Welcome to Wilts, Archdeacon

by Gerry Lynch last modified 23 Feb, 2016 12:00 AM

Sue Groom licensed as new Archdeacon of Wilts at service in Devizes

At a church service in St John’s, Devizes, this evening the Ven Sue Groom was ‘collated’, or formally took up post, as Archdeacon of Wilts. The Archdeaconry of Wilts encompasses the Rural Deaneries of Bradford, Calne, Devizes, Marlborough and Pewsey. As well as those towns, it covers Melksham, Trowbridge, Royal Wootton Bassett, and dozens of smaller towns and villages.

Sue was previously a parish priest in Bedfordshire and Director of Ordinands for the Diocese of St Alban’s, and has recently submitted her DThM (Doctor of Theology and Ministry) to Durham University. Before that she worked in the Diocese of London. She is not entirely new to the county, though, as she has in the past been a part-time theological teacher for STETS, based at Sarum College in Salisbury.

Speaking about her new role, Archdeacon Sue, “Since our arrival at the beginning of Lent, we have been made to feel very welcome by the people of Devizes and the staff of the diocese. I am now really looking forward to getting to know the people and parishes of the archdeaconry.

“As I said in my sermon this evening, ‘I hope to be among you as someone who renews hope through encouraging you to engage in prayer and service so that you might grow in faith, mercy and generosity.’”

Bishop Nicholas added,  “I was delighted to welcome and formally admit Sue into her new role as Archdeacon of Wilts this evening. She brings a passion to develop people and help them use their gifts in the service of the Church. The people of Wilts will enjoy getting to know her over the weeks and months to come as she will enjoy getting to know them.

“With a new Chancellor and a new Bishop of Sherborne also joining us this week, I am also delighted to have a full complement of senior staff in position for the first time in nearly a year!”

Archdeacon Sue's sermon can be read below. A collection of photos from the collation service can be viewed via this link

More about Sue

Born in Wokingham in 1963, Archdeacon Sue was brought up in Cheltenham. She was prompted to seek ordination after she received encouragement from many people when the ordination of women priests began in 1994 and was in the public eye. She trained for the ministry at St John’s College, Nottingham from 1994-1996.

The Archdeacon holds a number of qualifications which support her role as a preacher, theological teacher and enabler and developer of people’s talents. She has a degree in linguistics; an MPhil in Computer Speech and Language Processing; a Postgraduate Certificate in Adult Education; a DipHE in Christian Life and Ministry; an MA in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation; and an MPhil for ‘Sources for the Investigation of Meaning in the Hebrew Bible’.

Married to Phil, Sue swims five times a week and she and her husband spend a large proportion of what spare time they have on their narrowboat, for which they hope to find a mooring on the Kennet and Avon Canal.’

More about Archdeacons

Archdeacons carry out their duties under the direction of the Diocesan Bishop and are key members of his staff. They ensure that organisational aspects and processes of the Diocese affect parishes positively and effectively, as well as serving and reflecting Gospel imperatives.

They are called, with the Bishop, to take a lead in mission, helping facilitate and stimulate growth through shaping the culture and direction of the Diocese, developing resources and offering support as required.

Priestly, pastoral and teaching duties continue to be essential to an Archdeacon’s ministry, and have a particular role in the practical application and outworking of Diocesan policies. In addition to their statutory responsibilities, the Diocesan Bishop expects Archdeacons to take responsibility for various Diocesan portfolios; especially those that help develop parish growth.

Sermon

The Ven Sue Groom preached the following sermon at her collation at St John's Church, Devizes, on 22 February 2016

When I first glanced at the readings for this service, I did not find them very encouraging. I was rather disappointed. There did not seem to be much relevant to the celebration of the beginning of a new public ministry. But then I do tend towards being a glass half empty sort of person rather than a glass half full one… 

Fortunately, that never lasts long because my curiosity gets the better of me. I love a puzzle and a new challenge. I love studying and I love learning. So I began to investigate the passages in more detail. And what happened is what always happens when I wrestle with scripture: yet again I am amazed by the God I encounter. 

Take the reading from Daniel, for instance. It is most probably a year after the fall of Babylon and Daniel has been meditating on the number of years Jerusalem must lie in ruins according to the prophet Jeremiah, that is 70 long years. Daniel is wondering whether the fall of Babylon means that the devastation of Jerusalem is nearing its end. And as he seeks understanding, Daniel turns towards God in prayer. He doesn’t just dive into a long monologue. First he prepares himself for prayer by fasting, wearing sackcloth, and covering his head with ashes. He expects to receive a revelation from God and he needs to be properly prepared for that encounter. 

