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A reflection on 30 years of ministry for Sunday 3rd July 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

“God, our Father, Lord of all the world,

we thank you that through your Son

you have called us into the fellowship of

your universal Church.

Hear our prayer for your faithful people

that each in their vocation and ministry

may be an instrument of your love,

and give your servants now to be ordained

the needful gifts of grace;

through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen.”

Ordn. of priests ASB 1980

29 years ago on the 4th July I was ordained priest and for me because of this the opening sentence from today’s Gospel is very apt:

“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Luke 10:1

At the time I was ordained (or as my young nephew, 2 at the time, shouted out; ‘My Uncle Dean is being crowned’) I thought that it was significant that the service took place on the 4th July – American Independence Day! With the emphasis on ‘Independence’! I thought; ‘Now I can go it alone, now I could change the world and more importantly the Church’ and of course I intended to do it all on my own as well. I didn’t need the help of others to do this – how quickly I realised that I was so wrong.

I was not, nor are any of us called or ordained to minister alone. For a start it is not my ministry that I exercise, it is Christ’s in which I share. My ministry only has validity when it is seen in relationship to that of Jesus - ordination is only one aspect of Christ’s ministry and my ordination as priest is only a part of the ministry to which I am called to by virtue of my baptism. Over the past 30 of ministry as deacon and priest years I have come to appreciate that my vocation to ordained ministry can only be seen in conjunction with the baptismal ministries of all my brothers and sisters in the faith. That is why for me Luke’s words:

“..in pairs..” and “..to every town..”

are vital and inspiring.

29/30 years ago I thought that I would quite likely end up as a priest in a rural area running a collection of congregations – never did I think that I’d work in a Cathedral or hold  diocesan and provincial posts or serve within a city! In fact on the mission front I can remember saying that I did not really think that mission was my thing, as I did not like cold calling or standing in public proclaiming the Word. God obviously has a sense of humour and over the past years has challenged me to continually review what Mission in the 21st Century is all about.

Mission is vital for the life of the world and the life of the Church for it is through mission that the world can learn of the joy of Christ and the liberation of the Gospel message he proclaims. It is mission, mission that flows from the heart of God, that enflames, informs and inspires our ministry- mission and ministry cannot be separated or seen alone.

There are few of us committed to the ways of Jesus in the 21st Century,

“ The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers few.” Luke 10:2

but there is a whole world, out there, that has yet to hear his voice and who long for it, even if they have yet to realise it. Alone we can never hope to even begin to reap the harvest but together……the possibilities are endless.

The priesthood in which I share is nothing to do with me alone I have been called to ordination on your behalf and on the behalf of all the baptised to go out into the world and do those things that you do not have time to do and to enable you into the ministries that you are called to follow.

For me the most wonderful and exciting thing about being a priest is all of you. You are the cause of my rejoicing when we join together in ministry, for together we have the potential to do many things that alone we could not achieve. Together we can shout the Good News louder than we can on our own and together we can support and encourage each other to always go on and do more.

You encourage me in what I do and for that I thank you, I hope that I may encourage you in all that you do as we collaboratively build the Kingdom of God.

A reflection by the Rev'd John Vincent for the RAFA Service

Trinity 1 Good Shepherd. RAFA Service. 2022

Firstly, I want to than William for his graciousness as a former RAF chaplain for inviting me, a former Army Chaplain, or Pongo as we are affectionately called, to preach this morning at this Royal Air Force Association service!

I did serve however in a couple of tri service posts and of course on operations, we are all lumped in together, - the old joke of the Army digging in while the RAF check in, fortunately is not always the case and so I do have one or two blue credentials.

Each of us here belong to different organisations – former serving personnel, reservists, cadets, church members – and the one thing that unites us is a sense of belonging; that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

Each of the services are slightly different, but they all have core values: values which inculcate the ethos of the service, values which dictate every action and command, values which instill the highest standards of behavior on and off the battlefield. The Army, has 6 such values – Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment. The Royal Air Force is very similar with Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence.

And for those of us with faith, well we have many values, but the military ones I think can work rather well: Courage to witness to our faith, Discipline of prayer and sacrament, Respect for others through loving others as we would want to be loved, Integrity – living out our lives in truth and selfless commitment is the sacrificial life that we are called into when Jesus asks us to take up our cross to follow him.

Whether military or church, it is a big ask to develop such values to live by: and I think that if we try and do it on our own, it is nigh on impossible.

I had the privilege to serve for a couple of years at the Infantry Training centre where all infantry recruits undertake their 6 months basic training, and they learn very early on that key to success is supporting one another – its about getting the section into a safe harbour, or the whole platoon across the finishing line of an eight mile tab – to simply look after yourself is not good – no one wants to be labelled ‘Jack’. It is an acknowledgement that no one can be good at everything and the best way to live is to look out for each other, playing to strengths, and supporting those who are struggling.

The military get that and it stays with them beyond active service: it is truly wonderful that there are organisations such as RAFA that provide ongoing fellowship, along with practical and moral support, along with so many other excellent veterans organisations and charities; I wish other organisations and institutions would follow the same example as it would make society a much stronger and supportive network.

