In the reading from Acts, we are between Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus has ascended into heaven. Judas has taken his own life. The apostles are down to 11. Peter is with 120 believers, and he talks to them about appointing a successor to Judas, so that there would be 12 again.
The number twelve was important. There were twelve tribes of Israel, so the number 12 was integral to the history of the Jews. Jesus had appointed twelve apostles, and said that they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. So Peter clearly felt that 11 just wouldn’t do.
The means they use to appoint the successor apostle is interesting. They take nominations from the community. The criterion is that those nominated should have been among the followers throughout Jesus’ ministry and had been there for significant events, especially Jesus’ resurrection appearances. When two people have been proposed, Justus and Matthias, they pray for God’s wisdom and then they cast lots – maybe they rolled a dice, or used straws or some other method. By casting lots, they were putting the decision into God’s hands. And through that process, Matthias was appointed. We don’t know anything about him and we never hear of him again in the Bible. He does have a feast day – tomorrow, the 14th May – but the absence of information makes it difficult to relate to him.
If they had waited for the Holy Spirit rather than jumping in so quickly, the Spirit may have revealed Paul as the additional apostle – which is what actually happens, when Paul encounters the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus and becomes the apostle to the Gentiles.
The story raises the question for us about how people are appointed to take on roles and responsibilities in the church.
Let me explain first how people are selected for ordination as deacons and priests.
People who feel that God is calling will need to talk to their parish priest – or the chaplain if they were university or college students. The priest will put them in touch with the Director of Ordinands – who is the person in every diocese who is responsible for managing the process of selection. The Director of Ordinands will then put them in touch with a Vocations Advisor, who will work with the person who feels God is calling them. The Vocations Advisor will meet with them regularly, helping them to think through their sense of calling. The Church of England looks for qualities in 9 areas in candidates coming forward for ordination.
Eventually, the person will attend a Diocesan selection panel. Here in Durham that means having interviews with three people who seek to discern the calling in relation to their education, their spiritual life, and pastoral care – both their ability to offer pastoral care and the ways they have of maintaining their own pastoral care. When the Diocesan panel feels a person is ready to go through to the next stage, they go to a national selection panel, where they stay for 2 nights and have a number of interviews and procedures designed to help the team assess the candidate. After that, the candidate might be recommended to start theological training, which takes two or three years. After that, they can be ordained as a deacon for a year and then as a priest, serving first as a curate, working with a parish priest. Yvonne is getting a curate who will be ordained this summer – and that is the process that he will have gone through over the last few years.
Here in church, we have to think carefully about who does what. We had our Annual Meeting a few weeks ago, when we elected the people who serve as Church Warden or on the Church Council, and appoint those who serve as Sidespeople – their responsibility is to welcome people who come to church and make sure they have everything they need.
Those are the obvious roles, but there are other jobs to be done: Brian regularly visits one of the Care Homes for older people to hold services; and a number of people help with Fun @ 4 – our monthly service for children and families where we do craft activities around a bible theme. And every now and then, someone comes up with a new idea. We also have rotas of people who read lessons, do the intercessions, assist with administering Holy Communion, and serve.
It is great when people come forward to volunteer for jobs and offer to help. It is good for the church and it is good for their own development. We are committed to “Safer Recruitment”, which means that we need to interview people who want to take on responsibilities within the church. This is about checking out that people understand the responsibilities and that they will undertake them faithfully and according to the values of the church.
I am hoping in a few weeks time to start a course on different aspects of liturgy, which I hope many of you will attend. This will be about giving knowledge and growing confidence in some of the roles around leading worship. As people go through the course, the PCC will decide who should do what jobs: reading lessons, doing the prayers, administering Holy Communion, and so on. We do need more people who are willing and able to do these jobs, so that there are enough people to share the work.
We do not cast lots, as the early Christians did, to find people to help with the work of leading and running the church. We do need to pray about who we ask to help – to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and to give us the people we need to do God’s work here in Bensham. Next week at Pentecost, we will be thinking about the gifts that the Holy Spirit pours upon individuals and upon the Church. In the meantime – pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit into this place so that we might proclaim God’s good news and help to build God’s kingdom.