Sometimes, out walking in the hills, you see your destination in the distance. That may be an encouragement, or it could be daunting, depending on how far you still have to go. But you can also look back to see where you started from, and that is often a very affirming exercise. You see how far you have come, and perhaps you even take pride in what you have achieved.
That, so it seems to me, is the purpose of anniversaries. They remind us how far we have come, and they ask us to look back at the ground that we have covered since setting off. While that is true of public and civic anniversaries, it may be even more so with private and personal anniversaries. I think today of two of my colleagues who celebrate a significant anniversary, and in doing so I take us back precisely forty years to a weekend in late June, 1980.
On Saturday 28 June 1980, a young man called Andie Brown was made deacon by + Richard Watson, Bishop of Burnley, in Blackburn Cathedral, to serve in the Parish of St Peter, Burnley. The following day, at the other end of the country, a deacon called Nigel Godfrey was ordained priest by + Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, in Southwark Cathedral. Nigel was curate of St John the Divine in Kennington, South London, a busy urban parish, and I imagine that the challenges and rewards of inner-city ministry in London were very similar to those first experiences of ordained ministry that Andie encountered in the urban centre of Burnley.
I look back to the beginning of those two journeys. For now, it’s not for me to trace every subsequent step of those pilgrimages of faith. Perhaps Nigel and Andie will do that in their own parishes, in the midst of the people to whom they now minister. But it is for me to give thanks that those two journeys have now converged in this place: in one case as Archdeacon of Man and Vicar of the Parish of St George and All Saints, in the other case as Dean of the Cathedral Church of St German and Vicar of the Parish of the West Coast. And it is for me to express gratitude to God for two vocations faithfully accepted, in the course of which the Gospel has been preached and the sacraments have been celebrated and the lives of others have been touched and healed and sustained and converted. My prayer for all of us is that we may look back gladly to the ways in which God has shaped our lives, and that in doing so we may draw new strength for the future.
Deo Gratias: Thanks be to God, indeed.