The late Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of South Africa, often spoke about Ubuntu – an African concept translated as ‘I am because we are.’ we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. playing to each other’s strengths, and supporting one another’s weaknesses. it is this sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves that enables us to reach our full potential as God intended – it is others who help define us as individuals.

Being with others who share the same values, and who encourage, inspire and support us enables us to live life in abundance: And this is particularly true when it comes to faith. We have all heard the mantra that  you don’t need to be a Christian to go to church – I guess in one sense that’s true -  if I lives somewhere remote and unable to access a Christian community, this would not make me any less a Christian.

But without a sense of belonging or community, we miss out on so much.

Jesus knew this – and so when he talks about faith, he never presents it as a personal lifestyle choice that we try and live out on our own; he nearly always uses corporate language – of a flock of sheep, of houses with many rooms, and then in the reading I have chosen this morning, he talks about the relationship of faith as being like a vine with many branches. of being the true vine and us his branches, connected, dependant on one another, joined together by the grace and love of God, the vine grower.

So Faith is not just about us as individuals – it is a calling in to a shared life, it’s a calling to a sacrificial life, it’s a calling to a life where we flourish through belonging. Jesus couldn’t make this clearer in the gospel reading this morning where he says, abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. A shared life brings much fruit.

Later on in our service, we will remember those who gave their lives for our country; for them, life was not about individualism: it was about the greater good and those dearly held values of freedom and peace… something they believed in passionately – so much so that they were prepared to lay down their own lives to preserve what they held dear.

But they are not just names on war memorials; and our calling to mind their sacrifice is far more than just remembering; if all we do is remember, then they remain just names in the past; but if we take on their values, their vision of a greater good, then they really do live on through us, and their sacrifice will not be in vain.  We continue that vision, working tirelessly for those shared values that sustain us and help us grow: putting aside individual ambition and working for the common good.

So it really is good to belong – it is in our DNA –  and through belonging, we find identity, meaning , and live life in its fullest as God intended.

Today we think of all of those branches that connect us with others, and though which we are nourished. Especially today,we give thanks for the work of the Royal Air Force Association and all veteran organisations. We pray for all those serving in our armed forces home and abroad and those who this day will be putting their lives in danger for the common good.

We give thanks for all our youth organisations and for the life skills they develop in our young people. And we give thanks to God for the community of the church - our shared life of faith, for the joy of belonging, for the strength and encouragement we receive from each other, and for the love and grace of God in whom we find fullness of life.

A prayer for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Air Force Association

Almighty and eternal God, Lord and creator of all, who has brought us through adversity, hear us as we pray for all serving in the Royal Air Force today and all who have served in the past. We praise and thank You for all whose sacrifice and  service has attended the cause of peace and freedom in this nation and across this world. We also pray today for all members of the Royal Air Force Association and their work throughout the world. Amen.
 

Sunday 19th June 2022 Trinity I & Father's Day - a refection by Canon Dean Fostekew

With the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate and thus 29 years since my presiding fast approaching I have been pondering and reflecting upon what it means to be a minister of Word and Sacrament and if I’m truthful what it means to be a Christian. I haven’t come to any conclusions or received any divine revelations or found any definitive answers to my questions apart from the fact that I increasing believe that to be a Christian and a minister is something to do with love and hope. This morning’s readings also seem to imply this as well.

God loves us we are told, just as we are, and because of that we can draw hope from the fact that we are in no way a ‘lost cause’ in the eyes of our heavenly Father and nor will we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are unredeemable, unless we choose to be. God has a big forgiving heart. On this Father’s Day (and a tough day for me) I think I would wish to say that the concept of our Father God, with a big forgiving heart is a good rôle model for all Father’s and parents to try to live up to. No father or parent will ever get it right but if they try then those of us who had such fathers who did try will have been much blessed. I know that I have been so blessed in the father I had. My Dad, might not have always understood me but he had a genuinely big loving heart that he showed me the older he and I both got and it is from our father-son relationship that I can understand more fully what believing in a 'big hearted God’ is all about.

I will again be honest with you because I do at times doubt what I have just told you about the unconditional ‘big hearted’ love of God, in relation to myself. There is and has always been a part of me (and you may feel the same) that really finds it hard to fully believe that I am actually loveable and acceptable in the sight of God (as at times it was with my dad) - just as I am!

‘Just as I am’ is quite a difficult concept to get my head around when I acknowledge my own faults and failings. Yet, in my ministry I hope that I try and convince you that you are perfectly and wonderfully acceptable to God as you are. I truly believe that you are but I have always struggled to believe that I am! You might have similar feelings?

Many of us make assumptions about ourselves and other people that are usually far from the truth as we often don’t know the whole story. Many of us, I suspect, feel deep down that we are not acceptable to God or others. From what Christ tells us and shows us this is nonsense; but it can be hard to shake those feelings off. It is easier to believe that I am the exception to the rule, that I am the one that God does not love or have a purpose for! Does this sound familiar to you? Do you like me recognise your insecurities and self-doubt? Do you really believe this of God and yourself?

