Precious in the sight of God

Canon Roy Arnold

I think that I can take it for granted that most of us now have had enough of Elections! It’s sad that something so important can seem so tedious, but I want you to spare a thought today for those who have been unsuccessful in their attempts to get elected in Local Government Elections, but especially in Elections to get into (or back into) Parliament. When I was at General Synod a few years ago I had a long conversation with someone who had just lost his seat in Parliament. He was – to put it mildly – absolutely devastated by the experience of going from someone being in power to being just one of yesterday’s men; from being one of the chosen (elected ones) to being unemployed (give or take a few directorships), not to speak of the loss of self-esteem.

But actually I want to contrast this man’s experience to our Bible readings for today, where we were reminded by God and God’s Son Jesus who said YOU DID NOT CHOSE ME; BUT I CHOSE YOU. Do you see what this means? That God chooses, and we all of us (as it were) GET IN; we are all of us elected, not because we deserve to, but simply because GOD loves us. And this is God’s gracious experiment with humanity, which he began long ago it with his first Chosen People the Jews, whose story is told in the Old Testament. Of how they were by and large disobedient, so much so that God had to send his only begotten Son – Jesus – to redeem (that is to rescue) Mankind and (in the process) to make us into a new and enlarged Chosen Race. Jews and Non-Jews and the whole human race, and all this bearing in mind that God in his great love for us does not force our obedience.

He actually wants us to be his friends – and certainly not his slaves – hence his gift to us all of Free Will. In other words, although he has chosen us, he gives us the choice NOT to be his friends, which most of us do from time to time – in choosing not to be friends with God – in things petty like sheer meanness and peevishness, or by totally fundamental mistakes like the Holocaust or World Wars, ignoring the command of Jesus THAT WE MUST, WE MUST, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. First loving and serving God and then our neighbours.

Psalm 146 reminds us of this when it tells us: As long as we have any being we must sing praise (and worship) our God… not putting our trust in princes nor in any human power (Conservative, Labour, not even UKIP) for there is no help in them. And the psalm goes on to remind us that what counts is providing justice for those who suffer wrong and bread to those who hunger (as we aim to do through Christian Aid Week which begins today) lifting up those who are bowed down… with the strangers in our land and the orphan and the widow.

Because our God (out of his great love) chose us to be his friends, and friends and followers of Jesus his Son, and to go out into our everyday lives to tell other people about Jesus; not by door-stepping them or delivering pamphlets, or arguing with them or threatening them, but instead by helping them when they need help and maybe (secretly of course) praying for them, or by lots of ways trying our very best to follow Jesus ourselves. But (surprisingly) not by trying and trying to love God and Jesus but by LETTING GOD AND JESUS LOVE US.

That is our task – to let God love us. To let God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit love us, being open to the love of God. For it is only when we know ourselves to be loved that we can (as God’s chosen and elected people) be loving ourselves. And knowing that we are precious in the sight of God.

Acts 10:44-end
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

1 John 5.1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

John 15.9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

Vicar’s Letter May 2015

vicars letter003The 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,
Veronica
Doubting Thomas (Bernardo Strozzi)
Doubting Thomas (Bernardo Strozzi)

“God has called you by name and made you His own”

Three members of Saint Oswald’s family were confirmed by our new Bishop of Stockport at St Michael & All Angels, Macclesfield on 28 April 2015, along with other candidates from the Macclesfield area. It was a joyful occasion. Bishop Libby preached on how each of us is known by name, and one of the names that we may be known by is ‘Christian’. At the end of the service, all the newly confirmed and received candidates processed down the nave, each bearing their own lighted candle, and were photographed in the foyer where they were greeted warmly by friends and family including two small sleepy children very proud of their mums!

Each of the candidates was given a book and a certificate, signed after the service by Bishop Libby, while certain other clergy practised holding a bishop’s staff…

Acts 11, 19-26

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.

New Bishop of Stockport

Revd Libby Lane – the Church of England’s first woman bishop

It had been announced that Libby Lane was to become the Suffragan Bishop of Stockport on 17 December 2014. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, called her appointment “historic” and “an important step forward for the Church towards greater equality in its senior positions.”

