Institution and Induction

Last week I attended the institution and induction service of Gisburn’s new vicar. It was good to attend for a number of reasons, including the fostering of links with a fellow minister. It’s also the ancestral place of worship for my seventeenth-century ancestors; something sentimental stirred within me when I beheld the same stone pillars and roof beams as my forbears.

Anglicans are good at ceremony, and it was an interesting spectacle. The new vicar was attended by the Archdeacon of Blackburn, who afterwards described his role to me as the oil which keeps the diocese running. Also, there was the Dean of Whalley who invited honoured guests to formally welcome Rev. Hallows, including the mayor, county councillors and the chairman of the parish council. To my surprise, I too was called upon to welcome the vicar on behalf of Martin Top; not expecting to be so honoured, I muttered something incoherent about gospel light shining brightly from this parish.

The service was led by the Bishop of Burnley, Phillip North. The good bishop is too high a churchman for my taste but he preached well, and returned only recently from Jerusalem. I agreed with his message, apart from when he claimed the Holy Spirit enters people at baptism. He was pilloried by liberals in his own church last year for not supporting women’s ordination. I rather admired his honesty as well as flexibility in still working with female clergy. Also present were his fellow parsons from the deanery, drawn elsewhere in the Ribble Valley.

There was a pleasant solemnity about the proceedings, and it was good to see the local clergy and hierarchy gather to welcome their latest addition. There was also a real atmosphere of love and mutual anticipation. This is an advantage of being a truly national church as opposed to small, independent congregation. Much as I enjoyed the service and hope to work with the new vicar, however, parts of the service reminded me why I’m a non-conformist:

The ‘Incumbent designate’ had to promise to engage in prayer and celebration of the sacraments by ‘only us[ing] the forms of service authorised by Canon [ie Anglican Church law]’. It was on this issue that the early Congregationalists and Presbyterians were expelled from the Anglican Church in 1662. I do enjoy the freedom I have to lead worship in the way I see fit.

He was required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Readers will know I am a monarchist and greatly admire the Queen. Indeed, I have sworn my own allegiance to her and her heirs and successors in my capacity of Justice of the Peace; I’d feel uncomfortable doing it in my role as church minister. Loyal as I am to the state, I do not mix my earthly country with my heavenly home.

He also had to swear ‘true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of Blackburn and his successors’. I understand the current bishop is a sound man, but what if his successor should be another resurrection-denying David Jenkins? The Church of England is such a mixture of theological beliefs, one hardly knows what the next bishop will believe.

He was described as a ‘parish priest’ on a number of occasions. Although the Archdeacon later spoke of Christ’s role as great High Priest, there is something a little pre-reformation about referring to a minister as a priest. Of course he is a priest, as are all believers. Nevertheless, it’s not a term I’d feel comfortable employing.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the party’s moving around the church’s key areas, including the altar, lectern and front, the three places at which the new vicar will minister. He was also be ceremonially given the key to the church, as the vicar is the building’s temporal proprietor on behalf of the Church.

 Ironically, for those who know a little of church history, the Lord’s Prayer they said was a modern version, whereas my own recitation was the traditional form as used in the Book of Common Prayer. Congregational ministers were once ejected from their parishes for refusing to use that form of words; I suspect I was one of the few to use it that evening.

 I wish the new vicar well.