Sermon – Trinity 16

Sunday 27th September 2020

Phillipians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

Today, there can be no doubt, we are all experiencing a huge range of emotions.

Firstly, and most importantly, I am sure Nicky will agree, we are gathered with joy as the church in this community to hear God’s word, to celebrate Sunday as the Day of Resurrection and to embody and experience Christ’s presence amongst us, between us and within us.  Despite the trying times which lay both behind and before us the church, and all Christians, should always be filled with joy, not only because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but because Christ is risen and, because of that, we shall shine like stars before His face.

But joy is not the same as happiness and nor does the presence of God’s joy mean that we can never experience or express sadness, anxiety or any other emotion and, as I say, I am sure that there are many different emotions here this morning. 

Personally, there is happiness at seeing Nicky again, and I am sure that is shared by us all.  I haven’t celebrated with Nicky since February, (wow, that is 7 months ago now), and most people here haven’t been physically present with Nicky since the start of lockdown and then, of course, her departure to the remote shores of Mereworth, West Peckham and Wateringbury.  A far-off place in a distant deanery. 

But today, a bit like the Rolling Stones on a pension fund tour, the old team is back together again, and it is great for us all to see Nicky and for me to minister with her this morning.

I remember vividly the first time I spotted Nicky here in St Mary’s.  I have no doubt that Nicky is already very good at this but, as a Vicar, you tend to get very good at spotting new faces in the congregation. 

Anyway, one day I saw Nicky, and her hair, sitting about halfway back on my right-hand side.  This was in February 2016, which is not that long ago, but also feels like several lifetimes.

As soon as the service ended, I made a point of saying hello to this new young person, and I quickly learned that Nicky was a student at St Augustine’s College, studying for ordination.  Not only that, but she was looking for a church to come and do a placement as part of her ordination training and she was checking us out as a possible candidate.

Well, listeners, I snapped her up and her placement started here that September. 

But as we met to discuss and plan Nicky’s placement our conversation also turned to what came next for her in terms of curacy.  I don’t think I am giving anything away if I say we felt this may be a good place for Nicky to serve her curacy and we both started putting out feelers to both the diocese and the college to see if it could be done.  It could.

Nicky joined us first as a lay worker over the Summer of 2017 and she was then ordained deacon on the 30 September that year.  Almost three years ago to the day.  Although it is always the plan that curates will serve three years before moving onto their own parish I wonder how many of us believed on that wonderful day in Rochester Cathedral that almost exactly three years later we would be saying goodbye now, especially in these circumstances.  But I am getting ahead of myself slightly.

During Nicky’s deacon year she preached, she did all the roles in the liturgy which are reserved for the deacon, and which I am doing for her today as she presides at this service which is rather wonderful, she continued with her post-ordination studies, she learnt the things she would have to do later as a priest but, most of all, she settled into the life not only of this church but of this community, and she did so admirably.

On the 29 September 2018, nearly two years ago today, many of us returned to Rochester Cathedral once again to see Nicky be ordained to the order of Priest or Presbyter.  The next day, back here at St Mary’s, Nicky celebrated her first communion, and I preached, much as we are doing today.  I’m sure Nicky won’t mind me telling you that she was a little bit nervous that morning, because there is a lot to remember and think about and hold together whilst also worshipping and leading others in worship, but hold it together she did, as she continues to do.

Curacy is a time to learn and experiment and start new things, all of which I am delighted Nicky was able to do whilst with us.  Nicky brought her crafting skills to bear on things like Knit and Knatter, which became Café Plus, and her love of children to Messy Church, which were good for old and young alike.  She also reached out to the village with things like the thousands of woollen poppies which were created for an amazing display at Remembrance Day that year.

This is in danger of sounding like a Eulogy but Nicky found a place in the heart of Hadlow, and that is a wonderful thing.

The grand plan was that by the start of 2020 Nicky would be coming towards the end of her curacy and would cover my Sabbatical with Mission Aviation Fellowship to Africa, that we would continue to minister together on my return whilst Nicky then started her hunt for a place to be Vicar.  That sort of worked and sort of didn’t.  We didn’t expect covid to wipe out my sabbatical and we didn’t expect the diocese to ask Nicky to look after Mereworth on my return.  But the good news is that Nicky did apply to be Vicar of Marden and they did have the good sense to appoint her.

Which is where the mixed emotions return, because although we are happy to see Nicky here again today it is tinged with sadness because we are also saying goodbye and God bless as she is transformed from one degree of glory into another and departs this diocese and crosses the border into Canterbury and into a new parish, a new church and a new community.  Marden’s gain is our loss and it is OK to acknowledge that and be sad about that.

But, as I said and as you know, a curacy is always meant to be temporary and the ultimate goal is always to train and release someone into the place where they will minister as Vicar.  Saying goodbye is sad but doing so in circumstances where they are moving on to the place where they are obviously called marks the end of a successful curacy and so we can bid Nicky farewell also with real gladness in our hearts, joy if you will, that God called us all together for a season and a reason, but He continues to call and to work out his purposes in us and through us. 

It has been a delight and an honour to minister alongside Nicky during this time of her curacy and it is with sadness that this chapter in all our lives comes to an end but it is also with joy and some pride that we dispatch you to Marden and I look forward to being at your licensing service there next month.

I am sorry that I haven’t addressed our readings this morning, so I am just going to offer one small final reflection.  Although curates and vicars dress the same – although Nicky’s DMs are much more exciting than mine – and most people outside the church don’t have a clue about the difference, nonetheless there is a big difference in the way people treat you in church, both for good and for ill.  One of the big differences is that people look to the vicar as the person with all the answers in all sorts of matters from the spiritual to the much less spiritual.  It is too easy for some vicars to let that go to their heads and to start thinking of themselves as someone who knows all the answers.  This morning’s reading from Philippians reminds us that Christ himself, who is equal with God the Father, humbled himself to the point of an ignominious death when he came amongst us and, therefore, we ought not to think too highly of ourselves but continue to work out our salvation with ‘fear and trembling’ for it is God who works in us to fulfil his good purposes.  I am sure you would never do either of these things Nicky, but never be overwhelmed by your new role, nor let it go to your head, and think that you can do everything or know everything because we can only do what we do with God’s help and to fulfil his purposes.  And God’s purposes may not always be the same as our purposes or the purposes of the dozens of different interest groups you will encounter in and out of church. Always be yourself before God and not who other people want you to be.

So, I wasn’t kidding about mixed emotions this morning.  We have Christian joy, we have the happiness of seeing Nicky today, we have the nostalgia of her curacy, we have the sadness of saying goodbye mixed with the pride of seeing her going to a good home, mixed with the fear and trembling of working out our salvation day by day but, when we do that, knowing that God continues to work his will through our lives wherever he calls us to be which, I hope, brings us back to joy.

It has been a real joy being with you Nicky and I offer you every joy and blessing as you journey on.

Amen.

Paul White

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