One of the interesting things about being without a Canon Pastor, which we have been since Canon Bruce Saunders retired in June, is that pastoral care has had to be shared out amongst the other clergy. I don’t want to give the impression – it would be false – that we are not involved in pastoral care when we have a Pastor – we are, but the responsibility necessarily falls elsewhere.
This week I have been very aware of being without a Canon Pastor because I’ve been involved in a number of pastoral offices – two funerals and a wedding. This would be the normal life of a Parish Priest of course, there is nothing unusual about it but for me it has taken me away from the unrelenting tide of email and have been able to engage with something that is at the heart of the priestly vocation.
Last week I was reflecting on Wool Week which is coming to an end. At the entrances to the Cathedral we have had some fluorescent models of sheep, indeed, there has been a little flock at the foot of the cross in the churchyard. They’re just a bit of fun, of course, a way of attracting people into the exhibition. But it has also been a reminder to me of the call to be a pastor and that is the call of the shepherd.
At the very beginning of the Ordination of Priests in the ordinal of the Church of England it says this
They are to set the example of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling.
The service in which women and men are set apart for priestly ministry is within the model of the Good Shepherd, the good pastor. Later on the Bishop says to those to be ordained
In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.
It is a powerful moment. The way it is worked out is of course being alongside people at every stage of their lives, in every situation in which they find themselves and the liturgical expression of this is to be found in the Pastoral Offices and principally baptism, marriage and funerals.
The joy and privilege of being a priest of the Church of England is of course that we offer this pastoral care and these rites of passage for all the people in the parish. We are not chaplains to a congregation, we are the pastors for the people committed to our care, the people of the whole parish and that is for those who know God and those who don’t, for those who come to church and those who don’t. That means that the vocation to be a pastor has to be central to the vocation to be a Parish Priest.
Every wedding, every funeral is so different and, of course, that is bound to be true. It wasn’t always the same though. Before the more recent revision of the liturgy the services we had to use were quite unresponsive to the needs of the individuals to whom we were ministering. The liturgies that we now use can be shaped to suit the people before us. That provides wonderful opportunities.
One funeral this week was for a person who had few family members but who had been clear that his funeral was to be in the Cathedral with lovely music and a horse-drawn hearse. The second funeral, at which I was simply a member of the congregation, was in a packed church, with huge numbers of people touched by the life of the deceased and with a family dealing with their loss but from a position of deep personal faith and commitment. The two services were so different but the intention was the same – to celebrate the person who had died and to commend them to Gods eternal and merciful keeping.
The couple at the wedding had chosen to use traditional language. They had also chosen beautiful music and inspiring readings. They looked beautiful and happy, as bride and groom should. And there, in the presence of God and the congregation, the two became one flesh, and I, as the priest, blessed their relationship, forged out of love and bound by God.
In addition I’ve been visiting the sick, taking the Sacrament to people at home and simply being alongside people in their joys and their sorrows. It’s not unusual – it’s what priests do – but it has been a privileged week for me, to reengage with that side of my priesthood.
At the beginning of his book The Country Parson, George Herbert writes this:
BEing desirous (thorow the Mercy of GOD) to please Him, for whom I am, and live, and who giveth mee my Desires and Performances; and considering with my self, That the way to please him, is to feed my Flocke diligently and faithfully, since our Saviour hath made that the argument of a Pastour’s love, I have resolved to set down the Form and Character of a true Pastour.
The way to please God is for the priest to feed the flock, diligently and faithfully. May God bless the Pastors of his church, lay and ordained, and bless those for whom we care with a shepherd’s love.
implant in the church,
in its ministers,
in its people,
a pastor’s heart,
that we may care for one another
with the love with which
you care for us.