Vicar’s Letter – August 2017

“To see a World in a grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an Hour…”
(William Blake 1757 – 1827)

The summer holidays are coming to an end and a new school term is about to begin, but let us not entirely lose that refreshing change of perspective we may have had a chance to find when taking time out to appreciate once more the little things of life. Pictures of Bollington’s wide-eyed pre-school graduates, soon to be photographed in their “big school” uniforms by proud parents, bring to mind our own early adventures when we were encouraged to set out to make our way in the world beyond our own front door. The bond of family and friends never ceases to be important to each of us as we grow up into adulthood, and a healthy and welcoming church community is one of those places where we can find acceptance, learn perseverance and experience companionship that will stand us in good stead, whatever lies ahead of us as we progress through life.

Here at St Oswald’s we endeavour to provide a safe environment and a variety of worship styles where people of all ages and all different personalities can enjoy one another’s company and can seek and find God. We continue to develop our links with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers through our Praise & Play Group on a Tuesday morning, and through an open policy of welcoming children and their families to be baptised here, as the beginning of a life-long involvement with the world-wide family of Christian people, embryonic saints on earth linked with God’s saints in heaven, whom we remember each year on All Souls’ Day. Alongside our regular pattern of child-friendly worship on the First and Third Sundays of each month, we specifically offer yearly celebrations such as the Epiphany Party in January (when we have a visit from the Three Kings bearing gifts) and the Light Party on All Hallows’ Eve (when we enjoy celebrating the light and hope and courage of God’s holy people, past and present). On Christmas Eve we make the journey to Bethlehem to welcome Jesus’ birth (usually with a whole flock of sheep and the occasional dinosaur!) and on Good Friday we follow the sad trail taken by Jesus at the end of his life, until we gather again at Easter to be woken up by showers of mini-eggs!

There is a new Sunday afternoon Puppet Ministry Group for older children as well as adults, which meets on the Fourth Sunday each month. Our Thursday afternoon RiCH (Refreshment in Church) Group welcomes youngsters who’ve just moved up to High School, following on from the many opportunities given to them at Primary School to explore their spiritual heritage, not least in our interactive Schools’ Experience Weeks covering a whole range of themes, including Epiphany, Easter, All Saints, Jesus’ Parables, the Creation Myths and the Life of Moses. The local school children come to celebrate Harvest Festivals and Christingle with us, and we have special annual services to welcome the Reception Classes at our two Church Schools each September and to say “God Be With You” to the Year Six children in July.

As part of our social calendar we also have Family Fun Days each summer, periodic CHUB outings (visiting interesting church buildings before repairing to a nearby pub for lunch!), monthly Mothers Union meetings and a whole host of fundraising events all year round, including Big Breakfasts, Posh Teas, Coffee Mornings and, of course, our Garden Party each September. From time to time we share in Taize style worship, regularly benefit from our ad hoc instrumental group and also experiment in hand-bell ringing together. We meet for prayer and discussion groups (such as Faith Hour on Wednesdays), hold occasional Confirmation Preparation sessions, and during the season of Lent we usually enjoy thought-provoking lunchtime discussions and a series of evening meetings based on a study programme focussing on a book, a musical or a film.

With all this activity, interaction and excitement, it is vital then that we take time to be quiet too, and to contemplate “the meaning of life” as William Blake encourages us to do. St Oswald’s is open every Wednesday during the day, so do make use of this free space, make yourself a hot drink, light a prayer candle and maybe just sit and rest for a while. At every Communion Service there is the unique opportunity to “hold Infinity in the palm of your hand” when you receive the Body of Christ. We take time to think of the things of “Eternity in an hour” as we gather in worship together, each bringing into church with us the different pre-occupations and priorities we carry in the forefront of our minds that week, as well as the deeper griefs and joys hidden in our hearts. Sometimes we speak of these things to our companions; at other times we bring them silently before God. As the carol goes, “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in the Christ we worship.

Our human anxieties about the present imbalance of power, the economic inequalities and the systemic injustices of our world are all part of what we bring in with us through the church door, and we pray for inspiration and encouragement to go out more hopeful and with greater energy to work together for a brighter future. May we be able to focus on the smallest things we can change in our personal circumstances for the greater good of those around us, rather than be totally daunted and paralysed by the enormity of the problems that face our society and the wider world. Let us learn afresh from the youngest child in our midst, how to “see a World in a grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower”; let us learn afresh from our teenagers the passion and immediacy of living in the moment, whilst not shying away from bigger issues; let us learn afresh from those of an older age whose lives are well-lived, how to look with active compassion on the world and to find serenity in knowing every human being to be infinitely loved by the One who created us. May we lift up our hearts and voices to join in our own “Songs of Innocence and Experience” as we embark on this next phase in our church life together.

