Risk-taking is 'part of the job', Bishop tells clergy after recent killing

By staff writers
April 4, 2007

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds will call clergy tomorrow to renew their commitment to 'insecurity and risk', and tell them that risk-taking is part of their job.

His comments will come in a sermon at Ripon Cathedral on Maundy Thursday.

The warning from the Rt. Revd John Packer, follows the stabbing of a parish priest in South Wales last month, and at the traditional Maundy Thursday service, Bishop Packer will draw parallels between the risks taken by clergy and those taken by Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Bishop John Packer is Chair of the Church of England's Deployment, Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee (DRACSC), which deals, among other things with issues of clergy safety.

Since the tragic death of the Revd. Paul Bennett of St Fagan’s Parish Church last month, Bishop Packer says that a sense of horror and shock has led to questions of safeguards and blame and that he has been interviewed by journalists on several occasions about issues of clergy safety.

In his Maundy Thursday Address to clergy and lay leaders, he is expected to say that, while dioceses throughout the country continue to look closely at issues of safety, there will always be a risk for clergy as they care for others, sometimes emotional, and sadly on rare occasions, physical.

Bishop Packer is expected to say, "My responsibility, with others, for issues of Clergy Conditions of Service led them (journalists) to my phone with questions about how the Church was going to provide increased security for parish clergy in their daily ministry. There was the sense of shock. Our hearts went out to his wife, family and congregation. Then we discussed lighting, separate vicarage entrances, panic buttons. But in the end his wife had the last and best word – he was doing what he was called to do. He took a risk in his pastoral encounter, as you do day by day, and always there is the possibility of tragedy."

Bishop Packer will also draw on the recent meeting between the DUP and Sinn Fein to say that risk taking, is part of what it means to be a leader. He will say "These past days have been marked by that iconic picture of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams side by side at the diamond table. It is good to pause and recognise the personal risk being taken by those two people. Both have been vilified by their extremists for failing their supporters. Both would have good reason to fear violence. They have demonstrated a risk for peace in Ireland."

Risks for clergy can include, he says, risk of opposition and opprobrium from those opposed to change in their local church, or risk from working in difficult situations – whether, for example, as a chaplains in Iraq, in a young offenders institution, or in an everyday parish.

The Maundy Thursday service at Ripon Cathedral has been traditionally used by the diocese as an opportunity for all clergy throughout Ripon and Leeds to recommit themselves to service of God. This year, says Bishop Packer, in the light of recent events, there is an additional challenge.

He is expected to say, "We come to this act of commitment knowing that it is risky for without risk there is no commitment. There is the personal risk of our Christian commitment. There are the risks we take in ministry as we open our lives and our churches to new ways for the Spirit to work in our hearts and our communities. …… But Christianity is not about avoiding danger, but experiencing it in the cause of the gospel and in the power of the Spirit."

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