Fr Morris’ Farewell, 28th July 2023
One of the congregation - who may even be here this evening - was driving his taxi one day and a priest got in. The priest - and no it wasn’t me - was carrying a large suitcase with heavy vestments in, hence presumably had needed his taxi. The driver said to the priest, “Do you know Fr Morris?” “Oh yes, I know Fr Morris,” the priest said. A brief pause followed, I understand. The driver said, “Fr Morris normally takes the bus.” The priest felt a bit crestfallen I think.
One of the great privileges of parish ministry is to get alongside folk and that’s been one of the real joys of the last fifteen years. This might be bumping in to people on the bus. I share a birthday with one of you (a few decades difference in age but same date) and one day I bumped into her on the bus on the last day of January and the first thing I said was, “Happy birthday,” and she said back to me, “Happy birthday,” and everyone else around on the bus looked a bit unsure as to what was happening, how did we know this about each other? Getting alongside folk sometimes takes the form of visiting people’s homes. This isn’t so as to check up on them, which is certainly how I remember it felt when the health visitors came after our first child was born. Rather, that visit, that phone call, that email was to try help you to realise that God is not one who just stays in Heaven, disinterested in all we are going through, rather His instinct is always to be present among us.
And so our Lord Jesus comes to be born for us, the Word made Flesh, tabernacling in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom this Church in which we gather is dedicated. Our Blessed Lord learnt to walk. His parents lost Him in the crowds of Jerusalem at Festival time. He faced unkindnesses from those who wouldn’t listen to Him and he was the subject of rumours and plots and reached the stage where very few indeed would want to associate with Him. God does all this for us. His working out of our salvation was gritty, it was costly, it was not free from degradation or ridicule. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
And this instinct to come down and be among us wasn’t just something God tried once and thought, “Oh, that’ll do.” Rather, the sacramental presence of Christ at Mass and at Benediction as we’ll see in a few moments’ time shows that this desire to come down and dwell among us continues to be real and evident in the life of the Church today. In tabernacles in glorious baroque churches, in tabernacles in damp and drafty churches and in everything inbetween God is there. “The eyes of all creatures look to you and you give them their food in due time.” Thus spoke the psalmist as we sang earlier.
And while it has been my duty and my joy over the last fifteen years to be one among many through whom God has worked it doesn’t have to be me. Indeed we’ve tried to learn that as a community before we’d even started thinking about my departure. Hence we can rightly celebrate those who organise different aspects of Church life, the groups that meet, those who fulfil ministries of music or serving or welcoming or reading during Mass, those who make our children’s work happen, those who support by making sure bits of paper are completed properly and sent off to Diocesan bureaucrats (tasks which bores me senseless), those who help clean and give generously financially so the mission can continue.
The church is not to be a cult focused on a particular individual on earth who claims to have a monopoly of grace and truth. And yes it definitely matters that priests are men ordained by men because that is what the Church does and it gives us confidence in what we do, but those sacraments don’t have to be celebrated by me. There will be another priest and he’ll teach you and you’ll teach him. This is part of the comfort given us by the Catholic faith: we know priests are important but that’s because God’s people are to be led in the worship of Almighty God by those who are ordained and represent something, someone beyond themselves. It’s not because the priest stops being human.
The continual act of God dwelling among us, the priest sharing in that divine mission and the priest being one who is part of the universal understanding of who the Church is is the distinctively Anglo-Catholic understanding of parish ministry, of a priest who knows his people and who feeds them so they are equipped in their mission while also being present in the wider community. This is something many places in the country now lack. We here in Tottenham expect to see a properly dressed priest walking around and saying hello. When the crowds come to see the thing at the stadium up the road from Hertfordshire or wherever they come from they look bemused when they see me here. It’s a reminder that we have something precious. And like all that is precious, as we’ll hear at Mass on Sunday, it is quite properly our instinct to hand it on to the next generation so they and those who come after them receive the blessings we have enjoyed. We do this through being active members of the community of St Mary’s and the Good Shepherd: standing at the side and having nice memories or hoping nice hopes about the future doesn’t cut it.
So today is an opportunity for us to recall what has been precious and wonderful about the last few years, to give thanks to God for it, and then to ensure it continues so each new generation will know God is with them through His Spirit who fills the Church. God hears their cry and He sends His Son as a ransom for many. Amen.