Licensing of Tif Ewins St Michael’s Battersea:  27th February 2017

It is one of the greatest pleasures and privileges a Bishop can enjoy, to visit a parish to license a new Parish Priest especially one as gifted and full of zeal for the Gospel as Tif - with a goodly contingent in support from St Paul’s Brixton where Tif served her curacy working with Ben Goodyear and remains much loved.   Seeing Tif sitting in the front row with Canon Simon Butler, who will shortly present her to me, is also a very pleasing sight.  I am most grateful for the part Archdeacon John Kiddle has played in the appointment process and this is Richard Taylor’s first licensing as Area Dean.  At a deeper level this service is the formal, symbolic commencement of a relationship, and is all the more joyful for that.  

I pray it will be a flourishing relationship.  This congregation has a good deal of energy and a wide variety of talents, is blessed with a rich musical tradition.  The parish sits in an area which, though not without pockets of deprivation, is among the wealthier parts of the Diocese.  Tif shortly to be licensed as Priest-in-charge is taking on a part time post which comes with a house but no stipend so I commend a model of every member ministry to ensure this new partnership in the Gospel bears fruit.  But first let us listen to the Gospel.

To the good, law-abiding, eager young man who asks what he must do to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus says “sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   This is not a harsh saying.  It is buttressed about with hope for the rich young man: Jesus, looking at him, loves him.   And although he says that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom, he says crucially, that for God all things are possible.   The rich young man does not go away condemned.  But he, and we with him, are still to take these words as a challenge.   May it be a challenge that this congregation and Tif together will take up.

Tif’s sense of calling to this Parish goes back a long way, well before the vacancy.  Tif and her husband James have lived literally a stone’s throw from the Parish’s southern border since the early years of this century.  Their four children, Badger, Clemmie, Florence and Zebedee grew up there and attended – in the case of Florence and Zebedee still attend - schools in the parish, along with nativities and nurseries here.   But their sense of belonging goes back even further, to the time when Tif and James were living in India, which gave them, among other things, a passion for the campaign against slavery - one which James has pursued to a high level having drafted what is the Modern Slavery Act.  And now Tif is coming to a Parish which is roughly co-terminous with the garden of Broomwood House, where William Wilberforce lived during his own Parliamentary capaign to abolish the Slave Trade.

This evening’s celebration has been a long time in the making, just as the distinctive character of this place has been a long time in the making.   Today, the area around Northcote Road is a byword for family life, though I was staggered to learn that the Boiled Egg and Soldiers Cafe has now been renamed presumably in defiance of its iconic status!  The very epicentre of what is colloquially called Nappy Valley, is in the parish. 

There are five schools in the parish.   One of them is a secondary school, with its first cohort just about to take GCSEs,  but schools are nothing new here.   Perhaps you remember the Sherlock Holmes story “The Naval Treaty”; Holmes and Watson are on a train into London, and just as they pass through Clapham Junction, Holmes starts to wax uncharacteristically lyrical:

“Look at those big, isolated clumps of building rising up above the slates...” “The board-schools.” [Watson replies]

“Light-houses! Beacons of the future!”And those same lighthouses are still beacons of the future in this place. 

And here, in the heart of all this life, is St Michael’s.  St Michael’s with its faithful, committed and hard-working congregation, with strong  common purpose and characterised by warm welcome and celebration is very much blessed to have in Pawel not just a capable musical director but also a world-class harpsichordist.   This musical tradition is one to which I know Tif is committed and which she values highly.

Music is an end in itself, this I know well, but music can be more besides.   Music has the power to speak of God, even to those who do not know that they need to hear of him.   I know that fruitful times have come in this Church from reaching out through music – through the children’s choir, for instance.  This Church community is rich in music and I rejoice in that.   But what I am saying is that, as it was for the young man in the Gospel, wealth of this kind only becomes truly valuable when it is given away. 

Indeed, true riches are measured not by what we have but by what we give.  Not by how beautifully we play our music, but by whether we are singing a song in which others can join.   Not the beauty of our houses and public buildings, but how wide the doors open.   Not the exuberance of our parties, but the extent to which we go into the highways and byways to invite into them those who have no party to go to.  The opportunities for this community of faith to reach out to this community, to serve and nurture those who live, work, learn and play here, to be the good news for them, are many. 

In Tif you have a Priest with a passion for this work, who can build the networks of relationships on which all this will rest.   True harmony stems not from playing the right notes, but from acute an humble listening.   That is the wisdom from above of which James speaks: that peaceable gentle willingness to yield which, if we all do it, makes us able to sing together.   And I should like to add that some of the most important relationships to nurture and grow will be those with neighbouring churches, particularly with St Luke’s Battersea and St Barnabas Clapham Common.  There is great scope for co-operation and for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.

This parish like the man in our Gospel reading, is richly blessed.  It is richly blessed in many good things: urban dwellings abounding, good schools, health, employment, beauty, green space.  Tif will discover too that there are also the same kinds of needs as are to be found in more obviously deprived parts of the Diocese.   There is much to do, much to hope for, much to give away; above all there is the command of Jesus to take to heart: “then come, follow me”.   I pray that all this will be held together and offered up through the faith, hope and love we have in Christ which is so well known and found in this place.