The Rector Writes – July 2017

This month I’m off to General Synod – the national governing body of the Church of England – for the first time. I thought, therefore, it might be interesting for you to know a little bit more about its workings and how it relates to each and every one of us.

It is often said that the Church of England is ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’. This means that Bishops (and the clergy appointed by them to parishes) lead the direction of the Church. Once upon a time, bishops had enormous power in their dioceses, just as clergy had enormous power in their parishes. In recent times, however, more careful forms of government have been sought. Thus, the importance of synods (and PCCs!). The different kinds of synod – Deanery, Diocesan and General – are instruments of legislation and good order, working in concert with bishops, clergy and PCCs.

The term ‘synod’ derives from the Latin word for assembly or meeting, and there have been lots of synods over the centuries, including a famous one at Whitby in 664 CE. This settled the question of when Easter would be celebrated in England and brought the English Church in line with Rome. In the Church of England, the General Synod was established in 1970 as a replacement for the General Assembly.

‘Beneath’ the General Synod is ‘Diocesan Synod’ – a meeting of elected local representatives held in each of the 42 dioceses – and below that, ‘Deanery Synod’. As some of you will know, the countless Deanery Synods that meet around England are easily mocked as places where very little happens and there’s very little energy. However, it’s worth remembering that it’s possible for a local Deanery Synod to pass a resolution that goes all the way up to General Synod. This happened in Lancaster Deanery a couple of years ago. Their Deanery Synod proposed a motion to support transgender people in  church. This was then supported by Blackburn Diocesan Synod and last summer General Synod voted overwhelmingly to support trans people in church. The local can have an impact on the national!

So, in July I go to York for the summer meeting of Synod (it usually meets twice a year, the other time in London). It’s going to be a curious and fascinating experience. The work of Synod is much like the House of Commons, though usually politer. It reflects the fact that the powers Synod has have been devolved from Parliament. It is, then, a version of national government, and has all of the elements you would expect: debates, motions, questions and sometimes huge disagreements. What happens there matters because it affects national life and the local life of the Church. It was only because Syno voted for it, that we have women priests and bishops in the C of E.

This session will have present a few pressure points. The mess the C of E has got itself in over same-sex marriage and the status of LGBT people rumbles on. Given that the Business Committee (which sets Synod’s agenda) has said that no motions about LGBT people can be tabled until after 2020’s House of Bishops’ Teaching Document on Sexuality, is going to cause some anger. Any Synod member can ask a question in Synod, and there are bound to be a fair few on this topic!

Leaving aside that smouldering issue, there is – as ever – a lot of more routine business that doesn’t get picked up on in the national press (leaving aside the Church Times). This session will also include debates and voting on ‘ecumenical matters’ (to quote Father Ted!), on Nuclear Weapons, and Clergy Pensions among many others.

Each member has – as in parliament – one vote to cast. Given that the Synod is divided into three Houses – Bishops, Clergy and Laity – one sometimes sees very different perspectives on show. The House of Bishops, for example, tends to vote as one unit, reflecting the increasing sense that there is a ‘party line’ in that House. The clergy are often seen as the more progressive House and the laity as the more conservative, though in recent times, the clergy and laity have worked together to give the bishops something of a bloody nose!

It’s going to be a steep learning curve, but I feel genuinely honoured to have been voted in by the clergy of this diocese to represent them. If I . represent them, I hope I speak for a wider sense of grace and generosity too. As laity, you have your own representatives and if you have a particular issue you wish to have raised, speak to them. Perhaps, even consider standing for General Synod yourself! Democracy works best when we participate and seek to be well informed.

 

Rachel

xx

July 2018 Magazine

Holiday Club 2018

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

5,4,3,2,1 Blast Off to St Nick’s free holiday club
for children 5 to 11 years
28th – 31st August from 9.30am till 12.30pm

Once again we are very excited to continue our tradition of providing a Free Holiday Club for Children 5 to 11 years old.

