by Mother Katie
Today I want to focus on just one word from our Old Testament reading – Sentinel.
Derived from an old Italian word sentinal it means vigilance, to hear and to perceive.
In our Gospel today we have the example of being a sentinel to each other’s behaviour – ensuring that everyone is living by the law of reconciliation – that seeks the good of each other. Which might occasionally mean mentioning what we see and understand to be wrong with the intention of making it right again.
A Sentinel in the Bible is the one who watches, often from on high, who scans the horizon to see what is coming, who looks out and notices, who pays attention to what is going on. The sentinel can see what is coming and advise on action – warning others of danger – and sending out people when opportunity arrives.
One of the things a priest is called to be in the service of ordination is a sentinel.
When I was training to be a priest my Training Incumbent would often ask me after a service “What did you see?” I confess I thought it an odd question to ask at first – I even struggled to answer. I’d have found what did you hear? Or better still – how did that make you feel? Or what did you think? Much easier to answer. It was an excellent training question – what did you see? Because it requires us to really pay attention. It also invites us out of own experience and feelings and to view everything from a much bigger perspective. It was excellent training.
If I asked you what you see when you come to church I wonder what you would say? What do you see?
Two things I see each week are the Churchwardens – and how hard they work – much of their work is unseen by most – but as the priest I am uniquely placed to see how much goes on. Grace is here every Sunday morning with me – for at least an hour before we open the doors we work very hard setting everything up. Then long after the last person leaves the Wardens are often the ones tidying and locking up.
Churchwardens are there to represent the laity – that is you – and to support and co-operate with the incumbent – which is me. If there is no incumbent – as in a vacancy – they lead the church on behalf of the Bishop and are heavily involved in recruiting a new priest for the parish.
At all times they are expected to lead the congregation by setting a good example and encouraging unity and peace. They have a duty to maintain order and peace in the church and churchyard at all times, and especially during services.
Churchwardens have a duty under ecclesiastical law to keep an up-to-date inventory of the valuables, and to be a “terrier of the property”.
The churchwardens authorise work on the church building, often having obtained PCC approval or a faculty to carry out the work. Both of which can require quite a bit of work! They are responsible for fulfilling the recommendations in the church’s Quinquennial Inspection Report, and they must record all work carried out in the Church Logbook; which is regularly inspected with the inventory by the Archdeacon.
A short definition of their duties is that they are “ultimately responsible for almost everything in a church which does not have to be done by a priest. If the churchwarden does not do it, then she or he is responsible for making sure that it is done by someone”.
So it is an extraordinary role they take on.
They are given a few powers to help this happen – in England, churchwardens have specific powers to enable them to keep the peace – including the power of arrest and fines for people behaving badly on church land! Although this is almost never used – be warned – they also come with sticks!
Churchwardens from my sentinel position do far more than this though.
Sarah, has only been a Church Warden for a year – and she is briefly standing down this year for her health – but hopes to return. I hope she does – because I have found Sarah in this time to be exactly the right balance of supportive and yet able to make difficult decisions with me, bringing her own voice to the table which is always worth listening to. She has helped me navigate some complicated management situations and given great advice – she is a fantastic sentinel – she sees things I might miss. And Sarah has been quick to lead by example – raising over £1,500 for the church with her sponsored walk. And all this whilst undergoing major surgery and having to medically shield for the whole of lockdown. Never focusing on her own problems though – she was there for me constantly throughout lockdown often asking how I was – sending encouraging notes of praise and telling me to rest – and inviting people from all over the world to join our online services. I am deeply grateful.
Grace is our other Churchwarden – and today is the last day of six years outstanding service to this parish. Six years is the maximum we can keep a church warden – and so very, very reluctantly we have to let her go.
I don’t mind telling you I cried last night at the thought of losing Grace as Warden – she has been with me since day one.
(Grace was one of the Wardens who interviewed me – so you’ve got her to blame or thank for the priest you have today!)
And I can not tell you how much I shall miss her in this role.
She goes above and beyond every single time – every single week – without fail. The service she has given to this church is remarkable – much of it unseen.
What I see when I look at Grace is someone who knows how to gather people – she is pastorally very gifted though she would deny this – she is a sentinel for the parish in so many ways – with her finger on the pulse of all that is going on. I can trust her to tell me the truth – and we can passionately disagree and yet still delight to work with each other!
She is a great encourager – not just to me but to others. Grace has helped me find my confidence – this is my first post as a Vicar – and it can be daunting at times – but with Grace by my side I’ve felt in the very best hands and have thanked God for her more times than I can remember.
She is a fantastic organiser of the church – she motivates people into action – from Summer Fairs to refreshments and delicious brunches – from post lockdown safety to liaising with those who hire our buildings.
In short – it is a lot more than just being on the door each week or telling you when you can come up for communion – and much more than I have time to share – I’ve seen so much good. But Sarah and Grace – thank you for all the good you have brought during your terms as Warden – your names will go on the wall as a reminder of the good that people can sacrificially bring – and as an inspiration for us all to follow your lead.
I’d like to invite you to the front – so that we can all see you – and as sentinels ourselves recognise the good we see.
THANK YOU FLOWERS AND GIFTS GIVEN
Tonight we will welcome two new Wardens and to them I want to say be a sentinel for this place – watch what is going on – tell me what you see and help me respond wisely.
And to all of us I have a challenge for the next year – let’s be sentinels of the good and sentinels of gratitude.
It is a fairly simple task to see what it is wrong – kicking up a fuss is something even a toddler can manage – it is a much deeper and harder task to constantly look for the good. But it is perhaps one of the clearest signs of spiritual maturity – that we are able to find the good at all times and in all people. And to name it and give thanks for it.
For the children now I have some gratitude jars to make – perhaps adults could create your own jar – and each time there is something good in church – or some good God has done in your life – write it down and pop it in the jar. Then at the end of the year – read back all the good you have seen – and gives thanks. And perhaps we could share them at our next APCM?
For here at St James we have much to be thankful for – if we can but see it. Let’s raise ourselves to be in position to be sentinels for the good.