Le mariage de Ophelie & Will Skinner

Sat. 21st August, Cathedrale Saint-Siffrein, Carpentras, Provence.     The fifth wedding in the Skinner/ Hickson family.  Will’s six siblings were present, together with proud parents and his nine nephews and neices.  A good number of school and university friends travelled from England, and family from various far-flung parts of the world, joining with the Bessiere family and friends.  Preceded by a civil ceremony on Thursday, the cathedral service on Saturday was followed by a reception under the crags of Orgon complete with waterfall, great french cuisine with speeches interspersed between courses to allow digestion time, then dancing – until 4am.  A further celebration party on Sunday at the Bessiere farmhouse, makes the four day wedding celebration difficult to beat.

For what its worth, my ‘homilie’ for Will and Ophelie, following these readings chosen by the couple: Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5-6  The LORD had said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”  And Abraham believed the Lord. Mark 4:30-42  Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” Thank you, Fr. Christian and the parish priest here, for the invitation to speak.

One thought about our reading from Genesis:  I wonder how much it is inspired by William’s memory as a 7-year old, sleeping on camp-outs under Arabian skies, where stars are so much brighter that most other parts of the world?  I remember several times, chiding him for poking the campfire before sleep.  I have not embarrassed Will and Ophelie in asking them how many children they plan to have – perhaps they have chosen this reading as a way of asking God to give them many children, I don’t know; Psalm 128 as we heard it read speaks of children as many olive shoots. But of course in the context of all the Bible, the promise of many descendants  is finally realised by the whole of the human race coming under the Covenant, the Promise that God made with Abraham.  The costly, forgiving love of God, His Grace, is for all the nations, and is made known, becomes reality, through Jesus. Jesus tells us that the birds of the air gather in the branches of the great tree of God’s Kingdom; no doubt, birds of many colours and size.

To many of us is given the great privilege of parenting through marriage.  To all of us is given, married and unmarried, the commission of making the Grace of God known to the nations; without the first care of children, Christians can concentrate all the more on that.  You both set us the example of learning languages other than our own; may you put that skill to great advantage for God’s Kingdom For Jesus, there was huge cost.  Far above the terrible physical agony of the cross, His perfect, unbroken love for God came face to face with human death.  For us there is a smaller cost.  Yes, there are moments to come of great joy, as when the disciples realised the power of love stronger than death, as they gathered with their risen Lord around a camp-fire and ate breakfast with him.  And there is the eternal, heavenly banquet to look forward to – as Christ receives his bride the church, from all the nations. Despite set-backs often of our own making – as the hymn puts it, that we sing in a moment: “Here in the power of Christ I stand.”  May you both know, more and more, the all-powerful, forgiving love of Jesus, His Grace – undergird your love for each other. May your love bring many spiritual sons and daughters, to glory. The civil ceremony before the cathedral service.

Women Bishops (again)

Me, misogynist?  I don’t think so, daughter Claire is now here.  Next week wife Hilary, four more daughters – Katy from Madagascar, curate’s wife Rachel,  Jessica and Sarah, plus daughter-in-law Stefania, plus Ophalie marrying into the family in two weeks time, plus five grand-daughters, will all be making sure I behave myself…  From my August parish magazine, a little more on the subject, last mentioned on July 11th, below:

The last substantial business of the Church of England General Synod before it completed its 5-year term, was to send the proposal for women bishops to the Dioceses for consideration, before a final vote next year, to be taken by a new General Synod to be elected this autumn.  Then legislation would have to be drawn up, 2015 would be the earliest that the first women could be appointed.

There are clergy and parishes who will not be able to accept such a move, Synod decided against legal protection for them.  This was despite the Archbishops of York and Canterbury advising that some such protection was necessary.  It may mean therefore that the new Synod puts the proposal on hold, which would push the date back several more years.

As a Church of England General Synod member back in 1980-85, I voted in favour of the ordination of women as priests, believing there to be no theological bar.  However, in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf in the later 80’s, I voted against women becoming Bishops, and would still vote against such a move back here in England.  Why?

I believe the role of Bishop is very different than that of a parish priest.  A vicar leads a local congregation.  That is, if he/she is fortunate – more and more of course have several churches in their care, but they still need to treat each congregation individually.  A bishop has the role of uniting many churches together in Gospel living and proclamation.  Incidentally, somewhere in between comes a team rector, or the even less known role of dual pastor, which is what I was in Oman.  There, in many ways I worked for the unity of the whole Christian community, all the Protestant congre-gations, and the Roman Catholic, and the Orthodox.  In a predominately Muslim country, we would have looked very silly if we were not understood to be following the same Lord Jesus.

With an increasingly hostile secular world around us here, Christian unity is just as important as it was in the Gulf.  Should the Church of England therefore hold off making women bishops for a while longer?  Of course living by a Gospel understanding of the equality of women and men is important as well, but…  Women as bishops now, rather than in a few years time;  or maintaining Christian unity as this crucial moment in world mission?  It’s a question of which comes first.

What does genuinely worry me, is that a lot of the arguments for women bishops coming sooner than later, is about hierarchy, promotion, and so on.  When such arguments are dropped, I will be less concerned.  From my experience of exercising a little of the unity-building role, it only works when done from underneath, bottom-up, certainly not top-down.  When other denominational leaders come across a service-orientated and sacrificial love for God in Christ, then (unless they themselves are power-motivated) they want to work together for the greater benefit of God’s Kingdom.