Our theme this year is Space,

Activities include Art and crafts, songs, baking, planetarium and lots of fun and games!

 

Click here to download the registration form.

 

The Rector Writes – June 2018

Well, it’s that time again when fans of English football prepare themselves for another disappointment, and all those who can’t stand the sport do their level best to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage on TV, Radio and other media.

Yes, it’s the Men’s World Cup football championship and it’s the kind of event that unites and divides the nation in equal measure. ‘Divides’ not least because Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish people are unlikely to get behind the England football team. Indeed, I know Scottish people who will support any team other than England. Yet, sporting success can also be a way of energising the nation and fostering a sense of hope.

As someone who grew up in the seventies and eighties, I remember how disappointing British sport could be. My first sporting loves were cricket and football and, at the international level, English teams guaranteed frustration and unrelenting misery. Back in the ‘80s, the West Indies repeatedly took the English cricket team apart. The names of Caribbean fast bowlers like Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner became watchwords for English humiliation. It took nearly two decades for English cricket to recover.

However, it is football that has always generated the strangest responses from the nation. It’s as if the triumph in 1966 supplied a recipe for unmanageable expectations ever since. This summer at the Men’s World Cup, once again – despite everyone saying that the England football team are inexperienced or terrible or whatever – expectations will be raised.

It’s the same at every tournament. I remember flying into Manchester from Australia at the start of the 2002 World Cup and was staggered by the amount of England flags all over the city. The level of expectation in the nation was intense and it was as if everyone had taken leave of their senses only to be called back to reality when England got knocked out in the Quarter Finals.

As a priest, I’ve long since learned that prayer for the success of a national football or cricket team is a fool’s errand and to be avoided. When I was doing a year of voluntary service over twenty years ago and work colleagues found out that I was a Christian, some asked me to pray for the success of their football teams. I felt I had to decline (though I was tempted to pray for United!).

However, prayer can offer a way of managing our expectations and being open to reality. Many people, including those with serious addictions, have found Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous serenity prayer incredibly helpful. It involves asking God for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. I do not want to make light of that prayer, but as the World Cup unfolds, it might be wise for English football fans to start praying those words.

Rachel x

June 2018 Magazine

The Rector Writes – May 2018

(This month’s letter is the Rector’s Report from the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) last month.)

St Nick’s never ceases to surprise me. It is one of those places of grace where the unexpected happens. Sometimes people say, of large, well-financed church congregations, ‘Isn’t it amazing what you manage to achieve? How can we be more like you?’; rarely do people ask of small churches, ‘How do you do what you do?’ As a small church with a wild passion, I wish sometimes they would ask that of St Nick’s. For we do extraordinary things with tight resources. Then again, I’m kind of glad that we remain one of the C of E’s best kept secrets!

Let’s talk about St Nick’s and vocation. Ten years ago, I don’t think we could imagine quite what would happen in recent times. We have nurtured any number of vocations in different stages. We’ve helped form people like Sally, Antonio, and Janette Young who’ve gone on to ordained ministry; we’ve helped and encouraged readers like Helen Reid. This year I’m thrilled that Michaila Roberts has been recommended for training, and Nikki is exploring that call on her life. We have an ALM in Margaret Vessey and have had one of the liveliest cohorts of FFM participants this diocese has ever known. I sense that once again we’ll have another cohort going forward for formation in September. We have also been enriched by Jonnie Hill’s presence among us and I look forward to encouraging Steven Bottomley in coming months, as he prepares for a selection conference for ordained ministry. All of us are on vocational journeys; God has extraordinary things in store if we listen and pay attention. I hope that each of us dares to respond to God’s call.

Our worship continues to be vibrant and diverse. I’m very fortunate to have Alan as a colleague. I like to imagine that our differing styles and approaches are complementary, and if Alan has, at times, got me to indulge some of the more Catholic elements of worship, I will never forget making him blow a kazoo during All-Age Worship! Taizē, led by Grace Manley and her team, continues to offer a monthly grounding in prayer and silence. Its ministry has been remarkable and enriching. It was wonderful to have Bishop Mark with us to rededicate our Taizē Cross last year when our service celebrated ten years.

