Flashback to Thessally Road SW8, Fourbouy’s sweet shop / newsagents / tobacconist / general gossip shop in approximately 1972. Anne who lived in the flats opposite was engaged and chatting with the women in the shop while purchasing 20 Kensitas. I was somewhat engaged in the spending of 10p on sweets but I heard some of the conversation.
Anne was saying how she had fallen out with her future mother-in-law in The British Lion the night before. Future mother-in-law was beside herself as Anne had mentioned she had no intention of saying ‘obey’ in her marriage vows. There were a lot of tuts, hmms, wells and oh I knows going on, when finally the conversation was bought to an end by Miss Stride who lived one floor below Anne; “If only I’d have the privilege of being able to say obey” she said. The conversation had turned to ages of bridesmaids by the time I left the shop with my Caramac.
So now come forward a bit, not all the way, but to 27 June 2003, St Andrew’s Church Thornton Heath, at approximately 8.10 in the evening I was kneeling on the floor in front of Bishop Tripp, who, with my hands in his asked me “Do you promise respect and obedience to your Ordinary?” to which I replied “I do”. This was obviously at my ordination. having made this promise I then prostrated myself on the floor for the Litany of Saints. While doing so I recalled the conversation between Anne, Miss Stride and the other ladies and considered what a privilege it was to have been chosen to make that promise of obedience.
Now come forward to 16 February this year. For the second time I was asked to be the assistant director of diaconate formation for south west London. Four years ago when I was asked I had to say no. My work life was rather precarious; I could have found myself unable to fulfil my commitments six months down the line. This time it was not the case. I asked for time to think and discuss this appointment further and after some reflection, and a brother deacon pointing out that the request came on behalf of my ordinary, I accepted the privilege of taking on this role, and the immense trust handed to me by my brother formators, my Ordinary and my diocese. I also remember Archbishop McDonald’s words at his installation at St George’s Cathedral “priests go where they are sent” with its echoes of John 21:18. I am not a priest but the parallel is there .
In an on-line discussion recently where a member of the clergy was presenting issues that were at odds with his own bishop, I gently and privately reminded him of the promise of obedience we make and how privileged we are to be able to do so. He did not respond. However, he obviously shared this with someone else who asked me about the point I had made. I said I was a little uneasy to see public discord from a member of the clergy to his own bishop and that we promise respect and obedience to our bishop when we receive the sacrament of Holy Orders “Oh that’s not what it means” he said “what it means is….” and here dear reader I will apologise, I cannot remember what trite definition of obedience he gave, but my response was short and to the point “obedience is obedience, there’s no ambiguity here” I was told I was closed minded and infantile (always a bonus) for not wanting to accept what he said. I though ‘oh well, Matthew 18:3’ (unless you become….) and left him to play New Definitions/
Our Ordinary is our Ordinary for a reason. We might not like what he does, or what he asks us to do at times but orthodox clergy will always remember that promise made at their ordination. Our Ordinary is our shepherd, like it or lump it, and not only ours, but shepherd to all those in our diocese and beyond that we have been called and ordained to serve. If you ever get the chance, watch the sheep with a shepherd, they don’t go running to him as if he was Snow White, or if they were puppies and he had a whole bag of doggie treats for them, he has to coax them and entice them to where they need to be.
And if we find we are getting that treatment from our Ordinary, how privileged are we!