Summoned by the bells of Sutton Saint James to the Macclesfield Deanery Choral Evensong on Saturday afternoon… Evensong was led by Veronica (as Rural Dean) and a combined choir (from various churches in the Deanery, led by Sandra Moss) performed the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in C by Charles Villiers Stanford and the anthem “O Thou the Central Orb” by Charles Wood (words H R Bramley).
On Sunday afternoon the church was transformed for a Posh Tea to celebrate the Vicar’s birthday. A good time was had by all!
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.
“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.
I would like to thank all those who enabled me to take time out in April, May and June last year and to enjoy some of my sabbatical leave in Venice! Particular thanks are due to Christine Osbaldiston, Revd Michael Fox, Bev Nixon, Canon Roy Arnold, Anne Coomes, Brian Reader and others who took on extra liturgical and organisational roles during that time, including offering prayer stations both in church and in our local schools for the week leading up to Pentecost, and again later on when our Assistant Curate was supported in officiating at his first two weddings! Later in the year we celebrated with Bev Nixon as she received her well-deserved Children’s Ministry Certificate in Manchester Cathedral. Her tireless enthusiasm and innovation alongside young and old within our congregation (and also reaching out to our schools) is a huge asset in our church life – and all amazingly freely given, as are the other creative, compassionate, organisational, fundraising, musical and serving gifts of so many others who make up our varied congregation here at St Oswald’s!
Sadly there were also two bereavements during the latter part of my sabbatical following the sudden and untimely deaths of Sue Bennett and Guy Wharton, whose creative and inspirational lives had made a deep impression on many people within our local community. It was impressive how well the church supported the families and friends most closely affected by these losses, including the staff and children of Year Six at Bollington Cross School and our RiCH Group, by literally opening our doors in the immediate aftermath to allow people to express their grief and shock in personal and unique ways within the sanctuary of God’s house. St Oswald’s congregation has once again proved itself well able to respond appropriately to strangers as well as friends on both joyful and sorrowful occasions. (It is good that the PCC agreed last September that we open our church doors routinely on Wednesdays to allow people to venture in for private prayer or refreshment during daylight hours.)
As many of you will know, Canon Roy Arnold is presently recovering from a broken hip after a recent fall and I know both he and Hylda will value your prayers and ongoing support especially over the next few weeks of rehabilitation. We look forward to welcoming Roy back safe and well into our midst. Our good wishes also extend to Revd Dr Gary Bowness who has from time to time kindly offered his high-speed, in-depth ministry whilst the Vicar’s been away on other commitments during the past year! Gary will shortly be moving house to retire (properly this time) up to Lancaster in Blackburn Diocese. The Deanery will certainly miss him and we wish him God speed!
Last autumn we said a fond farewell to Revd Michael as he took up his new role of part-time Priest-in-charge at St Paul’s, Macclesfield. Whilst continuing as Michael’s mentor, as Rural Dean I am pleased to say that by the end of May 2017 six new incumbents will have been licensed or inducted to fill all fourteen vacancies that have arisen in parishes across our Deanery over the past three years! The only parishes that have in recent years retained their existing incumbents are Bollington, Gawsworth, Prestbury and Rainow! As we look to the future, it will be good to heed the warnings expressed elsewhere regarding our Parish Finances, since the trend is to amalgamate parishes where there is insufficient income to support a full-time Vicar in a single benefice. I’m grateful to Canon Taffy Davies who in retirement has returned to act as Chapter Clerk and to Richard Raymond for his continuing work as Deanery Lay Chair, as well as to Julie Brunt and David Marriott who have valiantly undertaken the other voluntary roles of Deanery Secretary and Treasurer respectively.
Our ministry and outreach in this parish is greatly enhanced by our two church schools and our links across the whole Bollington Family of Schools, including our continuing close relationship with Dean Valley Community School. It is great to be able to report that both Bollington Cross School and Bollington St John’s School received excellent Ofsted results from the short inspections carried out in March this year! Do visit the website www.gov.uk/ofsted to read the full and detailed reports, which warmly commend our two Head Teachers, Mrs Downing and Mrs Walker, for their continued high quality leadership. We are blessed in having such dedicated staff, parents and governors whose efforts combine to offer a good and inspirational education to all our children. Please pray for the right choice of a new Head Teacher for Bollington Cross School as from September 2017 when Mrs Downing will have retired. Please also continue to uphold in your prayers the children of Pott Shrigley School, following the choice made by members of Pott Shrigley staff, parents and local community, for the Local Authority and the Diocese to dissolve the Federation which previously existed with Bollington St John’s, and which took effect on 28 February 2017.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to our two dedicated and equally hardworking Churchwardens, Hilary and Christine, who have greatly encouraged me in my calling as your parish priest and who, alongside the other members of the Ministry Team, continue to share a vision for the future thriving and growth of our church community here in Bollington and beyond.
