It’s not every day that a new incumbent is licensed let alone in three locations in the space of one afternoon, moving between sites courtesy of a minibus!
That was the case for the Revd Barbara Hilton when she was licensed as Priest in Charge of Croxdale St Bartholomew, Tudhoe St David and Merrington St John the Evangelist – collectively known as Croxdale and Tudhoe (Spennymoor Group Ministry).
The bus trip included Barbara and Husband David, Bishop Mark, Archdeacon Stuart, Area Dean of Auckland – David Tomlinson and Revd Carlonie Friswell acting as the Bishop Chaplain. Travelling between the three Churches with a short service at each, the main licensing was conducted at Merrington St John’s.
During the formal licensing service, Bishop Mark delivered the sermon talking about Martha and Mary from the accompanying bible readings. Referring to the business of Martha he likened it to Barbara’s previous career in industry and how that demanded her to be busy making sure everything got done on time. He went on to talk about Barbara’s role in ordained life to be more akin to Mary; She has learnt that there is another way of doing things, by sitting at the feet of Jesus, a way of doing things slowly, of taking time, of being a bit more reflective.
Bishop Mark’s sermon is reproduced here:
So why did we suddenly end up with a different reading and why particularly did we end up with that reading about Mary and Martha? Mary, the one who sits at the feet of Jesus and Martha, the one who is rushing around being busy.
We ended up with that reading because that was the one reading Barbara decided in the end that she really, really wanted for this afternoon.
Barbara, as you will shortly discover if you do not know already, had before ordination a long career in industry. She has spent a lot of her life being very busy making sure that everything got done to time and that everything was done to the very highest standard. And you will, I think, quickly discover that one of the many gifts that Barbara will bring to you is that she has learnt that there is another way of doing things and that way is the way of sitting at the feet of Jesus; a way of doing things slowly, of taking time, of being a bit more reflective.
And that, I wonder if you may find, will be a great gift to you.
Our churches often seem very anxious places. A bit like Martha, they are scurrying around with lots of activity.
I love the way in which one of the more modern translations it says Martha was “pulled away by all she had to do”. In all her activity, in all her being anxious, she forgets to do the one thing that matters which is to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Our churches often seem to me very anxious as I go around and visit them. They often seem to be like Martha: pulled away from where they’re meant to be which is of course, first of all, focused on God.
(And incidentally, it seems to me that there is more than enough anxiety in the world already at the moment without the church adding to it by being anxious.)
In 1818, a small village in France got a new priest. I’m not quite sure what the parishioners made of him. He was, I think, a bit scruffy, not very impressive, nobody was quite sure whether or not he had completed his training but when he died 41 years later on August 4th 1859, the local Bishop presided over his funeral with 300 priests and more than 6,000 people in attendance.
What was his secret? His secret was summed up in a very simple phrase “our duty is the splendid one of praying and loving”.
That is very simple and very lovely.
To pray and to love. Not scurrying around anxiously like Martha but praying and loving.
And so I wonder this afternoon if in these 3 congregations if perhaps that is what you need to do: to pray and to love.
It’s about taking time to be with God – to cultivate that friendship and to learn to listen, first of all to God and then to each other.
And of course for some of us friendships can be grown by not saying very much at all, just being with somebody you love or somebody who is important to you can be all that is needed.
I love the words of that old hymn which perhaps we don’t sing as often as we once did:
Oh let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still above the storms of passion the murmurs of self-will.
Oh speak to reassure me to hasten or control
Oh speak and make me listen thou guardian of my soul
The world – and our lives – are often noisy and difficult places and it’s too easy to act unwisely and to make mistakes.
Our duty is the very simple one of praying and loving.
To pray and to love
And there will be people in your congregations and in your communities who are longing to be loved; who long to feel that they matter, that they have value, and that they belong.
Our duty is to love. And of course that means not just loving the people who are easy to love, it means learning to love – with Jesus’s help – the people who are hardest to love because I have a thought that perhaps the people we find most difficult to love are those who need our love the most.
St John says that our hearts are narrow and prayer expands them and perhaps we find that too – as we pray – as we spend more time with Jesus, our hearts broaden out to see more people or new people that we are being asked to love and we find the more that we sit at the feet of Jesus the easier that becomes.
Our communities need a lot of love probably far more than most of us realise and Jesus is asking us to work with him to love the world that he’s loved so much.
So I wonder if that is where you need to start at this new moment in your history with your new parish priest: starting not by being anxious, not by being worried, not by being worried about what the future will hold but sitting simply at the feet of Jesus and asking him to help you to learn to love.
Barbara’s professional qualifications before ordination included a Certificate in Industrial Management and a Diploma in the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply. Barbara’s working life has been varied, starting off in various laboratory and production roles, then after being made redundant, moved to be a Customer Services Manager; then she became an officer supervisor. Barbara is Married to David and has a step-son