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The Vicar writesJeremy Fletcher
On Tuesday 26 June I marked the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. Everyone has a particular indicator of their advancing age. For me the bishops have been getting younger for some time, and now it’s the curates. On Saturday 30 June Dr Ayla Lepine was ordained deacon at St Paul’s. The service was, of course, an historic one for Ayla and the other deacons. Historic too for the Diocese of London, as Bishop Sarah presided.
Hampstead Parish Church has a proud history of welcoming curates. It’s quite humbling for a new Vicar to hear people speak more enthusiastically about the curates they have known than their training incumbents – fond though they were of them too. Some of you continue to be close to people who ministered here five decades ago, and I can testify that relationships Julia and I made thirty years ago in Hartlepool continue to be strong: not long ago I baptised the daughter of one of the early babies in my time at Stranton.
I’ve been reflecting on a question Ayla invited me to ponder and which will form the subject of a supervision session in the summer. Is there a distinction between ‘deacon’ and ‘curate’? That made me wonder about the distinctions between ‘priest’ and ‘vicar’. In her retreat and early weeks of ministry Ayla will be inhabiting a new order: that of deacon; and a new role: that of curate. Sometimes they seem one and the same: there is an aspect of the curate’s role which is about apprenticeship, and an aspect of being deacon which is about service.
‘Priest’ and ‘vicar’ have a similar conjunction. Some of what is required to lead and serve in a parish is the exact calling of the priest: there is shepherding, pastoral care, stewarding, keeping watch, bringing the word of God, ministering the sacraments, holding people before God in prayer. But in both roles, curate and vicar, there are things which aren’t specific to the order. Each church does them slightly differently. I hope I approach the practicalities of chairing meetings, emptying the bins, opening and closing the church and ensuring good governance in a priestly way, but you don’t have to be a priest to do them.
Ayla will, I’m sure, soon realise what she needs to be a deacon to do, and what she will simply approach in a deaconly way. Do please remember that a deacon is not specifically a trainee priest. Some of what curates do in their first year is indeed about learning the priesthood, but being a deacon is a thing in itself. The deacon is a person of practical service to others, of bringing the needs of the community before God, of bringing the Word of God to the people, of proclaiming the gospel.
Priests who have been deacons remain deacons, and I am looking forward to rediscovering that part of my ordination once more. And I will remember, with mixed feelings, what it was like to be a curate. It wasn’t always easy, though it was massively formative. Thank you for all you will do in welcoming Ayla into her new order and new role. Thank you for your being part of the body of Christ here, and for the ways in which each one of you contributes to our overall ministry. May we discover together God’s call on all the baptised to proclaim and to live Good News.
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