Vicar’s Letter – November 2017

If November is a month both for remembrance of the pity of war and also celebration of friends and loved ones lost from our sight and touch, then December is a month both for reflection on our own mortality and also thanksgiving for the joys to come. The Church offers us the season of Advent as a time of preparation, not just for Christmas but also for some (hopefully distant) future time when our earthly life’s journey will reach its end. This certainly doesn’t mean these next few weeks should be all doom and gloom! Rather it means that between now and the end of the year we have opportunities to celebrate the gift of life and the legacies left to us by others, as well as to consider what our own legacy will be, what we will be remembered for, what positive difference we might make to the wellbeing of the world and of the people entrusted to our care.

You are warmly invited to come and spend some time here at St Oswald’s over the course of one particular December weekend, when you can take a break from “retail therapy” and enjoy some reflective, relaxing, quiet, contemplative time in good company and with God!

On Saturday 16 December, we are offering you the chance to spend part or all of the day in church, when we might explore some Advent themes in a whole variety of ways. The Quiet Day will begin with coffee/tea at 9.30am, leading into the first of a succession of “thoughts for the day” from the Vicar at 10.00am, followed by some optional creative activities/prayer aids/reading material to help you settle into the silence as the day progresses. There will be interludes when we break for a simple lunch at 12.30pm, for tea/coffee (and cake?!) at 3.30pm, and for a further simple sustaining snack at 6.30pm, then we’ll finally close our Quiet Day by sharing Compline (Night Prayer) at 9.30pm. My intention is that people may like to come and go during the break times, with the chance to stay for as long or as short a time as they wish, but with those specific transitional refreshment intervals offering an easy point at which to arrive or depart without undue disruption to others.

On Sunday 17 December, as always everyone is welcome to share in our informal Third Sunday Family Communion at 10.30am. Then, later on, you are invited to return at 3.00pm to round off the whole weekend with another kind of feast – this time to join in singing Carols by Candlelight, followed by seasonal refreshments and then enjoy listening to music played on our pipe organ, appreciating its newly re-furbished bellows (achieved thanks to your generosity in fundraising once again)!

So this whole weekend will be something of an Advent Adventure! Please do make a note of it all in your personal Advent Calendar – a great seasonal opportunity to open the doors of your heart and mind to God’s angelic message, as Christ humbly comes to greet us here, asking to be let into our busy lives and offering us perhaps a gently challenging, as well as powerfully refreshing, glimpse of heaven.

Every blessing,
Veronica

19th Sunday after Trinity 2017

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?
Matthew 22.15-22
Brian Reader

Good morning to you all. Firstly on behalf of Anne Coomes and myself I would like to thank all of you who came to Chester Cathedral on 21 October to support the Readers who were being licenced, transferred or made Emeritus. I hope you found the service as uplifting and enjoyable as we did.

Today is the 19th Sunday after Trinity, and we are rapidly approaching the end of the Church’s year. Apart from it being the 109th birthday of St. Oswald Church there is nothing really special about today, which enables us to concentrate on the readings we heard from Matthew’s Gospel.

The story is well known but still important, and I was trying to think of a way to make it a bit more easily understood. Just imagine you are standing in the Palace of Westminster and the great British public asks, “Is it right that we pay vast sums of money to the European Union?” So the wise man (or woman), said, “Show me your coinage,” and he/ she was shown a pound coin with twelve edges. “Whose head is this on the coin?”, and the crowd said, “It is the Queen of England”. I will let you guess what was said next.

A country’s coinage is very important. Had we changed to the Euro some years ago, I doubt if we would or could have even contemplated Brexit today, as we would have been much more closely linked in with, and locked into, the European Union. And if Brexit fails, then the EU politicians have already said that their vision is for a European state with one currency, so the pound would have to go.

As I’ve said, the nation’s currency is very important and it is surprising to learn from this passage that the Romans allowed the Jews to use their own coinage, even if it was only to be used in the temple. The Romans even allowed Temple guards and this was one of the reasons that Jesus was handed over to be crucified, to protect the few perks the Romans allowed the Jews to keep.

But back to the story. This question, which the Pharisees put to Jesus, had an obvious double edge. The issue of paying tax to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East in Jesus’ day. Imagine how you’d like it if you woke up one morning and discovered that people from the other end of the world had marched in to your country and demanded that you pay them tax as the reward for having your land stolen! That sort of thing still causes riots and revolutions, and it had done just that when Jesus was growing up in Galilee.

One of the most famous Jewish leaders when Jesus was a boy, a man called Judas (a good revolutionary name in the Jewish world), had led a revolt precisely on this issue. The Romans had crushed it mercilessly, leaving crosses around the countryside, with dead and dying revolutionaries on them, as a warning that paying the tax was compulsory, not optional.
The Pharisees’ question came, as we would say, with a health warning. Tell people they shouldn’t pay tax, and you might end up on a cross. On the other hand, anyone leading a Kingdom-of-God movement would be expected to oppose the tax, or face the ridicule and resentment of the people. Surely the whole point of God becoming king was that Caesar wouldn’t be? If Jesus wasn’t intending to get rid of the tax and all that it meant, what had they followed him for all the way from Galilee? Why had they all shouted Hosanna a few days earlier?

