New War Memorial Extension

The original Bollington War Memorial was dedicated in November 1920. It is a simple sandstone cross with names inscribed around the base. At that time it was not envisaged that space for additional names would be needed only a couple of decades later, so the WW2 names had to be added wherever they would fit. The memorial is beginning to suffer from weathering of the relatively soft sandstone.
As part of the Commemoration of the Centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, it was decided to raise funds to renovate or upgrade our Bollington War Memorial. Experts advised that attempting to re-inscribe names on the existing sandstone was not a viable option. It was therefore decided to create an extension to the original memorial in the form of two panels positioned so as to “guard” the old memorial, which will remain in position.
Extensive research was carried out to find the names of World War casualties from Bollington who had not been included on the original memorial, as well as making a couple of corrections to names that had been wrongly inscribed previously. A committee was formed to decide upon the final list of names. The new panels show the missing names as well as those of all the casualties commemorated on the original memorial. Space has been left in case any additional casualties’ names need to be added in future.
A substantial grant was provided by Cheshire East Council. Bollington Town Council also provided a grant and the Mayor’s Fund (Councillor Amanda Stott) was dedicated to the project. Other funds were provided by members of the public. The stone came from Sycamore Quarries, the engraving was carried out by William Warburton and construction of the extension was by John Drabble & Son.
A new War Memorial extension at Bollington has been installed in the War Memorial Gardens. This includes all the names on the existing War Memorial (including a few corrections), as well as names of local WW1 casualties whose names were not previously listed. The two lists of names stand like two companies of soldiers guarding the old memorial.
The memorial extension was officially inaugurated at a short ceremony on Sunday 11 October 2015.
In the late summer sunshine, the old memorial casts its shadow across one of the new guardians. No breeze disturbs the Union Flag in the Memorial Gardens.
The War Memorial in 1920
The War Memorial in 1920

