You’ve probably noticed by now that I like the ‘tides’ or seasons of the Church year. Last Monday, according to the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, was the Feast of St Peter the Apostle, lending its name to Petertide - the nearest Sunday to the Feast day and the period around that day.
St Peter is a very important figure in the Christian Church. St Peter who is traditionally portrayed as holding the keys to the gates of heaven. Peter to whom Jesus spoke those beautiful words “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The same Peter who denied Jesus three times, Peter who received the sternest rebuke from Jesus “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me.”
Peter who always wanted to say or do something, and usually said or did the wrong thing! Yet despite all his human weaknesses Jesus chose Peter to be the rock on which his church is built. God is capable of doing so much through each and every one of us. We are all of us hopelessly incapable in our own abilities, but God enables each one of us to fulfil the tasks that he has prepared for us
Petertide is the usual time of year that the Church ordains deacons and priests, and believe it or not ordinations have happened in Wales during this lockdown period, but only for those who had to be ordained for legal reasons. This very fact reflects the importance of ordination in the life of the church.
In the ordination service the particular duties of a deacon are described as being preaching the word of God and seeking out and caring for those in need taking the pattern of their calling the Servant King who came not to be served but to serve. The particular emphasis is on service – service of God, and service of his people, especially those in particular need.
A priest is also charged with preaching the word of God, teaching and administering the Sacraments of the Church and caring for all committed to their care as both servant and shepherd – the servant of the servants and the shepherd of the flock. The particular emphasis is on the cure of souls, ministering to peoples’ needs in this world and preparing them for the world to come.
Ordination is a great privilege but carries with it a weight of responsibility, a responsibility which like St Peter no one is able to discharge in his own strength, but rather relying on the work of God within and through him. In that regard a priest or deacon is no different to any other person, save that the work entrusted to them is slightly different.
The office of chaplain within our Lodges is an honoured position ranking after that of Junior Warden. The duties of the chaplain are to encourage the bretheren to live better lives as a preparation for promotion to the Grand Lodge above by reminding the bretheren that we are all on a journey which does not end with the death of the body and setting an example of good living. Weighty responsibilities indeed.
The jewel of the Chaplain’s office is a book on a triangle surmounting a glory, the Volume of the Sacred Law, that great Light in Freemasonry, so important in the Lodge, so important in the life of every mason. It is by studying those words that all of us come to understand what the duties of the Chaplain mean in real terms and how they affect each and every brother.
The main work entrusted to the Chaplain within the ritual is to offer the prayers, and I have written previously about the importance of prayer within the ceremonies and individually. Bretheren often jibe at the Chaplain for reading the prayers, but I believe that there is a reason for that – and not simply because Chaplains are incapable of learning the prayers! The prayers are different to the remainder of the ritual, and deserve to be treated differently, they are a direct address and preparation to the One whose blessing we invoke to guide and enable everything else we do.
Too often I think that masons think of the role of the Chaplain as being confined to offering prayers. You will see from the summary of the duties that I have referred to above that they are far more wide-ranging and all encompassing, not that different in substance to the duties committed to priests and deacons, although of course most Chaplains are not ordained ministers.
We are familiar with the duties entrusted to our Almoners in supporting the wellbeing of the bretheren and their dependents. Our Almoners always do a wonderful job, and how proud are we of our Almoners during this season of Covid-19? Thanks be to God for their care and concern, and the sincere manner in which they discharge their duties.
Perhaps we can think of the Chaplain and the Almoner as being two halves of a whole; the Almoner tending to the needs of the body and the Chaplain tending to the needs to the soul. We are all body and spirit, and both body and spirit need to be cared for – that is becoming increasingly clear as this period of unprecedented change goes on and on.
I am truly grateful to all Lodge Chaplains for their commitment to the office and the way in which they minister to the needs of the bretheren entrusted to their care. It is not an easy office, not being a religious position and yet concerned with the soul, and with sincerity of heart and a willing spirit it is amazing what we are capable of achieving.
And so bretheren, if you feel the need to seek solace and nourishment for your souls, don’t forget about the Lodge Chaplain, a Holy office, who is there to help you refine your souls, strengthen your virtues and purify your mind.
This hymn of Charles Wesley speaks of how each one of us dedicate our life to God’s service:
1. O Thou who camest from above,
the pure celestial fire to impart
kindle a flame of sacred love
upon the mean altar of my heart.
2. There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return,
in humble prayer and fervent praise.
3. Jesus, confirm my heart's desire
to work and speak and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up thy gift in me.
4. Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat,
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make my sacrifice complete.
I offer this prayer:
May the blessings of God Almighty rest upon us and all bretheren, and upon the work done in His name. May the Great Father of us all give us the light to guide us, courage to support us and His love to unite us, now and forever more. So mote it be.