The Diocese says goodbye to Bishop Clive, Bishop of Wolverhampton, this week. After 17 years he retires as the most long-serving bishop in that See, and the most experienced member of the Lichfield Bishop's staff team.
Today, he preached at Lichfield Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist (photos) where lay ministers, deacons, priests and bishops renew their commitment to their ministries.
And on Easter Sunday, a final farewell to the family at the church Bishop Clive, Jenny and their children have considered their 'home church' when not on episcopal duties elsewhere.
In his sermon today, he recalled how an awkward act of service, having to wash a drunk, led to an invitation to discover another side to the man's life and shared interests; one act of service, much like the foot-washing of Maundy Thursday, leading to a whole new level of connection:
"If I had not had the opportunity to wash Bobby, I would not have eaten with him, and if I had not eaten with him, I would not have known him. The opportunity to minister to him was a portal through which I received the richest of blessings."
Service leading to connection, stronger community and enriched disciples:
"One of the great privileges of Episcopal ministry is the overview of the faithful and fruitful ministry and witness of the people of God within so many different contexts and communities. So many feet washed, so many hands held, so many lives blessed through the agency of so many willing hands and feet, hearts and minds. The burden of responding to a hundred draining or challenging emails is instantly erased by the power of a testimony at a confirmation, the joy of the beginning of a new ministry, the opening of a new Place of Welcome.
But most moving of all, for me, has been, as priest and Bishop, the coming of myriad individual disciples, of every age, background and disposition, to the altar table, coming in full knowledge of our weakness but all hungry to receive the bread of life, for we have tasted and we know that the Lord is good, and He alone can fill our clay jars with treasure."
(full text of +Clive's sermon is reproduced below).
Tributes given last Sunday included from senior diocesan staff and clergy, and even the collected wisdom of the internet via artificial intelligence which Preb Sarah Schofield endorsed as it was consistently very positive about him - 'a man committed to the values of compassion, faith and social justice', although the AI did exhibit a 'fatal' flaw! Sarah added her own thanks for some important specifics; as a bridge-builder with other faiths and secular organisations and a very supportive bishop to clergy in various situations and circumstances, a sentiment repeated by every clergy that followed.
Jeremy Oakley recalled +Clive's success over the years on the diocesan cricket team and more importantly for being willing to listen to clergy at all times, and support for leaders of all churchmanships and other denominations too in growing unity and reaching out.
Archdeacons (he's worked with seven in the area!) valued his extensive knowledge of people, parishes and situations, incisive analysis and empowerment of others' leadership.
Bishop Michael recounted his own appointment to the See of Lichfield and +Clive's cloak & dagger plan to show Bishop's House in Lichfield before +Michael's formal announcement. Describing Bishop Clive as 'careful, thoughtful and kind', +Michael acknowledged that he'll miss his wisdom, and ability to 'look round the corner', readiness to question and commitment to principle.
Closing, Diocesan CEO Julie Jones talked of the value of working with colleagues of such differing personalities and the things learned through working together.
Bishop Clive and Jenny will be moving to Lancashire in the coming weeks, and we wish them every blessing.
The full text of Bishop Clive's sermon:
Maundy Thursday: Chrism Eucharist John 13 1-20
Although I had never seen him when he wasn’t drunk, I had always liked Bobby Dillon. He carried his drink benignly, and his inebriation could not entirely conceal an old-fashioned courtesy and charm. He used to appear regularly on the doorstep of the house in Glasgow that I shared with a couple of fellow volunteers and four women who had formerly lived on the streets due to their alcohol addiction. He came calling for Kathy. They were an item.
One evening he appeared in a state of considerable distress, as I had not seen him before. He had lost his charisma and his dignity. He had badly soiled himself and he was sobbing.
I couldn’t allow him to come into the womens’ home, but otherwise I did what anybody would have done. I washed him, there on the doorstep, as respectfully as possible, and found him something to wear.
Next time he came calling, he invited me to Sunday lunch at his home. He was insistent. I had no more choice over accepting the invitation than I did over washing him. Though I had no idea what his idea of lunch was, and couldn’t imagine him anywhere else but on the streets.
The day came. Bobby lived on the Easterhouse estate, then the biggest social housing development in Europe. The bus took forever as it wound round the endless monochrome streets, my apprehension rising all the while. Eventually the stop came and, after a bit of difficulty, I located his flat.
I was on his doorstep now.
The Bobby who opened the door was a Bobby I had not seen before. No hint of dishevellment. The charm and courtesy, unveiled, because, as he swiftly explained ‘I don’t drink at home or on a Sunday’. I was ushered into an immaculately ordered interior, and soon afterwards I was enjoying a carefully prepared Sunday lunch. He usually invited his neighbour round but today I was his guest. Over lunch we discovered a shared love of cricket, and afterwards we watched the Sunday league match on BBC 2.
