Memories of my Consecration: as I try to reconstruct memories of my consecration my main impressions are of light and joy and love, and my emotions were simply total amazement and gratitude.
The afternoon of the feast of the Annunciation on March 26th 2012 was gloriously warm and sunny with brilliant blue skies. Friends and relatives had come long distances to be with me. Several denominations were represented and I remembered too all the cards that had dropped through my letter box in recent days, some from Orthodox Christians, and many from RC.
OCV s and OCWs who I had met at Douai. Prof Frances Y, a Methodist Minister, and once my tutor, who had preached at our wedding and also at my husband’s funeral had now come to preach as I consecrated my widowhood. She sat beside me at the front of the Church as we waited for Bishop David and the clergy to come in. I suddenly realized that I was sitting between a Methodist and a dear Roman Catholic friend and next to her our own Coordinating Dean, Sue.
It was wonderful to have her support. I really felt carried by the whole church particularly as I heard the nave filling up and up with parishioners who had come to support me and had also provided a wonderful tea for us.
Frances preached using a print of Elisabeth Frink’s statue of the elderly Mary outside Salisbury Cathedral, stressing her continued call to carry Christ for and to the world. I will meditate on this for years to come. As Bishop David received my vow and I the anointing with oil, I felt deeply affirmed and deeply humbled all at once.
After the last hymn, ‘O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus’ sung with great voice, there was a pause, then Bishop David said , ‘I know this is not a season of rejoicing, but none the less, let’s just clap for joy in God.’ Joy is my lasting memory, but then as one departing friend pointed out, ‘Now the work begins!’ and I was reminded that consecration gives also empowerment for love and for service and yes, as for Mary, suffering.
On this Feast of the Annunciation, we recall Mary's word, ‘Be it unto me, according to your word’ – the word of assent that enables the incarnation, the birth of Emmanuel, God with us; the word of consent, on behalf of all humanity, opening up to let God in, the word of a young teenager.
But today I invite you to consider Mary at another stage of her life, through a remarkable statue in the Close at Salisbury Cathedral – an old Mary, her face haggard, a Mary who's been through it all, been through the Passion, lost her son and received him back. If you buy a postcard in the Cathedral shop, you find the caption, ‘Mary strides forth to bring Christ into the world’.
This is Mary modelling the path for every Christian believer. Someone interpreting an early Christian bishop suggested that for him (Gregory) each soul, like Mary, receives the entrance of God, and brings forth Christ, though spiritually not physically. The essential feature is receptivity to God – opening a place where Christ can be formed, and from which he can come forth. 1000 years later, Erasmus wrote this prayer: O Virgin Mother, may your Son, grant us that, in imitation of your most holy life, we may conceive the Lord Jesus in our innermost soul, and once conceived may we never lose him.
A modern Eastern Orthodox Christian has written: The Mother of God reveals mankind's highest vocation… She is the ‘type’ [model] of every believer who responds to God and brings to God the willing agreement of all humanity… She is the womb of the new humanity, and new creation in Christ.
All this may seem a bit surprising to those of us in the evangelical tradition – as a Methodist, I have to confess, we tend only to remember Mary at Christmas. But maybe we've lost an important aspect of the universal, ecumenical Christian tradition.
So I ask you to ponder this statue of the aged Mary, striding forth to bring Christ into the world, as the vocation of every Christian.
But what does it mean for each of us to bring Christ into the world? Each year Methodists join in renewing our covenant with God. Here are a few words from that service:
Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others, we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us. At the end of the covenant prayer, we say, ‘I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.’
Christ has many services to be done. There are different vocations. Some are active: doing good in the world, testifying to the Gospel, evangelising, preaching, being ministers or priests. But today we are gathered to affirm and support Margaret in a very different vocation – to the single consecrated life of a widow, to single-minded devotion of her life to solitude, contemplation and prayer.
Now widows played a very important part in the life of the early Church from New Testament times on: I Timothy 5 tells us to honour widows, for the widow has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.
