Diocesan family gathers for Chrism service

First published on: 28th March 2024

Photo: Jars of the oils used in the life of the Church

Ordained and lay members of the Diocesan family gathered at Rochester Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist.

Taking place on Maundy Thursday (28 March), the service was an opportunity for those present to renew their commitment to their ministry in the presence of God and one another.

During the service, the sacramental oils used during the life of Church - the oil for the anointing of the sick and dying, the oil used at baptism, and the oil of chrism - were blessed, with bottles of each oil made available for collection after the service for use in parishes.

Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the Bishop of Rochester gave the address and reflected on the current state of anxiety and fear in which we live.

He invited those present to consider how we should be ministering in such a context, and to reflect on what it is God is asking from us, as well as what he gives us in order that we can fulfil his purposes in us and through us?

Read his address in full below.


Bishop Jonathan's Chrism Address

1 Samuel 16: 1 to 13a / 2 Corinthians 3: 17 to 4:12 /  Luke 22: 24 to 30

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thank you for being here today, as we reaffirm our commitment to ministry and mission in this Diocese.  Thank you for the ministry each
of you exercises in your parishes or in whatever context God has placed you.

Today is a chance for us to pause and reflect on our respective ministries and on the call that God has given to each of us.  It is a chance also to support one another and to pray for the renewal of our sense of vocation, whether as lay or ordained people.

And goodness me, how much we need that renewal at present!  

Never in the forty years I have served in the Church of England have I known such a time of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, both within the Church and in our wider world.

So, the question for us today is, how can and should we minister in the context of such anxiety and fear?  What is God asking from us and what does he give to us to enable us to fulfil his purposes in us and through us?

And our three passages of Scripture can help us to address and respond to these questions – acknowledging our fear but not allowing it either to paralyse us or to drive us into frenetic and ultimately ineffective action.

The first theme – which should be a great encouragement to all of us – is that God does not choose us because of either our appearance or our gifts or skills!  Samuel is tempted to pick the tallest and strongest of Jesse’s sons.  But God is having none of it.  He instructs Samuel to anoint as king the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons – the one least expected.  And God tells Samuel to do this because he looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance.

There is of course a flip side to this, which is that we need to pay attention as ministers of Christ to the state of our hearts.  

We need to examine how we are doing in terms of the health of our souls.  Are we taking care of our inner being and allowing God to do his work in us, before ever we go out to minister in his name?  God is interested in our hearts above all else – in whether we are allowing him to transform us, not just in what we are doing to minister to others in his name.

Our second theme follows from that, and it relates to what Paul says in our reading from 2 Corinthians 3: “all of us… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another.”  This again is about God’s work in our hearts above all else.

Jesus does not transform our external appearance – rather he touches our hearts, and we begin to see change in our actions and in our character.

Unless this is happening, then in the end we will run out of steam in our ministries, not necessarily in terms of our physical energy (though that may happen at some point) but in terms of our spiritual energy and our ability to mediate the things of God to those whom we serve in our parishes and other contexts.  And of course, that spiritual energy comes from only one source – which is the Holy Spirit himself.  

We need to open ourselves time and again to the renewing work of the Spirit, because without that we will have nothing really to give to those to whom we minister day in and day out.  So, what are we doing to renew the life of our souls, in terms of spiritual direction, or retreats or conferences where we can just take in and receive what God wants to give us?

You see unless we do that, unless we pay attention to the well-being of our hearts and souls, then in the end we will not be able to fulfil the calling which Jesus gives to his disciples in our Gospel reading, the calling to follow in his likeness as one who serves.  

Maundy Thursday above all days is the one on which we remember this fundamental principle – that ministry is about service and not status, about serving others and not lording it over them.  It is a day on which to reflect about how we go about our ministry and for what end: is it to further the cause of God’s reign of righteousness and peace, or is there a chance that our ego may be getting in the way?

We need to be honest with ourselves and to be open to the wise guidance of friends and spiritual counsellors in order to discern what is really going on in our hearts and souls.

And there is of course another side to the question of service because it can be turned into a stick to beat others, to demand from them what is unreasonable, and it can then shade over into bullying, when clergy or lay people seek to put pressure on others to get them to do what they want.  In this too we need wise counsel and support from others to help us discern what is going on and how to respond.

And based on my experience, perhaps because of the pressures facing us in today’s anxious world, these issues are sadly becoming more common, and that is something we all need to be aware of.

So, as we gather today, we have these themes at the centre of our worship: that God looks on our hearts above all else; that we in turn are called to take care of our hearts; and that we are called to be among our people as those who serve.  And that little word “be” is of great importance, especially amidst all the pressures and anxieties that we face in today’s world.  

That word points us I believe to the most important thing that we need to remember if we are to be fruitful in our ministries and if those ministries are to be sustainable in the long term.

Of course, we need to think and plan carefully about how God wants us to develop and grow the life of our churches, but if we are not careful then we can end up mimicking the frenetic pace of the world around us, constantly trying the latest new idea in the hope that it will be the solution to our problems, when in fact all we may be doing is rushing around to fill an aching void in our own hearts.

Before all else, we need today to heed God’s voice as he says to us, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This is what we have to offer to the world in the midst of all its fears and anxieties – the knowledge that God is God and that he reigns over all the tumult and strife.  

If we are to have something compelling to offer to a generation addicted to their smart phones and constantly seeking the next dopamine hit, then we have to go back to the very heart of our faith and the riches of the Christian tradition of prayer and stillness before God.

Unless we do that, then all our ministry will be about our efforts, our plans, our programmes – and in the end they will not bear fruit that will last, they will simply wither and fade.  And here I am speaking to myself as much as if not more than I am speaking to anyone else.

Our emerging Diocesan vision speaks of our being called to change, serve, and grow with compassion, creativity, and courage – but it begins and has to begin with the words, “seeking first the kingdom of God.”

This is and has to be our first calling, the calling to stillness and silence before God as a prelude to seeking his will and his reign.  Only then can we begin to discern and to discover just how it is that God wants us to change, serve and grow in order to serve the cause of his kingdom.  Right now, I believe this is a kind of change of gear to which God is calling me and calling us to make.  

To put stillness and prayer at the top of our priorities and to allow these to shape not only what we do but how we minister in today’s frenetic, anxious world.

Let’s hear God’s words afresh: “Be still and know that I am God.” “Seek first the kingdom of God.”

Take care of your hearts and souls.  Be open to the work of the Spirit. Be among your people as those serve. Be still and know that God is God.

Let’s be still now for a few moments before we renew our commitment to ministry.

The Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs                       
Bishop of Rochester

28 March 2024


Privacy Notice | Powered by Church Edit