Every blessing,

Veronica

The Vicar’s Annual Report – May 2017

I would like to thank all those who enabled me to take time out in April, May and June last year and to enjoy some of my sabbatical leave in Venice! Particular thanks are due to Christine Osbaldiston, Revd Michael Fox, Bev Nixon, Canon Roy Arnold, Anne Coomes, Brian Reader and others who took on extra liturgical and organisational roles during that time, including offering prayer stations both in church and in our local schools for the week leading up to Pentecost, and again later on when our Assistant Curate was supported in officiating at his first two weddings! Later in the year we celebrated with Bev Nixon as she received her well-deserved Children’s Ministry Certificate in Manchester Cathedral. Her tireless enthusiasm and innovation alongside young and old within our congregation (and also reaching out to our schools) is a huge asset in our church life – and all amazingly freely given, as are the other creative, compassionate, organisational, fundraising, musical and serving gifts of so many others who make up our varied congregation here at St Oswald’s!

Sadly there were also two bereavements during the latter part of my sabbatical following the sudden and untimely deaths of Sue Bennett and Guy Wharton, whose creative and inspirational lives had made a deep impression on many people within our local community. It was impressive how well the church supported the families and friends most closely affected by these losses, including the staff and children of Year Six at Bollington Cross School and our RiCH Group, by literally opening our doors in the immediate aftermath to allow people to express their grief and shock in personal and unique ways within the sanctuary of God’s house. St Oswald’s congregation has once again proved itself well able to respond appropriately to strangers as well as friends on both joyful and sorrowful occasions. (It is good that the PCC agreed last September that we open our church doors routinely on Wednesdays to allow people to venture in for private prayer or refreshment during daylight hours.)

As many of you will know, Canon Roy Arnold is presently recovering from a broken hip after a recent fall and I know both he and Hylda will value your prayers and ongoing support especially over the next few weeks of rehabilitation. We look forward to welcoming Roy back safe and well into our midst. Our good wishes also extend to Revd Dr Gary Bowness who has from time to time kindly offered his high-speed, in-depth ministry whilst the Vicar’s been away on other commitments during the past year! Gary will shortly be moving house to retire (properly this time) up to Lancaster in Blackburn Diocese. The Deanery will certainly miss him and we wish him God speed!

Last autumn we said a fond farewell to Revd Michael as he took up his new role of part-time Priest-in-charge at St Paul’s, Macclesfield. Whilst continuing as Michael’s mentor, as Rural Dean I am pleased to say that by the end of May 2017 six new incumbents will have been licensed or inducted to fill all fourteen vacancies that have arisen in parishes across our Deanery over the past three years! The only parishes that have in recent years retained their existing incumbents are Bollington, Gawsworth, Prestbury and Rainow! As we look to the future, it will be good to heed the warnings expressed elsewhere regarding our Parish Finances, since the trend is to amalgamate parishes where there is insufficient income to support a full-time Vicar in a single benefice. I’m grateful to Canon Taffy Davies who in retirement has returned to act as Chapter Clerk and to Richard Raymond for his continuing work as Deanery Lay Chair, as well as to Julie Brunt and David Marriott who have valiantly undertaken the other voluntary roles of Deanery Secretary and Treasurer respectively.

Our ministry and outreach in this parish is greatly enhanced by our two church schools and our links across the whole Bollington Family of Schools, including our continuing close relationship with Dean Valley Community School. It is great to be able to report that both Bollington Cross School and Bollington St John’s School received excellent Ofsted results from the short inspections carried out in March this year! Do visit the website www.gov.uk/ofsted to read the full and detailed reports, which warmly commend our two Head Teachers, Mrs Downing and Mrs Walker, for their continued high quality leadership. We are blessed in having such dedicated staff, parents and governors whose efforts combine to offer a good and inspirational education to all our children. Please pray for the right choice of a new Head Teacher for Bollington Cross School as from September 2017 when Mrs Downing will have retired. Please also continue to uphold in your prayers the children of Pott Shrigley School, following the choice made by members of Pott Shrigley staff, parents and local community, for the Local Authority and the Diocese to dissolve the Federation which previously existed with Bollington St John’s, and which took effect on 28 February 2017.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to our two dedicated and equally hardworking Churchwardens, Hilary and Christine, who have greatly encouraged me in my calling as your parish priest and who, alongside the other members of the Ministry Team, continue to share a vision for the future thriving and growth of our church community here in Bollington and beyond.

