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Licensing of Michael Cozens
as Priest in Charge of the Prestbury/All Saints Team Ministry
First Sunday of Advent 2006

This is the sermon given by Bishop Michael on this occasion:

It has been, of course, one of the shortest vacancies in history. Technically at least three days, though Father Stephen said his farewells a little earlier. Itís only a month ago since I shared in that wonderful service in All Saints to celebrate his ministry and Stephen and Vickyís marriage. Today we need to let go of Stephen, so to speak, with huge gratitude and affection for a much-loved priest, who laid some secure foundations here and began to build upon them, and to be ready to welcome Michael into his new role.

It is the First Sunday of Advent and that always means a new beginning, the first day of the Christian year. Itís a great day for a new start, an entirely new chapter in the life of this team ministry and of the churches in North Cheltenham. And yet, you may say, it all looks much the same. The new man in charge looks strangely familiar. There is no coach load of supporters today full of tearful parishioners saying farewell to their vicar who has moved to Gloucestershire. Michael has been here a long time already. Nothing much has changed, has it?

But, yes, it has. The change is signalled by the fact that this afternoon we license Michael as priest-in-charge of the team, not as team rector. He is no less in charge for that and it is not meant to have any hint of being temporary, only transitional. Michael will be team rector as soon as some legal processes are complete. But he wonít be team rector of the Prestbury and All Saints team, but of the North Cheltenham Team Ministry and that will embrace the present parishes of All Saints, St Peterís, Swindon Village, Elmstone Hardwicke with Uckington and Prestbury. Michaelís initial ministry is to give leadership to clergy and lay people through a transitional time, drawing that team together, so that, when it comes legally into existence, it is at ease with itself and ready to fulfil its mission.

Inaugurating Michaelís ministry as priest-in-charge today is the beginning of something new and there are more changes to come over the coming months. Here are some of them.

  • A new team vicar will be chosen, who will live here in Prestbury, but serve the team more widely.
  • St Nicolasí will be consecrated (at present it is an unconsecrated, but dedicated, building), so that it may no longer be a daughter church, but one of the parish churches of the new team.
  • There will be changes in parish boundaries, when St Peterís Church closes for worship, and its parish is absorbed into that of Prestbury.
  • A new clergy team will begin to be drawn together, bringing Stephen Eldridge, Michael French and David Eady into a new working relationship with the clergy of the Prestbury/All Saints team.
  • A pastoral scheme will, sometime in 2007, come into force, turning unofficial collaboration into a formal legal North Cheltenham Team Ministry.

All those things I can confidently predict. But that is almost as far as I can go, because the rest is very much up to you under Michaelís leadership. There are lots of issues to work out together in terms of pastoral care of congregations and communities and of strategies for mission. I am relying on Michael to give leadership. I am relying on the clergy to pray, think and work with him. I am relying on you all to catch the vision and to help write enthusiastically the next chapter in the life and mission of the parishes represented here this afternoon. The future is, of course, in Godís hands - and praise the Lord for that! - but it is also in your hands, all of you - and I praise the Lord for that too!

How do our readings from scripture this afternoon help us to envision that future? They have an Advent flavour to them, Isaiah speaking of the one who brings good news, Lukeís gospel giving us the message of Jesus that the kingdom of God has come near.

Isaiah 61 is one of those wonderful passages that cannot fail to inspire.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lordís favour.

Whatever its original context in Isaiah, Jesus, of course, makes it his own. When he goes into the synagogue in Capernaum, this is the passage he reads and then, with the eyes of all upon him, he says, with extraordinary simplicity and authority, ďToday this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.Ē It is Jesus who both brings the good news of God and is himself the good news of God. And on the First Sunday of Advent, as we begin to look towards Christmas, we celebrate that joyful truth. In Jesus, Godís Anointed One, God does indeed bring salvation to the oppressed, to the broken-hearted, to the prisoners and the captives, indeed to all who cry out to him.

It is also a passage of scripture that we often use when commissioning particular people for new ministry. It is one of those set for occasions like this. And, at a personal level, I always remember that it was read on that occasion 30 years ago when I presided at the Eucharist for the first time. It resonates with the calling I believe God gave me as a deacon and a priest. ďThe Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me.Ē And, yes, this afternoon, we shall in a few minutes anoint Michael with the oil of chrism, the oil that stands for the anointing with the Holy Spirit. We use it at Baptism, at Confirmation, at Ordination. We use it today. This is a new beginning for Michael. He may not be moving house, but he is moving into a new ministry. It is for him a fresh start, something exciting, challenging and new.

So this passage, which speaks to us of Jesus, says something also for us about Michael, but, of course, it says something about him only on its way to saying something about each one of you. Each one of you is called by your baptism to be one of those whom the Spirit has anointed to bring the good news of God in Jesus Christ. And, if Isaiah is not enough for you, turn to the gospel reading, the Lord sending out the 70 others, as the mission got bigger and there needed to be more mission partners. And, of course, what he said to them, both to challenge and to encourage them, he says to us also.

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. What he is telling you is that the fields are ripe for harvest. There are thousands of people out there in the streets of North Cheltenham and in the villages beyond waiting to hear the good news, needing to hear it, people whose lives can be changed by it. If you will go out, you will bear much fruit; there is harvesting to be done. So Christ needs you all to be the new 70, or 170 or 570, who will share the apostolic mission, and we need to pray that the Lord will send us even more people to help us in the task he lays upon us. And, if you will commit yourself to that, then, for each one of you also, whether you belong to St Maryís, St Peterís, St Lawrenceís, St Nicolasí, St Mary Magdaleneís or All Saints, today, the First Sunday of Advent, can be a day of fresh start, new partnership in the mission to which God calls us. Isaiah 61 says something to us about Jesus, about Michael, about our common calling.

And I just want to mention very succinctly three emphases to that calling. All three come from those scripture passages. They are these:

  • Bring good news.
  • Display Godís glory.
  • Travel light.

Bring good news.Ē Thatís obvious, isnít it? Itís what Isaiah 61 is all about, that there is good news to tell. Jesus, who brings the good news of God and is himself the good news of God. I think that needs to colour how we share the faith. It is good news. It is not life-denying. It is life-affirming. It is not gloom. It is gospel. We need to be joyful, confident, celebrating Christians. Michael needs to be a joyful, confident, celebrating priest.

ďDisplay Godís glory.Ē The passage is all about bringing good news to those who need to hear it. But at the end, a second theme comes in:

They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

The call to mission is a call to proclaim good news, to bring people to faith. But it is not just something about them, but about God. We are to do all these things to display Godís glory. Thatís part of our calling, we who are made in his image, to display his glory. And we do it, of course, by the quality of our daily lives, by the worship in our churches, by the confession of our faith in a whole variety of contexts, by our dependence on Jesus Christ, by our involvement in the community, by our refusal to compromise where we should not with the society around us. Each one of us daily displaying Godís glory.

ďTravel light.Ē Itís a good note on which to end. It takes us back to the gospel reading from Luke. The 70 are being sent out and Jesus says to them, ďCarry no purse, no bag, no sandals.Ē Travel light. We find that so difficult in the Church. If we travel at all (and too often we like to stand still), we take such a lot of baggage. And a lot of it isnít rubbish. Itís real treasure, which is possibly why it weighs so much! The treasure of our traditions, the treasure of our buildings, the treasures of our worship. They are not rubbish, but they are baggage. And Jesus says, for a new age and new mission, let go and travel light. I find that a difficult message to hear and perhaps you do also. But I do hear it insistently if we to make an impact. Travel light as you forge a new team ministry into existence. And Advent Sunday is a good day on which to hear that message.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, Michael, as upon Jesus, anointing you. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, people of St Maryís, St Peterís, St Lawrenceís, St Nicolasí, St Mary Magdaleneís and All Saints, as upon Jesus, anointing you. Bring good news. Display Godís glory. Travel light.

 


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The Parochial Church Council of the Ecclesiastical Parish of St Mary and St Nicolas Prestbury Cheltenham - Registered Charity No 1130933

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