Ask me about Christmas

Canon Veronica Hydon

Dave and I called in at the Cock & Pheasant last weekend after our Parish Winter Fair and I noticed that the bar staff were all wearing new black T-Shirts with a small snowflake motif on the front and a bold message in striking white lettering on the reverse. I asked the landlady if I could buy one: she said, “Not at all, don’t be silly, please have this one as a gift!” The bold message on the T-Shirt says: “ASK ME ABOUT CHRISTMAS”. Perfect for when I’m doing my school assemblies I thought (and remarkably, although it was a size smaller than I’d normally have picked out for myself, the T-Shirt fits!)…

On this day, when we look forward to the start of the Advent season beginning next Sunday 2 December, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, Lord of all creation and Prince of peace. But today also is traditionally known as “Stir Up Sunday” because of words of the old Collect set for this day in the Book of Common Prayer, the same prayer we have now in modern form as our Post-Communion Prayer: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Interestingly, even this week’s Weight Watchers’ leaflet of encouragement recognises we reached “Stir Up Sunday” in the calendar!) Today was supposed to be the day you stirred up all the good things into your Christmas pudding and everyone in the family took turns to wield the wooden spoon in the mixing bowl and make a wish. Then you’d let the well-mixed ingredients rest quietly in the larder for several weeks to mature, before cooking it on Christmas Day as the crowning glory to the Christmas feast, with its halo of holly and flaming brandy.

This week we’ve had the misfortune to witness the family of the Church of England wearily mixing together long rehearsed and stale arguments as diverse ingredients into a stodgy clerical pudding, and at the end of the day, rather than bringing out a rich and tasty pudding to be proud of (notwithstanding the variety of wishes fervently stirred into the General Synod Mixing bowl), we witnessed the wooden spoon becoming the only prize and are faced with the gloomy prospect of an irrelevant and bitterly disappointing pudding that fails to satisfy anyone’s hunger for justice, equality, grace and new life. Certainly no amount of brandy can now make it light up to produce even the faintest “wow” factor in the world outside the church, which looks on astounded and dismayed.

The current advertising campaign launched by a well-known supermarket starts off in a very promising way: “At Sainsbury’s we know that Christmas is about more than just one day. It’s about a whole season of days. So far so good.. and it goes on: There are so many special days in the run up to Christmas and this year we’d like to celebrate every single one of them.” Oh good, you are tempted to think: at last the commercial world is picking up the real message of Advent! At last, we can celebrate the powerful witness of the prophets and saints who through their feast-days over the next few weeks point us to see afresh the miracle of the Christ-Child. There’s a whole rich variety of them – St Catherine with her fiery wheel, Isaac Watts the great hymn-writer who gave us “When I survey the wondrous cross”, St Andrew the go-between brother of Simon Peter who took seriously the offer of five loaves and two fish from a little child, Charles de Foucauld a 20th Century hermit, missionary and martyr, Francis Xavier a Jesuit missionary to the Far East at the time of the great explorers in the 16th Century, Nicholas Ferrar, founder of the Little Gidding Community (which has influenced my own spiritual journey) and who was neighbour and friend of the Anglican priest George Herbert (who wrote “Let all the world in every corner sing” – the hymn we sang before the gospel today), then of course there’s the great bishop of the 4th Century, St Nicholas, generous and unassuming friend of the poor and patron saint of seafarers and pawnbrokers (and of anyone who takes a punt at something and takes risks in life I guess!)… The list of saints celebrated in the run up from now until Christmas goes on, and I’ve only reached 6th December! But, of course, Sainsbury’s did not intend to point us to any of these hallowed feast days: they have instead produced a list of their own: there is “Putting up the decorations Day”, “Buying the Christmas tree Day”, Ordering the turkey Day”, “We’re going to need a bigger fridge Day”, “Being good for Santa Day”, “Impressing the neighbours Day” (I don’t quite get that one, though the next one I do: “Opening the chocolates early Day”) and one they didn’t think of “Switching on the Bollington Christmas Lights today Day”!!!!

church house002

To most of the world, as the Bishop of Leicester said towards the end of the General Synod debate last Tuesday, all our churchy internal discussions seem irrelevant to those being bombed in Gaza and Syria, or those millions suffering from persecution, famine, drought, flood and war. The Archbishop of Canterbury designate also spoke of the real role of the Church being that as Christians we hold as a treasure God’s Peace and Grace for the world. This week we seem to have opened our fingers and dropped that treasure, shattering it like a precious glass Christmas ornament, and the ordinary churchgoer and the secular world can only look on in despair. When we celebrate St Andrew’s Day this coming Friday, we will still dare to say as Andrew did to his own brother and to those Gentile strangers wanting to meet Jesus, “Come and see!” But our invitation may sound hollow, unless we in our turn, even within the flawed institution of the Church, can demonstrably live lives of true inclusiveness, saintliness and graciousness and keep the flame of Advent hope burning in our hearts.

