Broken Croziers – Broken Church – a Christmas message from Cork

In the broken staff of the new Archbishop’s enthronement, amidst the positives of our times and all that there is to be celebrated in our own lives and the joy of being human, I see also a parable of brokenness; the vulnerabilities and challenges with which so many of us struggle in various ways and at different times of our lives.   I see too the fractures and strains of our society and world.

Is it not also an allegory of the brokenness so much in evidence in the Church itself? – a divided Church where ecumenical progress has been significant but is still patchy, sporadic and far from complete; and a church in which we genuinely and passionately struggle among ourselves about what some see as issues of faithfulness to the Scriptures and others see as matters of God’s justice.

I have a great concern about one of the principal dangers of this brokenness.  As we within the institution are increasingly all-consumed in an inward-looking, self-obsessed way with our own great matters, our proclamation of the love of Christ is being damaged. Many ‘out there’ inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, are getting on with being as ‘Christ-like’ as they can, but without the Church.

By its failure to love and include and embrace and to welcome and to love as Christ loved, the Church – or more pointedly, by our failure to love and include and embrace and to welcome and to love as Christ loved, we – we are driving many away from the baby in the manger, away from Jesus, into the arms of secularism and unbelief at worst, and into the fold of non-institutional, residual, post-Christian spirituality at best.  It is my experience, fear and shame, that the Church is pushing many away from the love of God.

Yet, at the same time, the ministry of a broken Church should not alarm or dismay us – paradoxically, it should encourage us that the Church in its life and ministry has always manifested brokenness.  Foolish as we are, with all our human weaknesses and vulnerabilities, all our own brokenness, God chooses all of us who are baptised and calls us to journey with him and to serve his people.

More important, has it not always been the vulnerability and suffering of the grown up Jesus at the time of his torture, suffering and execution that has given many inspiration and strength?

‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;’

In adulthood Jesus referred to himself as the good Shepherd.  It is a metaphor of God himself: ‘thy rod and thy staff comfort me.’  Didn’t the prophet Isaiah (11.1) remind us that there will be a ‘rod of Jesse’ –the tree of Jesse.  This is a family tree that Saint Matthew traces indeed to Jesse, a farmer, a breeder and owner of sheep, and father of King David.  The new shoot is not only one with kingly origins, but is rooted in humble and vulnerable beginnings.

‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;’

In the times of our own brokenness; as we address the sharp divisions in and challenges facing our society; as we, in a divided Church, struggle to become the people God calls us to be, it is Christ himself who is the staff.

The silver crozier, which buckled in 1969, reminds us of what we know only too well in life; what we see on the surface is not always the underlying reality; much of our display is inevitably transitory and hollow. The wooden crozier, to all appearances strong and utilitarian had, nonetheless, its limits and it fractured.  It is not rods and staffs such as these which sustain and comfort us.  As vulnerable Christians individually and, as an inadequate Church together, we learn and relearn constantly, that while we are endeavouring faithfully to carry Christ into the world, it is, in fact, Christ, the root, the rod of Jesse, who is carrying and sustaining us.  We lean on; we depend on; we trust in him, for our journeys and our tasks, and in the times of our own brokenness.

To many in our time this sounds foolish. Many laugh at it and oppose it. Countless others throughout history have discovered the wisdom of kneeling down, offering their gifts and putting their hand into the hand of the weak baby at Bethlehem.

‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;’ – 1 Corinthians 1.27


This extract of a Christmas Sermon entitled ‘The Broken Croziers’ ~ Christmas Day Sermon 2012 by Bishop Paul Colton, followed on from his story of the recent installation of the new Archbishop of Ireland, whose pastoral staff (made by Bishop Paul’s father) broke on the moment of impact when coming into contact the the door of his Cathedral.

This was the second occasion on which an Archbishop of All Ireland’s crozier had been broken by the enthusiasm of its bearer, when knocking on the West door of a cathedral to gain entry for his enthronement! This recent incident gave rise to the seminal message of Bishop Paul’s sermon to his congregation this Christmas at Cork Cathedral

The point of this sermon, is that it highlights, not only the brokenness of a bishop’s crozier – and thus, perhaps, that of his authority in the Church – but also the brokenness of the Church herself. Where the Church on earth seeks to become triumphant is precisely the point at which – to the world – it may may seem to become no longer relevant.

The story of God in the manger is the story of of God Omnipotent become God Incarnate – weak and powerless – in order to ‘be with’ the weak and the powerless of this world, so that they may be lifted up. Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ becomes the only way of coping with our reliance upon God for salvation and redemption – not in our own strength, triumphalism,  or even our own goodness – but in the power and goodness of God in Christ.

And so with the Church throughout the world, we can rejoice in our corporate weakness – knowing that ‘in God alone’ is our strength, and our relevance in and to the world for which Jesus became incarnate, lived, suffered, died and was raised from the dead.

In our acknowledgement of our weakness, brokenness and suffering, the Church may yet become God’s Light to and for The World.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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2 Responses to Broken Croziers – Broken Church – a Christmas message from Cork

  1. John Marshall says:

    What a cracking good sermon from Bishop Paul. And what a contrast with his would-be-eminence of Westminster, mired in negativity. Over the last decade or so I’ve found Cork, Cloyne and Ross to be a very stimulating outpost of thinking Anglicanism.


    • kiwianglo says:

      Thank you John for your affirmation of the message of Bishop Paul. This really was a light in the darkness of ignorance and antipathy towards the marginalised and misunderstood. Christmas blessings!

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