Well, and what I am about to say I am saying to myself as much as to you; ‘God is NOT selective. God does not make mistakes in the way he created us and neither does God favour any one of us over another!’

By calling God our Creator, our Father, we have to accept that in some way we are made in God’s image and we have been made the way we are for a good reason. We are how God wants us to be and our lives are a journey and growth into becoming the full being God wants us to be. And this journey will be one of surprises and revelations as we move through each day of life.

Just because we might get ‘crabbit’ at times or angry with those we love, or impatient with inanimate objects, does not ever mean that we are outside God’s love - far from it. It is in fact by recognising our imperfections and faults that we can begin to see how much and how deeply we are truly loved by God, despite ourselves.

In the Old Testament reading this morning; Isaiah makes it clear that even if we reject God or ignore him, he will not do the same to us. He will not give up on us, even if we give up on him. Likewise St.Paul tells the Galatians that we are all God’s children; and that God does not define us by nationality, gender, sexuality, colour or social status. God simply sees us as we are. It is in the Gospel account this morning that this is, perhaps, most clearly seen.

The man possessed by demons, was totally and utterly rejected by society and himself. He could not function as a human being, he was isolated, and self-destructive, feared and hated. He was beyond the pale and above all he was scared. So scared, that Jesus, like everyone else would reject him. Jesus, however, did nothing of the sort. He did not reject him but loved him, met him as he was and in doing so set him free. Jesus was not afraid of the ‘mad’ man, he wanted him to know and believe that he was lovable and acceptable to God. Jesus could see beyond the man’s outward appearance and behaviour to the real man inside. Jesus’ love and acceptance restored the man’s dignity and freed him from his demons. Jesus made him whole and he does that same for each and everyone one of us too.

We all need to truly believe that we are loved by God, loved by Jesus and to acknowledge that his death and passion was the greatest act of love ever. No one of us in unlovable; No one of us is beyond redemption and from this we should take hope. We can all change, if we are prepared to allow love in, to allow Christ and others to come close to us.

Love really does change everything and it can give us courage to become who we are truly meant to be, in the knowledge that we will never be rejected by God, or those who care for us, those who have glimpsed the real person we are and not our outward veneer.

 

Whenever you doubt that you are loveable (and are you listening Dean?) try to remember that nothing is ever too difficult for God. Not one of us is too difficult for God to love. Tell others this even if you struggle like, I do at times, to think it applies to you, BECAUSE it can change someone’s life.

 

In future when I remind you of this truth about God and his love for us, remind me of it too. Just as my Dad always reminded me that he loved me as well.

A reflection for Trinity Sunday 12th June 2022 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

How many times have we felt awkward, embarrassed or ignorant just because we have not understood what someone has said to us?  It may be that they have used a “big” word which we are not familiar with. Or  that they have asked a question that we really didn’t understand. Or that it didn’t actually make sense.

At work if I didn’t understand I would sometimes  say “I havn’t come across that question or situation.  Leave it with me. I will double check the law and come back to you”.  That was far more professional than just making a guess.

Although we are celebrating the Holy Trinity  today, it is also “Music” Sunday.  So much of our understanding of God is expressed in the familiar hymns we sing.

One of my great loves is not only playing but listening to the pipe organ.  On my last Sunday at school, I well remember the thrill of rattling  off the famous Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor.  But it was J S Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in  E-flat major  - “the St Anne”  - being in a  key with three flats -  which  I chose to be played here last October before the service began for my priesting. The three-part Prelude follows the triple symbolism of the Holy Trinity, with the Father as a dotted rhythm; the Son as a lighter, simpler idea and the Holy Spirit as the all-encompassing sixteen note melody. As the prelude unfolds, the themes overlap suggesting a cosmic sense of unity. The triple fugue which then follows is a symbol of the Trinity too.  One of the reasons I chose it was because it is one of Bach’s greatest compositions. The other is that it reflects in music something of the mystery and majesty of God – which cannot be put into words -  but which nevertheless touches our hearts and to which we can respond.

In today’s readings we are reminded of the importance of seeking wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Asking that God may help us in our understanding of the Holy Trinity. There may be deep questions to which there are no immediate or obvious answers. We are encouraged to reflect upon what our faith means and to pursue ways of deepening it.  We are reminded that endurance produces character and character produces hope and  hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community, comments  that “the message of Jesus in today’s gospel is certainly beyond us, more than we can imagine. Jesus is challenging us to be faithful; to trust even when we do not fully understand.  He comes through something tiny, a little piece of bread, consecrated by the priest, which becomes his Body. He will leave us physically but through the bread he will be really present with us.  The sacrament will become a real presence for each of us; it is not just a moment of grace but a sign of a covenant of love, a friendship offered to us. He is truly present to us and in us”.

As we celebrate not only the Holy Trinity but  Music Sunday too,  may our minds be  opened to understand something more of the mystery of God and for us to sing:-

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.