(To read the whole Annual Report compiled by our Churchwardens concerning all the activities and events in our Parish during the year ending 30 April 2017, click here.)
Six Lent Study Groups led by Anne Coomes and Canon Veronica, on Wednesday evenings in church, from 7.30pm till 9.00pm, starting Wednesday 8 March. Anyone is welcome to join us in reading Archbishop Rowan Williams’ little book called “Being Disciples”. Refreshments provided. Please sign up on the list at the back of church if you’d like to come along for any or all of these weekly sessions.
God willing, when we see the signs of Spring in a few weeks’ time, I will have served a whole decade as your Vicar here in the Parish of Bollington! Doesn’t time fly! During the course of these past ten years, together we have experienced all sorts of new developments both in the content and shape of our buildings and in the styles of worship we are fortunate to be able to offer to our community. I realise I personally have seen a whole generation of children move on within our church life from Reception to RiCH! And thanks to many gifted colleagues, both lay and ordained, we have ministered to the needs of young and old in a whole variety of circumstances and in many different ways. My task of being a Vicar has only been made possible by the friendship and support (and occasional challenge!) offered variously by a series of dedicated Churchwardens, patient and diligent Treasurers and Secretaries, a whole variety of PCC and Congregation members, Sacristans, Sidespeople, Vergers, Sextons, Flower Arrangers, Door Keepers, Intercessors, Administrators of Communion, Magazine Editors and Distributors, Group Leaders, Project Managers, Diocesan Officers, Mothers’ Union members, Head Teachers, School Governors, Readers, an occasional Assistant Curate, a very wise and experienced fellow Canon, a dedicated and energetic Children and Families’ Worker, a swell group of Organists, a tuneful bunch of Choristers, a willing and imaginative group of Praise & Play leaders, a long-suffering and compassionate group of RiCH volunteers, a whole hidden army of Cake Bakers, Church Cleaners, Gardeners, Floor Polishers, Linen Launderers, Brass Cleaners, Money Counters and Bankers, Furniture Movers, Maintenance Workers and Jacks of All Trades, not to mention all those essential people who step up regularly to become Fund-Raisers, Caterers and Prayers! Thank you! May God bless all of you in your different and complementary ministries in the service of Christ in this place!
Looking forward, no doubt this coming year will bring its own unique challenges and opportunities, sorrows and joys. As the seasons turn, so I reflect on the loss over the course of ten years of so many friends and family no longer beside us here, whether they have moved away or died. As we continue to hold in our hearts the precious memories of them all and as we entrust the living and departed to God’s safe keeping, we know that, whatever our personal situation, we are all still called by God to build up and nurture new relationships amongst people in our community. As companions on life’s journey, we have uniquely been given the unchanging task of finding ways to plant seeds of hope, love, joy and peace in the world around us and to share the Gospel afresh with each new generation. May we continue to be inspired and encouraged in all we undertake in Christ’s name, now and always.
Advance Notice! Lent is traditionally a time for thinking together about our personal faith journeys and sharing some of the experiences and challenges we face as Christians in the modern world. We are planning to hold our popular weekly Lent Lunch Hours once again in St Oswald’s on Tuesdays from 12 noon till 1.00pm for six weeks, starting on 07 March and finishing on 11 April. As usual we are asking for volunteers to provide simple “food for the journey”, such as bread and soup, cheese or pate, offered in return for a gift of money from those who participate in the meal. We’ve not yet decided to which good cause the proceeds will be given this year, but any suggestions are welcome. I’m very pleased to say that Canon Roy Arnold has kindly agreed to offer us another little series of “Food for Thought” to mull over during our lunches! When the list appears in due course at the back of church, please do sign up if you’d like to be catered for, or if you are willing to host any of the lunches. Come along and bring your friends and enjoy good food and one another’s company in an informal and friendly setting.
