,
“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.”
The whole of you is called and being David’s wife and Josh and Sims’ mum are all part of what has shaped you and will continue to shape you in the coming years. You bring a warm pastoral heart, deep wisdom and the gift of bringing the gospel to life for those who hear you preach and teach.
It seems fitting that this service falls on the anniversary of Vincent de Paul, a French RC Priest who not only had a great heart for the poor and worked for justice and relief for many in need, but was also very enlightened in his work with women and encouragement of the foundation of the Sisters of Charity – the first community of women not to be enclosed. How glad we are that the Anglican church now welcomes the gifts of women at every level of leadership and we are no longer ‘enclosed’ and confined to narrow roles.
Our reading from Isaiah takes us to the heart of our calling as God’s people – to loose the bonds of injustice; to free people from the weight of heavy burdens; to let the oppressed go free. Jackie, you are called to lead those in your episcopal care to be people of compassion and generosity, so that the light of Christ may shine out of them and through them healing may come to the broken places of our Church and world.
As Christian people, we are there to make God real to those who don’t yet know Him and as a bishop you will be a public figure and a representative of both the Church and of God. You will find that your presence – the gift of yourself and your commitment to ‘be with’ others, both clergy and lay - in times of confusion or conflict, despondency and grief - will speak volumes of the holding presence of God in the broken places of life.
The Gospel reading from Matthew reminds us that what we do for the least of God’s children, we do for him. We serve Christ in the hungry and thirsty; in the stranger; in the needy; in the sick and when we visit those in prison: and the humbling thing is that it’s so often as we encounter those in places of great need, that we find we meet Christ in them and we are ministered to in the places of poverty and weakness in our own lives. As a bishop you will live with huge demands on your time and will often have the seat of honour in churches you visit, in the cathedral and at many civic and community occasions. But don’t overlook the more ordinary and ‘hidden away’ people and places, where you will meet Christ in extraordinary ways.
I love this story from the journal of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe. After celebrating the mass in a desperately poor slum area in Latin America, he describes how ‘a big devil whose hang-dog look made him almost afraid said, “Come to my place. I have something to give you” Unsure whether to accept, he was assured these were good people and he should go.
He writes: “I went to his place; his house was a hovel nearly on the point of collapsing and he had me sit down in a rickety old chair. From there I could see the sunset. The big man said to me, “Look, sir, how beautiful it is!” We sat in silence for several minutes. The sun disappeared. The man then said, “I don’t know how to thank you for all you have done for us. I have nothing to give you, but I thought you would like to see this sunset. You liked it didn’t you? Good evening” and then he shook my hand.
With all the responsibilities and challenges of being a bishop in today’s church, there will be times when you may feel tempted to protect yourself from being overwhelmed and to build walls around your heart so that you won’t be wounded. So remember these words from the wise 2nd century Bishop, Iraneus:
It is not you that shapes God
It is God that shapes you.
If then you are the work of God
Await the hand of the artist who does
All things in due season.
Offer him your heart,
Soft and tractable…
Let the clay be moist
Lest you go hard
And lose the imprint of his fingers.
As you become Bishop of Crediton Jackie, you will embrace the vision of Exeter Diocese to deepen prayer, to grow and make disciples and to serve the people of Devon with joy. This is a ministry that you have been prepared for over many years – as a primary school teacher, a parish priest, a theological educator, Archdeacon and Cathedral Canon and in your work with ‘Bridge Builders’ and conflict transformation. Those are rich experiences which you can be grateful for and will equip you well.
The challenge for you now, from today forwards, is the challenge for each one of us in our Christian discipleship, to live the now, to trust God that he will supply what we need for today, trusting in the generosity and abundance of God’s grace, on which we utterly depend.
As Bishop, you are to awaken faith in others and keep telling and re-telling the great story of God’s love made known to us in Christ – telling the story in new and creative ways which will speak into the hearts of young and old, bringing hope to the bewildered and lost.
You will need to guard your own prayer times, to have eyes that see where God is at work and ears attuned to his voice, and a heart that carries others daily before God -so that you may be among the people as a shepherd who knows her flock and loves them deeply.
The God who created us, loves us deeply and calls each of us by name. Nothing in life is more important than listening for that call of love and responding. This is the meaning at the centre of each of our lives.
If we have not yet become aware of God’s call, let us pray to hear it now through this service, as we pray for Jackie to hear afresh God’s call to her to become a bishop of God’s church.