At the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, we are called to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. We receive the imposition of ashes as a sign of our penitence. I wonder whether, like Daniel, we expect to receive a revelation from God during Lent? I wonder whether we need to prepare ourselves more thoroughly more often before we pray and seek the face of God? … I am particularly addressing these questions to myself this year because we moved into Southbroom House on Shrove Tuesday and our furniture arrived on Ash Wednesday so we spent most of the day unpacking boxes!

Daniel prays as one of the people of God, on behalf of the people of God. He is a prophet, not a priest, yet he confesses the sins of the people. Daniel does not stand over against the people, he makes their confession his confession. I wonder how often we identify with our own community, or our nation, and make their confession our confession? I suspect that we are more likely to stand over against them. Or maybe that is just me. It seems easier to stand back and criticize than it is to engage in intercession and confession. 

The words Daniel prays echo other great prayers of confession in the Old Testament and they remind us about the nature of our God. Daniel prays to the great and awesome God whose name is too precious to be pronounced. This God is the God who makes covenants with his people, covenants which God never breaks, despite the unfaithfulness of his people. This God keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. 

I am a linguist and a Hebrew scholar so forgive me as I indulge in one of my passions. The word usually translated ‘steadfast love’ is hesed. It is frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the covenant relationship. It is difficult to convey the importance of this little word. Hesed indicates the unswerving loyalty of God to his people. God will be righteous and merciful, God will save and redeem his people. A bit like our marriage vows, God promises to love and cherish his people for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. God will stick by his people through thick and thin, he will always be there for them. It is difficult to explain but if you are aware of God’s love for you, then you already know what I mean. 

This God who keeps covenant and hesed is the great and awesome God to whom Daniel prays. This God expects devotion from his people, devotion expressed through obedience to his commandments. But whereas God is faithful and righteous, his people are less than devoted. Daniel confesses that the people have sinned: he says that they have missed the mark, they have done wrong, they have acted wickedly, they have rebelled, and they have turned away from God. This it all: ‘We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.’ 

In other words, we have been selfish and self-centred, instead of our lives being centred on God. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, in I Am With You, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2016, writes, ‘We assume that we ourselves are at the centre of our world. When we realize that we are not, we are indignant. But it is God who is at the centre. We can pretend all we want that this is not so, but that doesn’t make it true.’ A sobering thought for someone being collated as an archdeacon this evening! 

It’s a great book, and it’s not too late to start reading it, so if you haven’t got your ‘reading and meditating on God’s holy Word’ for this Lent organised yet, get a copy of this book: I Am With You by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. 

So, we are miserable sinners, shame-faced, and if we concentrate on ourselves then we are stuck, we are lost, and there is no health in us. But if we lift our eyes to seek God, if we prepare to encounter God in prayer, if we remember what we know of God’s dealings his people in the past, if we put God at the centre of our lives, then we are free, we are found, we are forgiven, we are restored and we are made whole again. For, according to Daniel, God is great and awesome, keeping covenant and hesed (steadfast love), God is righteous, merciful and forgiving.

And, according to Jesus, this great and awesome God, this merciful God, is our Father. Furthermore, Jesus calls us to be like our Father, to be merciful as our Father is merciful, to be generous as our God is generous, to love our enemies, to do good to people who hate us, to bless people who curse us, to pray for people who treat us badly. Can you imagine what this world would be like if we all learned to live like this? Of course, it is so much easier said than done. As a glass half-empty person I might be tempted to walk away in despair but when I turn my face to seek God in prayer, then I am overwhelmed once again by the extent of God’s love and forgiveness, my faith is restored and my hope is renewed. 

Jesus gives us four pithy pointers towards being merciful. He does not issue commands to be kept, rather he describes how to be merciful, with a reminder that how we treat another person is how we will be treated by God. We should be familiar with this concept from the Lord’s Prayer with its petition ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ The first pair of Jesus’ brief guidelines are negative, and the second pair are positive. They are: Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive. Give. In other words, be generous, as God our Father is generous. 

Such generosity is illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Forgiving Father. It is a powerful story about a wayward son who squanders his inheritance before even his father has died. He eventually comes to his senses and returns home to be welcomed by his father running towards him with open arms and a banquet table laid ready to celebrate his return. It is a wonderful picture of the astonishing mercy and overwhelming generosity of our heavenly Father. I have a print of Rembrandt’s painting of this scene above the fireplace in my study as an aid to prayer. 

If I have done nothing else this evening, then I hope that I have inspired you to seek God in prayer and his holy Word this Lent. As the Archdeacon of Wilts, I hope to be among you as someone who renews hope through encouraging you to engage in prayer and service so that you might grow in faith, mercy and generosity.

ENDS

Document Actions