Gin Flight at St Oswald’s

55 people participated in our Gin Flight evening to mark St Oswald’s Day. We enjoyed a variety of gins selected by our host for the evening Heather Kirk (of Concepts of Wine & Dine). Most of the gins had some sort of Ecclesiastical connection. There was also a raffle with many other gin-related prizes.

The event was held to raise funds for our New Kitchen project.

This one was certainly different. It was black. And like Marmite, some enjoyed it, others were not keen.

The next Bishop of Chester

#YourBishList – Have your say!

copied from the Diocesan Website

The Church of England is looking to appoint the next Bishop of Chester to lead the Diocese of Chester, and the Vacancy in See Committee is seeking your views on who that person should be and the qualities he or she should have. 

Click HERE to participateDeadline for submissions: 10 September

Comments will be received and read by the Vacancy in See Committee, the group tasked with preparing a brief description of the diocese and a statement setting out the desired profile of the next bishop.

Garden Party at Lambeth Palace

By the invitation of Archbishop Justin Welby, Veronica attended the event on Tuesday 23 July 2019 to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood.

After the Garden Party, Veronica took a trip down Memory Lane – or to be more accurate, a boat trip on the Thames…

2nd Sunday after Trinity 2019 – Freedom!

Anne Coomes

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. [Galatians 5:13-25]

Freedom is a word that you often hear these days. There are many different forms of it, and many different people advocating it. Certainly people around the world want political freedom – from Africa to Asia to the former Soviet Union to Scotland. Then there are the economists who believe in FREE trade, the lifting of tariffs. There are the capitalists who dislike central controls because they hinder FREE enterprise, and then there are the communists who say they want to set the proletariat FREE from capitalist exploitation. Just now, with regard to Brexit, there are the Remainers who want to have the FREEDOM of belonging to Europe to enjoy travel and trade. And there are the Brexiteers who want the FREEDOM of NOT belonging to Europe, because of all the laws and regulations.

President Roosevelt way back in 1941 summed it up well when he listed four kinds of freedom that politicians should aim to deliver:
freedom of speech everywhere,
freedom of worship everywhere,
freedom from want everywhere,
freedom from fear everywhere.

What sort of freedom is Christian freedom? Paul talks about it a lot in our reading from Galatians this morning. So what is it? Primarily it is a freedom of conscience. According to the Christian gospel no one is truly FREE until Jesus Christ has rid them of the burden of their guilt. So Christian freedom is freedom FROM sin, not freedom TO sin. We have freedom to approach God without fear, not freedom to exploit our neighbours without love. Indeed, the reading this morning makes it clear that with regard to others, we do not have the freedom to even just tolerate them. We are commanded to love them, and because of that, to be willing to serve them, to act in their best interests. It is a remarkable paradox – we are free in relation to God in that we can approach him without fear, but we are slaves in our relation to others, in that we need to always consider their needs as well as our own. We are not to be destructive, but in Christ we are to be constructive towards others.

But how is that realistically possible? We all know the pull of the lower nature in our lives. Paul looks in some depth at the constant warfare that goes on between what he calls the flesh and the Spirit. He urges us to be aware of this constant pull downwards on us. He urges us to actively repudiate the it evil, selfish urges that will harm both ourselves and others.

Paul says we will only succeed if we stay close to the Holy Spirit. In fact, in our reading this morning Paul mentions the Holy Spirit seven times by name. He is called our Sanctifier who alone can oppose and subdue the sinful flesh, and He alone can cause the fruit of righteousness to grow in our lives.

Paul lists some beautiful traits that make you wish that you knew a lot of people who had them: these nine Christian graces together portray the beauty and attractiveness of a Christian life. The first triad, or three, if you like, is LOVE, JOY and PEACE. These Christian virtues primarily describe our proper attitude towards God. For our first love is for God, our chief joy is our joy in God, and our deepest peace is our peace with God. The second triad of graces are PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS. These are, if you like, the social virtues, looking towards others rather than Godward. Patience is longsuffering towards those who aggravate us. Kindness is a question of our disposition towards others. Goodness is doing words and deeds which benefit others. The final three graces are FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL. Faithfulness is a description of the reliability of a Christian, gentleness reflects the humble meekness of Christ, and self-control describes personal inner strength, the very opposite of personal weakness.

