A letter for Summer 2016 from our Curate Michael Fox
It seems no more than a moment ago that I was first pinning on my deacon’s sash in the vestry in preparation for my first service as the new assistant curate at St. Oswald. Now a mere two years later, here I am saying goodbye.
For me it has been an extraordinary journey of discovery, surprise and delight. Welcomed in to the St. Oswald community (I already knew Bollington well and have many friends in the town), I can certainly testify to the warmth and friendliness of the congregation and their genuine commitment to the well-being of the neighbourhood and of those who are in need of any sort.
My way into St. Oswald was paved by your vicar, Veronica, to whom I must now pay tribute as mentor, supervisor, trainer-upperer, colleague and friend.
I could not have wished for a wiser or more generous person to induct me into the mysteries of parish life. She is generous not only in the thoughtful presents she has provided on countless occasions – the pre-ordination retreat survival pack was an earnest of things to come – but more profoundly in the way she gives space for others to flourish. This giving of ‘space’ may seem insubstantial, but it is the most important thing a leader can do for those she leads. It enables others to be creative and to give of their best selves, safe in the knowledge that the leader’s wisdom and experience are available when help is needed. Veronica’s leadership is certainly resilient and firm when it needs to be for the sake of the health of the whole, but it is flexible, encouraging and good-humoured, as well as being genuinely self- sacrificing. If I am able to bring even a very little of these qualities to my new post as priest-in-charge of St. Paul’s, Macclesfield, then I will be able to serve the community there well.
What have been the highlights of my time? I was plunged on arrival straight into the middle of the preparations for a Schools Creation Experience week, which was memorable firstly for the wonderful teamwork between the church members who created and led various ‘days’ – I remember moving quickly from the cacophony of the ‘chaos orchestra’ into the waters covering the earth, or the chancel in this case, and getting quite wet, before participating in a ‘living planetarium’ as the solar system sprang into being.
Secondly the week showed me the potential for the development of children’s spirituality, a theme which has spread through my time here, with the reinvention of family worship and the opportunity to encourage children to express themselves in worship and to know that they have as much right to the space as adults do. Seeing children feel ‘at home’ in church with a real desire to be there has been one of the special joys of the last two years. It is also the secret to that most sought-after phenomenon, church growth. This was emphasized for me recently when the prayer stations that church members created during the Wave of Prayer week leading up to Pentecost were visited and used with such alacrity by children from three of the Bollington schools. The prayers they left behind were a testimony to the depth of children’s spiritual lives.
Continuing the creative theme, another highlight has been the writing workshops I have been privileged to lead. The first of these in Advent 2014 was in preparation for a ‘community litany’, an exploration of the thoughts and feelings generated by the town’s losses during the First World War. A number of church members found new ways of expressing themselves confidently in what became a moving reflection on conflict and the search for peace. A second series of workshops open to the community during the autumn of 2015 led up to a public poetry reading, Poems and Pies, just before Christmas. The poets concerned grew in confidence and scope throughout the process, discovering in themselves a new voice and new potential for personal growth. I hope in future that this workshop might be repeated in the company of writers from my new parish, if I can persuade them to join in some of the silly games necessary to the ‘creative process’.
Perhaps the greatest joys, though, have come from the quiet, everyday realities of parish life; listening to your stories, triumphs, pains, sorrows; sharing life and also death; worshipping the Lord together and exploring the heights, depths and widths of our mutual faith; praying and learning together – even if it was to the soundtrack of Les Miserables!
Now it is time to prepare myself for my new role at St. Paul’s, Macclesfield but I hope to welcome some of you to my ‘installation’ on 31 August at 7.30pm. I shall certainly never forget my time in ‘Happy Valley’ – how could I? It has some of the best pubs and people I know! God bless and thank you (as we comperes like to say).