Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford in the Church of England, gave the sermon at the ordination of Bishops Anne Hollinghurst, Ric Thorpe and Ruth Worsley.
In it he spoke of three roles integral to the office of a bishop; messenger, sentinel, and pastor and he spoke of how the Holy Spirit has been working in his life to make him more the person he was created to be.
“Earlier this year I did that thing that many bishops do; I put up a marquee in the garden and invited shed loads of people round for lunch day after day. One group were the retired clergy of the diocese. It is a way of saying thank you. Without them the Church of England would easily fall apart. Some of them arrived early. Very early. Too early. I looked out of my window at about ten-o-clock and found several wandering round the garden. One passed on greetings from someone who had known me when I was a teenager. I vaguely remembered the people he was referring to. He said that they had expressed surprise when they heard I had become a bishop. ‘Oh did they’, I replied. ‘Yes’, he continued. ‘They said you must have changed a lot. (Well, thank you for that vote of confidence!)’.
And yes, I suppose, I have changed a lot. But not in the way that phrase is usually used. I think I have become more myself. I think the Holy Spirit is changing me into the person I am meant to be.”
And becoming more ourselves, he said…
“As teacher and evangelist this is the first job of the bishop. Not MD of CofE plc; not safe pair of managerial hands, not just emerged slick and shiny from the talent pool, not even graduate of the latest whizzy business school offer of better organised salvation (though these things can help us), but storyteller, poet, theologian: a gospel person, with the good news of Christ and on our lips and in our hearts”
Drawing on St Gregory throughout, the bishop offered this advice to the newly ordained bishops(and the church);
“ministry belongs to the whole people of God, and our task is to order and commission and ordain those who are called to live this out in certain ways, and for the whole church to be recalled to its primary vocation which is to know and love God, and let that knowledge and love overflow in service to the world. Let me quote Gregory one last time –
“What kind of sentinel – and we might add what kind of pastor, what kind of evangelist – am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement; I languish in the pit of my frailty. And although I am unworthy, the creator and redeemer of us all has given me grace to see life whole and an ability to speak effectively of it”.
If you are wondering why you are being made a bishop today; if people who knew you in the past have raised an eyebrow and expressed surprise at your appointment, then perhaps it is for this: God has given you and will go on giving you the grace to see life whole and an ability to speak effectively of it.
So – a new line for the litany – Good Lord deliver us from successful bishops, from too well prepared or even too well organised bishops, from ready answer in the back pocket and PowerPoint strategy self-sufficient, all efficient bishops. Take us to those high places, places of perspective and reality, where we and all our schemes are set on fire, which, paradoxically for us, are also those places where life is raw, and pain and darkness requisite.
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