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.
This 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!