Sermon for The Priesting of Tessa Stephens

Revd Jan Kearton

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Sermon given by the Revd Jan Kearton

at the Ordination as Priest of Tessa Stephens - 2 July 2011

In the new, Easter beginning of the world and at Pentecost, God in his mercy called his Church into being. Inspired by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, women and men, set on fire with love for God, for the world he had created and for his people, gathered together and celebrated the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Together, they learned to become open to the presence of Christ in their lives, to offer themselves to him in love and service, and to become  bearers of Christ’s love to the world he died to save. They learned, by the grace of God, to become no less than the body of Christ, a kingdom of priests serving God.

Life, and Christian life in particular, isn’t easy, as many people here can testify. In his compassion, God longs to draw everyone closer to him so that as people learn to know him better,  we can become ready to receive his help and his comfort throughout our lives and then be strengthened to help and comfort others. That’s the heart of Christian community. In his wisdom, God later raised up from those Christian women and men people able to lead and to minister to the particular needs of his people. Those people were deacons, bishops and priests or presbyters.

Deacons were to seek out the lost, to bring to life in our own time and place Jesus’ chosen ways of loving and serving his people. By their example, they inspired God’s kingdom of priests, his Church, to follow in Christ’s pattern of service and they equipped them to get on with it. Among God’s people and within the communities they served, they made God’s mission to the world visible. Deacons in each age give that mission a visible, contemporary shape and help God’s people to join in and be caught up in what God is doing. And as they do all that, they sound out in words and deeds God’s call to his local kingdom of priests, the church, to go too, to serve and become a living part of God’s mission to his world.

God has been creating something new in this parish. Tessa is our first recorded Curate and she’s certainly the first deacon to be ordained priest in this church building. Since she was ordained,Tessa’s been serving faithfully as a deacon to our communities. Having been faithful in a little, God and his church are now calling her to greater responsibilities, to deeper trust as a priest. Tessa’s been testing that call to see if it resonates in her, to see whether she feels that the call is truly from God and to see if she can obey. In a few moments Tessa will give her own answers to Bishop James’ questions and we will be able to see and hear that she is able to answer both the call of God and our own local longings for a new priest in the Church of God.

Priests remain deacons - Tessa’s first ordination isn’t being undone tonight - but this second ordination as priest is a call to God from his Church to grant to Tessa the grace she’ll need to become a leader of both worship and mission. As a priest, Tessa will join in a collegial and collaborative ministry which she’ll share with our bishops and her fellow priests. You’ll be able to see that beginning to happen in a few moments. When Bishop James lays his hands on Tessa’s head and prays, Tessa’s colleague priests from the deanery will gather around her and lay their hands on her too as she comes to share with them the priestly ministry we’re privileged to offer to God’s people. She’ll move from being with her family and local church to join her college of priests in this deanery.

The laying on of hands during the Priesting Of Tessa

 

Jesus said to Peter ‘feed my sheep’ and so, following Christ the Good Shepherd Tessa will have the authority to preside at the Eucharist where she’ll shape our offering of praise,  thanksgiving and prayer. She’ll become a guardian of the Church’s memories and she’ll feed us with the most sacred and mysterious sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.

There is a gravity to the office of priest. Priests are called to remind people when they fall short of God’s commands, guide them when they’re confused and to preach what people want to hear and also what they’d rather not. But they can only shepherd God’s people if their own life is grounded in obedience to God’s call to responsible living and their advice is credible. Priests must have enough spiritual discernment to see clearly the real and often unexpressed needs of people and the gap between them and God and they must work with the Holy Spirit to find ways of encouraging and connecting people into better relationship with God. All that can only grow out of a priest’s lived experience, their own close relationship with God and their personal struggle to live well.

There is gravity, but not self-righteousness. Priesthood isn’t about becoming a paragon of virtue who lives an unreal life of utter righteousness, high above the people you serve, nor is it about becoming a triumphal accuser of others. It’s a call to journey alongside people, administering the salve of God’s love and healing through confession, absolution and forgiveness, whether that’s offered to the local church when they gather or to individuals as part of their spiritual journey or to those who are dying. However it happens, Tessa will take her part in building up the people of God into a shining, attractive community that embodies all the possibility and excitement that life with God brings to the world. That’s why she’s to delight in in the church and to long for the gifts that it needs and for its peace.

Tessa knows what it is to minister in this place and amongst you all. She’s tested, grounded and refined her call to ministry in the fire of her first year and we’ve tested it too. We’ve seen her commitment to God, her passion for God’s people in our communities and for you his kingdom of priests. We’ve seen her struggle to come to terms with the demands of her calling and we’ve shared together in some of its joys and delights. And so we heartily thank God who is able to raise up from amongst us a priest to serve his people, to comfort and advise, to feed and keep and to share the leadership of his people into the fulness of life that is always and everywhere God’s desire for people, his mission to his creation.

A joyful moment as Tessa becomes an ordained priest

My prayer for this new thing that God is creating in Tessa is that it will be an inspiration and blessing to all of us, leading us to greater love and trust, to a deeper and truer relationship with God, to better connection with God’s mission in our parish and better connection with the communities we’re all called to serve. May God fill her with all the needful gifts of grace  for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God so that the promises of our readings might be fulfilled in our own time and place to the greater glory of God. AMEN.  

To access all of the photographs from this event - CLICK HERE

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