So ‘love, joy, peace’ is God-wards, ‘patience, kindness, goodness’ is towards others, and ‘faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ is self-wards in that it describes a Christian’s character in themselves. And all of these are fruit that comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.

If only it were easy to allow such beautiful characteristics as these to bloom in our lives! But we all know that it is not easy, and St Paul was above all a realist. He spoke in quite savage terms about the on-going struggle it will be, and was adamant about how we should treat our baser desires. He even said we should ‘crucify’ them – in other words, make a stern, decision to utterly reject the wrong, to put it firmly away from us. And we can look for help to the Holy Spirit. For Paul says we are to be led by the Spirit. The Greek verb which he uses for led, was used of a farmer herding cattle, of a shepherd leading sheep – in other words, a relationship of everyday calm familiarity, and of total trust and confidence based on on-going experience. We are to be led, and we are NOT to suddenly take off down the road on our own, as a cow did recently on the Silk Road on my way to Poynton. And Paul goes even further. He urges us to actively ‘walk with the Spirit’ – and the verb he used here is of moving forward actively, with purpose and direction. If you have ever walked a Jack Russell dog, you will know what he meant.

As one well-loved Bible scholar urges us: To keep our Christian freedom, and to enjoy it, we are to make it our task each day to take time to remember who we are. We belong to Jesus Christ, and his Spirit dwells within us. So we can actively decide to cooperate with Him each day, and ask Him for guidance when the way is not clear. Remember – we are FREE to do so.

So – finally – coming back to Brexit, with regard to our Christian lives, you can have it both ways this morning. With regard to the rule of sin in your life, be a Brexiteer – get yourself free of it and deny its control on your life. With regard to other people, be a Remainer, and make the decision to love others and be willing to help them.

You are a Christian – you are free!
So Brexit from sin, and Remain in the Holy Spirit.

Vicar’s Letter July & August 2019

Bollington Festival [more here]

…was a really busy but enjoyable fortnight for St Oswald’s, starting off with our Camel Train in the Parade then hosting the mesmerising Model Railway Exhibition, both made possible by the creative talents of Bev and Steve. This was followed a few days later by a whole variety of our brilliant and dedicated Arts & Crafts Group’s train-themed handicrafts which were out on display for the remainder of the Festival, alongside some colourful contributions from Praise & Play and RiCH children, plus the beautiful winged creatures captured in our local embroiderers’ butterfly nets. Then there was a fabulous Print-making Day Workshop run by the lovely and very talented Debbie Tracey-Carney, a former member of our congregation now based in the Isle of Man. Later that first week, thanks to Lorraine and Dave and their willing kitchen staff, we hosted another hugely successful Big Brekkie fundraiser for Christian Aid Week, with bacon butties enjoyed by several groups of children from Bollington Cross School. We welcomed baby Elsa at her Christening on Saturday 18th before the William Byrd Singers presented an excellent acapella concert to round off our first week of Festival events.

In the second week we were pleased to host the Diocese of Chester’s roving exhibition “Journey into Light” which included many very moving canvases of original therapeutic artwork created by prisoners from HMP Styal and Thorn Cross. During this week, our RiCH Group children also met as usual on the Thursday afternoon and many of them were inspired to create their own personal art canvases depicting what belonging to this Group means to them. Our three exhibitions attracted a good cross-section of visitors over a broad age range from our local community (plus people travelling from further afield). The “Journey into Light” provided a stunning backdrop for a vibrant Gospel Train led by Maggie and our church choir and musicians, augmented by an enthusiastic choir of children from Bollington St John’s School and applauded by appreciative visitors from Mount Hall Nursing Home. It was fitting that on the Thursday we could offer space, even amidst the artwork on display in church, for the late Jean Ransley’s funeral, safe in the knowledge that she had over many years been a stalwart supporter of Bollington Festival and an encourager throughout her life of art and music appreciation.  The next day there was an opportunity to share in a meditative Stations of the Cross based on the emotive canvases around us, and on Saturday we enjoyed an incredible variety of music performed by the amazing young composer and musician, Joe Riley. That second week ended with a calming evening of Taize worship, led by Elaine and Chris and members of our choir and Music Group (including Peter Spooner who kindly stepped in at the last minute for us). This closing service was in contrast to the rather louder Big Top Worship Service which had been held on the first Sunday of the Festival, but proved equally ecumenical!

