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Archbishop's homily given at the commissioning of two new Church Army Evangelists

Jill Hancock and Phil Morrow with the Archbishop

Wednesday 14th July 2010

The Archbishop admitted and commissioned Jill Hancock and Phil Morrow into the Office of Evangelist. The ceremony was held in the Chapel at Lambeth Palace, London.

Jill Hancock and Phil Morrow will soon take up posts in Sheffield and Northern Ireland, respectively, having been admitted into the Office of Evangelist by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Archbishop used the example of Victorian priest and poet John Keble in his Admitting service. He highlighted Keble's faithfulness to the people of the, small country parish he served for so many years, and his call for the Church to retain its independence from government. 

He also encouraged all evangelists to follow those examples of faithfulness and independence, wherever their ministries took them. He said that an evangelist's job in many cases was to go into a community and "uncover a Jesus who is already there". The fact that Church Army Evangelists have been doing just that for 128 years makes the organisation "a gift to the Church", said the Archbishop.

Read a transcript of the Archbishop's homily below, or click download on the right to listen [21Mb]

A homily from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

I think that part of the training of evangelists is letting you know what a bad sermon sounds like. Part of knowing what a bad sermon sounds like is, of course, knowing what a bad sermon illustration sounds like.

I remember many years ago coming across the anecdote of a rather self-satisfied archdeacon preaching on some special occasion, who said, 'Recently I was going down the road and I met a man and I said to this man, "My man, where are you going?" And do you know what that man said to me? He said, "I'm going to hell." And you know what I said to that man? I said, "Never fear my man, your Church is with you".

I suspect that that kind of question is not the kind of place to start with the Good News. But there is a question which you might ask as we try and share the gospel. Not 'my man where do you think you're going' but something more like; 'where do you think you are'.

Not just what kind of world do you think you're inhabiting, but where do you think you are—your mind, your heart, your hopes your anxieties—where are you with yourself, with your life? Because that is what the gospel today is really about.

Where are you? I don't know. I feel I have nothing I can really rely on, and I feel that quite a lot of what I have built up to make myself feel good doesn't work any more. And Jesus says, 'Blest are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom.'

Where are you? I don't know where I am. I'm in such grief and loss that I don't know which way to look. I feel that the people and relationships that mattered most to me have been taken away. I feel alone and wretched. And Jesus says, 'Blest are those who mourn: they will be comforted.'

Where are you? I don't know where I am. I don't think I'm capable of very much, I do what I can. I put one foot in front of the next. I try to do my best with the people God's given me to work with. I don't have high hopes of myself. I try to live in such a way that I don't tread on other people's toes too much. I don't know where I am. And Jesus says, 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth'.

Where are you? I'm so angry I don't know what to do with my anger. I look round the world and I see people suffering, hurting and dying everywhere I look. I can't sleep for thinking about the pain of the world: the hunger and injustice, the children dying; those growing up under the shadow of war; arms manufacturers who put a cloud over their sky. I feel I'm being eaten away by the pain that's around me. And Jesus says, 'Blest are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they will be filled.'

Where are you? I don't know where I am. I've been very hurt yet I can't bear a grudge. What I want is to be reconciled. What I want is to see things put back together again. That's what I long for. I try not to carry grudges in my heart. I try to believe that there's a future even in the most broken and difficult relationships. And Jesus says, 'Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. The merciful shall have mercy and the peacemakers shall be called God's children.'

Where are you? Where am I? I never really thought about it. I get up in the morning, I say thank you to God for the day. I eat my breakfast. I talk to my family. I go to work. I look to God. I trust him. I don't ask any more than that. Why? Do I need to? And Jesus says, 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.'

The point is that the Beatitudes are not a series of rules for living a good life. They're simply statements. Is that where you are? Well, funnily enough, that's where Jesus is as well. And learning to look at where you are, to ask who you are, what it's like with you inside, that's how the Gospel begins to be heard. The question opens a door for other people to see where they are, who they are, and then, not only is the Church with them, but the Lord Christ is with them. Because in all those difficult places that so many people our world inhabit, what happens is that there is room for the great question to take root, that great life-giving question: If this is where I am and who I am, is there someone who sees me and knows me? Who understands from the inside, and loves me and trusts me and gives me a future? Because the more we seal off our lives from any possibility of failure and muddle, the less room there is for that wonderful life-giving question.

I love the sight of a question mark. I don't quite know why. There's something about that dot at the bottom, like a seed, with the great unexpected 'leaf' shape that springs up from that little dot saying that somehow a question can be really life-giving, life-changing and world-enlarging.

When we as evangelists go into the business of sharing the Good News it's partly an attempt to press that little dot so that out comes the luxuriant flower of the question mark. Where am I? Who am I? Am I seen? Am I understood, held and loved? And we as evangelists are not there to answer all the questions in detail that arise out of that. But we are there to give a clear answer to that one question that arises out of the little seed: am I seen and understood and loved and held and given a future? Yes. All promises of God gather together in the 'yes' of Jesus Christ. Because, where the poor in spirit, and the mourners, and the meek, and the hungry for justice, and the merciful, and the pure, and the peacemakers are; there he is, within, at work. We believe that when we share good news we uncover the Jesus who is there already, waiting for us. And the person we're talking to has good news for us. We know that in sharing the Gospel we hear the Gospel. We know that when that life-giving question takes root, it comes back to you with a radiance and a challenge and an excitement that enlarges your own heart.

So today, Gill, Phil, we are asking you to go and press that little button of the question, the life-giving question: Where are you? And as you listen to people's replies it's surprising how many will weave themselves into those sayings of Jesus in the Beatitudes. As people recognise themselves somehow there, then we can say yes! that's where Jesus is. 'Never fear, your church is with you' – but much more than that, never fear sister, brother, Jesus is there, understanding, promising, faithful in all things, ready to give you a future you never dreamed of, seeing God, inheriting the earth, being fully at home with God, fed with justice, being at home in the kingdom of Heaven. If that isn't good news; I don't know what is. And it is as the prophet says: 'New every morning, great is his faithfulness'.

© Rowan Williams 2010

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