1 Samuel 16. 1-13a; 2 Corinthians 3. 17-4. 12; Luke 22. 24-30

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow labourers in God’s vineyard, co-workers in the Gospel – it is good to see you and for us to be gathered together today. The Chrism Eucharist is very much a working service, in which the Church provides her ordained ministers with the tools they require for the coming year: the oils of baptism and of the sick, and holy chrism. It is also an opportunity for me to thank you, and to express my appreciation for all that you offer in ministry. I hope you know that you are an encouragement to me, and I know also an encouragement to Bishop Rosemarie and Bishop Martin. When we come to your parishes and encounter the ways you offer fruitful ministry in your different contexts, we give thanks for your faithfulness, your imagination, and the myriad ways you are a blessing to your communities mindful that we share the cure of souls with you.

On Saturday, there was a service here to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the ordination women to the priesthood in 1994. It was a joyful service, with a deep sense of appreciation for all that our beloved sisters offer and bring to the life of the Church. Bishop Rosemarie presided and Archdeacon Moira preached. Before the blessing, I expressed my gratitude that in the Church of England women are admitted to all three of the historical orders and listed how many women whose vocations had been nurtured in Southwark are now in episcopal orders. I counted nine – the most recent being Bishop Anna Eltringham, now the Bishop of Ripon and formerly Rector of the Oxted Team and Dean of Women’s Ministry, who was also here on Saturday. It sometimes takes the Church a little while to discern the work of the Holy Spirit, who goes before us and opens to us the living way, just as it took vision for St Peter to understand that there was no distinction to be made between Jews and Gentiles in Acts 10. I am thankful that the Church of England acknowledges that the Holy Spirit moves freely through the whole baptised community, among both men and women, and that we can celebrate that what was startlingly new thirty years ago is now normative – with provision in place to protect conscience and conviction.

It is not always easy to discern the paths the Holy Spirit opens to us. It can be costly, and there will be disagreement, just as in the early Church St Peter’s vision was received with greater and lesser degrees of willingness. We are called to know our own minds in Christ and to hold our convictions with humility. We are all children of God but we are called to be mature in the faith and our understanding of scripture and tradition. We are to move on from milk to solid food, ‘for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature’ (Hebrews 5. 13-14).

We know the disagreements with which we are currently living, and for many, from various perspectives, this is acutely painful. In addition, we feel this in the context of an institution that is deeply anxious – in this reflecting wider society. The roots of our institutional anxiety are too deep to explore fully here – and people from different parts of the Church would identify different sets of causes. Nevertheless, we would do well to address this deeper anxiety as we move forward together, with the disciplined intention of speaking well of each other, respecting differences of conscience and conviction.

In the Gospel appointed for this Eucharist we are told that ‘a dispute also arose among [the disciples] as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest’ (Luke 22.24). Luke places this incident immediately after his account of the Last Supper at which the disciples realise more deeply that their Lord is about to enter his Passion. If they have not by this point realised that they will – at least from a human perspective – lose their Lord, they know it now. So it is hardly surprising that their response is formed from anxiety, because competitiveness rooted in anxiety is one of the possible responses to scarcity.

But Jesus counters this directly. He is among us as one who serves, and so should we. ‘The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves’ (Luke 22.26). We are not to hoard, we are to give away. We do not need to be anxious.

As a Diocese, we have been praying and thinking about what to value and to prioritise in our common life and we have put this down in our renewed Southwark Vision. What we chose to prioritise is joy, justice, hope, love, community, humility, and hospitality. Anxiety is not on this list; it was never even on the long-list. Why? Because anxiousness reduces our capacity of joy and our commitment to justice. It eats away at our hope and coarsens our love. Anxiety undermines community. An anxious person is, paradoxically, not humble, and an anxious Church cannot be truly hospitable. As St Paul wrote after the Resurrection in what might be an answer to today’s Gospel: ‘The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything … And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4. 6-7; esv).

In Southwark Vision each of the values we cherish is articulated in two, related ways: first, in relation to Christ, as we seek always to be Christ-centred; and second, in relation to the world that God has given us to serve and the people for whom Christ died, because our baptismal vocation calls us to be outward-focused. To take one of our values, for instance, in prioritising love we undertake to love one another and commit to speaking well of each other. This is our Christ-centred articulation of that shared value, a response to Jesus’s prayer that we ‘may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (John 17.21; esv). It is not wishful thinking, or a meek or managerial avoidance of difficult issues. It is a serious attempt to hold the well-being of our Christian brothers and sisters before our eyes, to intend good one for another, just as Christ intends good for us. Just as love needs another to be fully alive, so we need in a parallel and complementary way to be outward-focused and love our neighbours and our communities. Each articulation of our values – the Christ-centred and the outward-focused – complements and fulfils the other, deepening and strengthening the witness of our common life.


In a similar way our anxiety can have two articulations, both with serious effects. If we are anxious when we should be centred on Christ, we empty the Cross of Christ of its power (cf 1 Corinthians 1.17). Effectively, we say that God’s provision is insufficient – that God himself is somehow insufficient – and allow ourselves to worry that it is we who need to make up the difference. If we are anxious when we should be outward-focused, we are likely to become suspicious and render ourselves unable receive the world as the good gift from God that it is. Both tendencies are destructive; both stop us from flourishing the way that God intends.

My beloved brothers and sisters, as we enter the three great days of our Paschal observance, let us not be anxious either for the Church or for the world. The Lord is near in his Church and in the world, and he is near in the power his Risen life. Rather, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let us make our requests known to God. Let us entreat him for the good of his Church and the well-being of the world, and let us work for the same, committed to speaking well of each other and being Christ-centred and outward-focused in all things. Amen.