Throughout the Festival fortnight, a stalwart and faithful few from our congregation maintained a cheerful and friendly presence within St Oswald’s, opening our doors and welcoming visitors from far and wide, supplying them with copious amounts of coffee and tea, delicious home-made cake and the occasional glass of Prosecco! Thanks to those people who were so generous with their time and skills (including especially our two dedicated Churchwardens and Julie our PCC Secretary), we were able to offer warm hospitality to all who ventured in, many for the first time even though perhaps they had lived in the village for years!  

And finally, a huge thank you to our friend Audrey Downes, who not only skilfully created, but also daily maintained, the beautiful floral garland which greeted everyone who stepped into our entrance porch, providing a glorious reminder to one particular couple who were recalling their wedding service held here during the very first Bollington Festival!  

It was hard work but a pleasure to take part in such a fantastic community event over those hectic two weeks in May! We must thank the Festival events Co-ordinator, Jose Spinks, for all her organisational skills, and her unbounded encouragement and enthusiasm! We look forward to the next Bollington Festival (in four or five years’ time perhaps?) when once again (thankfully bolstered by our growing group of “Friends”) St Oswald’s may offer a truly welcoming performance and worship space, opportunities to build friendships and share refreshments, the encouragement of local creative talent and the gift of time for deep reflection on the meaning of life – but also a chance to enjoy ourselves and have fun together here in our unique place at the heart of our parish community!

Every blessing,

Veronica

First Sunday after Trinity 2019

Brian Reader

Luke 8:26-39

As you may have realized, I have been away from Bollington over the last two Sundays, but I have not missed Church. While I was away I realised that I have been a Lay Reader for 24 years…

was played on the organ by Jennifer (and those who knew the words joined in!)

This is really quite an achievement because I remember our team Rector saying before he agreed to the start of my training at the age of 61 “Well I suppose we might get two or three years out of you!” Why have I mentioned this? Well today’s Gospel story is well known. As well as appearing in Luke, there are similar stories in both Mathew (8.28-34) and Mark (5.1-20). Yet when studying the text and the various commentaries, I learnt something new. It does not matter how old you are, or how long you have been doing something, you can always learn something new if you approach it with an open mind.

The story is set on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias. The lake is not very large, only about 13 miles long, and 8 miles wide, so I had assumed that in Jesus’ time all the people around the lake would have been Jews. This was not the case, as along the western edge of the lake was part of the Decapolis, a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in what is now Jordan. The Decapolis was a centre of Greek and Roman culture in a region which was otherwise populated by the Jewish people and that was the reason they were breeding pigs.

But back to the Gospel story. Jesus had chosen to cross over on to foreign soil, perhaps to escape the immediate pressure of travelling around under the nose of Herod Antipas. There was, however, to be no peace there either. This violent man, possessed, it seems, by a multitude of spirits, at once confronts him and fills the air with screaming and yelling. The disciples must have wanted to get straight back in the boat and head for home again. Jesus remains calm before this human storm, as he had before with the wind and the waves on the lake. The same quiet authority will deal with the one as with the other. The man was wild and had almost superhuman strength; today he would probably be diagnosed with melancholic mania. He was certainly in mental torment, but Jesus was stronger than his whole regiment of demons. Jesus needed some visible demonstration of his cure and when the pigs were stampeded by his cries Jesus said, ‘There go your demons’.