Vicar’s Letter October 2015

vicars letter003During September our Sunday sermons had a common theme: they were all about valuing, respecting and encouraging children’s spirituality. I wonder whether your own sense of God and of following the Way of Christ developed first when you were a child or whether it was something you only experienced on becoming an adult? Psalm 116 reminds us that God is gracious and listens to us and watches over each one of us: the ideal parenting model. Whether sudden or gradual, the transformation of our everyday lives is part of the deal as we grow up into spiritual maturity: we learn to accept our need of God, we accept we don’t know all the answers, and we accept that we need to rely not so much on what we consider to be our own resources, to get through life as best we can, but instead to trust in God’s providence, to lean on God’s grace and mercy and to embrace the transformative power of God’s love for each of us as his beloved children.
It’s worth considering what early influences there might have been that brought us to be part of a church congregation today. As children or as adults, hopefully we were encouraged to join in worship at a church somewhere along the line, by a parent, godparent, sibling, neighbour or friend. Equally well, sadly, on becoming parents ourselves, we may have been discouraged from joining a particular congregation because we received not smiles of understanding, but frowns of disapproval when our children dared to clatter around a bit or to speak in more than a whisper when an inconvenient question occurred to them during the service!? I have heard that this does still happen, even in a church like ours that prides itself on being welcoming!
It may seem strange to us adults who are familiar with coming into church buildings, that other people outside these walls may be a bit fearful of coming inside, not knowing what to expect, or what might be expected of them, if they do get beyond the threshold.
Over the years here at St Oswald’s we have offered a welcome for children and young people, especially in more recent years through our Schools’ Experience Weeks, and by developing our term-time Praise & Play and RiCH Groups, our monthly “Who Let The Dads Out” Saturday mornings or the Family Fun Days in holiday time. Through these encounters, some of our young parents, such as Nick, Rachel, Alison and Nicola, have come to Confirmation and their children have come to regard this place as somewhere to feel at home, hearing Bible stories retold in a way that makes sense to them and being encouraged at times to stop and listen alongside their friends to God’s voice. Amongst all the usual junk mail or stuff from the Diocese, I received an envelope in the post this week which held a lovely note from one family enclosing a tiny drawing. The note said: “Dear Veronica, Chloe made this for you after the Family Service today, so we thought we’d post it! Lots of love xxxx”.
chloe_arthurThe enclosed colourful picture shows what appears to be a family home with classic four windows and a door, but then surprisingly with a large cross attached to the side wall of the building, and the names of the four-year-old artist and her little brother written in the sky above the house, all under the umbrella of a large heart shape. I suppose you could interpret the drawing in many ways – it could of course simply be St Oswald’s Church with its stunning mosaic cross beside our entrance porch, but I like to think that Chloe’s picture intends to show the loving security and safety of her family’s own home, being very closely connected to their life of faith experienced here in church as well. Children who are nurtured and welcomed and cared for by the church (as I was myself many years ago) hopefully grow up to see Church as a significant and vital part of their life and well-being, leading on into adulthood too.
One of the enduring memories I have from my 1950’s childhood is of reading the Ladybird book, called “The Child of the Temple (The Story of Samuel)”. Though I no longer had a copy at home [Now I do, thanks to Roy and Hylda!], in my mind’s eye I can still see the picture on the front cover with the boy Samuel sitting up in his little bed under the temple sanctuary lamp, listening to God’s voice calling him by name. As the story unfolds, the child Samuel was encouraged by Eli (an old priest like me!) to respond to God’s call and to listen to the prophetic message that God wanted to speak through this young child, not necessarily a comfortable message, but one that had deep resonance in the history of the Hebrew people. It led to the adult Samuel anointing first Saul, then David, as King over Israel, David of course being the ancestor of Jesus himself. This ancient story points us to the fact that, amazingly, parents often dare to entrust us here with the care and nurture of their precious children (as Hannah, Samuel’s mother did, incredibly when the child was only just weaned – Hannah again being a spiritual ancestor of Jesus’ mother Mary, both singing to God the revolutionary and prophetic words we find in the first book of Samuel Chapter 2 and in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 1, which we know as the Magnificat).
Ladybird_Samuel
The whole story of Samuel’s life is worth looking at again (a bit of bed-time reading as the nights draw in perhaps?!). But our focus today is on recognising that children often have a sharper sense of hearing than we adults do, an ability to hear the voice of God that perhaps we have become deaf to over the years, through thinking we know what God wants already and not listening out keenly enough for the fresh challenges God might be calling us to.
One of our Year One children, Teddy, was recently asking his parents what it meant to be a refugee, picking up on all the coverage on the news lately. On having their desperate plight explained to him, Teddy’s immediate and straightforward reaction was that “We should help them!” At our regular Growth Action Planning Meeting later that week, we listened to the childlike simplicity in this appeal for practical kindness and have organised for St Oswald’s to become an emergency drop-off point for much-needed supplies, particularly of men’s waterproofs, coats, socks, hats and gloves, walking shoes, blankets and sleeping bags, folding chairs, tea, coffee, sugar and toiletries. We hope that the whole of Bollington will readily respond to the desperate needs of those displaced from their homes within and beyond our borders. Our church building will be open between 8.30am and 5.30pm, each weekday from Monday 21 September until Friday 23 October, allowing people to bring along these life-saving items for onward distribution. There will also be an opportunity to leave monetary donations towards the Red Cross Emergency Appeal, as well as the chance to spend a moment or two in church praying for those in need and for a peaceful solution to be found to the terrible conflicts and wars that cause people to flee their homes in the first place. We aim also to have a petition available for people to sign, asking Cheshire East Council urgently to respond to the need for accommodation for those asylum seekers who do succeed in getting admission across our borders. Somebody has suggested that our Bollington Refugee Crisis Appeal should properly be named “Teddy’s Trumpet Call to Action”!
I love the way that Teddy’s little brother Roo invariably waves as he leaves St Oswald’s after a service or event, and that having recently found his voice, he also now says, “Goodbye, Church!” – which as you know is a conflated way of saying, “God be with you, Church!” May we both encourage our children to listen to God’s unique call to each of them and be willing to hear the messages our children relay to us. May we all grow into spiritual maturity in a way that makes us not fearful of becoming compassionate, prophetic and trustworthy witnesses of Christ, himself a refugee as a tiny child and the One who ultimately calls us all home.
Veronica

On the Anniversary of Roy’s Ordination

Canon Roy Arnold

We had a good Easter in Bollington and Kerridge in 1962 at the three Anglican churches (St John’s, St Oswald’s and Holy Trinity) with a total of just short of 400 communicants. 400! They even ran out of service books at St Oswald’s. This year – 2015 – we had a total of 125 communicants.