RIP Eileen Williams at Canterbury

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of our good friend Eileen Williams on 10 November 2012 peacefully in a nursing home in Canterbury at the age of 92. Eileen will be remembered by many readers of Bollington Church News for the entertaining episodes published exclusively here from her colourful autobiography. Her funeral will take place towards the end of November/early December at All Saints’ Church, Poplar, the parish where she was born. The charity closest to her heart was the Delhi Brotherhood Society, so donations in Eileen’s memory may be given for this worthy cause (please make cheques payable to Revd V.W. Hydon with a note on the reverse to indicate that this is for the work of the DBS). Veronica will arrange for the total sum to be forwarded to the Brotherhood in the most economical way possible, as Eileen would have wished. Meanwhile, please raise a glass in her memory! May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

in the days of black and white
in the days of black and white

RIP Paul Faulconer Morgan MBE

Paul was born in 1922 to a Christian family. His father, a senior army officer, died when Paul was 12. He went to Winchester College, where the motto “manners makyth man” was to prove very influential. He learnt that not only are manners important, but that the privileged must learn to lead and that to lead he must learn to serve.

As he was on the verge of going to Cambridge, the war started and he volunteered for the army, serving his commission in the Rifle Brigade. In August 1944 he was wounded, losing his left leg below the knee. Although not invalided out, he got permission to go to Cambridge in 1945, where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He also rowed again, a sport he had enjoyed at school.

Having gained his degree, he spent 19 years with a Bedford company, making steam turbines, large diesel engines, pumps etc, in due course being promoted to Pump Department Manager. During this time he met and married Hilary (by far the smartest thing he ever did, he says), and they had four children, Clare, Stella, Patricia and Hugh. (Sadly their third daughter, Patricia, died of cancer aged 36 in 1994, only about 18 months after her marriage to Mark here in St John’s Church.)

They left Bedford in 1967 and Paul became General Manager of a pump company in Brentford. Then, after four years, he moved to an international company based in Todmorden. Being responsible for European sales, he moved to Styal to be close to the airport. Here he met the Revd. Peter Hunt, a previous incumbent of Bollington. Paul was Managing Director of this company for 16 years until he retired.

He decided with Hilary that, rather than move back South and leave so many friends behind, they would settle in the area and so ended up in Bollington. Peter Hunt had told them Holy Trinity was a stone’s throw from their new home, and they joined the congregation there straight away. Together they had 12 happy years here until Hilary died of cancer in 1999.

Paul became a governor (then later Chairman) at St John’s School. He also helped found Community Transport for Macclesfield Borough, providing transport for disabled people. His efforts were recognised in 2001 when he was awarded the MBE for service to the community.

At 82 he was interviewed for Bollington Church News Profile Page and declared that he wanted to go on serving the community “at least until I become a thrombosis (the clot that blocks up the system!)”. Paul indeed continued to play an active part in local life and always remained interested in his family and friends and the goings on at church, until after a spell in hospital two years ago his health began to deteriorate and, following a fortnight of being housebound, Paul took his leave of us peacefully at home in the early hours of Michaelmas Day 2012.

He left his body to Newcastle University for research and so his family requested a simple Thanksgiving Service which took place on Saturday 3 November in St Oswald’s Church, attended by over 120 people. The Vicar added the following words to the family’s own tributes:

“As we pray, each of us will undoubtedly bring to mind in thanksgiving to God the particular part Paul has played in our lives. I would just like to give thanks for Paul’s enthusiastic commitment to the life of the church in this parish. He was always concerned that the younger generations should continue to be nurtured in the Christian faith, as witnessed his time spent as Chair of Governors at St John’s School, and later then in my time as Vicar how he delighted in the number of Baptisms we carried out, promising to write to the Archbishop of Canterbury to declare that (contrary to national media scares) the church was alive and well in Bollington!

Paul himself was an enthusiastic member of our Lent Groups and he was the inspiration (although he may not have been aware of this) for the founding of our Wednesday afternoon Faith Hour, an informal open discussion group which has gone on from strength to strength for the past year and a half. Paul has always been a strong supporter of the work of the clergy, both verbally and tangibly, each year marked by a generous cheque for the Vicar (quietly given as was his wont, and of course insisting that no “thank you” was necessary) harking back to the olden days when the Easter Offerings would go straight into the hands of the parish clergy instead of being paid into the coffers of the diocese. Paul was a great benefactor to the parish as a whole over many years, taking his Stewardship responsibilities very seriously, and we have much to be thankful for in that respect, as we have been able to grow and thrive far better than otherwise we would have done. And I’m sure, had he lived, Paul would have been an enthusiastic supporter of our 2012 campaign, our latest fundraising effort aimed at further improving the fabric and facilities of this our parish church. Paul always rang the bell early on Sunday mornings at Holy Trinity Kerridge, calling to worship the faithful flock (which did indeed include a couple of stray lambs one Sunday I recall!).

But most of all I want to give thanks for Paul as a person, a true gentleman and a good friend to many, a very faithful communicant member of the church, for his sense of humour and his unfailing ability to look beyond his own needs to attend to the needs of others. On the Sunday morning at the end of September when I announced the sad news of Paul’s death, I invited members of the congregation to partake of a glass of sherry after the service in memory of Paul, who had himself always embraced this weekly innovation with his characteristic good-naturedness and charm.

So in a few moments of quiet, let us give thanks now for Paul’s whole life and work as we commend his soul to God. May he rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.”