By The Ven. Keith Dean-Jones:

When I was ordained a priest 43 years ago, I believed that the clergy were the shop keepers who ‘sold’ a religious product and that the people were the customers who ‘purchased’ the necessities for the spiritual life. The price of the transaction was the weekly freewill offering envelope, and the unstated rule of shop behaviour was a preparedness to remain silent! This was a commonly held view in those days. Now that I have grown older and times have changed, I have come to recognise that I have received a great deal from my people and that I need them as much as they need me.

The current coronavirus challenges have altered our lives, and many clergy have been greatly affected. The activities that constitute most clerical lives have either been temporarily postponed or shifted online to help keep our communities safe. These activities include the face-to-face celebration of Sunday and weekday services; pastoral visits; preaching and teaching in person; some parish administration tasks; face-to-face counselling; and, the celebration of baptisms, reconciliations, funerals and weddings as they are usually carried out.

While some clergy may have shifted seamlessly into the digital church model, other clergy may be questioning their relevance and others may be trying to enhance self-worth by frantic activity. Regardless, there are going to be moments and days when clergy struggle more than at other times, and we need your prayerful support.

There are important questions that we ought to address.

How can we assist our clergy and other parish leaders as we navigate our way through the current situation together? How can we pray for them?

First, I think that it is important to remember that the heart of Holy Orders is an indelible ‘character’ given by God. A bishop, priest or deacon may perform certain tasks, but these are secondary to his/her ‘being’. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, men and women are endowed with authority to represent Jesus Christ to the Church and to the world, and by God’s grace they are empowered as servants, leaders, teachers, reconcilers and enablers. I remember spending time with an elderly priest who could neither think clearly nor speak. He had suffered a stroke and he was bed-ridden. But he still ministered as a priest, and in gently tracing a cross on the palm of my hand he could pray God’s blessing and reveal God’s love.

Secondly, the ‘glue’ that binds us together is prayer. We are bound to our clergy, not by a legal agreement, but by a relationship formed and sustained by God.  The heart of prayer is listening, and as we allow God to speak to us in the holy scriptures, in the events of the world and in the silence of our hearts, we are enabled to unite our prayer to the intercession of the Holy Spirit. The renewal of the Church will not occur through the latest programme, but through a renewal of spirituality. And, the renewal of spirituality is to be discovered in the lives of ordinary Christian men and women who are prepared to share their lives with God. Perhaps God’s great blessing during this time will be a recognition of the importance of prayer.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) was Bishop of the Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland, between 1957 and 2003. He was once asked the question; “What will happen to the Church in Russia after all the old women die?” He answered, “They will be replaced by a new generation of old women.” Metropolitan Bloom recognised that the strength of the Church is to be found in the lives of ordinary men and women who are committed to prayer.

All Anglican clergy are required to celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer. The daily services are based on readings from the Book of Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament. They are supplemented with biblical canticles, prayers of intercession and silence. One way that people can support clergy in prayer at this time is to share in the prayer patterns of the clergy, interceding for us as they do so. Last week, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall began leading Wednesday Morning Prayer. If you are able to, please join him weekly as he leads us in Wednesday Morning Prayer by going to the St Francis College YouTube channel.

The prophet Isaiah affirmed, “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’” (Isaiah 30.15).

If the people of God heed this advice, the Church will be strengthened in faith, hope and love.

Helpful ways people across our Diocesan community can prayerfully support clergy and other parish leaders at this time:

  1. Encourage your fellow parishioners to pray for clergy and other parish leaders, including in your phone calls and on social media (such as sharing this reflection or this Facebook post).
  2. Make a weekly time to call or FaceTime a fellow parishioner to pray.
  3. Set aside a time each day to say a few words of prayer or include an additional prayer in your regular prayer times.
  4. Join in the clergy prayer rhythms, such as through Morning or Evening Prayer, knowing that you are praying with us, as well as for us.
  5. Print a simple prayer like this one and stick it on your fridge as a helpful reminder to pray:

Loving God, thank you for being our shield and strength. You are a god of compassion and faithfulness. During this challenging time, please protect, nourish and sustain our clergy and other church leaders through the work of your Holy Spirit. May they find rest and encouragement in your loving care. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

First published in anglican focus on Monday 6 April 2020.

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