Two years later than 1962, on this actual day 27 September 1964 in Bristol Cathedral, I was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. Sad to say, these past 50 years and more have seen a dramatic fall in the number of those attending Church everywhere. This hasn’t been all my fault and I can say that the Churches where I have served increased slightly in size, but the fact is many fewer people go to Church nowadays. Not only in the Anglican Church but in the Methodist Church and even the Roman Catholic Church and generally throughout Europe. Apart from the fact that people die or move away, I would say that this has come about by a massive change in the way most people live their lives, and shopping, entertainment and sport, car trips (or even car cleaning) take up a major part of people’s weekend lives and the thought of a Day of Rest and Worship have gone by the board. “For the world is too much with us… getting and spending” as the poet Wordsworth says.

Getting and spending… and yet, and yet… There does remain some hint of thought for others. I am thinking here of the generosity of people (church folk and others) when there are appeals for money in times of national and international disaster and in this we may call to mind Christ’s words from our Gospel this morning. Those words about giving a cup of water to anyone who is thirsty. People’s donations represent (albeit at arms-length) that kindness and care. I have a strong personal remembrance that when I was in hospital once and my blood sugar was down, the Night Sister said “Get Roy a warm milky drink and a biscuit.” You know, I have never forgotten this simple act of kindness, that someone had thought to give ME a drink…. as Jesus instructed people to do. I wouldn’t know whether that kind nurse was a church person or not but (as we heard Jesus say in our Gospel) any act of kindness and gentleness and caring counts, whoever does it, whether they be Christians or Muslims or persons of little or no faith.

That, I believe, is why we must not entirely despair at the thought of dwindling congregations, sad as the thought may be, and in any case – as I once read – trends in society may empty churches but may also fill them. What we must be aware of – whether we are ordained or lay people – is the danger of becoming stumbling blocks – as Jesus put it. We must do our very best to be reasons why people would want to come to Church, and not to trip them up on their way here. And, of course, we must try our very best to get more people to Church; simply this is what Jesus wants us to do – to hear the good news that He brings about the love of God and His call to share that love in our own lives, through simple acts of personal kindness and thought for others like that cup of cold water (or milk and a biscuit). Acts of kindness and gentleness and love to people of all ages; children, yes, and those with the care of children – but we must not concentrate on one group and forget about the others.

Looking back over these past 50 years, (I think,) in an effort to get more people to church, we have spent too much time on re-ordering our worship, and on new translations of the Bible and other General Synod preoccupations. But I believe that one thing from General Synod has been truly worthwhile, and that is the Ordination of Women and the hope thereby of a kinder and more gentle approach to Ministry and a more inclusive Church. But whether we are women or men-folk of the Church (lay-folk or ordained), let us remember this: we shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore we can do or any kindness that we can show to any human being, let us do it now. Let us not defer or neglect it for we shall not pass this way again.

That is for sure. We shall not pass this way again.


Mark chapter 9:38-end

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

Bollington Refugee Appeal

We launched our refugee appeal at the Civic Service on Sunday 20th September, 12.00 noon. We appealed for donations of waterproofs, men’s clothing, socks, hats, gloves, walking shoes, blankets and sleeping bags, folding chairs, tea, coffee, sugar and toiletries, as well as donations of cash.

The church was open 8.30 am – 5.30 pm from Monday 21st September – Friday 23rd October to receive donations. We liaised directly with agencies taking supplies to refugees in Calais, Greece and Eastern Europe.

refugeeAppeal

 

RIP Stella Gascoigne

Sadly we must now say farewell to two more faithful members of our congregation, Joan Barton and Stella Gascoigne, who have died during these last weeks of August and who have both been very much part of the life and witness of St Oswald’s Church over many years.

Stella is pictured (standing, second from right) alongside her devoted husband Derek, joining in one of our regular services held at St John’s Columbarium over the past few years. Her bright smiling face, her kind and gentle character and her admirable steadfastness in the face of recent ill-health will be long remembered by her many friends across our whole community.

Our prayers continue to be with the families of both Stella and Joan at this sad time.

Stella’s funeral service tookplace at 10.45am on Friday 11 September in St Oswald’s Church, where she and Derek were married nearly 58 years ago. It was followed by cremation at Macclesfield at 12.00noon.

Words from Roy Arnold at Stella’s funeral:

I grew up at the other end of Bollington and went to Water Street School, whereas Stella was a pupil at Bollington Cross, so I never knew Stella as a child and as a young woman… and we never had our bread actually delivered, so I never knew Derek. But latterly, through the family of the Church, it has been a real privilege to know them both, and in these latter times to feel for them in their struggles with ill-health, and particularly to admire both Derek’s care for Stella (with the help of family, friends and very good neighbours) and Stella’s quiet courage in adversity.

Of such adversity people often say, “There is a purpose in all this!” implying that God intended this awful situation and that this disaster was his idea in the first place. But I believe all that we can say is that the experience is deeply significant… but strangely with a significance we can’t understand. To the believer and the non-believer alike, it is a mystery why God, who we believe is a God of Love, allows such things to happen to our loved ones and friends. The Book of Job in the Bible is an attempt to answer the mystery, but when Jesus was on the cross, even he (as the Son of God) seems baffled by it all and cries out, “My God, why have you deserted me?”

So it all remains a mystery… but even more mysterious when we think of all the good things which God has given us throughout our lives and which far outweigh the bad. Maybe that thought can console us when “the strife is o’er” (as it is for Stella) but still leaves us clinging, by the skin of our teeth, believing that maybe we shall get all our questions answered one day, as we hold on to the hope that the book is not ended and another chapter awaits us. I’m sure Stella, as an avid reader like me, would appreciate that thought. I believe if we trust Jesus, it will be all right in the end… eventually… and we can be grateful for love whether human or divine, and grateful (as the saying goes) for peace at the last. May Stella rest in that peace and rise with us in glory.

AMEN

stella_gascoigne

Vicar’s Letter September 2015

vicars letter003During August our Children’s Work Co-ordinator kindly organised an outing for a group of younger congregation members, with parents and a grandparent (plus the Vicar!) to Buxton Opera House to see a delightful performance of Julia Donaldson’s story “Room on the Broom”. Essentially the story is about an unconventional witch and her faithful cat setting out on a risky adventure and learning along the way the importance of making space for anyone who wishes or needs to share their companionship. After brief consideration of each new encounter, the witch’s default response to all enquirers is “Yes!”, being willing to embrace the new and unknown, whereas the cat is habitually more cautious, fears change and (before the opposite is joyfully proven towards the end of the adventure) cannot really see the benefit of letting anyone else find room on the broom. We all enjoyed an imaginative and interactive theatre production, lasting not much more than an hour (only just a fraction longer than our new Third Sunday Family Communions!), including a brilliantly improvised “frog in the throat” moment particularly appreciated by the adults (…you had to be there!).