Beverley Nixon is awarded her Church Colleges Certificate in Children’s Ministry 19 Nov 2016
It was a pleasure to be at Manchester Cathedral yesterday to celebrate Bev Nixon receiving her Church Colleges Certificate in Children’s Ministry! Participants on the year-long course came from both Chester and Manchester Dioceses, alongside several Youth Work Course awards which also included students from Blackburn Diocese. The Right Reverend Mark Davies, Bishop of Middleton and Chair of Manchester Diocesan Board of Education, gave a very moving and engaging address, speaking from his early vocational as well as his current personal experience. The unusual choice of a reading from the Bible was a passage from Job 32 vv 1-10, where a previously reticent young person, prompted by God’s wisdom, finally dares to speak out.
The whole service was very inspiring! It gave fresh impetus to all of us wishing to offer “Christian love and time” to children and young people and their families, and importantly to listen to and hear their voices in our midst as an inclusive Christian community. Thank you Bev for all you do to enable this to happen here!
…and after the service in Manchester Cathedral yesterday, we were delighted to witness the consecration of a new Bishop … God bless you, Helen! You’re a star too!
After two years here in training with us since his ordination, we have just said farewell to our Assistant Curate, Michael Fox. A few days later we saw him welcomed into his new role, being licensed on 31 August as part-time Priest-in-Charge at the Parish of St Paul’s Macclesfield. The following Sunday afternoon, I was invited to be present for another Welcome Service, this time for the newly appointed Superintendent Minister of the Macclesfield Methodist Circuit, Reverend Graham Edwards. All ministers who serve in the Methodist Church expect to move on to new posts after a fixed period of years in one place, and for them the “transfer window” opens each year at the end of August, around the same time as for footballers, I gather!? I suspect that no church minister, of whatever denomination, can command anything like the remuneration of even the lowliest celebrity football player! However, all parishes and congregations are asked to contribute a considerable sum annually to cover the costs of having a minister or priest working alongside them, as sadly for the past thirty or more years there has no longer been any central funding available to pay for this from the National Church. In our case, here in Bollington, the cost of having a full-time priest is levied in the form of a Parish Share by the Diocese of Chester, currently to the tune of over £60,000 a year. Nearly two-thirds of that figure goes towards the wider Diocesan costs of clergy housing, pensions, ministry support and advisory services, including the educational, finance, safeguarding, vocational and social responsibility departments, whilst a figure just over the remaining third pays my stipend.
As regular worshippers will see from a letter shortly arriving through their letterbox, our present level of regular income each year does just about cover our Parish Share, but leaves very little with which to pay all the other “household bills” which we need to meet simply so as to keep open our doors, to maintain and improve the facilities of our building, and to support all the activities and services that we would like to continue to offer for the benefit of our local community. We are therefore appealing to everyone who values having St Oswald’s Church at the heart of our community life, to consider making a regular commitment, however small, preferably by Standing Order and Gift-Aided if possible, so that we can be certain to still be available to serve at least one or two more generations of Bollingtonians! Please see our website Giving page for the relevant downloadable forms, or contact our PCC Treasurer in confidence if you would like to know more. Thank you for your support.
Our Harvest Charity this year is Christian Aid, which works alongside the poorest of people in different communities across the world, many of whom can only dream of the comparative luxury afforded by a Vicar’s annual stipend. As probably your grandparents said to you too as a child, “There’s always someone worse off than yourself!” This was marginally more helpful than that other admonition to “Eat your greens! There’s a starving child somewhere who’d be grateful to have the chance!” As responsible and caring adults, we are all called to re-examine our priorities in life and always to seek to serve the needs of others before looking to meet our own. However St Oswald’s, our local Parish Church, has a responsibility to carry on the legacy handed down to us from past worshippers and parishioners, humbly offering a place of sanctuary, compassion, truth-seeking, neighbourliness, challenge, consolation and care, being available for all in our community, whether or not they consider themselves to be religious. We recognise our now urgent need for the financial support of friends around us locally in order to continue to be a beacon of light and hope in dark times, in the same way as we ourselves reach out to support other charities like Christian Aid whose partners are involved in critical and life-affirming projects across the world.
May God bless us as together we work, in so many varied and complementary ways, to make this world a fairer, more compassionate and more hopeful place to be, where all God’s children may thrive and grow. May God bless our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and for evermore.