Every blessing,

Veronica

(To read the whole Annual Report compiled by our Churchwardens concerning all the activities and events in our Parish during the year ending 30 April 2017, click here.)

Vicar’s Letter – January 2017

vicars letter003God willing, when we see the signs of Spring in a few weeks’ time, I will have served a whole decade as your Vicar here in the Parish of Bollington! Doesn’t time fly! During the course of these past ten years, together we have experienced all sorts of new developments both in the content and shape of our buildings and in the styles of worship we are fortunate to be able to offer to our community. I realise I personally have seen a whole generation of children move on within our church life from Reception to RiCH! And thanks to many gifted colleagues, both lay and ordained, we have ministered to the needs of young and old in a whole variety of circumstances and in many different ways. My task of being a Vicar has only been made possible by the friendship and support (and occasional challenge!) offered variously by a series of dedicated Churchwardens, patient and diligent Treasurers and Secretaries, a whole variety of PCC and Congregation members, Sacristans, Sidespeople, Vergers, Sextons, Flower Arrangers, Door Keepers, Intercessors, Administrators of Communion, Magazine Editors and Distributors, Group Leaders, Project Managers, Diocesan Officers, Mothers’ Union members, Head Teachers, School Governors, Readers, an occasional Assistant Curate, a very wise and experienced fellow Canon, a dedicated and energetic Children and Families’ Worker, a swell group of Organists, a tuneful bunch of Choristers, a willing and imaginative group of Praise & Play leaders, a long-suffering and compassionate group of RiCH volunteers, a whole hidden army of Cake Bakers, Church Cleaners, Gardeners, Floor Polishers, Linen Launderers, Brass Cleaners, Money Counters and Bankers, Furniture Movers, Maintenance Workers and Jacks of All Trades, not to mention all those essential people who step up regularly to become Fund-Raisers, Caterers and Prayers! Thank you! May God bless all of you in your different and complementary ministries in the service of Christ in this place!

Looking forward, no doubt this coming year will bring its own unique challenges and opportunities, sorrows and joys. As the seasons turn, so I reflect on the loss over the course of ten years of so many friends and family no longer beside us here, whether they have moved away or died. As we continue to hold in our hearts the precious memories of them all and as we entrust the living and departed to God’s safe keeping, we know that, whatever our personal situation, we are all still called by God to build up and nurture new relationships amongst people in our community. As companions on life’s journey, we have uniquely been given the unchanging task of finding ways to plant seeds of hope, love, joy and peace in the world around us and to share the Gospel afresh with each new generation. May we continue to be inspired and encouraged in all we undertake in Christ’s name, now and always.

Every blessing,

Veronica

Advance Notice! Lent is traditionally a time for thinking together about our personal faith journeys and sharing some of the experiences and challenges we face as Christians in the modern world. We are planning to hold our popular weekly Lent Lunch Hours once again in St Oswald’s on Tuesdays from 12 noon till 1.00pm for six weeks, starting on 07 March and finishing on 11 April. As usual we are asking for volunteers to provide simple “food for the journey”, such as bread and soup, cheese or pate, offered in return for a gift of money from those who participate in the meal. We’ve not yet decided to which good cause the proceeds will be given this year, but any suggestions are welcome. I’m very pleased to say that Canon Roy Arnold has kindly agreed to offer us another little series of “Food for Thought” to mull over during our lunches! When the list appears in due course at the back of church, please do sign up if you’d like to be catered for, or if you are willing to host any of the lunches. Come along and bring your friends and enjoy good food and one another’s company in an informal and friendly setting.