If you get a chance to watch the story on DVD, do also look at the extras at the end, one of which is entitled “The Magnificent Broom” plus a description of how this animated version was created. The producer, director, composer and animators speak about the themes suggested by the book that can lead to a variety of possible interpretations and applications of the story to everyday life. One person suggested that, although it essentially seems to refer to relationships within a family, the ideas behind the narrative “can apply to all kinds of groups, anywhere you work or play or travel or live together” – and I would say that this description surely encompasses the whole of church life too! The overarching theme of the story is of Kindness – realising that your “kith and kin” are a motley crew, each of whom desires acceptance and being treated with respect and as worthwhile in their own right. As one commentator said, “You have to learn that not everything belongs to you – you have to share it!”
Applied to church life, it could be about being able to share both our inherited resources as well as our capacity for friendship, even with those we don’t perhaps feel a natural affinity to at first encounter. Having taken Christ’s parables to heart, we should be constantly willing to become known as people who warmly invite others in and learn to adapt our ways accordingly, as well as being people daring to go out together on the equally risky adventure of meeting others where they are and, of course, defeating dragons together! And if you were to equate the witch’s broomstick with our church building itself, then this further comment from a back-stage technician rings true as well: “The size of the broom should not define the group, but the group should find a way to shape the broom so there’s room for everyone.”
With that in mind, our PCC is now beginning practically to address the next phase of our church building development, that of making best use of the space at the West End of St Oswald’s and improving our kitchen facility, bearing in mind the most desirable feature we identified several years ago, that of achieving maximum “light and space” in whatever design we go for. Following on from discussions at our last GAP meeting in July, I have invited Irene Mills to convene a small Working Group to consider the range of possibilities open to us, both in spacial and financial terms, for enhancing our potential for hospitality at that end of the church. Do come along to our next GAP meeting, open to everyone, on Saturday 12 September from 10.00am till 11.00am, and share your own visions and thoughts about this for consideration by the new Working Group, leading on then to wider consultation and, in due course, to a well-informed decision being made by our PCC.
My personal opinion is that it would be good to bring more light back into the baptistery area (as was originally designed in 1908) by re-thinking the existing kitchen facility in a way that both meets our changing needs as well as visually “de-clutters” the back of the church. The Diocesan Advisory Committee Secretary has offered us guidance as to what procedures need to be followed prior to any firm decisions being made by the PCC and prior to the necessary faculty permission being applied for by the Vicar and Churchwardens from the Chancellor of the Diocese. But I’m pleased to report that we are off to a great start! £400.00 has recently been received from donations given in memory of our friend Peggy Wakefield, and in a timely way her family has requested that this sum should be used to launch St Oswald’s Kitchen Redevelopment Fund! So, whenever we raise our glasses in future in whatever form of new more workable kitchen and hospitality area we create, we will remember with fondness one of the special people who always made “room on the broom” and was often the last to leave any church social event! As members of St Oswald’s congregation, let us continually thank God for encouragement “not to be afraid” and to recognise God-given opportunities for enlarging and celebrating our membership of God’s worldwide family on the risky adventure of life, both now and in eternity.
Veronica
broom2

RIP Joan Barton

Sadly we must now say farewell to two more faithful members of our congregation, Joan Barton and Stella Gascoigne, who have died during these last weeks of August and who have both been very much part of the life and witness of St Oswald’s Church over many years.

Joan is pictured here on our Parish Trip in November 2010 to visit the Delhi Brotherhood, and also taking part in our Schools Epiphany Experience Week in January 2011. We will miss her adventurous spirit and her dedicated service to others, shown in so many ways over the past twenty years since settling down in our parish with her late husband Cyril after his retirement in 1995.

Joan’s funeral took place here at St Oswald’s at 1.30pm on Tuesday 1 September, followed by burial in the family grave at Norbury Parish Church.

At Joan’s funeral, Roy added these words to the Eulogy:

(I normally wear a black shirt but following Joan’s instructions this one is bit brighter.)

I know from 52 years in the ministry that clergy wives must be obeyed and although the one who originally has the calling to serve God is the Vicar (male or female), being married to a clergyperson you find yourself going along for the ride with them. And, for instance, enjoying the adventure of having a fifteen bedroom Vicarage (lovely in the summer but coolish in the winter), bringing up a family, and making cheese sandwiches for the occasional tramp at the door, or entertaining a passing bishop or archdeacon or missionary just dropping in from Africa or India. Or being there when the Vicar comes home after a particularly grumpy PCC meeting or sharing the joy of a service and a sermon well received and understood.