If Jesus had been a politician on a television programme, you can imagine the audience’s delight, and the producer’s glee, when someone asked this question. This one will really give him a hard time.

Before Jesus answers, he asks them for a coin. Or rather, asking them for a coin is really the beginning of his answer, the start of a strategic outflanking move. When they produce the coin, the dinar that was used to pay the tax, they are showing that they themselves are handling the hated currency. Among the reasons it was hated was what was on the coin. Jews weren’t allowed to put images of people, human faces, on their coins; but Caesar, of course, had his image stamped on his and around the edge of the coin, proclaiming to all the world who he was, Caesar had words that would send a shudder through any loyal or devout Jew. ‘Son of God… high priest’ – was that who Caesar thought he was? How could any Jew be happy to handle stuff like that?

We watch the scene as Jesus takes the coin from them, like someone being handed a dead rat. He looks at it with utter distaste. ‘Whose is this… image?’ And who is it who gives himself an inscription like that?’

He’s already shown what he thinks of Caesar, but he hasn’t said anything that could get him into trouble. He has turned the question around, and is ready to throw it back at them. ‘It’s Caesar’s,’ they reply’, stating the obvious, but admitting that they themselves carry Caesar’s coinage. ‘Well then,’ says Jesus, you’d better pay Caesar back in his own coin, hadn’t you?’

Astonishment. What did he mean? ‘Paying Caesar back in his own coin’ sounded like revolution; but standing there with the coin in his hand it sounded as though he was saying: ‘you should pay the tax, and you’d better pay God back in his own coin, too!’ More astonishment. Did he mean that the kingdom of God was more important than the kingdom of Caesar, after all? Or what?

Let’s be clear. Jesus wasn’t trying to give an answer, for all time, on the relationship between God and political authority. That wasn’t the point. He was countering the Pharisees’ challenge to him with a sharp challenge in return. Wasn’t it, after all, they who were compromised? Had they really given full allegiance to their God? Were they themselves playing games, Keeping Caesar happy while speaking of God?

We can only fully understand what Jesus was doing when we see his answer in the light of the whole story. Jesus knew – he had already told the disciples – that he was himself going to be crucified, to share the fate of the tax-rebels of his boyhood. He wasn’t trying to wriggle out of personal or political danger. He was continuing to walk straight towards it.

But he was doing so on his own terms.

His vocation was not to be the sort of revolutionary they had known in the past. The kingdom of God would defeat the empire of Caesar, and the world, not by conventional means, but by the victory of God’s love and power over the even the great empire of death itself.

Yours is the majesty, O Lord our God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirt;
Yours is the kingdom and the Power;
Yours be the glory now and evermore.
AMEN

Our Readers

Anne Coomes and Brian Reader have been with us for some time now, but at a special service at Chester Cathedral they were officially licensed to our parish.

A coach-load of parishioners were able to attend the service.

 

 


Eternal Giver of love and life,
Your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission
and help us to live the good news we proclaim,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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

Season of Creation: 1 September – 4 October 2017

 

In 2015, in the spirit of his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis instituted the annual “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” on 1st September.

A number of Christian bodies including the Orthodox and the World Council of Churches have for some time promoted the period from 12 September until the Feast of St Francis of Assisi on 4t October as a time of wonder, thanksgiving and praise.

You are warmly invited to join in some or all of this period of daily reflection, enjoyment and action as stewards of creation.
Events and services will take place at St Alban’s and St Michael’s and St Peter’s Prestbury and elsewhere.

Download more information and a day-by-day calendar of events here

A new vicarage for Bollington!

The old vicarage

As reported in a previous blog item, Veronica and Dave have moved out of the old vicarage on Shrigley Road, which has now been sold. They bought their own house in Tytherington, just outside the parish boundary and will continue to live there for the foreseeable future. The diocese and the PCC are happy with this arrangement and Veronica will continue to be our Vicar for a good while yet!

The proceeds of the sale have allowed the diocese to purchase a new, more practical vicarage for the parish of Bollington. This is a brand-new house, located behind Bollington Medical Centre on the Bellway Waterhouse Mill development. The new vicarage will be rented out* until the time comes for a new Vicar of Bollington to be appointed at some future date. The new Vicarage is well-located right at the heart of Bollington, has a manageable garden, and is well insulated to keep energy bills to affordable levels.

The new property was inspected by the Diocesan Surveyor, the Archdeacon of Macclesfield and the delighted present incumbent this week.

*The “To Let” sign is already up!