Veronica

 

Vicar’s Letter – December 2016

O holy Child of Bethlehem…Be born in us today!”

vicars letter003Christmas is not just for children! As adults we may tend to get overwhelmed with all the expectations of buying appropriate presents, writing cheery messages in hundreds of well-chosen charity cards, juggling seasonally over-stretched finances, having to entertain crotchety relatives, eating and drinking more than is good for us, listening to yet more carols or tinny festive music whilst out shopping, and eventually losing track of the number of other things we feel we have to do, before we can safely put our feet up and watch HRH the Queen give what is probably her 65th message on Christmas Day!
Contrary to what those tantalising Advent calendars (with or without chocolate) may imply, the main purpose of the Advent season is not simply to count down the days before we finally get to open all those other more satisfying presents on 25 December. It is instead about recognising the constant need to develop a more sustainable and generous attitude in ourselves, essentially the Christian mindset of fostering goodwill towards all people the whole year round. Just as we may take a few extra moments each day to open up the little doors of our Advent calendar this December, so might we also open the windows of our souls and catch a glimpse of the Light of the World dawning slowly onto our frosty hearts, encouraging a fresh habit of mindfulness that will gradually enable us to celebrate the glory and the challenge of Emmanuel, “God with us”, every single day for the rest of our lives.


“The bells of waiting Advent ring…”
Those of you who have mourned the loss of Bollington’s peal of church bells, since the closure of St John’s Church in 2003, may be cheered to know that you will have the opportunity to hear them ringing out again, now refurbished and re-hung in the tower of St Thomas’ Church, Stockton Heath – where by happy coincidence an erst-while Assistant Curate of Bollington, Revd Michael Ridley, is now the Vicar! Here is the open invitation recently sent to us by Dr Peter Banyard, one of the Churchwardens there:

Hello! You may be aware that the extensive tower refurbishment project at St Thomas’ Church is nearing completion. The project, of course, has included the installation of the bells that were generously gifted by St John the Baptist Church, Bollington, as well as two new bells that were funded separately by another generous benefactor. Without the generosity of your church, the installation of this impressive peal of bells would not have been possible. A dedication service will take place at St Thomas’ Church at 3.00pm on Sunday 8 January 2017. Bishop Peter will be officiating. We would like to extend an invitation to any interested members of your church to save the date!

Please do make a note in your new diary to come along to Stockton Heath this Epiphany to share in this special service. Just in case, unlike the Three Wise Men, you do not usually use the stars to guide your journeys, but instead rely on satnav, the postcode of St Thomas’ Church is WA4 6HJ!

Meanwhile it seems appropriate to offer as food for thought during this last month of 2016 the following poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, stirringly set to music more recently by Karl Jenkins in his choral work, The Armed Man:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    the flying cloud, the frosty light:
    the year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    the year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    for those that here we see no more;
    ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    and ancient forms of party strife;
    ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    the faithless coldness of the times;
    ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    the civic slander and the spite;
    ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
    the larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Every blessing this Advent, Christmas and always,
Veronica

Vicar’s Letter – November 2016

vicars letter003

“Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way…
For the Lord God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory…”
(verses from Psalm 84)

 

With not a little help from my friends (including Malcolm and Julie who lent me a walking stick and Christine who lent me a rucksack) I managed to walk most of the St Cuthbert’s Way again from Melrose to Lindisfarne during the first week of October! The weather was just right for trekking up and down the hills (or “undulations” as our esteemed leader Canon Taffy Davies kept calling them!) – not too hot, some bits of blustery wind but hardly any rain. We stayed at a place called Akeld Manor, near Wooler, and progressed along the pilgrim’s route by travelling out in our mini-bus each day to a different starting point which was where the group had left off the previous day. With fifteen or so good companions (both ordained and lay), we enjoyed much laughter together, times of reflection, great home-cooked food, lovely scenery, varied conversations, a reasonable amount of alcohol, optional prayers morning and night, and helping hands over the stiles and across rocky paths. Some of us took time out for the odd day, enabling our blisters to heal and aching limbs to ease! By the end of the week, we all felt a sense of achievement and clearly had all enjoyed the time to think and reflect back individually and with others about our different life journeys and also to explore in anticipation the paths that might lie ahead for each of us.

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As the season of Advent comes round once again at the end of November, we recognise the signposts along the way, leading us towards the light and joy of Christmas there in the distance, travelling in our imagination with Joseph, Mary and the donkey across the hills to Bethlehem. As the nights draw in at this time of year too, we naturally bring to mind those good and faithful companions we once knew and who travelled alongside us for a while, but who now have already reached our longed-for home in heaven, way ahead of us. We look to Christ, the light of the world, to illuminate our path as we continue our journeying, grateful that Jesus is willing to shoulder our burdens for us when we stumble or grow weary along the way. We pray for grace and humility to accept help from others in times of need, and for the energy and perceptiveness to offer an outstretched arm or a shoulder to cry on, to those who may need that from us, from time to time.

