St Pauls Cathedral 21st May 2019
How wonderful to be preaching in one of the largest cathedrals in the world, and one of the largest pulpits it seems. How wonderful to have the choir of Canterbury, the mother church of the Anglican Communion. How wonderful to have the choir of Coventry Cathedral, one of our newest cathedrals with its powerful ministry of reconciliation. So I bring you all greetings from Gloucester Cathedral, the most perfectly formed cathedral in England. Deans love to play cathedral top trumps.
I’ve just come back from holiday, and amongst the trashy books I read on my Mediterranean sun bed, was a novel which had a picture of St Pauls Cathedral on the front cover. But this St Pauls had a difference, you see, this St Pauls Cathedral was on wheels. Now that really would be a top trump. Set on top of the capital city, this St Pauls could move around the author’s post-apocalyptic wasteland of continental Europe; now a cathedral on wheels that really would be a fresh expression. But there was another subtle difference about this St Pauls, for looking up at the great dome, it would open up like the petals of a flower, but inside was a great death ray, that could destroy anything in its path. Now there’s a thought Mr Dean. Apparently the book is to be made into a major motion picture soon, so I see a source of income generation for St Pauls, so watch this space.
Reading science fiction on holiday is now an annual joy for me. But it was not always so. Both as a very young curate, and more so as a very young incumbent, one of the most important days in the life of our family, was when the envelope from the Sons or the Friends of the clergy dropped through the letterbox, and sent us on a modest but brilliant holiday away from the parish, which otherwise would never have been had. It was like Christmas all over, we had something to look forward to, we could take our young children, and we could do the things that other people did. At that time, my stipend was our only income, and with a young family, aged 27 and giving my whole working life to the church, we would have much to be thankful for, including gifts towards school uniform and car maintenance. Some of our most memorable times were spent in a Sons or Friends flat in Eastbourne which we could rent for a silly amount of money each November before the Christmas run in. The charity, now named the Clergy Support Trust was, for me, a life-saver, and we shall be forever grateful.
Today, we celebrate 365 years of this ministry, and we thank God for the Clergy Support Trust and for those of you who offer such generous support, past, present and future. Thank you. Like the St Pauls in my imagination, the Clergy Support Trust is being given new wheels in which to move around the church and express the generosity of God freshly with a new name. 365 is the number of years and the number of days in the year and the Clergy Support Trust helps clergy and clergy dependants every day of the year, making a difference so that the clergy can be better resourced in making a difference in our churches, in our society and in our land, for the growth of God’s Kingdom. This is no less than Kingdom work, backing up those giving everything for mission and being there when the going gets tough. Thank you.
I bring particular thanks today from the Diocese of Gloucester, where one of our clergy has recently been saved from serious debt, and the Clergy Support Trust has probably saved a much bigger problem, and renewed a valued public ministry. Thank you.
As well as the holiday grant coming through the door though, I also remember all the form filling, and the sense of guilt and inadequacy as we had to apply for help. There is an indignity in that, and the feeling should not be underestimated. So helping clergy to help themselves whilst they spend their lives helping others is another important task of the Clergy Support Trust.
Giving financial support needs the Wisdom of Solomon at times, and as the reading said, a wise and discerning mind. So governance and being really in touch with modern needs will be important as the Clergy Support Trust finds its new ministry with its new name. But as Solomon was told, ‘if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, then I will lengthen your life.’
Whilst in St Luke, we have heard today afresh that the disciples of Jesus all carry a cross, and sometimes the burden of debt or illness, or financial hardship can weigh heavy. Thank you to those who give up some of your possessions to help those in ministry, who share the cross of Christ with their cure of souls.
Health and Well-being, bereavement support, counselling, nursing home fees, relationship breakdown support, special aids, these are all ways in which the Clergy Support Trust helps those at the sharp end of the church to stay there and to be bearers of good news.
My prayer is that the new name you celebrate today, gives you wheels for the future. You will need to be wise, and you will need to be informed. You will need to be generous and you will need to be broad and inclusive. You will need to remember this year of all years that the clergy are out there 365 days a year and their needs are real, often unseen and costly to both household and soul. Without the clergy, the Clergy Support Trust would have no reason to exist, so use your resources not just to support individuals but also to support research and opportunity for growth and development. And thank you.
Having a new name, an inclusive name, is a good moment to be born again. There is plenty of precedent for this in scripture. Having a new name takes you to a new place with a new ministry, especially in well-being and prevention. I shall pray for the Clergy Support Trust at this exciting time. But my prayer will also be that with wisdom and with generosity, the Clergy Support Trust will see itself ever more firmly, not just as a supporter of ministry, wonderful as that is, but as a partner in mission. Your help helps the helpers of Christ. You are partners in the mission of Jesus Christ. The Clergy Support Trust will be, every day of every year, an instrument of God’s grace, a healer of wounds, and a movement for mission. Thank you for that and thank you for all that is to come from the Clergy Support Trust. Amen.
The Very Revd Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester