A Response to Speeches of Welcome at the Commissioning of a Parish Priest

Commissioning 3Thank you so much for being here this evening to join with me and the congregations of this Parish of East Maitland as we embark on the next stage of our life together in Christ.

This Church building stands as a beacon in the midst of this local community, pointing to a different way of living a life that is focused not on what we can gain for ourselves but on what we can give to each other.  Lives lived in the knowledge of all that God has given to us already.

In fact, as Luisa and I are discovering, this Church literally shines out as a beacon.  We have not yet looked out of the Rectory windows to discover the Church in darkness.  It is either bathed in sunlight, or in the evening glow of the exterior lighting.  As it is for this Church building, so too it is for each one of us who have been baptised into the life and death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ; because the beauty of this Church building fades into insignificance in comparison with the beauty of the people who worship and pray here, and go from this place to be beacons, witnesses themselves of the love of God for all people.  In other words, all that we might say about this building, we might also say about ourselves.

My arrival here this evening is just one further stage of the life of the Body of Christ in this place.  Yes, something new is happening here this evening, and if no one else is brimming over with excitement about that, well I certainly am.  But this is also simply a further stage in continuity with all that has gone before us.  So it is, that having read snippets of the history of this Parish over the last few days I arrive here this evening with somewhat heavy shoulders, inspired, and a little weighed down, by the enormity of the work of the pioneers who established this Parish and all who have contributed to its life since then, in whose footsteps we now follow.

It is extraordinary to me that I am here at all.  I first heard about the Diocese of Newcastle about eighteen years ago from a priest who had been ordained for ministry in this Diocese and who had subsequently moved to England.  He had a picture of Christ Church Cathedral in his study and he talked about this Church at East Maitland which had been served by his Brother-in-law.   His name was Fr John Paul and his brother-in-law was Fr Greg Holmes.  How extraordinary that eighteen years later I should be living on the other side of the world, here in the Church that I heard about such a long time ago.

I have had the privilege of meeting, at different times over the last six years, Fr Greg Holmes, Fr Rod Turner, Fr Wilf Redden, Fr Michael Cooper, and Fr Michael Davies, your last five Rectors.   So the good news is that I come to be priest amongst you today with no pre-conceptions that this Church is going to somehow be an extension of my private possessions.  I am well aware of, and thankful for the faithful ministry that has gone on here since the first Rector, and indeed even before that. And it would be fair to say that I am not only excited, but also somewhat terrified to be following in their footsteps.

I want to say a word to those who worship here week by week. Luisa and I, and our boys Isaac, Malachi, Joshua and Nahum, are so grateful for the opportunity to come and live amongst you.  I come here as your priest today to serve you.  I am going to do everything I can to help you to continue to grow in your life of worship and prayer, your care for each other, and your ministry and mission to those who live around you.  And I ask you please to help me to know how best to do that in the weeks to come.  According to the latest census statistics around 12,000 Anglicans live within the boundaries of this Parish so we have a lot of work to do together, to help them to re-engage with the Christian life through this Parish Church.

And to my beautiful family.  Thank you for who you are; and thank you for what you are helping me to be.

And to those of you who are visiting us.  Firstly, thank you for being here.  When members of parliament and leaders of local government make the time to come to events like these it reminds us as the Church not only that the Church does still have a place in our wider society, but that we have a responsibility to serve that society as well.  We are all grateful that you are here this evening, and for giving us that reminder.  Thank you too to my brothers and sisters of the clergy of this Diocese, to ministry team leaders, to participants and graduates of the Newcastle School of Theology for Ministry, to members of parishes that have allowed me to share ministry with you over the last years,  to clergy and members of other churches, members of the Diocesan Office staff and its entities,  and particularly to members of the Parish of Merewether who have been our parish family for the last five years – thank you all for being here this evening.

For those of you who are visiting us this evening: please continue to pray for the congregations of this Parish and for me, after you leave this place, that we may continue to be faithful to Christ, shining as his light in this local community.

Tonight in the great words of St Patrick, I say,  “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three.”

Once again, thank you all for being here.  Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone the glory!