Just as our motley little group of St Cuthbert’s Way pilgrims last month encouraged one another to persevere, so may the congregation here in Bollington journey towards Christmas together with fresh energy, undeterred by the uncomfortable blisters that inevitably appear when “the feet that bring good news” rub up against hard-heartedness, cynicism or consumerism. May we honour the memories of saints and loved ones who have gone before us, and may we continue to be a people of generous hospitality, of positive compassion and of loving concern for anyone (whether among us or beyond our circle) who may need an encouraging word or a helping hand, walking together in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Every blessing,

Veronica

Vicar’s Letter -October 2016

vicars letter003After two years here in training with us since his ordination, we have just said farewell to our Assistant Curate, Michael Fox. A few days later we saw him welcomed into his new role, being licensed on 31 August as part-time Priest-in-Charge at the Parish of St Paul’s Macclesfield. The following Sunday afternoon, I was invited to be present for another Welcome Service, this time for the newly appointed Superintendent Minister of the Macclesfield Methodist Circuit, Reverend Graham Edwards. All ministers who serve in the Methodist Church expect to move on to new posts after a fixed period of years in one place, and for them the “transfer window” opens each year at the end of August, around the same time as for footballers, I gather!? I suspect that no church minister, of whatever denomination, can command anything like the remuneration of even the lowliest celebrity football player! However, all parishes and congregations are asked to contribute a considerable sum annually to cover the costs of having a minister or priest working alongside them, as sadly for the past thirty or more years there has no longer been any central funding available to pay for this from the National Church. In our case, here in Bollington, the cost of having a full-time priest is levied in the form of a Parish Share by the Diocese of Chester, currently to the tune of over £60,000 a year. Nearly two-thirds of that figure goes towards the wider Diocesan costs of clergy housing, pensions, ministry support and advisory services, including the educational, finance, safeguarding, vocational and social responsibility departments, whilst a figure just over the remaining third pays my stipend.

As regular worshippers will see from a letter shortly arriving through their letterbox, our present level of regular income each year does just about cover our Parish Share, but leaves very little with which to pay all the other “household bills” which we need to meet simply so as to keep open our doors, to maintain and improve the facilities of our building, and to support all the activities and services that we would like to continue to offer for the benefit of our local community. We are therefore appealing to everyone who values having St Oswald’s Church at the heart of our community life, to consider making a regular commitment, however small, preferably by Standing Order and Gift-Aided if possible, so that we can be certain to still be available to serve at least one or two more generations of Bollingtonians! Please see our website Giving page for the relevant downloadable forms, or contact our PCC Treasurer in confidence if you would like to know more. Thank you for your support.

Christian-AidOur Harvest Charity this year is Christian Aid, which works alongside the poorest of people in different communities across the world, many of whom can only dream of the comparative luxury afforded by a Vicar’s annual stipend. As probably your grandparents said to you too as a child, “There’s always someone worse off than yourself!” This was marginally more helpful than that other admonition to “Eat your greens! There’s a starving child somewhere who’d be grateful to have the chance!” As responsible and caring adults, we are all called to re-examine our priorities in life and always to seek to serve the needs of others before looking to meet our own. However St Oswald’s, our local Parish Church, has a responsibility to carry on the legacy handed down to us from past worshippers and parishioners, humbly offering a place of sanctuary, compassion, truth-seeking, neighbourliness, challenge, consolation and care, being available for all in our community, whether or not they consider themselves to be religious. We recognise our now urgent need for the financial support of friends around us locally in order to continue to be a beacon of light and hope in dark times, in the same way as we ourselves reach out to support other charities like Christian Aid whose partners are involved in critical and life-affirming projects across the world.

May God bless us as together we work, in so many varied and complementary ways, to make this world a fairer, more compassionate and more hopeful place to be, where all God’s children may thrive and grow. May God bless our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and for evermore.

Veronica

Vicar’s Letter – September 2016

vicars letter003Thank you all for the warm welcome that you offered me when I came back from my sabbatical leave towards the end of the school summer term! I’m very grateful to (our sadly now erstwhile Assistant Curate) Michael Fox, and to (the erstwhile Rural Dean of Macclesfield!) Canon Taffy Davies, for standing in for me here in caring for our parish and our deanery respectively, and to Revd Dr Gary Bowness for covering several funerals for Bollington parishioners over recent months. My warm thanks also go to Canon Roy, Beverley, Brian and Anne who continued to offer their well-honed skills in pastoral care, preaching and leading worship both at St Oswald’s and at Mount Hall Nursing Home during my leave of absence.

