On Sunday 8 September, Bishop David presided at the baptism, confirmation, welcoming and reception of a wonderful group of people into the Church of England and St Margaret’s Prestwich. You can read +David’s sermon again here:
One of the things I ask churches when I’m visiting to take a service is to be very clear about which bits I am leading, and which fall to somebody else. Readings, prayers, welcomes, notices, setting up the altar. It can all get very complicated and confusing, so I like to know who’s doing what.
Who’s doing what is not just at the heart of knowing how this service is going to proceed, it’s also at the heart of what’s actually happening here this morning. To be precise. What are the candidates doing; what are the rest of us doing; and what is God up to in it all?
Some of you are doing slightly different things, but in one way or another you are all making a public statement, with or without words, that you belong to the Body of Christ – his church – and that you are travelling along your Christian journey in company with the people of this parish and diocese.
You are making that statement in front of the rest of us, and, even more importantly, in the presence of God. At the end of the service you will be given some special presents to help you on your journey: a candle, a bible and a prayer blanket.
But you need to be active in taking the next steps.
A bible is not much use if it’s simply left on a shelf to get dusty….
A candle won’t light your way if you leave it in its box, unlit…
A prayer blanket will not assure you of the prayers that uphold you, unless you wrap it around you from time to time.
You have to do your part.
The rest of us here have got an important part to play too.
We are witnesses of your declaration of faith.
We are the givers of those presents I referred to a moment ago.
And we are those who express our support for you audibly and visibly in this service. But our support and care for you doesn’t end when you get out of the church door in an hour or so.
We are here to journey with you, in Prestwich and Simister. We also represent the wider Christian family that is worldwide and spans many denominations and churches. That’s why I am here as the representative of the universal church of Jesus Christ, in the succession of the Apostles whom Jesus himself commissioned.
We put on lots of things to help you on your journey with us: Sunday services; groups for adults and for young people; training for those who wish to grow deeper in their faith; a singing group, if you like to praise God in song. We have groups working at becoming an eco church, and others that meet together for fellowship. You could even learn to knit a prayer blanket for someone else.
And we are pledged to be here for you in times of joy and sorrow. We know that life has its ups and downs. Our clergy, Reader and ALMs are trained to be that helping hand along the way, but the task is not exclusive to them. And we hope that you also will bring gifts and talents to share with us and to help us support each other and the wider people of our parish and beyond.
I’ve left the most important person in this service to the end. Above all today is about what God is doing. He is making promises and declaring faith, too.
He promises to be always with you. You will never left on your own, isolated and unloved.
He promises that his Holy Spirit rests within you. A part of God that dwells within your own heart and that helps to guide, direct and comfort you. For those being confirmed that is expressed in the words I say….
He promises to feed you with his own very self, in the Eucharist.
He promises that he will love you always, no matter how much you fall short in your response to his love. And part of that love will be that he forgives you all the things you get wrong.
He promises that if you travel with him there will always be a purpose and a meaning for your life, even when it feels far from obvious what it is.
The candle is his light in your life; the bible is his word of truth to you; the prayer blanket is the assurance that he answers the prayers we lay before him for you.
That’s a lot to cram in to one service. Let’s get on with it!
If you have any photos from this joyful occasion, please feel free to share them to our parish Facebook photo album here