Strengthen for Service

Today we had clericus at St. John’s Church in Sandwich. Many thanks to The Rev’d Bill Bradley and the people of the mother church of the Diocese of Huron for your kindness and hospitality today.  I think we may have had record attendance at today’s clericus. We had to add tables. It was marvellous. It may have had something to do with the fact that our bishop was with us, but maybe it was just a good day for a clericus meeting. Whatever the reason, it was really great that so many came out to today’s meeting.


We always begin our day with the Eucharist and at today’s celebration I was moved by two things in particular;


1.    Our newly elected Bishop, Bob Bennett, reminded us that yesterday was the feast day for St. Hilda. He did so, by using the collect for that day. It was a reminder of the spirit of her discipleship which was deeply connected justice and mercy among Christians. I looked this afternoon to find the collect that he used, I could not find it…at least I don’t think I could. I found this collect it may be a little different than what was used this morning but it conveys the same message.


“O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with Gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us grace to respect and love our fellow Christians with whom we disagree, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”  


That collect is from the webpage for All Saints Church Brookline. I found this to be a very appropriate prayer to be used in the context of Clergy who meet together. Believe it or not, clerics and church leaders do not always agree. This could not be more evident for us than it is right now in the deanery of Essex. One of our church communities has stopped communicating, stopped engaging, stopped dialogue and has walked away from the Anglican family. Our common life together has been broken. The leadership at St. Aidan’s Church on September 28th of this year quietly held a vote with a congregation that did not represent the whole of their community, excluded the bishop’s representatives, misrepresented the facts about the place of our Diocese in the conversation regarding blessing same-sex unions, and accepted an invitation from a former bishop of the Anglican Church (Don Harvey) to join a small but loud group of Anglicans who refer to themselves as the Anglican network in Canada.


What has become clear in the 6 weeks since that vote is that not everyone who has known St. Aidan’s to be home is in agreement with this move and many felt excluded and left out. The stories that people have brought to many of our congregations have been of betrayal and of profound hurt. Many people over the past number of months have fallen away from St. Aiden’s. I had a man in his 70s express to me in late August that he used to go to St. Aiden’s. In fact he was a parishioner for over 20 years. He stopped attending church because he could ‘…no longer go week after week to hear more hate from the pulpit.” These are a people who are hurting because of what has happened and who feel as though their parish has been taken out from underneath them. We need to be present to those who do not subscribe to the Anglican Network in Canada’s narrow view of the church and who have been by in large pushed aside at St. Aiden’s.  To that end our Bishop has been working with a group that the diocese continues to see as the Parish of St. Aidan’s to continue the ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada in the Riverside area of Tecumseh. There was a meeting on November 4th where 50 people came out in support of those who have been affected by the decision made by some of the people of St. Aiden’s on September 28. There will be a celebration of Holy Communion tonight at 7 PM at St. Michael and All Angels also to support and hold up those folks in prayer. The diocese has been working hard to let all who have called St. Aiden’s home to come and be a part of our great diocesan family and of the Anglican Church of Canada. Tonight, Bishop Bennett will appoint a new rector and we pray that we will be able to do all that we can as an Anglican family to assist in strengthening that church as it rebuilds community from the ashes that have been left by forces that are not looking to Jesus for direction but are focused on issues of human sexuality. What is clear is that the recent developments have lacked integrity as have the actions of people like Don Harvey who do not seek to find common ground and do not seek to respect the other but rather defy the requests of Lambeth and continue to interfere in jurisdictions where they do not belong.


The words that leapt out at me from this collect are; “Give us grace to respect and love our fellow Christians with whom we disagree, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done” How good a job are we doing of this? This disagreement has lead to deceit and disobedience and to name calling and accusations of heresy. Our ability to enrich each other through our common life seems lost as one of the siblings has pushed away from the table and left in a big huff. Whatever transpires tonight and in the days that follow we have to pray that we can follow St. Hilda’s lead and seek to be in a space to love and respect each other, even though we disagree.


2.    The other very moving experience came in the way of music. While I was impressed with Music Director Lee Amlin’s rendering of “Nights in White Satin” – a Moody Blues classic, the music that was really neat for me was the great Hymn, “Strengthen for Service.” This hymn was known to me because we sang it each week at the conclusion of Communion at St. Matthew’s Church in Heart’s Delight Newfoundland, which is a part of my home parish. It is a hymn that we do not hear or sing very often but it is a golden oldie. The hymn is simple and short, consisting of three verses.  


Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
That holy things have taken;
Let ears that now have heard thy songs
To clamor never waken.

Lord, may the tongues which ‘Holy’ sang
Keep free from all deceiving;
The eyes which saw Thy love be bright
Thy blessèd hope perceiving.

The feet that tread Thy holy courts
From light do Thou not banish;
The bodies by Thy body fed
With Thy new life replenish.

I love the hymn. I love the very admission in it that we need to rely on God to get it right. I was in Heart’s Delight this past summer and sung those words again after communion.  It’s very singing after communion is a prayerful acknowledgement of the fact that even though we have taken in the holy meal, even though we have sung the ‘holy’ songs, even though we have walked on scared soil, and have been feed with spiritual food, we can in an instant find ourselves insufficient, we can find ourselves feeling lonely, we can find ourselves lashing out or hurting those around us. This hymn as I remember it being sung each week was a very humble prayer that worked in juxtaposition of the ‘old prayer of humble access.’ Instead of lamenting our unworthiness to take Holy Communion, this reminds us that even though we are flawed we can lean on the very Presence in the sacrament to strengthen us to work towards new life and new hope.

I have been humming the tune all day.  Thanks Bill and Thanks Lee! You brought me back to a moment in my formative years that in many ways instructed who I am as priest today. Bless the people of St. Matthew’s in Heart’s Delight Newfoundland for given me such a powerful spiritual memory.

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