The first six weeks of my time away was spent in the beautiful setting of Venice. I was very pleased to be joined there by a whole series of friends and family who came over for several days at a time to share the “rooms with a view” which I had rented on the Venetian island of Guidecca. Welcoming all my guests during this time gave me a brilliant excuse to return again and again to a whole variety of my favourite places of artistic excellence, uplifting worship and delicious food and drink! Several local restaurant owners I think were particularly sad to see me return home at the end of my stay! It was good to be in Venice for St Mark’s Day as well as Ascension Day, festivals which are celebrated annually in colourful manner by the Venetian people.

One of the daily disciplines I tried to follow during my sabbatical was to spend some time each morning reflecting on “The Joy of Being” (a little book of daily spiritual readings given to me by Roy) and reading one poem a day from the modern anthology “Lifesaving Poems” (presented to me by Michael just before I set off on my travels to the Venetian lagoon). One particular poem struck me as being very apt during my time away: it is called “A Poem for Someone Who Is Juggling Her Life” by Rose Cook. I thought you might like to read it, and perhaps usefully apply it to yourself too, especially as things begin to pick up again after the summer holidays and we all become busy with both necessary and more trivial tasks once again:

This is a poem for someone
who is juggling her life.
Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.

 It needs repeating
over and over
to catch her attention
over and over,
because someone juggling her life
finds it difficult to hear.

 Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.
Let it all fall sometimes.

One thing that happened here during my time away was that, for two separate short periods (thanks to a rota signed up to by willing volunteer keyholders) the doors of our church were left open during the day for people to come into St Oswald’s at times other than for our usual services or events. One week was dedicated to offering some different focus areas within the church to enable people to reflect on aspects of The Lord’s Prayer, as recommended by our Archbishops during the time leading up to the feast of Pentecost. The other Open Church week was when we offered a place of sanctuary following a tragic death of one of our parishioners, where people, young and old, could freely come in to mourn, privately or collectively, and to write in the book of condolence provided. These opportunities given to the wider community to come in to use their Parish Church for times of focussed reflection, including searching for peace or trying to make sense of things, were readily taken up by adults, by children of our various schools and by our RiCH Group. At our recent PCC meeting we agreed that making the church building more available for people to call by sometimes in the midst of otherwise busy daily routines, was an excellent thing for us to pursue, remembering also our experience of opening the church during last autumn’s Refugee Crisis Appeal, which again was welcomed by members of the local and wider community.

So starting this September, we have decided to open the doors of St Oswald’s during the day every Wednesday (except of course if the church happens to be needed for part of that time for a funeral service, for example). We are calling this new venture #quietplace and we do hope that everyone in our local community (and other visitors from further afield) will be able to benefit from the chance to simply come inside our lovely Parish Church, to rest here for a while, to spend time with your own thoughts and with God, and by doing so to find inner guidance, renewed strength and courage for any trials or adventures you may face. Why not come in and enjoy a moment’s peace and quiet within the walls of a building that has served local people in so many different ways over the course of its 108 year long history!

We’d be grateful if you could let all your friends and neighbours know about this new plan to open up St Oswald’s between the hours of 8.30am and dusk every Wednesday, beginning on Wednesday 07 September 2016. Please feel free to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee whilst you are here, if you wish, and there will be a small library of books to dip into and some other occasional resources available to help you relax and focus your mind. We have a permanently well-stocked Children’s Corner too, so please don’t hesitate to bring along any small children you happen to have in your care that day: they will of course be welcome to come and play alongside you, as long as you remember to keep at least one eye open as you pray, to make sure your baby or toddler remains safe! And of course as you know there are baby-changing facilities and loos alongside our main entrance. Before you leave, please do also write a comment (signed or not, as you like) in our new Visitors’ Book, so that we can pick up on anything you have found helpful, or any new suggestions you may have for us to consider, or perhaps simply mentioning anyone or anything you would like us to include in our prayers on the following day at our regular Thursday morning 9.30am Communion service. Thank you.

May the God of care and compassion, who seeks to offer each of us a whole range of opportunities for relaxation, refreshment and renewal of purpose, bless our church and community this autumn and always.

Veronica

Farewells

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.

White-Nancy-Arch2I 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).

Waiting, Waving, Praying

A letter for June 2016 from our Curate Michael Fox

In early May the Christian church celebrates two festivals which never quite hold the limelight in the manner of Christmas or Easter or even Harvest. The first, Ascension, marks the endpoint of Christ’s bodily presence on earth. The second, Pentecost, celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit – the outpouring of the Spirit’s blessing upon those few early believers assembled in Jerusalem.

Ascension and Pentecost are best experienced in relation to one another. Ascension asks us to think about the first disciples as they undergo yet another parting from Jesus. “Are you finally going to restore the Kingdom of Israel to its rightful place?” they ask Jesus on the way up Mount Olivet. “No,” says Jesus, “it’s down to you to build the Kingdom of my Father. But you will not be alone. Didn’t I promise that the Holy Spirit would come to you and be with you, giving you guidance and authority? Go back to Jerusalem to wait and to pray.”

At Pentecost a few days later the Holy Spirit was indeed poured out upon the believers gathered in a house in Jerusalem, and so the church was born, ‘baptised with the Holy Spirit and fire,’ as John the Baptist had foretold.

thykingdomcomeThis year the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued an invitation to all Christians across the UK to take part in a ‘wave of prayer’ during the period between Ascension and Pentecost. The Archbishops invited us all to spend a week in prayer for a renewed confidence in sharing the Gospel. Since our Patron Saint, Oswald, was much concerned with confidence and courage, it seemed like a good invitation to accept. Twenty members of the church signed up to pray the Lord’s Prayer each day and for five friends or family members to know Jesus more deeply. Some members signed up to help create prayer stations in church based on the Lord’s Prayer. Some brave souls also signed up for a prayer walk around part of Bollington.

The prayer stations were created all around the church and were woven into the fabric of the Thursday morning Eucharist and the Family Communion on the Sunday of Pentecost itself. Each station took a line or couplet of the Lord’s Prayer and created an immersive environment in which to sit and allow God to speak ‘between the lines’. The stations ranged in concept from a table set for a meal, with representations of our basic daily needs, to a tent with a ‘heavenly ceiling’ and a rug to lie on. There was an opportunity to ‘wipe the slate clean’ at the Forgiveness table and an opportunity to think about how Thy will’ is done throughout the cycle of life. A pillar became a tree dressed with tempting apples while in the chancel there was a declaration of ‘Holy ground’ and the opportunity to kneel in response to the holiness of God’s name.

Part of the intention was to investigate different ways of praying, involving the whole of one’s body, mind and spirit, and to explore the heights, depths and breadths of the prayer we often pray without pausing to let its wisdom shape us and enfold us.

Of course the intention of the Wave of Prayer is to equip us for mission, to give us the confidence that the Holy Spirit brings. This mission started during the week with visits from 3 different classes from Bollington Cross School, continued with prayer stations set up by invitation at St. John’s and Dean Valley schools (during the stressful period of the SATS tests) and developed as we took our first faltering steps in the art of prayer-walking around the streets of Bollington. This is a simple way of blessing the community we live in, walking and pausing to pray for residents, businesses, shoppers, walkers as well as all those who help to make Bollington a safe and secure community in which all can thrive.

I hope and pray that some of these new ways of praying and blessing will stay with us as we venture on into summer. If you are out for a walk in the town, why not stop and say a prayer for someone nearby? And don’t forget to (prayer) wave as you pass by St Oswald’s!

Michael

Vicar’s Letter – May 2016

vicars letter003For a whole week this March we had the privilege of leading about 350 children from our local community through another “Easter Experience” here in St Oswald’s. The difficult and moving story lived out by Jesus and his friends, from the hosannas of Palm Sunday through to the alleluias of Easter Day, was portrayed by three trustworthy women witnesses, Beverley Nixon, Sue Berry and Jo Belfield, accompanied by reflections from the Vicar. It was a pleasure to listen and respond to the children and staff of our schools and to explore with them the very human experiences of celebration, companionship, betrayal, courage, cruelty, sorrow, solidarity, kindness, grief, loss, and finally, delight in life and hope restored. Then on Good Friday morning, Beverley offered a captivating Craft Trail around the church, in which parents and their young children together discovered the Way of the Cross, assisted by Helen Nixon and three members of our RiCH After-School Group who graciously served refreshments and willingly moved furniture (these same lads had helped out the previous weekend at our grand Church Spring Clean too!). Witnessing some of our younger children trying to make sense of what happened to “Baby Jesus” when he grew up was a humbling and literally “wonder-full” experience. Anyone who thinks of children as disruptive in church would have done well instead to have dared to share that special Holy Week and Good Friday journey alongside these thoughtful and insightful young members of our community.

