Sermon preached by the Bishop of Clogher
Sermon preached by the Bishop of Clogher.

Sunday March 13th 2011 St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen
Service of Confirmation and Commissioning of The Diocesan Youth Officer: Mr Jonny Phenix
Mark 1:9: Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Tonight we are worshipping with a difference because tonight we embark together on something which is quite different in the Diocese of Clogher. We do so courageously and prophetically at what is always seen to be one of the spiritually driest times of the year – the beginning of Lent. I say this because the landscape of Lent is a wilderness. Our conventional picture of Biblical wildernesses is that they are dusty and stony, with the odd lizard and a few splashes of green, but with very little other life making much of an impression. Into this picture of seeming despair we have the wonderful, majestic, simple and humble story of the baptism of Jesus – his dynamic incorporation into the Community of the Desert represented by John the Baptizer, his first cousin; his courageous recognition of the witness amidst hardship, ridicule and sheer hatred shown to the Community of the Desert. This goes with the challenges which that Community offered then and offers still, by its idealism and integrity, to the religion of the city, the religion of the Temple and the religion of the state. Standing in the water of the river, standing on the margin of settled society, creating a community out of the river – this is what God in Three Persons did with Jesus, as Mark goes on to tell us in verses 10 and 11: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Challenge brings in its train affirmation; delight follows the path of witness; and, most important of all, the presence of God embraces the humility of the one who willingly and deliberately submits himself to the mercy and the ministry of another. There are still stories to tell and lessons to be learned from the work and the word of God. There are still journeys to be taken in and through the desert by people of faith and by people seeing faith in the hope of finding God.

I wish to pay tribute to one person in particular, among many others who will continue to offer and provide oversight, direction and stimulus to The Wells Project. I want to thank him for envisioning The Wells Project in very special ways and I hope that he does not object to my singling him out. That is the Reverend Kyle Hanlon, rector of Fivemiletown with Kiltermon, who for as long as I have been bishop of Clogher has been to the forefront of ministry among young people in Clogher Diocese. The pools of water springing up in the prophecy of Isaiah struck a chord, sparked off ideas, appealed to the imagination and formed the basis for him of a novel way of doing what is vitally important in the Church of Ireland – nurturing and expressing the commitment, insights, enthusiasm and exuberance of young people. With the hard work and creative thinking of many others co-operating around this vision, together with the helpfulness of the staff of the Diocesan Office, we have reached the point where we hold together wonderfully this evening the text of St Mark and our own lake-land diocese in the presence of so many young people, their families and their friends. We have brought together the water of the River Jordan and the water of Lough Erne to show and to symbolize the inspiration which all our discipleship receives from the land on which Jesus walked – the Holy Land – and the requirement of us that we live it out – by walking our own walk – in the land where we live. In this way Jesus and you and I; the Bible and our own country are joined by the water which flows and which purifies, which gives life and healing and refreshment to all. This combined flow of water is used to water the rowan tree whose very life brings us to the name Macartain, Son of Rowan, the name of the Patron Saint of Clogher Diocese. It is planted in soil which the young people of the Diocese have brought from each of their parishes and poured on to the roots of this special tree.

Jonny brings to this work a clear picture of who God is and what God does. This is a gift which he is joyfully and abundantly happy to share with others in who he is and in what he does. He is not afraid to offer correction and discipline where both are needed but he is always constructive in what he gives other people and in how he treats them – always, in my experience, with respect. He is thoroughly at home with young people. This sense of being at ease draws them into his confidence and gives in turn a sense of both confidence and belonging in what they are doing and in what issues they are discussing. Like John the Baptizer, Jonny is able, in a unique way, to point people, young and old, to The Christ. This is very important as all too often in our church life we play off Jesus against Christ. We feel more at home with Jesus the human person and somehow forget the Christ who is the Anointed, the Messiah, the fulfilment of expectation and of tradition which stretches far behind us and far in front of us. Maybe that is why we shy away - because of the deep and cavernous wisdom which the person of Christ represents and embodies. We have no reason to be afraid. Trust and obedience bring in their wake love and belonging. In a spirit of embracing the two sides of who Jesus Christ is, we can ask God in the Collect for today, the First Sunday in Lent, to know our weaknesses and at the same time to give us the knowledge of his power to save. With the Suffering Servant, weakness is not a cul de sac but a place where Jesus Christ comes to meet us and travel with us.

The hopes embedded in The Wells Project are simply that young people of varying ages will be able to meet, to be equipped to enjoy their faith in Jesus Christ and to live it out in their family, in their schools and in their parishes. We often complain about parishes and churches but we are fortunate in the extreme to have what any Mobile Phone Company would give anything for – comprehensive coverage of the whole country. There is an idea that good youth work can happen only where there are big parishes and lots of people – wrong. There is an idea that good youth work has to be so active as to be exhausting – wrong again. These are simply myths. There are countless excellent examples of people who have met in small numbers and enjoyed it, never for once feeling that they were inadequate because there were not more of them. There are young people who meet in silence, who meet to fast for an oppressed people and for a just and righteous cause, who enjoy everyday interests together just as much as they enjoy reading the Bible as the word of God. Location and size do not matter to them – they are a new community, springing up and flourishing where they are. The Wells Project is to be like this. It is not frightened by numbers, large or small. It is not shy to be somewhere which to others seems unlikely or unpromising. It is not backward in taking a seed or a sapling and planting it and watering it and nurturing its growth. The Wells Project finds water and congregates people around it is joy and refreshment.

As we draw our inspiration from the mingling of water from Lough Erne and the River Jordan, we pray that Jonny and all of the people among whom he will work, young people, people in the age-range 20-30, leaders of uniformed organizations and parents and clergy – that all of these people will have a time together of great enjoyment and exploration of who God is and of what God does and of who God makes us to become. We express tonight our delight that Jonny is to be confirmed in the heart of this Service of Commissioning and that the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit will descend on him and empower and embolden his ministry as they do the ministry of all together in the shared work of discipleship and ordination: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and inward strength, the spirit of knowledge and godly living and the spirit of reverence for the Lord.
We thank God that this Wells Project has come bubbling to the surface of our diocesan life at a time when we enter with Jesus Christ the wilderness not to die but to live in a new way; not to be burned dry by the sun but to be washed clean and fresh by the springs of water which nurture life and colour when we allow the Spirit of God to open our eyes to his presence - already there.

Mark 1.8: I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.