A few years later I heard that Bobby had died, knocked over by a bus while crossing the road. I imagine he was probably drunk at the time. But I always remember him on Maundy Thursday.
‘Unless I wash you, said Jesus to Simon Peter, you have no share with me’
If I had not had the opportunity to wash Bobby, I would not have eaten with him, and if I had not eaten with him, I would not have known him. The opportunity to minister to him was a portal through which I received the richest of blessings.
This we know, ordained and lay alike, that opportunities for sacramental and pastoral ministry are gateways through which we enter into deeper, more profound relationship.
And often we are taken deeper into relationship through touch, through intimacy – always, of course, appropriate, permitted, consensual – as in the case of foot washing on Maundy Thursday, or on a doorstep in extremis in Glasgow.
Well though I thought I knew my congregation in Coventry, after we had washed each others’ feet on Maundy Thursday, I always felt that our bond was that much stronger.
And as I reflect now on 35 years of ordained ministry, 16 as a Bishop, I wonder anew at the sacramental power of touch. The touch conveyed by the hands laid on at the moment of confirmation, the touch that makes the sign of the cross , before baptism, before death. The touch that places the body of Christ into the hands at the communion rail, the touch that traces the palms of those ordained ; the touch that anoints, the touch that brings healing, the touch through which the Spirit empowers.
“ But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us”
And all of us who seek to exercise ministry can only know the profound truth of St Paul’s words.
How solid is the clay, but how dazzling the treasure ! In recent weeks I have had a fresh apprehension of the workings of God’s extraordinary power, as people have sought out farewell conversations with me and have often referenced the life changing consequences of the moment of their confirmation.
But of course the treasure does not just dazzle in ecclesiastical contexts. Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God and the Church, has always, at best, been a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The world is God’s mission field and the majority of Kingdom building ministry takes place beyond the walls of the church, through the agency of lay people. I have been reading some reflections of a hospice volunteer who was finally left to ‘wonder at the power of a held hand’ .
We recall the words of St Teresa of Avila;
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours…yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now ….”
Such wisdom captures the essence of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples through his washing of their feet. We may recall that in the Palestine of 2000 years ago, as in many hot and dusty climates since, foot washing was an everyday courtesy offered by a host to his guests upon their arrival, through the agency of a slave instructed for the purpose.
But on that first Maundy Thursday Jesus subverted convention by arranging for the foot washing during supper, and by his own hand. It was not done for the practical benefit of the disciples so much as a method of teaching. The servant King, in his meekness and majesty, teaching his disciples about service.
Not though, service as a one way offering, something done for and to others by us as God’s dispensers of treasure. The new commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples in John 13 is not that they should love others but that they should love ‘one another’ . It is mutual loving service that Jesus modelled. He allowed himself to be ministered to, provided with hospitality, anointed with perfume.
Perhaps some of us involved in ministry find it harder, like Simon Peter, to have our own feet washed, but surely it is a common experience for us to have learned that we can only minister out of our own vulnerability. The day when I shared, as vicar, with our congregation, the impact of the sleep deprivation I was suffering as a result of my son’s nocturnal asthma attacks, was also a portal, through which we received many instances of kindness and blessing from members of our church family, but also through which many were able to speak more openly about their own parenting challenges;
The Lord’s word to Paul ;
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’
is surely the lived experience of so many of us present here today.
We come here today to renew our ministerial vows and so to reflect on the nature of the ministry we offer, its limitations and its power, what it has been and what it might be, is of the essence.
But we gather here too, to participate in the Eucharist, and while John’s narrative focus as he describes the Last Supper is on the foot washing rather than the shared meal, John has already referenced the critical significance of the Eucharist in Chapter 6 as he reports Jesus as saying;
‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you ‘.
If the Eucharist was simply an act of symbolic remembrance then partaking of the bread and wine would lead simply to assimilation into our bodies, they would become what we are. But Jesus’ words point to an understanding of Eucharist altogether more sacramental.
Rather than us eating the bread and drinking the wine, it is they who consume us, and in so doing ‘we have life (divine life) in us ‘.
One of the great privileges of Episcopal ministry is the overview of the faithful and fruitful ministry and witness of the people of God within so many different contexts and communities. So many feet washed, so many hands held, so many lives blessed through the agency of so many willing hands and feet, hearts and minds. The burden of responding to a hundred draining or challenging emails is instantly erased by the power of a testimony at a confirmation, the joy of the beginning of a new ministry, the opening of a new Place of Welcome.
But most moving of all, for me, has been, as priest and Bishop, the coming of myriad individual disciples, of every age, background and disposition, to the altar table, coming in full knowledge of our weakness but all hungry to receive the bread of life, for we have tasted and we know that the Lord is good, and He alone can fill our clay jars with treasure.