Consecration at York Minster

libby2

Bishop Libby was consecrated at York Minster on 26 January 2015 by John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. When the archbishop asked the congregation if Lane should be consecrated as a bishop the service was briefly interrupted by a priest, Paul Williamson, who exclaimed “It’s not in the Bible” and called Lane’s being a woman an “absolute impediment”. There was no opposition when Sentamu – having carefully explained the legality of the act – asked a second time.

Click here for a link to the BBC News article about the Consecration Service.

Installation at Chester Cathedral

Bishop Libby was installed at a packed Chester Cathedral on Sunday 8 March 2015 (International Women’s Day). A number of our congregation were able to attend the ceremony.

libby4

Describing the service of installation like a “homecoming”, she said: “I continue to feel deeply grateful for the honour of this calling and the privilege of exercising it in this place. Expectations are high, and I too am excited by the possibilities and challenges ahead.”


Earlier…

veronica-and-libby-lane

Veronica congratulates Libby on her new appointment on the day it was announced at Stockport Town Hall (Picture by Kippa Matthews)

Libby-Lane-with-Archbishop

Before the service at St Paul’s Cathedral in May 2014 to celebrate 20 years of ordained women’s ministry, Veronica invited Archbishop Justin to “come and meet Libby Lane”, which he duly did. Libby is on the right of the picture below, with Jane Maycock on the left together with the only man in the group picture. Jane and Libby and were at Cranmer Hall Theological College, Durham together.

st-pauls-10

Veronica was photographed just afterwards along with Katy Hacker-Hughes, who trained with Veronica at Westcott House Theological College, Cambridge – the “Westcott Women” all wore matching stoles for the occasion.

Improving drainage in the Churchyard

Thanks to the generous support of Bollington Town Council, the much needed drainage works have now begun at the west end of St John’s Churchyard, to alleviate the flooded areas that build up after heavy rainfall and which have caused difficulties of access periodically over many years to those who seek to pay their respects to the memory of loved ones buried here.

The works are being carried out by our sexton Allen Stringer, strictly in accordance with our professional surveyor’s drawings, with the advice and approval of our church architect and of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, and with the kind permission of the Archdeacon of Macclesfield.

Bollington Town Council has agreed to fund two-thirds of the cost of these works, which leaves us with the difficult task of raising the remaining £1,500 ourselves.

Any contributions from interested parishioners will therefore be gratefully received, on the understanding that any surplus money thus raised will be paid into the general account of our Parochial Church Council and that it will be available for use in meeting some of the many other bills we regularly face, including those for maintenance and repair of our church fabric.

(Please see the link to our Giving page.)

Thank you for your support!
Revd. Canon Veronica Hydon (Vicar of Bollington)

The light of Christ

Canon Roy Arnold

The other night when I couldn’t get off to sleep, I went downstairs to make myself a hot drink. I sat to sip it (without the light on) by the window when I noticed – to my surprise – a sinister black plant on the window ledge. I recognised it after a moment or two, as the crimson Poinsettia we had at Christmas. In the dark its bright red petal-leaves had taken on the blackness of the night.

Well last week was a pretty dark one I think – despite the brightness of the weather – with the terrible news of the young Jordanian pilot put to death, and the ongoing story of apathy in the face of the abuse of children and young women at Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Obviously sometimes we seem to take too much notice of breaking news from far away, while failing to recognise good news from around the corner, but there are occasions when the darkness can enter our own lives and homes when death or serious illness comes calling.

But our Gospel for today (from John ch 1) reminds us of the light which shines in all our darknesses, which light is Jesus, and which the darkness failed to overcome. In that reading from St John’s Gospel (which we normally hear at Christmas), the light from the infant Jesus seems like a little lantern in the dark corner of the stable at Bethlehem. But a light which grew as Jesus became a man, and shone out in his teaching and his gifts of healing, and finally in the expression of his love on the Cross, and three days later his gift of New Life for us all in his Resurrection.