The consecrated widow is like the old Mary, striding forth in her old age to bring Christ into the world. Paul taught that we should pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5.17), and this verse has inspired solitaries down the ages to bring Christ into the world simply by focusing entirely on God's love, mercy and grace, with deep intensity, so as to open up themselves to that receptivity that Mary showed, and enable God's love and compassion to flow through them into the world. This meant struggling with the powers of sin in themselves, so as to help win the cosmic struggle with evil for all humankind, and through intercession to shine the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. An anonymous treatise from the Middle Ages, written for contemplatives and known as The Cloud of Unknowing, says: The whole of mankind is wonderfully helped by what you are doing in ways you do not understand. The modern contemplative, Thomas Merton, writes that solitude is not separation.
The saints love their sanctity, not because it separates them from the rest of us… But because it brings them closer to us… It gives them a clarity of compassion…
They are the strength of the world because they are the tabernacles of God in the world. The whole earth depends on them. Nobody seems to realise it, but if we experience God in contemplation, we experience God, not for ourselves alone, but also for others.… The fire of contemplation has a tendency to spread itself throughout the Church and vivify all the members of Christ in secret without any conscious act on the part of the contemplative.
Margaret, you believe you are called to be consecrated to this way of bringing Christ into the world. This idea of being consecrated is important – not simply dedicated because that's something we do for ourselves, whereas God consecrates, through the offering of the body of Christ (Hebrews 10.10). Luther, like Gregory and Erasmus and the traditions we've been remembering, wrote of Mary providing the model of someone receptive of God's grace, but underlined through no merit of her own. So the great Protestant Reformer, who proclaimed that we are justified by faith alone, adds his voice to our theme, and in this first week of the Passion, we remember the power of the cross to sanctify, to make holy, to consecrate each one of us, through no merit of our own, as Christian disciples who, like Mary, are called to receive holiness through Christ, so as to bring Christ into the world.
As we affirm Margaret’s calling, we join with her in dedicating ourselves anew to respond, to let ourselves be sanctified, to receive Christ into our lives, to stride forth ourselves, and each in our own way bring Christ into the world. Amen
Margaret writes: This has been an eventful year in which I have moved from my family size home of 35 years to my new home alongside the Beauchamp Community in Newland. This has been so obviously a gift of God for me.
This tiny house at the entrance to the complex provides me with an ideal place in which to live out what I believe God has called me to. With the privilege of a daily Eucharist, and set in lovely grounds and countryside, yet with easy access to amenities, I could hardly have hoped for more. It was with immense gratitude, then, that I saw Bishop John emerge from his car in the carpark at 7.30 am on the day appointed for my consecration. I realized that at last the seal really was about to be set on what has seemed a very long journey to life consecration.
My first vow was made on the feast of the Annunciation three years ago and the nearest that Bishop John could get to this this year was 8 am on the 24th March. I was rather taken aback at first at the thought of such an early hour, but the more I thought of it the more appropriate it seemed. There is something special about the early hours before the world gets fully into gear. I had wanted it to be a quiet service in the tiny medieval chapel where we have the daily services, but in the event, we were too many for this and had to be in the larger main Church. Several friends and family had come the night before in order to be with me, and many of the Beauchamp community wanted to be present so we were about fifty in the end. Both SCL representatives Beverley and Mary were taken ill at either end of the country and were unable to attend which was sad. However, Eileen, a Franciscan tertiary and senior member of the Beauchamp community, presented me to the Bishop on behalf of the SCL Dean.
Frances Young who preached at the service for my first vow, had earlier written some Cruciform poems and these she had sent as a present to me. As it happened the readings for my service that day in Passion week were exactly those which had inspired these. Frances read one of the poems after the first reading, and Bishop John took this up in his sermon. The image of the lifting up of the serpent in the desert which the readings speak of and which Jesus refers to himself, says so much also about the intercessory work of prayer we are called to.
We had a simple said Eucharist, only the Veni Creator being sung to the plain song melody before the making of my vow. This was very moving, especially so, as Bishop John hoisted himself from his chair in front of me (he is very tall) to kneel on the altar steps. I really felt carried in prayer by everyone present. With the firm imprint of the anointing on my forehead I felt completed and blessed for the way ahead.
Members of the Beauchamp Community had kindly provided a delicious continental breakfast for everyone in the Boardroom and this was a wonderfully warm occasion, full of thanksgiving and real joy.