I am spending ten days in the Western Isles as I confirm children from all eight parishes in the deanery. Therefore, I am writing this letter to you in St Peter’s Church, Daliburgh which, as some of you will know, is situated on a croft and is completely surrounded by crofts. The lambing season is in full swing!
Although the birth of the new lambs brings joy and satisfaction to the owners it also demands hard work. The shepherd has to tend his flock in all kinds of weather and at all times of night and day, especially for the weak ones. Even the children are describing to me how they feed the ‘pet lambs’, those which are struggling on their own. Similar scenes are, of course, being repeated across much of our diocese.
Jesus was a great teacher who often used images that people were already familiar with. This is why Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. The people were familiar with what qualities a shepherd should have and Jesus revealed that he alone was perfect in these qualities. Far from being a hireling, Jesus loved us enough to die for us and now he is risen.
After his Ascension, Jesus sent out the apostles to continue his ministry. This is what the Church exists for: to evangelise, to spread the Good News. It is a privilege and duty of every single baptised person to imitate Jesus and be a ‘shepherd’: to bring people to God. Most of you will do this within your families, in your work places and where you socialise – and I thank you for doing so. However, it is also true that Jesus also calls a smaller number of people to witness to Him as priests, deacons and as religious brothers and sisters.
Priests are called to be shepherds in a unique way. As I travel around the diocese you often speak so highly to me about your priests. It pleases me that you appreciate that your priest has offered his life to God, that he celebrates the Sacraments for you and provides you with spiritual and pastoral care. You recognise that your priest is a shepherd for you. I too, as bishop of Argyll and the Isles, publicly recognise the great efforts of our priests and thank them. I also thank our deacons and sisters for enriching our diocese by their generous witness to Christ.
Brothers and sisters, I have three favours to ask of you:
Firstly, please pray for more priests – we need them. At present we have seventeen priests to cover the twenty five parishes of our diocese. However, God is good and so we have great news. This June I will ordain Rev Emmanuel Alagbaoso to the priesthood in our Cathedral while Ronald Campbell will be ordained as a deacon in Rome. Please pray that both of these young men will be shepherds after the heart of Jesus. Meanwhile, in September we will also have a new seminarian. Please pray for our seminarians and also create an atmosphere within your families and parishes that encourages our young men to hear God’s voice. If any man feels the call to priesthood please speak with a local priest or our Vocations Director, Fr Michael Hutson.
Secondly, next weekend we will have a special collection to help pay for training priests for the diocese. Please be generous. Training priests is not cheap – the diocese has to pay fees of approximately £27,000 for each student each year. Of course, this is money well spent – we need new and well prepared priests – and I am delighted that we are in the position of having seminarians but we still have to pay for their training.
Thirdly, please pray for and support the priests which we already have. Like us all, please understand that priests are only human. Pray that they will be shepherds who are increasingly conformed to Jesus, that they will be self-less, willing to give their whole lives to God, who are intimate with God in prayer and so speak and act in the manner of Christ. Please pray also for me, that with God’s grace, I will always strive to be a worthy Shepherd to you.
With every blessing,
+ Brian McGee
Bishop of Argyll and the Isles