To tell of Gideon… and of Robert

CCC, Montreal, Sept. 17, 2017 – Collation of Robert Camara as Archdeacon & Vicar-general

“The time would fail me to tell of Gideon and of Barak and of Samson and of Jephthah, of David also and Samuel” – – and of Robert.

It is a great honour to have been asked to preach at the induction of Robert as my latest successor. He and I worked together for several years in the diocesan office, so, although he’s now moved down the corridor and around the corner neither the place nor the work is entirely new to him.

I suspect that Robert is very aware of the truth in today’s Gospel: “one sows, and another reaps….. others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.” I, for one, am very glad that Robert is now labouring in the same fields that I once did.

I hope you will forgive me if this sermon is rather pointed – – pointed at Robert, certainly, but also at the Synod office and at the clergy and laity of the diocese – – but, I hasten to add, not at the bishop.

When Robert first did me the honour of inviting me to preach, it was planned that today we would keep the Feast of the Holy Cross, transferred from the 14th, last Thursday.  So mentally I had started to think out a sermon on Robert’s new ministry as one of the stops on his own personal Way of the Cross.  “Take up your cross,” the Saviour said, so perhaps this job was to be one of his crosses.

It was not, perhaps, the most cheerful of approaches – – but I have to say that this ministry does have its crosses, and one of them is the loss of community.  When you have been a parish priest for 5 years, as Robert was, or 40, as I was, and there is suddenly no community for you to lead in worship, to celebrate and mourn with, to tease and to teach; when there is no altar or pulpit which is in any sense “yours” – – well, inevitably you end up feeling quite uprooted and disconnected.

I challenge the community in the Synod Office to try and make up for this sense of deprivation, at least for the 5 days of the week that everyone is in the office.

But it’s on the first day of the week, Sunday, and at the great festivals like Christmas and Easter, that one is most conscious of what one is missing.

There is no place where you HAVE to be, where you are EXPECTED to be, or even where they WANT you to be – – perhaps quite the contrary.

I think it’s P.D. James in one of her novels who has an archdeacon say, when he’s asked what his role is, that he’s “the Bishop’s rottweiler”.

Well, if there’s any truth in that – – and there is, some – – then the Executive Archdeacon and Vicar-general may be the LAST person that either priest or people want to have with them on Sundays or at a great festival.

So my second challenge is to priests and parishes not to keep your new VG in the position of feeling orphaned – – deprived of either altar or pulpit come Sunday or the festivals.

All that is what I would have said to you if we were keeping Holy Cross Day today.  We’re not – – so I have to start all over again.

Instead of Holy Cross, it was decided to observe the Founders, Benefactors and Missionaries of the Anglican Church of Canada, whose commemoration occurs tomorrow in the BAS Calendar.

That was altogether a more cheerful prospect, but I’ve changed gear rather late into this sermon, so, as it says in today’s Epistle, time is failing me “to tell of Gideon and of Barak and of Samson and of Jephthah, of David also and Samuel” – – and of the Founders, Benefactors and Missionaries of the Anglican Church of Canada….and of Robert.

The Founders, Benefactors and Missionaries are those into whose labours we have all entered – – not just Robert, but all of us; they have sown, and we are the ones who are reaping. 

When Robert phoned to tell me that todays’ celebration would be of our Anglican pioneers rather than of Holy Cross, I expressed the wish that he, too, would be numbered among those benefactors – – though I hope he will be less pugnacious and militaristic than Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and all the others.  

Robert’s particular field of benefaction will lie in administration.   Administration was one of the traditional roles of a deacon, in the earliest days of the Church, and latterly of an archdeacon.

In  I Cor. Paul tell s us “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are differences of administration but the same Lord”.  But the word we have translated as administration in the original Greek is diakonia: in other words, Service, Ministry.   

And that is the final point I want to make (I say this despite having been taught in seminary one should not, because to say “In  conclusion” is to raise false expectations in the congregation):  that this job is a ministry – – a ministry to God and to the bishop and to the people of God,  just as much as being a parish priest.

That is why he is being inducted or collated. In this, Robert is fortunate: I was not, I just walked in and took over a job, though I did see it as a ministry.  I’m sure Robert does also – – and I hope you will too.

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