Sunday 8 July was Rev Sue’s first with us as Deacon. In place of a formal sermon, she told of the journey that ended with her standing there, at our lectern:
Now, I expect some of you are wondering why I am wearing my stole across my body, instead of the way other clergy wear theirs. It’s because last Sunday I was ordained a deacon in Manchester cathedral, so I’m going to tell you what a deacon is, and also a little about how I have come to be one.
In the Church of England, when someone finishes their training and is ready to begin to work in a parish they are ordained deacon, and usually a year later they become a priest. The biggest difference is that until then I won’t be able to take a communion service – I will only be able to assist. But the year is more than a probationary period. I shall be a deacon for always – priests and bishops are still deacons as well. Let me tell you about three symbolic actions from last week end that sum up what that means.
The day before I was ordained Bishop Mark washed the feet, and those of the other people about to be ordained, to set us an example of serving others. In last Sunday’s service the Bishop said “they are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and the weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching out into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.” I love that image of getting into all the forgotten corners. I am called to serve in this parish, to serve this community, to care for and pray for not just church members, but all who live here.
The second symbol is the New Testament I was given in the service. It’s a nice little one to slip in a bag, so that it’s not just for me to study by myself, but for me to share in teaching and preaching and in finding the right words for those in need.
Now so far, you might be thinking that you don’t have to be ordained to serve and to preach and lead worship – lay people (by which I mean everyone who is not clergy) with suitable training can be authorised to do that, too. The last symbol is the stole. I came into the cathedral without it, walking in alongside a lay person who has been an important part of my journey. After the ordination I turned to face outwards and Revd Deborah put the stole round my neck. I had become a member of the clergy. The ongoing reminders will be the clerical collar and that people will call me Revd. I have become a representative of the wider church of God to you, and in turn, with Revd Deborah, I am responsible for taking the cares and concerns of this parish to the wider church. I am now your curate, which means that I shall spend up to 5 years finishing my parish training. I will not be paid, but the only difference that makes is that I will not work full time.
I thought you might like to know a little of the journey that has brought me here today. I think I can honestly say that I have always felt the call of God in my life. At the age of 16 a Methodist friend said to me that she assumed that I would be a minister. I pointed out that that was not possible in the Anglican church – women could not be ordained. My parents were not churchgoers, and I had been sent along to the chapel Sunday School in the next village, but as a teenager I had started going to the Anglican church. I loved the Book of Common Prayer evensong there, and was confirmed. I knew I was an Anglican at heart. But when I left University, and needed to think about a career, being a priest wasn’t an option. I trained as a teacher, and got married to David just as he started training at theological college. In 1994 the first women were ordained priests and I once more considered ordination. At that time I believed God was calling me, not to be a vicar, but to be a prison chaplain, so I began to volunteer in the local prison helping one of the chaplains lead Bible studies in the evening. I enjoyed talking to the men, who would get to the heart of a question very quickly without the usual preamble of small talk. I reduced my hours at school so that I could work in the prison for a day a week, and I found that the thing I enjoyed most was one to one conversations with the men. I approached the diocese where we were then living, and spent a long time discussing the possibility of ordination, but there were two stumbling blocks. One was that I was told that all clergy are called initially to parish ministry. I knew I would have to train as a curate in a parish before I could do chaplaincy work, but I was told that I had to do so with a commitment to future parish ministry. Secondly, there was a reluctance to ordain a woman with school age children. I was not sent to a selection conference, nor given any encouragement to re-open the discussions at a later date. I felt hurt and rejected. I resigned from teaching, and trained as a counsellor, doing my placement in the prison. Just as I completed the training we moved down to the Midlands. As I began to look for work, I realised that I would earn a lot more as an experienced teacher than as newly qualified counsellor. I didn’t want to go back to mainstream teaching, so I rang the local authority and asked if there were any vacancies in the home tuition service. I was interviewed the next day, and told that I must have been sent by God, because they needed a full time teacher to start straight away. I loved the job, working with individuals and small groups of teenagers who hadn’t coped with their high schools, and I stayed in the job until we moved to Manchester.
Spiritually, though, things were more difficult. I was angry with the church, and angry with God. Why could He not just take away that sense that I was called, let me off the hook and let me be at peace. Why couldn’t I be happy with work, family and being an ordinary member of the congregation? There were good reasons why I didn’t approach the new diocese. Our children’s teenage years were not an easy time for any of us. My mother and mother in law both needed support in their last years. I didn’t want to be involved in leading church worship at all – it was all too painful. Gradually my relationship with God became more mature, and I accepted that God cannot always make things right in the way we would wish.
By the time we came to Manchester I was running out of excuses. Our children were living away, I didn’t need to get a job, and, sadly, we no longer had elderly parents. I was afraid of being rejected again, but I could not resist the pressure to once more approach the diocese about ordination. To my great surprise, I was taken seriously. Those I spoke to recognised the strength of my vocation, and I fairly quickly found myself training. I was particularly nervous about preaching – I have never liked standing in front of people to talk. But, with your encouragement, I soon began to enjoy it and to feel I had things to say. I took that as a sign that I was indeed on the right road, and my confidence grew. People have asked me if I was excited about my ordination, but excitement is not quite the right word. A few weeks ago I was nervous, as the reality began to sink in. But as the time approached the sense of rightness has grown. I feel as though things that were at odds in me have come together, and that I am on the right path. I feel more confident and at ease with myself.
I do not know how my ministry will develop – for the moment, at least, I am continuing to work in Strangeways as a counsellor, not a chaplain. I shall wait and see what God has in store for me as I learn and grow under Revd Deborah’s guidance. And I shall need your help, and your prayers, for the work here is ours, to be shared together. Let us pray that God will use us all in his service, to bless each other and to reach out to those not yet our companions on the way.
Most of her talk was captured on AudioBoom, and can be heard here:
Afterwards, she and Rev Deborah made the declarations and signed the documents that licensed her to serve as our Curate.
Rev Deborah, assisted by our Wardens, then presented Rev Sue with a “Curacy Survival Kit”:
CURATE’S SURVIVAL KIT
Your curacy can be difficult at times – so we have a gift to help you survive and thrive in curacy.
- A cross in your pocket – made by a member of the congregation, to remind you that everything you do is in God’s strength and he is with you in the ups and downs of your journey through curacy.
- Some prayer beads as a prayer resource (the explanation is in the box).
- A prayer blanket – be assured of our prayers and may this prayer blanket act as a reminder.
- A candle to remind you to be ‘be’ as well as ‘do’, to ‘be still and know God.’
- Some plasters – symbolic of your role of pastoral care and healing.
- Your role is missional – we have two gospels, but they are not for you – they are for you to give away to two different people.
- A box of tissues – you may need them for yourself and for others but especially useful when you have to complete your IME file and you are running out of time.
- Chocolate – an essential part of curacy. Always picks you up.
- Wine – always useful. I did ask which colour you preferred and was told any will do. So, we have a bottle of white, a bottle of red and a bottle of rose!
- Be assured of the support of those who love you (your family), and our support here at St. Margaret’s and St. George’s (photos).
- And finally, you can’t do anything without these – a set of keys.
We ask God to bless you as you serve your curacy with us and wish you well.