For those who were unable to attend, or would like to reflect on the service, here is a transcript and audio from The Worshipful Company of Marketors Rededication Service held at 11am on 26th April 2017 at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street. The service was conducted by The Reverend Canon Dr Alison Joyce.
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As many of you will doubtless be aware, St Bride’s is a very popular venue for wedding services. And I am amused by the number of occasions when, at the very end of the wedding rehearsal, which we usually hold the night before the marriage itself, a member of the wedding party has said to me in jovial fashion, something along the following lines:
‘Well, we’re all set for the big day. All we need now is some decent weather. You’re the Rector – you couldn’t have a quiet word with Him Upstairs and sort it out for us, could you?’
To which my standard reply is some variation of the following: ‘Really sorry – but unfortunately I’m marketing, not management.’
It hadn’t occurred to me until a few days ago when I started thinking about this service, that we have a certain amount in common. As Marketors, you are all, of course, the undoubted experts in the field – I am a mere novice in these matters – but nevertheless there are aspects of my own role as an ambassador for Christ which are not in all respects dissimilar.
And reflecting on my own experience of nearly thirty years of ministry, there are two really important lessons relating to this that I have learned from my own context.
The first is the need to be absolutely clear about what it is that is being promoted and why. Let me illustrate what I mean by that. For me it is always a sure sign that a church has lost its way when it becomes clear that its desire to grow its congregation is primarily to do with fundraising. In other words, ‘we must get more people in if we are to survive financially’. Somewhere along the line that kind of church has lost any sense that it might actually have something amazing to offer to those who come – a glimpse of the glorious, boundless love and grace and forgiveness of God – any hint of that has been utterly lost. Instead, the aim has become entirely self-serving and inward looking. And in place of all that is positive that should be there, there is hollowness; a shell; something utterly devoid of meaningful content: ‘We must have more people here because we desperately need their money for us to survive.’
And the second thing is to do with integrity. Before I came to St Bride’s I was for nine years vicar of a church in Edgbaston. When I took it on, it was universally regarded as a failed church, which no sensible clergyperson would have touched with a barge pole. To everyone’s astonishment, during my time there we managed to reverse its fortunes completely. But when I first went there, the fundamental nature of its problems became clear to me from my initial visit to the church.
The building was surrounded by huge posters saying in large letters: ‘Families Welcome!’; ‘Do bring your families to our weekly family service’. The problem was, as I quickly discovered, that it simply didn’t do what it said on the tin. The thing that they called a family service was in reality a rather mangled form of BCP Matins, which made no concessions whatsoever to anybody under the age of 85. And far from being made welcome, any child who so much as squeaked during a service was met with such a solid wall of resentment and disapproval from the other congregation members that any parents brave enough to venture there on a Sunday morning did so never to return.
And of course, those huge posters proclaiming, completely inaccurately, that there was family worship there every Sunday also had the effect of putting off any potential customers who might in fact have enjoyed the very formal, traditional language service that they did hold. So it was one of the most startling examples of a lose-lose situation that I have ever encountered. So as soon as I was appointed, the posters went, we majored on the things that we could do well, we analysed and identified our target groups in a properly informed way – and were able to offer them something that really did feed them. So they started coming, and coming back. So we were able to grow the church. Not because we were after their money, but because we had something important to share.
And it seems to me that these two themes: retaining a true vision of what should lie at the heart; and the need for a true connectedness between what we proclaim about ourselves and what we actually are, are as important in human life as they are in the life of a church.
My parish in Edgbaston was socially quite diverse, but it included one of the wealthiest and most affluent areas of the West Midlands. And so it came as quite a shock to me to discover the levels of depression, isolation, loneliness, and even fear amongst the most privilege and affluent members of my community. I took more funerals of suicides during my first three years there than I had done in the whole of my previous ministry. And although the reasons for that were complex, hearing the stories of these people and their personal tragedies I frequently picked up a sense of the hollowness of the lives of people who, outwardly, seemed to have everything. It was as if they had completely lost touch with the true riches of human life: the qualities of love, and compassion, and generosity, and grace that truly are beyond price. And similarly, I was often struck by the disjunction between what they wanted people to think about them (which was usually to do with success and influence and wealth), and what was truly going on in their lives. It was so very sad.
And that is why our second reading this morning from St Matthew’s Gospel is such a wonderful antidote to all that, and so full of deep wisdom, and on so many levels. It begins by alerting us to the need to attend to the truth about ourselves before passing judgment on anyone else: and the reality is that that truth – the acknowledgement of what is really going on inside us – may well be profoundly uncomfortable for us to acknowledge: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ And it ends by alerting us to the wonderful, boundless love of God that is there ready to fill the hollows in our lives with goodness and grace that exceeds all of our desires and our expectations – and that it is there for the asking: ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find’.
And of course, it is when that hollow is filled; it is when our inner lives can truly match our outer lives, and we achieve the liberating integrity that goes with that – it is then that we discover who we truly are; and what we truly can become. I can think of a number of people whom I have been privileged to get to know during my years in ministry, who were people of such transparent goodness – people in whom there really was no guile – that their lives had a very profound impact on those around them – not because of what they did, but because of what they were. In the words of the psalm we heard as our first reading, they walked in the way of godliness. They didn’t talk about it – they just did it. And the world was much the richer as a result.
I shall leave you with the words of one of the prayers that we shall be hearing a little later in this service, which was requested particularly by the Master, and which sums up beautifully the path towards that kind of integrity; and the way in which our trust in the love and grace of God is essential in enabling us to achieve it:
Your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
When we prosper save us from pride,
When we are needy save us from despair,
That we may trust in you alone;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen