Once or twice a year I venture up the steep hill to look at the view from White Nancy! From there on a clear day I can take in the whole panorama of my parish, picking out the hidden chimney tops of the Vicarage at one end and the distinctive red roof of St Oswald’s Church at the other end, with Kerridge nestling just out of sight in the valley between. Whilst I recover my breath after the slow climb (yes, I know I’d get fitter if I tried going up there more regularly!), I always take the opportunity to pray for the people and places I am called to serve here in this beautiful part of Cheshire. I also give thanks for my many predecessors who have ministered as Vicars and Assistant Curates in the Parish of Bollington, especially mentioning some of my favourites: George Palmer the first Vicar, who opened St John’s School and built Bollington Cross School, but after thirteen years sadly died from overwork and anxiety about the financial burdens of the church, and Charles Brooke-Gwynne, who in his thirteen years as incumbent had the vision to oversee the building of our Vicarage, Holy Trinity Kerridge and St Oswald’s Bollington Cross, whilst simultaneously moving a lot of the furniture around in St John’s Parish Church, including making it a more flexible worship space by replacing the original pews with chairs! As someone who so far has only served eight years in the parish, I hope (God willing) to survive well enough until my retirement within the next five years, if possible unscathed by too many financial worries and having helped in my time to encourage similarly constructive developments in the ever-changing life and work of our local church community.
As the school year comes to an end once more, we enjoy the longer summer days and look forward to some leisure time, whether in joyful company or in blessed solitude. Being part of a church community can be a valued feature of many people’s lives, whether it seems a passing phase or a more constant guiding star. Last month we celebrated with Michael, our Assistant Curate, his evolving ministerial calling in our midst as he was ordained to the priesthood. This July sees yet another batch of Year Six children leaving their familiar primary schools and looking forward to joining us next term at RiCH! Of course some of our older teens, like James, are busy planning an autumn move farther afield to the greater independence afforded by university or college life. Other people, like Angela, Viki and Eddie, find themselves now at a crossroads in terms of deciding to move house elsewhere in the country to be nearer their children, and though we will naturally miss each of their unique contributions to our worshipping life here, we do wish them well as they settle into their new abodes. Clearly for many in our community these summer months are a real time of transition, in the throes of which we are urged to hold on especially firmly to St Oswald’s motto: Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go…
And as we notice the changing seasons, with a mixture of sadness for our loss and yet thanksgiving for lives well lived, we mark the recent passing of others who are dear to us, especially our good friend Peggy, a faithful member of our congregation, who even in time of illness had a sparkle in her eye and whose lively yet thoughtful presence we will miss very much. Yet even as old and trusted companions pass from our sight, we are equally blessed to greet new friends, especially the very young as they venture in, shyly at first, through our church doors, maybe for Praise and Play or Who Let The Dads Out or for a christening, and having found a home here, then to worship with us at Family Services. May we recognise in these little ones that same delight in life that those (like Peggy) who are older and wiser take care never to lose. Because of the relaxed welcome their children receive, parents are encouraged themselves to take further steps as companions with us in the Way of Christ, as we saw happen with our three recent candidates for Confirmation. Whatever our age and at whatever stage in our life’s journey, old and young together, may God truly bless our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and for evermore.
At the Vestry Meeting before our Annual Parochial Church Meeting at the end of April, you elected your two Churchwardens for 2015/16: I’m pleased to say Jackie Pengelly was willing to serve another year and Christine Osbaldiston has been elected in place of Sue Whitehurst who, after serving the parish faithfully as Churchwarden, had come to the end of her possible six years in this role. Alongside Jackie and Christine I look forward to continuing to seek God’s will in our way forward as a worshipping community. We also are fortunate to have a newly elected member of our PCC, Sally Garnett, who is willing to serve as our new Treasurer. Many thanks once again go to her two excellent predecessors in that role, Ray Mills and Mike Hall, without whose dedication and skill we literally would have been so much the poorer! We are currently on the look-out for a new PCC Secretary, as Chris Ward has indicated that he’d prefer to relinquish this role, after nearly six years dedicated service, so watch this space! The people inhabiting these four roles (Churchwardens, Secretary and Treasurer) form what we call the Ministry Team, alongside the clergy, who take a lead in formulating the agenda for our PCC Meetings and try to keep an overview of what’s happening in the parish generally (although we have not so far trekked up to White Nancy to do this bit!?) If this is something you feel you might like to join us in doing in the role of PCC Secretary, then do let me know.
This month sees another exciting development in our life together! Our Assistant Curate, Revd Michael Fox, will be going forward for ordination as a Priest in the Church of God (can it really only be a year since he joined us as a Deacon?!). The ordination service will be at Chester Cathedral at 5.00pm on Saturday 20 June and members of the parish are very warmly invited to attend! Please pray for Michael as he prepares for this next important stage in his faith journey. In the service, the Bishops and some invited clergy (including me as Michael’s training incumbent!) will come forward to lay hands on Michael’s head, asking God to continue to inspire and encourage him in his ministry and to bless him as he becomes a priest, authorised from then on to pronounce God’s absolution and blessing and to preside at Holy Communion. Those who were able to attend the recent Confirmation Service at St Michael’s Macclesfield will know how moving that sacramental act of laying on of hands can be, in that case Bishop Libby blessing our three young Mums (Alison, Rachel and Nicola) and praying for God’s Spirit to encourage and inspire them in their life of faith. (I’m sure the three of them have since that evening looked ten foot taller as a result of their experience!?)
Michael will be presiding at our Parish Communion service for the first time at 10.30am on Sunday 21 June, followed by drinks and light refreshments to celebrate this great occasion in our parish! Please do make a note in your diary to be there for this Sunday service, which, although it falls on a Third Sunday of the month, we have decided will best be in the form of our “regular” Parish Communion on this occasion and so we’ll not be using the “Family Communion” books this time – though of course children and families are, as on every Sunday morning in our church, very welcome to attend! That day happens also to be both Father’s Day (we probably won’t need to start calling our Curate “Father Michael” though!) and the 200th Celebration of White Nancy in Bollington (and in Rainow, who do make some territorial claim on this lovely local folly too!). So there promises to be much to celebrate that particular weekend!
May God richly bless all of us as we seek to overcome whatever “enemies” we encounter in life (praying that we may be victorious in finding hope and peace when meeting our personal Waterloos in times of illness or bereavement). May each of us truly know ourselves to be “called by name” by God in Christ and to be empowered every day by God’s Holy Spirit, to work and witness in our various places of employment or leisure, amongst friends and family, and equally in the company of strangers we meet along our way. May we be enabled, young or old, ordained or lay, to fulfil our true potential as servants of Christ, this day and always.
The first Sunday after Easter is what people call “Low Sunday”. The flamboyant earrings are put away for another year…the chocolate eggs are all eaten…(particular thanks, by the way, for the delicious little box of eggs left for me in the vestry, coming from that most heavenly of all holiday resorts: “Hotel Chocolat”!) …and now after all the drama of Easter, it’s back to work as usual. So I guess we can readily identify with those Gospel stories of Jesus’ disciples gathered again in the Upper Room, after the trauma of Good Friday, coping with what they felt were unlikely and unsubstantiated rumours of the Resurrection, put about by “some of the women”, and as a group generally not feeling very optimistic at all about the future.
Sometimes I think your average Parochial Church Council is the natural successor of that small group – huddled together in a small room somewhere set apart, behind closed doors, discussing a little gloomily the state of the church finances and whether or not we have a future at all. Maybe we are not always aware of Christ stepping into our midst and calling for “Peace!” Occasionally as a group we are tempted to give up and follow our ancestor St Peter out through the door, saying in effect “Blow this for a lark! I’m going fishing!”, and then being surprised and delighted to encounter Jesus already out there in ordinary everyday life, cooking a simple breakfast on the lakeside. (Perhaps our equivalent is finding bacon butties on offer for our new Dads’ and Grandads’ group on the fourth Saturday of each month!) Daring to go beyond our walls, to keep asking questions about what’s important and to push our boundaries of expectation, reminds me of how amazed and delighted we were, just two years ago, to hear Christ speaking words of encouragement through people “out there” who told us they were so pleased to be asked their opinion about what kind of artwork should adorn the redundant doorway of our church extension, the splendid new addition to an old and well-loved building which in essence is both “ours” and “theirs”: clearly the Parish Church of Bollington, open for all.
Each year around this time at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting, I believe Christ breathes his Spirit afresh on those we have chosen as our representatives to serve as Churchwardens and on the PCC, empowering them to pray, study and act in his name, so that the good news of forgiveness and love can be spread and increasing numbers of people are enriched and transformed and enlivened for the good of the whole community and thus we become some of the “many other signs” St John refers to towards the end of his Gospel, and as St Paul puts it, we become “living stones”, building God’s kingdom on earth.
Amongst the Bible readings set for Low Sunday, we heard of that very down-to-earth disciple, St Thomas, “known as the Twin”. Let’s just focus for a moment on that almost throwaway description, “the Twin”. The Bible tells us nothing about Thomas’s twin brother or sister; we can only imagine that somewhere out there, outside the Upper Room, Thomas treasured a deep intimacy of shared life experience with another human being; in other words, he had a natural affinity and connectedness with at least one other person beyond the group of disciples and his close friend Jesus. Sometimes people who come regularly to church find that those closest to them, their families and friends, just “don’t get it”, and don’t understand the attraction of this church-going thing at all. Maybe your wife or husband or children say they’ve tried it and it’s just not for them – “After all you can be a perfectly good person without going to church, can’t you?” Maybe Thomas felt a similar disappointment in those circumstances, when his twin sister or brother declined to come with him to see what it was all about. And it’s so hard to explain your faith, isn’t it, even to those nearest and dearest to you?
In the penultimate chapter of John’s Gospel, we hear of Thomas the Twin coming back into the group on the evening of the very first Easter Day, but finding he’d just missed out on an unbelievably powerful encounter with the risen Christ! After all that! Having followed Jesus faithfully for the past three years and never having been afraid to get to grips with the painful and difficult questions, he missed hearing the definitive answer with his own ears! Remember Thomas had been the one at the Last Supper to interrupt when Jesus was mysteriously trying to explain that “his hour had come”. “But, hang on a minute, Lord,” says Thomas, “We do not know where you are going! How can we know the way?!” And this elicits the clear and resoundingly memorable words we often hear at that common deeply traumatic time of transition when someone we love has died: Jesus says to Thomas, and to each of us who seek authentic answers to life’s agonising mysteries: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life… Peace I give you, not as the world gives… Do not let your hearts be troubled… neither let them be afraid!” (a response finding an echo of course for us in St Oswald’s excellent motto 600 years later!)
All human endeavour and discovery comes from often a small group of people not just taking things at face value, but painstakingly and sometimes at great personal cost, probing deeper into the mysteries and complexities of the created order. Jesus said equally memorably elsewhere in the Gospels: “Ask, and you will receive; Seek, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”…. in other words (especially resonant with those who have been on a Cursillo Weekend): PRAY, STUDY, ACT! (Incidentally, please do ask the Vicar about joining her on the next Cursillo Weekend taking place in Crewe from 21 to 24 May! I wonder whether God may be courteously holding open that door for you this month, inviting you to take advantage of being treated to three whole days away – absolutely free of charge! – in the company of friends, with plenty of cake, but more importantly, the luxury of time to pay attention to yourself as God’s precious child on your unique journey of faith. Worth asking, don’t you think?!)
Once again as the Easter season unfolds into Pentecost, we celebrate St Thomas, affirmed in his continuing quest for Truth and Life by the risen Jesus. Tradition has it that Thomas went on with great courage to preach the message of new life and hope through Christ to the people of India who, like our friends in the Delhi Brotherhood, remain today acutely conscious of a need to respond creatively in the face of human vulnerability and mortality. May we learn to recognise in Thomas the face of our own Twin Self, asking deep questions, reaching out to be in touch with God through prayer, social action and the sacraments of bread and wine, and seeking new meaning in all the complexities and woundedness of our own relationships, choosing to renew our baptismal promises to go on being followers of “The Way”.
Every blessing this Easter and always,