Vicar’s Letter – January 2017

vicars letter003God 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.

Every blessing,

Veronica

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.

Veronica

 

Congratulations Beverley!

Beverley Nixon is awarded her Church Colleges Certificate in Children’s Ministry 19 Nov 2016

Veronica writes…

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vicar’s Letter -October 2016

vicars letter003After 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.

Christian-AidOur 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.

Veronica

Venice 2016

A Room with a View

Yes, I know that was set in Florence, but this room is in Venice with a view out across the lagoon. It’s in the apartment where Veronica has been staying for the first part of her sabbatical.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Another room with a view

The little bakery close to the apartment where you can also get an ice-cream, or even sit and watch the traffic on the Giudecca Canal while you sip a gin and tonic…

Venice5


Torcello

TorcelloThe bell tower is finally free of scaffolding, after several years of restoration.

Below is a more distant view on a different day, with the snow-capped Alps behind.

Torcello2

 


Saint Mark’s Cathedral

The mosaic above where we sat on Sunday morning shows (at the centre) the angel showing the women the empty tomb on the first Easter Day.

sanmarco


Views across the Guidecca Canal
The part of Venice where Veronica has been staying is more residential, less “touristy” than many other areas. These views are looking across to the main part of the city. The Giudecca Canal is a bit like a bypass for the Grand Canal, which is behind the buildings on the opposite bank.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vicar’s Letter – May 2016

vicars letter003For a whole week this March we had the privilege of leading about 350 children from our local community through another “Easter Experience” here in St Oswald’s. The difficult and moving story lived out by Jesus and his friends, from the hosannas of Palm Sunday through to the alleluias of Easter Day, was portrayed by three trustworthy women witnesses, Beverley Nixon, Sue Berry and Jo Belfield, accompanied by reflections from the Vicar. It was a pleasure to listen and respond to the children and staff of our schools and to explore with them the very human experiences of celebration, companionship, betrayal, courage, cruelty, sorrow, solidarity, kindness, grief, loss, and finally, delight in life and hope restored. Then on Good Friday morning, Beverley offered a captivating Craft Trail around the church, in which parents and their young children together discovered the Way of the Cross, assisted by Helen Nixon and three members of our RiCH After-School Group who graciously served refreshments and willingly moved furniture (these same lads had helped out the previous weekend at our grand Church Spring Clean too!). Witnessing some of our younger children trying to make sense of what happened to “Baby Jesus” when he grew up was a humbling and literally “wonder-full” experience. Anyone who thinks of children as disruptive in church would have done well instead to have dared to share that special Holy Week and Good Friday journey alongside these thoughtful and insightful young members of our community.

It seems to me that sometimes children demonstrate a sharper sense of spiritual hearing than we adults do, an apparent ability to hear the voice of God which perhaps we have become deaf to over the years, maybe thinking we already know what God wants and not listening out keenly enough for the fresh challenges God might be calling us to? One of those challenges for future consideration here at St Oswald’s is the idea of literally keeping our doors open more often. Last autumn we tried it very successfully after Teddy, one of our Year One children, asked his parents what it meant to be a refugee, picking up on all the coverage on the news. On having their desperate plight explained to him, Teddy’s immediate and straightforward reaction was, “We should help them!” At our next Growth Action Planning Meeting later that week, we woke up to the childlike simplicity of this call for us to show practical kindness. We organised an emergency Appeal whereby St Oswald’s became a temporary drop-off point for much-needed supplies, which were then transported on to the charity Refugees Aid in North West England, based at Warrington. The wider community of Bollington too responded readily to this Appeal to help people displaced from their homes, calling into our church throughout the day for six weeks from Monday 21 September until Friday 23 October. They brought along life-saving items of clothing, shoes, tents, toiletries and foodstuffs for onward distribution, and some also took the chance to spend a moment or two praying for a peaceful solution to the terrible conflicts and wars that cause people to flee their homes in the first place. During Lent, Tobias, another of our young church members, sent me a heartfelt letter urging us to pray for the children of Syria, again having seen coverage of their plight on the news. Thank you to Teddy and Tobias for spurring us all into action, and to all the willing volunteers who opened and closed the church last autumn and helped to sort the huge piles of donated goods, and especially to Hannah, Dave and Beverley who acted as unpaid hauliers to take the much-needed supplies to the central distribution point. Apart from helping those in need, opening our church doors must give us food for thought about the benefits of unlocking our doors more often…Why not come along to our next Growth Action Planning meeting here in church between 10am and 11am on Saturday 4 June, and share your thoughts and ideas about this or any other venture you may feel we as a local church could embark upon.