In the Season of Lent – now almost upon us – we shall hope to prepare ourselves for Passiontide and Easter and maybe learn that the darkness of our world is down – not to a cruel and capricious God – but to the darkness which is within ourselves when we fail to see and follow the Wisdom and the Love of God. The Wisdom which is calling out to all of us as we heard in our first reading from Proverbs. But our Gospel for today told us that when Jesus came to live among us, his own people – the Jews – failed to recognise him because their minds preferred the darkness to the light. Like the fanatic Muslims and the young pilot they so brutally killed and like the Nazis whom we remembered last week who killed six million Jewish people – their minds darkened by thoughts of revenge or totally misguided ideologies and motives.

We are told in the New Testament of how Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, when he looked out over the city (knowing the terrible fate of the city and most of its people). We are told in just two poignant words: “Jesus wept”. He often must weep still at the thought of how the heart of humanity (which of course includes me and you) can so easily let the darkness overcome us, either by apathy, despair or downright evil.

All the more reason that we must try and try to follow this man called Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God and who came to be that light for all people. And who (even when his own people and we all rejected him) faced up to his death on the cross and said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”; then went on to bring us out into the light of Everlasting Life.

I was long asleep (I guess) when the dawn broke and the Crimson returned to the Poinsettia flowers and Christ’s glory filled the skies. Christ the true, the only light. And the Sun of righteousness triumphed o’er the shades of night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth – when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

John 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

Another road

Canon Roy Arnold

We are all familiar with the Three Wise Men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but let me tell yon this morning about one of the other main characters in this story.

King Herod, better known as Herod the Great, had quite a good reputation as the restorer of a ruined Jerusalem, rebuilder of a new temple and other grand schemes. He was generous to the poor after he once had some of his gold plates melted down and the proceeds given to feed the hungry, and he was bringer of 21 years of peace to his kingdom. Not bad.

But he had a flaw in his character. He was deeply suspicious of anyone who challenged his power and he actually murdered his wife and her mother because of this. And many another who threatened him which is why he gained the reputation of being a murderous old man, getting worse in his old age.

Imagine then how he felt when our Wise Men turned up asking about a new king just born. We know his response “Go and find this child” he said, “that I too may come and worship him”. But for “worship” he actually meant to MURDER him.

But the Wise Men were not called “wise” for nothing and when they had found Jesus and presented their gifts, we are told they went back home “by another road”, disappearing from the pages of the Bible and history leaving Herod the Great thwarted in his evil intent.

What lessons might we learn from this familiar story, I wonder? Perhaps we might ponder about the flaws we might have like Herod beneath our own good reputations and respectability, and wonder (or maybe know) that there might lurk another side to our characters; some shady or darker side. Psychologists tell us that we all have a shadow self, a dark side, such as Herod had in abundance. With us it can be envy of others, or jealousy, or greed. It might be an everyday fault like a wicked temper or irritability, or the need to control others at work or at home.

The plain fact is that these flaws spoil our lives, and when we add all the faults of humanity together they most certainly spoil our world. Just watch the News tonight to confirm that this is so.

And yet, there is an answer to all of this. There is always “another road” for us to take – as the Wise Men did – which I believe is the other road of love and forgiveness. In our own everyday lives and in the wider life of humanity, as taught by Jesus; the alternative route which He wants us to travel. The other road with Jesus by our side; and what better time to decide to travel this other road than at the start of this New Year.

I came across a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta the other day. She said: “Every work of love brings a person face to face with God, and simple acts of love and care keep the light of Christ burning”. Let us – me and you – keep this light of Christ burning through this New Year.

Going the other road with Him – His way. But always remembering that this road – this way – is not an easy route.

By no means easy.

motherTeresa

Knitting for Ugandan babies

The charity “Born on the Edge” is currently working on a project at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital in the east of Uganda. They are setting up a ward for babies that are born too soon or too small. These children are not able to control their body temperature properly and, even in a warm country like Uganda, need tiny hats, cardigans and blankets in order to keep warm enough to survive.
Our “Bollington Church News” editor, Katharine Howe, enlisted the help of a group of knitting volunteers among our congregation to help support the charity. On Sunday 14 December a large selection of knitted items was displayed at the front of the church to be be blessed before being packed to be sent off to Uganda. At this time in the Church’s year we remember how Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus in difficult circumstances far from home.
In early 2015 we heard of the discharge from hospital of the first baby to have a “Bollington hat”!
A big “Thank You” to all who have helped in this marathon effort, some of whom are shown in the group photo.