There’s an ironic twist in the story; because the demons ask to enter the pigs and the pigs then rushed headlong into the sea; at the time, there was a popular superstition that the sea was the abode of condemned spirits. Now the story contrasts the well-being of man with that of the pigs and their owners; but the pigs’ drowning raises some awkward questions: was it right to take the men’s livelihood away? Were the men more worried about the money than about the animals? Did the pigs matter more than the man? Is business profit and the economy more important than the well-being of animals? The townspeople asked Jesus to leave, but were they afraid of such obvious divine power, or of the threat to their businesses, or because they just didn’t want to be disturbed?

We may have our own views but we cannot be sure of all the answers. It’s very sad that the only time that he came to them they asked him to go away. Jesus is then very careful not to do anything which might antagonize the Roman Authorities in the future. But Luke’s focus in telling this story is on the man himself, and, as always, on Jesus. For Luke, what has happened to this man isn’t just a remarkable healing; it is ‘salvation’. The salvation which God promised long ago, is now becoming evident in Jesus and his mission. It has already reached many in Israel, and it is now starting to spread further afield. The man, quite understandably, wants to be allowed to stay with Jesus. Not only is he now bonded to him by the astonishing rescue he has experienced; but he may well assume that things would not be easy back in his home territory, where everyone knew the tragic tale of his recent life. There might be considerable reluctance to take him back as a member of his family or the village. He would have to stand up and take responsibility for himself; he couldn’t rely on being able, as it were, to hide behind Jesus. Luke reserves the real point of the story to the last few words. ‘Go home,’ says Jesus, ‘and tell them what God has done for you.’

Just as from Israel’s earliest experience, deliverance always precedes commandment, so this healing comes before the commission; now that he has set you free and you are in your right mind: go and tell the others. And the man goes off and tells everyone what Jesus has done for him, and in doing so he becomes the first apostle to the Gentiles. Luke is not offering us, or not yet, any formula, or carefully worked-out doctrine, of how ‘God was in Christ’. At the moment it is simply something people discover in their own experience: what Jesus does, God does. Or, to put it the other way round, if you want to tell people what God has done, tell them what Jesus has done.

The best brains in two thousand years of Christianity have struggled to find adequate words to explain how this can be; but it is a truth known to many,
at a level too deep for mere theory, from the moment they discover God’s saving power in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus will not run from any danger or turn away from anyone. Jesus showed that he was stronger than a whole regiment of demons. He waits patiently for you to come to him, waits to set you free from all that troubles you, and give you peace.

Find the peace that Jesus alone can give, and go and tell others, of what God, through Jesus, can do for them.

AMEN

Closure of Bollington Mothers’ Union Branch

As reported in our Annual report “it is with regret that we announce that this Branch has now discontinued our monthly meetings. The sad decision was taken due to a significant fall in membership (including the deaths of two faithful members from our congregation) and the difficulty of maintaining a regular programme of meetings alongside our other commitments.”

A closing service was held at St Oswald’s on Tuesday 28 May 2019 while celebrating our local Deanery MU Festival that evening.

Ever-loving Father,
we thank you for the work and witness of the Bollington branch of the Mothers’ Union:
for all by which it is remembered,
for all that it meant to those who belonged to it,
and those who were in any way helped by its members,
and for everything in its life which reflected your mercy and love.
We pray for the members who have departed this life,
and for those who have moved away.
We recall the happy times in the past.

6th Sunday of Easter 2019

Brian Reader

Acts 16: 9- 15; Rev 21: 10, 22 to 22: 5; Ps 67; John 14: 23-29.

Now this may seem a strange question but bear with me, it does have relevance. Does anyone remember this? [played on the organ by Jenny]

It is one of the Beatles hits which was released as a single 1967, over half a century ago.
I first preached on these readings back in 2004 – fifteen years ago, and I played a recording of the first part of the song. Then I was able to ask – How many of you remember the Beatles? But now perhaps I might have to ask a younger generation, have any of you heard of the Beatles? The lyrics were:

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy
All you need is love
All you need is love

Today is the last Sunday before the Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. After His resurrection, Jesus had to remind his disciples what he had taught them about God and Himself. Now in today’s Gospel reading from St John, Jesus is trying to prepare them for what is about to happen. “I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, it will deepen your belief in me.” It will also give them a better understanding of His love. In another translation, the passage starts: “If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him.” If you read John’s Gospel, you will see that just before this passage, Jesus is talking a lot about love. Hence my being reminded of the old Beatles hit.