Last summer we celebrated with our part-time Assistant Curate, Michael Fox, when he was ordained priest at Chester Cathedral. Michael has continued to develop his ministry among us, including taking a full part preaching and presiding now in our Communion services on Sundays and Thursday mornings, leading Creative Writing Groups, offering a series of homilies based on the elements of the Eucharistic liturgy, working with myself and Beverley in leading our evolving family-friendly services, now on both the First and the Third Sundays of each month, contributing to our discussions at PCC meetings and also convening our Marketing and Communications Group which is looking to find new ways of encouraging financial sustainability, initiating for instance our recent “Easy Peasy” fundraising venture. I am grateful that Michael’s presence on our staff team has enabled me to take advantage of an overdue period of sabbatical leave for three months (April, May and June). Although, during my absence on sabbatical, the Churchwardens are primarily in charge of Bollington Church and Michael is still only available for 12 hours a week of parish ministry, I’m hoping this experience will stand him in good stead for when he subsequently takes up his new part-time post as Priest-in-charge of St Paul’s Macclesfield, as from 31 August 2016! We shall be sorry to see him go, but nevertheless in my other capacity as the Rural Dean, I am also pleased Michael will be filling one of the four current clergy vacancies in parishes in our Macclesfield Deanery!

At our recent Vestry Meeting on 21 March, Christine Osbaldiston and Liz Thomas were elected as our two Churchwardens for the coming year. It seems that (like our out-going Churchwarden Jackie Pengelly) both their fathers have served as Churchwardens in the past, so they both have a head start in understanding the role! They will be sworn in officially at the Archdeacon’s Visitation service on Monday 16 May at 7.30pm at St George’s Stockport. Do go along to this service, especially if you are a sidesperson or a member of the PCC, and please offer them both your prayers and your support now and over the coming year, as they seek to serve our church and wider community in this important role. During our subsequent Annual Parochial Church Meeting on that first day of Spring, we elected six new members onto the PCC, including Rachel Lake and Julie Brunt, so please also pray for this new Council whose task it is to listen to members of our congregation and our local community and to help discern the best way forward for our church in mission and ministry.

May God bless us all as we work together, young and old, to serve God to the best of our ability and to grow in faith and holiness as we follow the Christian way of truth, kindness and peace, empowered not by old prejudices or preconceptions from the past but by the ever-living, ever-challenging and ever-loving Holy Spirit celebrated afresh at Pentecost!

Veronica

Vicar’s Letter February 2016

vicars letter003This year, Spring Cleaning takes on a whole new meaning at Bollington Vicarage! Not only do we have nearly nine years’ accumulated stuff from our time so far in Bollington, there are all those boxes of unsorted papers and belongings that I simply left unpacked when moving on from at least two or three parishes ago! Not to mention extra furniture that was given to us when we left the last parish, to help fill our new home. And when you have the privilege and joy (and of course considerable expense) of living in a seven bed-roomed mansion, there seems little urgency to de-clutter your life!? I was certain at the time that all these things I had carefully (or maybe sometimes lazily) transported from one vicarage to another, were items I surely would be needing at some future date…”It’ll come in useful sometime!” was the unspoken justification! Well, some things have certainly found a purpose in my ministry here, but there is now a good deal of recycling to be done, as we down-size to move into our own property newly acquired in Tytherington (just outside the parish boundary, but perversely about a mile closer to St Oswald’s Church!).

Our spiritual lives often benefit from a bit of serious attention, looking into those dusty old boxes we’ve been carting around with us over many years, and discovering that they’ve become irrelevant or burdensome to our hoped-for way of living. What habit or “comfort blanket” is it that you have clung onto, that you realise you’ve now outgrown? What enduring hurts or regrets have you boxed away which, if you allowed the healing light of God’s forgiveness to shine upon them, might actually be shown up as simply a waste of space in your life? What are those gifts and talents which you’ve stored away but never got round to using, waiting instead for a rainy day or the right person to come along who might appreciate them? What of all those good intentions you have, to change your attitudes, to open the windows of your heart and mind, which remain unfulfilled and just for show, like a library of worthy books unread?

ballet shoesLent (which in Old English means “Spring”) is the opportunity we are given by the Church, each year, to do a bit of serious Spring Cleaning. Don’t wait until you physically need to move house! Now is the chance to look again into those hidden corners of our lives which we’d rather not acknowledge most of the time. We might well discover forgotten treasures and happy memories in amongst the accumulated debris, like my old discarded ballet shoes, reminding me of carefree childhood days, though in my case tinged with regret that I never kept up that level of fitness as I moved into my teenage years! Whatever joys or sorrows we unearth from amongst all the baggage we carry with us, God will indeed honour our searching for the truth that will set us free and our striving for the coming of God’s kingdom here and now. As we enter into the season of Lent once again, may we be shown the true path to life and ultimately to our longed-for home with God.

Every blessing,

Veronica

New Year’s Day 2016

About 50 people turned up at Bollington Vicarage for the traditional New Year’s Day “Drinks and Nibbles” hosted by Veronica and Dave.

This was to be the last of these occasions, as Veronica and Dave will be moving out of the Vicarage in the next few weeks and moving to their own house. Maybe that’s why there are a few sad faces in the photos?