Well I know that Joan [and you her family] would recognise some of this – the highs and lows of Vicarage life; as I believe that Joan – as she faced the prospect of her own death with cheerfulness – had picked up the pieces after Cyril died. And as before, continued to make her home a second Vicarage with a welcome for all who came to it from the Mothers Union to Parish Magazine Committee, and in Church reading lessons and prayer with the unmistakeable voice of a former teacher.

We do sometimes forget what a great blessing it is that we belong to a Church which has recognised the value of having a Married Clergy – as a truly shared ministry. I remember a Bishop telling me that he thought most clergy and their spouses have in their memories the parish where they were most happy and had the most fruitful ministry. And although I believe that they have enjoyed their time in Bollington, I guess that for Cyril and Joan the parish of Norbury (Hazel Grove) would be their star parish; and it is most fitting that Joan’s mortal remains will return there to be beside Cyril’s (and their son who went before them), although we hope and pray that by now their souls may all be happily reunited in the glorious resurrection experience which is the hope we hold onto and which is why we can say for Joan and Cyril in words from the Book of Common Prayer: “may their portion this day be in peace and their dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.”

May we all say AMEN to that.

Saint Monica of Hippo

Canon Roy Arnold

I served my first curacy in Bristol where I discovered that in Bristol gym pumps became dabs, plain tea cakes became baps and unsmoked bacon was known as green bacon, and that natives of that city have a habit of adding an L to words which end with A. So (for instance) when they say the word AREA they pronounce it as AERIAL. I remember an old lady once telling me that her son in the army served in Indial, Burmal and Malayal and suffered from Malarial as a consequence.

My first Vicar knowing all about this was once taking a Baptism and the baby’s name was Monica and when he asked the question: “Name this child”, the parents solemnly answered MONICAL to which my Vicar replied “I don’t mind calling her MONACLE so long as she doesn’t make a SPECTACLE of herself during the service!”

Well today we remember another Monica; Saint Monica who was born in North Africa in the year 332 and went on to be the Mother of St Augustine of Hippo (not to be confused with Augustine of Canterbury). Augustine of Hippo – one of the most famous teachers of the early Church – always attributed his conversion to Christianity to the prayers of his mother Monica, not least when he started to stray from the straight and narrow, which is why she has always been held up as a real example of a mother’s love and prayers.

And when you think of it our prayers for family and friends are truly expressions of our love for them; and I believe there may be few things more important that we can do than to pray for our loved ones and anyone else that they may come to know – as we have – the love of Jesus and the true value of his Church. Maybe we don’t do this enough, and I must admit that I have totally failed in this. We pray in a general way for their wellbeing and health and safekeeping… but as to praying for their spiritual wellbeing and perhaps conversion we maybe fail in this important aspect of their lives.

Monica didn’t fail in this for her son Augustine, and without a doubt we must try to follow her example, even though Augustine was not without his faults. He certainly would have opposed the Ordination of Women and it was said that he would never sit on a seat when a woman had sat on it, which goes to show that even saints are not without their faults even when his mother (a woman) had done so much for him – and as Veronica does for us all.

 

Those who abide in Me

Revd Michael Fox

There is a song from 1980 by the punk band The Clash – I expect you all still remember it – called Should I Stay or Should I Go? It was very high energy and I’m not going to sing it to you, but the lyrics went:

Darlin’ you got to let me knowTheClash
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Joe Strummer seems to be putting his fate into the hands of (I presume) a young woman, but he sums up an anxiety that affects all of us in some way – where do I belong? Is it with this person, this community, this group or with that one? Am I wanted here, or would I be better off somewhere else?

Indeed staying anywhere, or with anyone, for any length of time is increasingly difficult for us in a commitment-phobic world. There is a restlessness that afflicts humans sooner or later and sends them wandering off looking for better pasture. Perhaps it stems from the genes inherited from the period when humans were hunter-gatherers, roaming the prairies looking for woolly mammoths.

The word abide is old-fashioned now, but it has lots of meanings – to dwell, to rest, to continue, to be true to, to remain, to wait, to await… We say “I will abide by that decision,” or “I can’t abide punk rock music” and I suppose in both cases we mean ‘live with.’ And of course we use the word ‘abode’ – jokingly nowadays – to mean home: “Welcome to my humble abode.”