It seems to me that sometimes children demonstrate a sharper sense of spiritual hearing than we adults do, an apparent ability to hear the voice of God which perhaps we have become deaf to over the years, maybe thinking we already know what God wants and not listening out keenly enough for the fresh challenges God might be calling us to? One of those challenges for future consideration here at St Oswald’s is the idea of literally keeping our doors open more often. Last autumn we tried it very successfully after Teddy, one of our Year One children, asked his parents what it meant to be a refugee, picking up on all the coverage on the news. On having their desperate plight explained to him, Teddy’s immediate and straightforward reaction was, “We should help them!” At our next Growth Action Planning Meeting later that week, we woke up to the childlike simplicity of this call for us to show practical kindness. We organised an emergency Appeal whereby St Oswald’s became a temporary drop-off point for much-needed supplies, which were then transported on to the charity Refugees Aid in North West England, based at Warrington. The wider community of Bollington too responded readily to this Appeal to help people displaced from their homes, calling into our church throughout the day for six weeks from Monday 21 September until Friday 23 October. They brought along life-saving items of clothing, shoes, tents, toiletries and foodstuffs for onward distribution, and some also took the chance to spend a moment or two praying for a peaceful solution to the terrible conflicts and wars that cause people to flee their homes in the first place. During Lent, Tobias, another of our young church members, sent me a heartfelt letter urging us to pray for the children of Syria, again having seen coverage of their plight on the news. Thank you to Teddy and Tobias for spurring us all into action, and to all the willing volunteers who opened and closed the church last autumn and helped to sort the huge piles of donated goods, and especially to Hannah, Dave and Beverley who acted as unpaid hauliers to take the much-needed supplies to the central distribution point. Apart from helping those in need, opening our church doors must give us food for thought about the benefits of unlocking our doors more often…Why not come along to our next Growth Action Planning meeting here in church between 10am and 11am on Saturday 4 June, and share your thoughts and ideas about this or any other venture you may feel we as a local church could embark upon.

Last summer we celebrated with our part-time Assistant Curate, Michael Fox, when he was ordained priest at Chester Cathedral. Michael has continued to develop his ministry among us, including taking a full part preaching and presiding now in our Communion services on Sundays and Thursday mornings, leading Creative Writing Groups, offering a series of homilies based on the elements of the Eucharistic liturgy, working with myself and Beverley in leading our evolving family-friendly services, now on both the First and the Third Sundays of each month, contributing to our discussions at PCC meetings and also convening our Marketing and Communications Group which is looking to find new ways of encouraging financial sustainability, initiating for instance our recent “Easy Peasy” fundraising venture. I am grateful that Michael’s presence on our staff team has enabled me to take advantage of an overdue period of sabbatical leave for three months (April, May and June). Although, during my absence on sabbatical, the Churchwardens are primarily in charge of Bollington Church and Michael is still only available for 12 hours a week of parish ministry, I’m hoping this experience will stand him in good stead for when he subsequently takes up his new part-time post as Priest-in-charge of St Paul’s Macclesfield, as from 31 August 2016! We shall be sorry to see him go, but nevertheless in my other capacity as the Rural Dean, I am also pleased Michael will be filling one of the four current clergy vacancies in parishes in our Macclesfield Deanery!

At our recent Vestry Meeting on 21 March, Christine Osbaldiston and Liz Thomas were elected as our two Churchwardens for the coming year. It seems that (like our out-going Churchwarden Jackie Pengelly) both their fathers have served as Churchwardens in the past, so they both have a head start in understanding the role! They will be sworn in officially at the Archdeacon’s Visitation service on Monday 16 May at 7.30pm at St George’s Stockport. Do go along to this service, especially if you are a sidesperson or a member of the PCC, and please offer them both your prayers and your support now and over the coming year, as they seek to serve our church and wider community in this important role. During our subsequent Annual Parochial Church Meeting on that first day of Spring, we elected six new members onto the PCC, including Rachel Lake and Julie Brunt, so please also pray for this new Council whose task it is to listen to members of our congregation and our local community and to help discern the best way forward for our church in mission and ministry.

May God bless us all as we work together, young and old, to serve God to the best of our ability and to grow in faith and holiness as we follow the Christian way of truth, kindness and peace, empowered not by old prejudices or preconceptions from the past but by the ever-living, ever-challenging and ever-loving Holy Spirit celebrated afresh at Pentecost!

Veronica