Bishop Paul was the guest preacher at the 366th Clergy Support Trust Festival that premiered on the St Paul’s Cathedral website yesterday at 6 pm.
Filmed in Durham Cathedral in April, Bishop Paul speaks about COVID and supporting each other.
The full service can be viewed below along with the text of the sermon.
Filming of the service comes from St Paul’s Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral & Durham Cathedral.
CLERGY SUPPORT TRUST ANNUAL SERVICE
11th May 2021 – Broadcast
Isaiah 40.27-31 & 2 Corinthians 1.3-7
I am grateful to Dean David and Ben Cahill-Nicholls, the Chief Executive of the Clergy Support Trust, for the invitation to preach at this Annual Festival Service. Whilst we all hope that it will return to being a large gathering in St Paul’s in 2022 at least we are able to celebrate together this year in a way that was not possible at all in 2020.
Let us pray
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer, Amen.
‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength … they shall walk and not faint.’
I watched a brief clip recently, on Facebook, of a good friend, Steve, struggling to walk on one of the days when his long-Covid made what had once been straightforward an extremely hard effort. He did so with a smile on his face and a witty word on his lips.
Rosemary and our 4 children, who are now all adults recall times of struggle living solely on a clergy stipend. We were enormously grateful to the, then, Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy for their generous support that saw us through a particularly tricky time. This past year, rightfully revamped as the Clergy Support Trust, many clergy families, including some in my Diocese, have been grateful for such similar support in these testing times. So thank you to the Trust for the ongoing work.
The demands made on us all over this past year have led to a weariness. It is not the weariness of overwork, although some have done so; it is not the weariness of over exhaustion through physical exercise, as generally that has been rather limited. It is the weariness that has come from being cooped up; being limited; from the lack of energising that comes from our engaging with one another. It is a weariness born of a lack of fellowship; of the inability to gather together fully to pray, to worship, and to sing. It is a weariness that arises from constant uncertainty; underlying anxiety and fear; and from a major lack of any ability to plan the future. We are weary as a nation. We are weary as a church. Clergy, and their families, are weary.
We have all needed support. One of my archdeacons had to move out of his home, with his family, for several months during this past year as large cracks appeared in their house. It required major underpinning. When the foundations go then eventually cracks appear. The same is true in ordained ministry. When care is not taken with the underpinning support then the cracks in ministry and life start to appear.
Sometimes the support is more about holding in place. Many of our church buildings have buttresses that help support the walls. People in ministry sometimes need such buttressing. It is often temporary while life stabilises once again.
Such support is always about strengthening. It might be to allow time for the restoration work to be done when things have gone wrong.
Ideally support is ongoing, and maintenance happens as and when it is needed so that the more urgent and crisis support is never required.
The vision of the Clergy Support Trust is to ensure the support is there to hold people in place well and avoid falling into crisis. Thank you CST for every time your support keeps people going well, and for when you step in to buttress and underpin clergy and families when that extra support is required. This support, alongside that offered in pastoral care, enables clergy to then be the comforter, and the supporter, of others. They are enabled to console with the consolation with which they themselves have been consoled in God, through you.
Isaiah offers us a clear vision for when life becomes tough. There is no pretence here; Isaiah knows that God’s people do grow faint and weary; we find ourselves powerless. We all like to think that we can cope. But it simply is not true that frail, sin-oriented and sin-impacted human beings can always manage and find their own inner strength. We are dependent beings. Dependent on our Creator, the God of all consolation who in mercy provides abundantly in Christ.
A friend pointed out to me during the pandemic that Isaiah here appears to reverse the order we might expect. In renewing our strength logically would we not walk first, then run and only then soar like eagles? Yet Isaiah puts it in reverse. Perhaps he knew that God’s exiled people were so weary and worn down that whilst they might long to soar and run again all they could really imagine was walking?
After such a tough year, and with a long term recovery yet to come, I think we need to be wary of talking up our return. We need to avoid suggesting everything will soar into flight rapidly. We need even to take care not to suggest we run too fast. What we need from our Creator, saving God in these next weeks and months is the strength simply to walk again, not growing weary as we do so. It is my prayer for my friend Steve, for our church, and nation. In the strength of the Lord may we walk and not faint.
Everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth, you know our weariness better than we know it ourselves. We wait on you to renew our strength. Console us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console others with your abundant grace. We pray through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.