The children enjoyed themselves on the electronic piano, though!

The Rural Dean’s Christmas Message: Midnight Mass 2015

“The flowers and candles are here to protect us…” This was a dawning realisation expressed by a young Parisian immigrant child in conversation with his father, an exchange captured in a short You-Tube interview taking place amid the crowds in the Place de la Republique on the day after the terrorist attack a few weeks ago in November. (The film clip is available to view on St Oswald’s Facebook page, and I recommend you have a look at it when and if you have a quiet moment in the post-Christmas lull). As the interviewer gently asks the child whether he understands what has happened, the four year old boy, held in the arms of his father, is acutely anxious about the “very, very bad people with guns” who were threatening to kill everyone, and about his family possibly having to leave their home in order to escape the violence. His father tenderly but hastily reassures him that they don’t need to move house, because “France is our home”. When the child then whispers, “But what about the bad men with guns, papa?”, his father does not sugar-coat the pill, simply repeating softly in sadness, “There are bad people everywhere…”

Then, in an inspired moment, the father points out to the child, still very worried about the bad men with guns, “They might have guns, but we have flowers! ” The child looks back over his shoulder, but clearly needs some convincing about the validity of this statement. Frowning, he stammers out, “But, but, flowers don’t do anything!?” He’s lost for words. His father immediately replies, “Of course they do! Look, everyone is putting flowers over there. It’s to fight against guns.” “To protect..?” asks the child. He is silent for a moment, then asks, “And the candles?” “The candles are to remember the people who are gone,” says his father. Another moment of thoughtful contemplation follows, and then the child turns directly to the interviewer and unexpectedly says, quietly and confidently, “The flowers and candles are here to protect us.” His father quickly whispers, “Yes!” And there is a beautiful exchange of a slow, shy smile between the two of them. The interviewer asks the child, “Do you feel better now?” And the little boy says, “Yes, I feel better.” He turns his small trusting face back to gaze on the candles and the flowers, which suddenly have kindled a fragile but blossoming hope within his fearful young heart.

That small boy, I think, speaks for many of us, adults, teenagers and children alike, when faced with dreadful situations shown daily on our television screens from across the world. Or when we encounter in our everyday lives difficult or distressing things much closer to home, in our families, workplaces, schools or local communities. We often have to be helped by others to find any glimmer of light in those dark places, whether in our inner being or in the complex world around us, or else we might otherwise stumble and fall. We all, at some time or other, need the encouragement of other people who care about us, to get us through and to help us see more clearly the bigger picture. This Christmas, many of us venture in through the open doors of our local churches, to find inside a light to help guide us in our common human search for making sense of things and for “feeling better” about it all… Lit by the candles of hopefulness and surrounded by the flowers of faith, even those held in tentative fingers by our companions gathered here tonight, I pray you will discover here your feet returning afresh to a well-trodden path which leads you into the light and tries to make some better sense of the confusions and sadnesses of our world.

Another short film-clip on our Facebook page features the simple yet profoundly wondering lyrics of the song “Mary, did you know?” sung by an A Cappella group called Pentatonix. This too is well worth listening to. The words echo those of the prophets as found in the Book of Isaiah from ancient days, and the song also picks up on Jesus’ own sense of his calling and purpose in life as we can hear later on in Luke’s Gospel, when as an adult Jesus stands up to read from the sacred scroll in the synagogue. The words of the song go like this:

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

 

Did you know That your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand? Did you know That your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod? When you kissed your little Baby, you kissed the face of God?

 

The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak the praises of The Lamb.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know That your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great I AM!

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

(Some of the imagery here, strange to us but familiar to the ancient Hebrew people, is of a sacrificial lamb given up to enable restoration and reconciliation with one another and with the mysterious God whose name was almost too sacred to speak aloud…)

That same God, the one who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, may be glimpsed here tonight amidst the busyness and crowdedness of our everyday existence. That same God waits for us to enter into honest conversation with him, as (like the best of parents) he holds us tenderly, and desires to protect us from all that otherwise would harm us.

Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God, was born as a vulnerable questioning child into our dangerous and violent but also beautiful world, to show us the better way of truth, kindness, compassion, co-operation, courage and peace, and somehow, mysteriously, revealed to be in himself the Light and Hope that will ultimately lead all human beings safely home to God in heaven.

May we once again find ourselves just as awestruck as no doubt Mary was that first Christmas night, daring to recognise here God in Christ placed into our own hands, in the ordinariness of bread, broken for us, fragmented and shared out. May we glimpse God’s renewed purposes for our lives as, mysteriously through this Holy Communion, we find integrity and wholeness, both within and between us.

May the holy angels and all God’s saints, living and departed, remain our joyful companions as we go out from here, restored and refreshed for our different journeys through this often troublous life, and may God bless each one of us, friend and stranger alike, with true peace and heart-felt hope, this Christmas and always.                        Amen.