And at the moment there is a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ where people are fleeing war, oppression, hunger, poverty – they are leaving home and all that word implies of roots, shelter, identity, security, and casting themselves upon the waters, in small fragile boats. They face an unknown future, unknown dangers including drowning, tear gas and stun grenades, hunger, thirst, hostility, rejection.

If you saw the BBC’s Songs of Praise programme with its report on the migrant camp in Calais – the link is on our St. Oswald’s facebook page – you’ll have seen that in the midst of an area known as ‘the jungle’, in Calais, a muddy, rubbish-strewn encampment of tents, some made from corrugated plastic or old iron, there is a church – a makeshift, wood and plastic building that stands shakily in the midst of the camp. One of the French Christian volunteers who helped the Christian migrants build the church says on camera “These people wanted a church before they wanted a home.”

CalaisJungleChurchInside this little church Christians from Ethiopia and Eritrea, Syria and many other countries meet to pray and worship. There are beautiful pictures – one of St. Michael after whom the church is named. They worship and pray together with the many French and English Christians who come to bring aid and fellowship and hope.

One young man, a theology student from Ethiopia, is one of leaders of the church there. He says he has fled from persecution but he will not make any attempt to enter the UK illegally. Another young Christian man also fleeing persecution in Eritrea has tried several times to board a train illegally. When challenged he says he is seeking a better home, a safer home. He prays every day and then he says, “I have another house – it’s heaven.”

It seems to me that little church – St. Michael’s – is the embodiment of what John, in his gospel this morning, is telling us about abiding. Those who meet together in the fellowship of the Eucharist know what it is to dwell with Christ. However tough life is, however lacking in security, their commitment to follow him and to worship him and to receive him is a sign that they are in the dwelling place of God himself.

The Eucharist, the practice of eating bread and drinking wine in memory of the crucified Christ and in fellowship with the risen Christ, is clearly what John, writing in the hungry times of the first century AD – is referring to. Some people think John was writing in Syria, the very place from which many modern-day migrants come.

At the back of John’s image of finding fellowship with Christ in the Eucharist – of living, staying with, awaiting, staying true to Christ – is the experience of the Jews wandering in the wilderness, being fed with the manna from heaven. God provides for them and sustains them in their desperate need. They were in a strange land, and they were migrants, aiming to live in someone else’s country.

For John, Jesus is the manna that God gives to all humanity, regardless of who they are, of where they are living. He is the spiritual food that gives us life. And it’s significant that the word John uses for abide in this section is used 40 times throughout the gospel – his Gospel is all about what it means to live with Jesus, and for Jesus to live with you. Of course the breaking of bread, the sharing of a meal, is one of the most basic things we do in our homes.

Those of us here this morning, we have homes. Some of us may have just moved in, with all the excitement of a new space, new neighbours, and the adventure of a new life in a place we have chosen. Or we have been in our home for many years, seen our families grow up, experienced joy, and also sadness and loss. It has been a refuge and a shelter, a place for us to be ourselves. It answers our most basic need. Perhaps, even, we are facing a move from our familiar home and facing the loss of familiar surroundings and friends’ faces.

I wonder how many of us would say, with the migrants of Calais, that we wanted a church before we wanted a home? But when we meet to celebrate the Eucharist, as we will do in a few moments, we enact the meeting of our earthly home and our heavenly one, as that young man in Calais reminds us.

Perhaps that will help us to remember to keep our earthly home always open to the stranger, the migrant, to the needs of others for shelter and food. But most importantly to remember that whether we stay or go, it is Christ who sustains us, shelters us, and who is the true meaning of ‘home’.

Amen

 

The former Holy Trinity church at Kerridge

Visit by some parishioners

Thanks to the kind hospitality of the present owner, a group of parishioners visited the former Holy Trinity Church in Kerridge this afternoon! The building has been imaginatively transformed into a delightful home which has kept all the beauty of the church whilst offering an incredibly versatile, warm and welcoming living space. May God bless all who dwell there, now and in the future!