It is very good to be here this evening to license Will to this key role in the Church, University and the City of Oxford.  I first met Will over 20 years ago in Halifax when he came as curate.  We were colleagues together in Sheffield when he was chaplain to the University and residentiary canon.  He has since gained further and deeper experience in another University in another place.

I know Will to be a gracious and wise priest and pastor, a careful listener, a good friend, an apt teacher.   A great deal of prayer and reflection has been invested in his appointment.  I am grateful to the patrons, to the Churchwardens and to all who helped with that process and all those who have supported and sustained the ministry of this Church over recent months.

We stand this evening at a moment of new beginnings and fresh hope in the long story of this Church and these parishes.  We surround Will with our love and prayers and encouragement as he takes up this new ministry.  We pray for all who minister and serve here with him.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand”.

The calling of this Church since its foundation has been to offer wisdom at the crossroads.

Physically it stands at the very centre of the city and university, not far from Carfax, from the old river crossing which gives Oxford its name.  The story of this church is entwined with the story of the university it serves.  This was a place for the granting of degrees, for study, for congregations. Tens of thousands come to this place each year: as students facing the decisions which will shape their lives; as visitors looking back and looking forward.

Oxford itself is a crossroads of the world: a place for the mining of knowledge; for the shaping of minds; for the moulding of culture.  The University preserves conversation and encounter in its collegial life: the opportunity for different disciplines to meet, for fresh insights to grow, for iron to sharpen iron in debate, for face to face encounter.  The influence of those conversations and fresh minted understanding is world changing.

And here, at the crossroads, stands this ancient Church, a serious house on serious earth.  Here in this place, wisdom calls to those who seek.  Here in this place, a community of Christian people gather and grow, offering hospitality and welcome and service.  Here in this place there is an ongoing witness that without faith and God it is not possible to give an adequate account of the universe; that without faith it is not possible to give an adequate account of culture or history or politics or law; that without faith it is not possible to give an adequate account of human life and potential and community or truth or beauty or love.

Wisdom calls and raises her voice here.  Wisdom invites those who come to look deeper, to listen to the rising hunger, to the unanswered questions, to the unquiet heart within.  Knowledge abounds in this generation.  But wisdom remains scarce.  Facts seem plentiful but truth is rare.  Trends and fashions abound but where is the wisdom on which a young man or woman can build their lives.  A city teeming with people can yet be a place of isolation.  Where can community be found in which I do not have to compete?  In which I can begin to be myself?

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand”.

The wisdom offered in this place has changed the world and endured.  John Wesley’s sermons offered here are read and studied still.  The sermons of Keble and Newman and Lewis are still inspire.

So no pressure then Will.  Nothing to be feared here.  It should all be plain sailing.

Any new pastoral charge is daunting, but some are more daunting than others.  It is no small thing to stand by this crossroads and dare to raise your voice, to invite those who pass to come in and drink.  It is no small thing to be a public representative of Christian faith in this university at this time.

This new ministry will only be possible if you and the community here are rooted and grounded in prayer; unless you take time to dwell deeply in the scripture and sacrament; unless your inner life is fed by streams of living water.  The fear of the Lord, not the fear of others, is the beginning of wisdom.  That fear and knowledge of God demands time spent in prayer and contemplation, seeking the face of Christ, dwelling deep.  Putting down those deep roots and finding those rhythms in a new place takes time.  Do not expect too much too soon.

This new ministry will only be possible if you and the community here are willing to value one another’s gifts and work well together.  No priestly charge is a solitary ministry but this one can only be fulfilled by working closely with lay and ordained colleagues.  I ordain and license you this evening to work with others, to build a team, to continue to shape and model good collaboration, to serve and enable and invest in others who will go on to serve in different vocations in many different places.

Finally and most important, this new ministry will only be possible if you remember daily the truth at the heart of the second reading you have chosen, the story of the annunciation, of St Mary the Virgin for whom this Church is named.  God uses for his purposes those who know they are inadequate and weak and ill equipped; God uses the weak and imperfect.  God may call, often, to a mission which seems impossible.  But the experience of ministry is that God provides and surprises again and again as we offer what we have with joy with without fear.

Mary is called to bear God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.  All of us who call ourselves Christians are called to carry his name in different ways and different places.  We can do that only as we say with Mary, daily: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”.

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand”.

In your ministry in this place, offer wisdom at the crossroads.  As you exercise this ministry together, be contemplative, be compassionate, be courageous.  The world is ready to listen.

In Philip Larkin’s words:

 “A serious house on serious earth this is….
Since someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious
And gravitating with it to this ground
Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in.

Enjoy this ministry entrusted to you and this new chapter in your common life.  May God bless these parishes, this university and these communities as together we seek wisdom for our world.

Amen.

A sermon at the institution of the Revd. Dr. Will Lamb as Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin with St. Cross and St Peter in the East

2nd May 2017.

Proverbs 8.1-22 and Luke 1.26-38

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