Sunday 14th May 2017
Preacher: The Right Rev’d David McCall
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is
like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field: it is
the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the
greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air
come and make nests in its branches.’
It was over twenty years ago that Jean Johnson and Sandra Sears came to see me to discuss the possibility of living as a religious community under the authority of the Bishop and of establishing a music ministry in the Diocese of Willochra .
In January 1997 Jean and Sandra moved into the Rectory at Jamestown and I received their promises on Ascension Day that year. The following year the two sisters moved to the Rectory at Peterborough and remained their until 2005.
Little did I imagine how this fledgling community would grow. Currently there are ten members spread across the three dioceses in South Australia. Sister Jean died in September 2014 and less than two weeks ago Sister Jeanne Frost came the end of her earthly pilgrimage. So often in the life of the Church small things established with vision and with trust in God grow and develop in a way that no one could have imagined.
It is a special privilege to be here today as the Community of Saints Barnabas and Cecilia celebrates twenty years of of serving God, the Church and the wider community. An instance of the latter was the wonderful memorial Service at Peterborough shortly after Sister Jean’s death. I was deeply moved at how that community wanted to be present and to give thanks for the presence of the two sisters who had been in their midst for eight years from 1998 to 2005.
After I left the Diocese to go to Bunbury in 2000, and under the leadership of Bishop Garry Weatherill, the community began to grow, opening membership to both women and men and offering a way of life to people where they were. The technical title for this kind of community is a dispersed community. Nevertheless the community has a mother house in Gladstone where Sister Sandra serves as the local priest.
The pattern of life for members of the Community is based on the great tradition in the Church of religious communities. The promises made by members involved simplicity, chastity and obedience under God to the Bishop. The community adopted the religious habit in 2005; this decision strengthened their witness both in the Church and in the wider community.
The pattern of life includes the daily office, attendance at weekday eucharists when possible and commitment to serving God and the people of God in ways that reflect their particular gifts and talents. The late Sister Jeanne Frost contributed an enormous amount to the work and witness of the Mothers’ Union for many years.
Immediately before this address began we sang the community hymn written by Sister Sandra. It seems to me that this hymn reflects the spirit of the Community quite beautifully.
The first verse speaks the God of encouragement. The idea of encouragement lies at the heart of the community’s life. The Community has two patron saints, the first is Saint Barnabas. The name Barnabas means son of encouragement. The place of encouragement is vital in living the Christian life. We all need encouragement as we seek to follow Jesus. The name of the mother house is Nabas – house of encouragement. The Community is committed to encouraging its members and others as they walk in the way of Jesus.
The second verse of the community hymn begins with the words: God of all tenderness. The God whom we worship is a God of tenderness and compassion, reaching out to us, granting us forgiveness, healing and restoring us. That is a wonderful image of the divine which we, as followers of Jesus, participate in.
God of all mystery. God is a God of mystery. We can never know all there is to know about the divine; indeed what we know is but a fragment of the wonder and glory of the God whom we worship. Those who are called to live the religious life enter into this mystery as they keep the rule of their community and as they dedicate themselves to a life of simplicity, chastity and obedience.
One of the ways we enter into the mystery of the divine is through music. The second patron saint of the Community is Saint Cecilia, the patron of musicians. Humanity and the Church have been enriched beyond measure by those inspired by the Spirit of God to compose and perform music. Beautiful music has always been a part of worship and lifts our hearts and our minds beyond the things of this world into the things beyond this world.
The Community began with a special focus on music ministry. The Church in Willochra has benefited greatly from this ministry and from the joy of worshipping God through music. One of the great gifts of the Community to the Church has been the Southern Flinders setting for the Eucharist written by sister Sandra. It is widely used in the Dioceses of Willochra and Bunbury. It is not only easy to sing, but it wears well and is always a joy to sing.
God of community. The God whom we worship is not a solitary individual – God is a God of community. The love that flows between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity is the love that brings all life into existence. It is the love that empowers us to do great things in his name; it is the love that enables us to be truly human; it is the love that flows through us to the whole human race.
These attributes of God are attributes that are seen in the followers of Jesus when they are true to their calling. These attributes are held before the members of the Community of Saints Barnabas and Cecilia whenever they sing the hymn they have adopted as their own.
This evening we give hearty thanks for the life and witness of the Community of Saints Barnabas and Cecilia. We pray that God will continue to bless its members and its community life; we pray that it will continue to be a blessing to the Church in this Province and we pray that others will be called into its fellowship.
Gracious and loving Father,
we thank you for the Community of Saints Barnabas and Cecilia,
we thank you for the vision that led to its establishment,
we thank you that you call women and men into its fellowship;
bless the members of the Community,
strengthen and empower them to fulfil their calling,
and hear our prayer that the life and witness of this Community
will continue to be a blessing to the Church in this Province.
These things we ask in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.