Here we are in Moray, Banffshire. And at this time of year, we may easily see a field of barley and a burn running beside it. But who first imagined that, if you combined the barley in the field and the water in the burn, out would come such a wonder as whisky? Dare I say, it’s a kind of transubstantiation. (There is a rumour it was monks). And who would imagine that one day – this happy day, the 20th of June 2022 – in this church of St Thomas’, Keith, in the deanery of St John Ogilvie, Graeme Morrison would be – not transubstantiated – but ordained to serve as a deacon. There is something very right and wholesome about this ordination, but it is still a wonder. We walk among the miracles of nature and of grace. Let our faces not be estranged and “miss the many-splendored thing”! This evening we are joyful in the Lord, full – not of whisky – but of gratitude. And, Graeme, all those years of your life being malted and mashed and fermented and distilled and matured have led here. Tonight, the bottle is brought to the table and opened while we stand ready with our glasses, eager to be filled with the grace that will flow from you – to this parish, to our diocese, to the Body of Christ wherever.
“Send forth the Holy Spirit upon him, O Lord”, the bishop will pray tonight. And Graeme will be strengthened by “the sevenfold grace of the Spirit” to do what deacons do.
On that point, here’s what the Church teaches: “Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is that of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (CCC 1570).
This distills down to a threefold ministry: of the word, of the altar and of charity. The first is symbolised by the Gospel book that will be handed you tonight, the second by the chalice you will raise at the elevation and hold out (when the time comes again) for communicants to receive from it, and the third by, I know not what: not a cheque book or a credit card; perhaps by car-keys or a new pair of shoes, as you go about the works of mercy. In communion with the Bishop, the priests and your fellow-deacons, you will proclaim the Word, assist at the liturgy, and express the care of Christ and the Church in service to others. The first reading showed us the Levites assisting Aaron and his sons in the Liturgy, an Old Testament prefigurement. In the second reading, there is St Paul refusing to dilute the word, proclaiming Jesus Christ and not himself, an icon for the ministry of preaching. In the Gospel, our Lord, headed for Jerusalem, sets before those given a ministry in his name his own humble love, his deaconhood: he comes not to be served but to serve.
It’s into these things, Graeme, that you are taken tonight.
And then, what follows? What lies ahead?
Recently, I was called upon to confirm a boy called Volcano. That was a first. (He did have other names). And it’s also a first for me tonight to ordain a Stillman. This is what, professionally, Graeme has been. The role of a Stillman, I believe, is to look at the spirit that is distilled as it enters what’s called the Spirit Safe or Spirit Receiver. It’s his job to test and judge without entering into actual physical contact with it. He has to discern, and to collect the best. It’s a metaphor too, surely. How many spirits course through us, good, bad and indifferent: our own spirits, the spirit of the age, the spirit of the Evil One, the good spirit, the Holy Spirit. And, Graeme, you will find yourself listening and discerning, praying to judge rightly and respond wisely. You will be a Stillman still, at the service of another Spirit.
And then, beyond the miracle of barley becoming whisky and of a man becoming Christ’s deacon, blossoms another, the third, the miracle of ministry. This lies before you. As St Paul says, we carry a treasure, but it’s not what the world considers such: the Gospels in a pocket, a consecrated host in a pyx, some sick people, perhaps, to visit, wounds to touch like the wounds St Thomas is touching in the picture above you. When we’re ordained, though, we’re not given a gun or some smart new technology or a magic business plan. We’re given things easily overlooked, even dismissable. We’re like young David with his five smooth stones from the brook; our equipment is the word of God and the body of God and the patience of God – weak things in the world’s eyes. But in that weakness, and in ours as well, and the Church’s, lurks “the overwhelming power” St Paul speaks of, the whisky in the barley grains. And every minister is a witness of wonders: the Lord at work. Dear Graeme, from this night on, may you be too!
St Thomas’, Keith, Monday 20th June 2022