All you need is love. But is that true? Yes, if that love is for God and for our neighbours as Jesus commanded. Yes, if it is the selfless love that a parent should have for a child and a child for their parents, then it is good and honourable.

Regrettably, in today’s permissive world, with all the media and peer pressures put upon us, love is more likely to be selfish or just plain lust. So it is not surprising that David Shepherd, who as Bishop of Liverpool, the home of the Beatles, said, when speaking on permissiveness and human love – “If I was clever enough and good enough it would be all right to say, ‘Love is all you need’, but because I am neither clever enough, nor good enough, there is a need for signposts (or rules) to show that it is not the loving thing to go down (some) particular paths.”

And Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
What is Jesus’ word? It is His teaching and His commandments which we can read in the Bible. To sum up the whole message of the Gospel: Belief in and love of God, means belief in and love of Jesus. For St John the two are inseparable. There is no adequate faith in God apart from faith in Jesus.

At the time of Christ’s passion, the disciples were worried and upset by the talk of His betrayal and the thought of Jesus leaving them. Jesus himself knew the effect his death had on them all. And so He is trying to explain and to get them to understand why it has to happen; that the time was coming when Jesus would no longer be physically present with them. However, His return to God will be for their good: it will bring a new power for action, together with a new certainty in prayer. If Jesus is to leave them, how can He be the ‘way’ to God when He is no longer there? The answer lies in the two successors to Jesus’ ministry named in this chapter.

One successor is the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises the disciples that they will not be left ‘orphaned’; he will send a ‘Helper’ , a ‘comforter’ or a ‘Counsellor’ for them – the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Jesus will bring not only the promise of eternal life for the believers, but also his living presence through the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit will help the disciples remember and apply Jesus’ teachings to life after His ascension and give them the courage to endure the persecutions which will follow. And two weeks ago Anne spoke of the persecutions which are still taking place in the world today. Best of all, the Holy Spirit will come to be with them always and everywhere (not limited by a physical body as Jesus had been). The Spirit will teach and counsel and bring to mind all that Jesus has said. And Jesus’ own unshakeable peace will be theirs.

But there is a second successor, the church. With the promise comes a commission. Jesus promises that those who believe in him will “do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these”. So Christians can continue Jesus’ work. ‘Greater things’ does not mean more spectacular – it would be hard to outdo the resurrection! But the world-wide mission of the church does take the ministry of Jesus far beyond the bounds of His earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit is the power for this ministry. And our contribution lies in obeying Jesus and his teaching. Love of Christ and obedience are tied intimately together in this passage.

For all those who follow him, Jesus offers his ‘peace’. Note: the peace that Jesus offers his disciples is not the peace of an easy life. It is the peace of the obedient servant who has the full confidence and support of his master, and who carries out his commission effectively and joyfully.

With His death Jesus made the approach-road for men and women to come to God. His resurrection enables His return to the Father, and His ascension enables Him to get a permanent home ready for his disciples, and in due course he will come again for them. And we are included in that promise if we follow Him as His disciples today. We have seen that as disciples, we must continue to love and trust Jesus Christ. And the way we can show our love is to do all that he says and commands.

As we have seen, the Beatles’ phrase ‘All you need is love’ is not enough. It also requires prayerful action, commitment and courage to follow Christ. In the Beatles song we hear – ‘It’s easy, love is all you need’. But Jesus never said it would be easy, or without hardship, for the Christians who follow Him, but we know that with the help of the Holy Spirit all things are possible. Jesus’ ascension, His returning to the Father is the culmination, the completion of Jesus’ work as a man here on earth. It is the crowning of the Easter story – Hallelujah!