Jesus challenges elites, Archbishop Harper tells Farewell Eucharist congregation
Addressing a packed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on the occasion of a Farewell Eucharist ahead of his retirement at the end of this month, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, drew attention to the way in which religious, political and cultural elites found themselves challenged by Jesus, and went on to draw parallels for today.
Preaching on the Gospel of St Matthew’s Day (Matthew 9: 9-13), the Archbishop said that Jesus had been “the willing guest at a dinner party, given by Matthew and attended by people of doubtful reputation”, adding: “In 21st-century terms, the diners might have included bankers, rogue traders, media barons and politicians on the take. For mixing with such company, Jesus attracted the bitter criticism of a religious elite.”
The retirement of Archbishop Alan Harper as Archbishop of Armagh (Farewell Eucharist, page 1; Gazette interview and editorial, last week) leads on, as surely as one day follows another, to the election of a successor. This falls to the remaining eleven members of the House of Bishops and they are to elect one of their own number. No doubt that decision will be made after much thought and prayer.
Each of the members of the House of Bishops has particular strengths and no one can have all of those strengths. So it is a matter of reflecting on the particular needs of the Church at this time but, then again, these are indeed so many and varied that it seems difficult to know where to start. For that reason, it is surely most likely that the members of the House of Bishops will not just all appear together at the appointed hour to carry out an election, but will engage in some process of reflection through which the priorities for this time may become clearer.
We know that the next Archbishop of Armagh, as with those who have gone before, will have responsibilities in the Diocese of Armagh, in the wider Church of Ireland, in the Anglican Communion and in the ecumenical fellowship both at home and globally. Any Archbishop of Armagh therefore must be able to prioritize, without neglecting important areas of responsibility.
The qualities that are necessary for that are, naturally, administrative and organisational, but the Primate of All Ireland is called to be much more than an able administrator.
The call is also to pastoral care and the ministry of word and sacrament, to leading by example, to prophetic and courageous witness to the truth of the Gospel and Christian moral imperatives, and yet still much more.
The complexity of the relevant factors in this choice inevitably draws one back also to reflect on basics, to a setting aside, at least for a moment, of the list of desired qualities and to a focusing on the fundamental calling of every Christian, a calling that those in leadership must exhibit for all clearly and unmistakably to see – love of God and love of neighbour. To love God means doing the spiritual work of seeking to be more like him in every aspect of one’s life, and to love one’s neighbour means to be ready to put oneself out not only for those who are like oneself but also for those who are different.
In all of this, it should be remembered that the Church at large has a responsibility to care for those who are called to the certainly demanding role of ministry, be they curates assistant, rectors, archdeacons, deans, bishops or archbishops, or whatever. This hierarchy has its benefits and its dangers, but in the end the ordained ministry, of whatever order or rank, is there to help build up the Church into a strong ‘household of faith’. In that, the next Archbishop of Armagh will not only deserve but also need the prayers and the love of the Church.
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