Bishop Peter ordained the Reverend William James Mackay to the priesthood
on Saturday 7 October at the Parish Church of St Mary de Ballaugh.
Sermon for the Ordination to the Priesthood of The Revd William Mackay:
St Mary de Ballaugh, 7 October, 2017
This is the third time that I have preached this week: a joy and a delight for me, although perhaps not necessarily so for those colleagues who have had to listen on all three occasions! It is also just the third time that I have preached in this Diocese, so this evening I would like to reflect back over the past week. Today’s service of ordination, the ordination of William to the priesthood, follows Wednesday’s ordination of Alex as a deacon in the Cathedral, which in turn followed last Saturday’s service in the Cathedral at which I began my ministry as Bishop of Sodor and Man. They have all been significant events, and all of them are related to each other. They are related through the episcopal ministry, the ministry of the bishop, that ministry and office to which God has called me in this place. The bishop is the visible sign of the universal Church and the focus of the local Church. To put it another way, it is through the ministry of the bishop that we have the visible link between what happens here, in St Mary de Ballaugh, and the life of the wider universal Church across the world and through the centuries. Most of the time, of course, that ministry is delegated to the Rector, to The Revd Iaen and his clergy and Reader colleagues, through Fr Chris as the Mission Partnership Leader, but today, in ordaining William to the universal priesthood of the Church, the laying-on of hands by the Bishop, assisted by the College of Priests of this Diocese, conveys both the local and the wider significance of what it means to serve God in Word and Sacrament.
In Word and Sacrament: the priest is a minister of Word and Sacrament. William is the first person whom I will ordain as priest, just as Alex on Wednesday was the first person whom I ordained as a deacon. Many of you will remember William being ordained deacon by my predecessor just under a year ago, and we look forward to the prospect of Alex’s priestly ordination next year, if such is God’s will. And over this past week, in the preaching that I have offered, I have tried to trace the outline of what the Church exists to do and to be. It exists to be prophetic; it exists to serve; and it exists to care. In all of these things, it is proclaiming the Word of God in the work of mission. And those three functions – being prophetic, serving, caring – are what I set before us this week and today, and it is these things that together form my vision for the life of the Church on the Isle of Man.
They cannot, of course, be entirely separated from each other. They are present to some extent in everything that the Church does. But they are also foundational. Being prophetic: I spoke of this at last Saturday’s enthronement as being prepared to tell the world what it may not wish to hear, and as having the wisdom to speak into people’s lives. Serving: loving service that proclaims the Gospel in action was how, on Wednesday, I characterised the task of the deacon. Caring: that is what is essential to the priestly task, for the priest is the one who imparts the abiding care of God for God’s people, in Word and in Sacrament. William and I were reflecting earlier on the Lord’s words to Simon Peter at the end of St John’s Gospel, and the call to ‘feed his sheep’. The detail of what this means is spelled out in our ordination liturgy this evening. We will hear in a moment that the priest is called to ’unfold the Scriptures’: not just to proclaim scripture but to abide in scripture, to inhabit scripture, to the point of being able to explain and interpret and commend God’s Word both as pastor and as theologian. At the Lord’s table, the priest is to lead God’s people, ‘offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’ The priest is to bless in God’s name. The priest is ‘to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, intercede for all in need, minister to the sick, prepare the dying for their death’.
These are huge tasks, and they will be deeply demanding of our personal reserves, spiritual and mental strength, and what is now known as ‘resilience’. Our priesthood is derived from the priesthood of Christ (ultimately it is the priesthood of Christ), and in its way it will therefore be equally costly. And these are tasks that are earthed in the real world of human experience. Indeed, as the Lord’s ministry was rooted in the physical things of this world in order to point His people to the greater things of God, so the priest’s ministry is located in an extraordinary physicality. Think of the matter of the sacraments, which is the everyday substance of life: the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the eucharist. These are taken and sanctified by the grace of God in the hands of the priest. And so in our ordination rite we anoint the hands of the new priest with oil, as a sign of that sacred purpose. We will present William with a Bible because he is a Minister of the Word, and we anoint his hands because he is a Minister of the Sacrament.
The Anglican tradition has sometimes spoken of a priest as a ‘walking sacrament’. There is also the definition of a sacrament as an ‘outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. The priest is always a priest: on duty or off, wearing clericals or your gardening clothes, you are a priest, and as a walking sacrament you carry with you the fullness of the Church’s ministry of loving pastoral care. Where you are, there is the Church. And so in everything that you do, how you speak to people, how you conduct your personal life, you will speak to people of the Church. You will be the representative of the Church to all whom you meet, and perhaps most crucially to those who are outside it. They may be quick to judge, for good as occasionally for ill: if you have time for them, they will know that God has time for them, and there will be acts and words which you will think very slight but for which people will be immeasurably grateful.
I have offered these thoughts to William, but I offer them also to my colleagues seated here and to myself. An ordination is a wonderful occasion, and not least because for those of us who have been there ourselves, it brings back thoughts of our own journey, our own ordination vows, perhaps our first celebration of the eucharist. So, to conclude, a couple of stories from my own experience. Like Alex, I was made deacon in the cathedral of the diocese. Unlike Alex, I was one of about thirty candidates. On the question of what we were to wear for the ordination, the Bishop of London was quite flexible, but the one item he would not permit was the academic hood that is part of Anglican clergy choir dress: not appropriate for an ordination because it pointed to human achievement, rather than to the freely given grace of God. On the following day, the Sunday, I preached in the parish for the first time: I don’t quite recall what I said, but the vicar actually fainted! I know that preaching is meant to have its effect, but there are limits! It was indeed a warm day! The experience of carrying the liturgy through by myself made me realise that, with God’s grace, I could actually do this. Like William, I was ordained priest in my parish church, with three others, in the evening of 1st July, and my memory is again of warmth and great light, and of a sense of being the recipient of overwhelming generosity, both human and divine, especially the latter. On the following evening, I celebrated the eucharist for the first time, and that was surely as wonderful as anything else, as anything in my life. Every time since then when I celebrate the eucharist, as I will do this evening, I think back to that first time, and I try to capture again the sheer wonder of what it means to be united with the Lord at the altar. In these next moments, we pray for you, William, as God bestows upon you the gifts and charisms of priesthood, and we pray with you. In these next days, we pray for you and with you, and for the people of the Parish of the Northern Plain, as you celebrate the eucharist, the distinctive act of the Christian priest, for the first time. In these coming months and years, we pray for you and with you as you share in the prophetic and serving and caring life of the Church in this holy place.
Order of Service
The full order of the the ordination service can be found HERE
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