One aspect of liturgical life that is rare across the Church of England is relaxed joy. At St Nick’s we model it wonderfully. Also, we are unafraid of acknowledging our limitations: While we can achieve excellence we never want ministers or congregation to feel anxious or worried when the unusual happens or things go awry.

In the past year, many wonderful community-focussed events have taken place. Last year saw the return of the Holiday Club, this time with a safari theme. It was a roaring (!) success and even led to a few exotic animals coming on to the premises! It was a genuine team effort that people will talk about for a long time to come. Our children’s work continues to be a challenge, but I am proud and grateful for the hard work and passion of both our Makers Club and Rainbows leaders. Christmas again was a busy time, with the church full for the Community Tree-Lighting Service, Carol and Christingle services, as well as the Greater Manchester Voices Christmas Concert. Other highlights include a much-enjoyed Rector’s Quiz in the autumn.

Our building continues to be a blessing and a challenge. I’m grateful to the processes put in place by Alison Mills to ensure that our hall use has gone up in the past year and we are fortunate to have such a high-spec building for hire. After several years of hard work, we finally managed to sign off our latest phase of Heritage Lottery Funded building repairs. However, Grade 2* listed buildings never cease to present challenges. Our boilers have been in a bad way for a while, and I’m delighted that new ones shall be installed just after Easter. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of congregation members who’ve offered so much to ensure this work can happen. Grants have also been offered by the Diocese, Garfield Weston, and All Churches Trust and we are profoundly grateful.

On a personal note, I am also grateful for the support of so many here. In recent times, I have been made honorary canon of Manchester Cathedral, elected to General Synod and made Rector.
They are signals of wider trust and if I can be an irritating, self regarding fool your support for my national and diocesan roles really matter. I hope you appreciate how they can feed into the local and amplify St Nick’s reach into the wider world. The Wardens, Assistant Wardens and PCC don’t always agree with me on everything, but we are bound by mutual respect and trust. It helps us as we seek to move the church forward.

Looking ahead, we face – as ever – opportunities and challenges. It is clear to the PCC and I that a new phase of development will be important for the life of the Church. We want to ensure that this building is as flexible and welcoming as possible. Part of this will most likely entail the revival of plans to replace the pews with chairs, the development of new kitchen facilities in the choir vestry, and a remodelling of the east entrance porch with the introduction of glass doors behind the original ones. That area needs also to be redecorated. This remodelling can only enhance our flexibility as a worship centre and as a community space. It will be the work of several years and will require careful planning and thought.

Part of our future planning involves being involved in mission action planning; we have a robust and interesting plan, but increasingly this will involve partnership with our friends at St Chad’s and indeed across what is sometimes called the northern cluster of churches in Withington Deanery. I have been thrilled by the cross-parish working and trust between Rev’d Mark Hewerdine and me, as well as bonds of affection between St Nick’s and St Chad’s. The cross-licensing of Mark, Alan and I last year was an important signal of intent that I hope continues to grow in depth and trust.

We have – as ever – gained and lost in terms of family members this year. We have lost some special friends this year, including Muriel Nicol, Barbara Gregory and David Crossley’s mum, Doris. Janette Young also went to the great majority. We are always less when we lose those who are precious to us, but as Anne Holmes often reminds me, tears are the price we pay for love. Others have come, sometimes for a short season, sometimes to stay.

Whatever our anxieties for the future, I hope that we also trust to God’s grace. God – even if we do not always realise it – always goes ahead, leading the way in Jesus Christ.

Rachel x

The Rector Writes – April 2018

Easter is upon us. Rejoice! The ‘Alleluia’ – buried in the ground by Fr. Alan at the beginning of Lent – has been dug up and we can proclaim it from the rooftops again. We praise God for his salvation and love. During this season, we feast and pray with thankfulness for our deliverance through Jesus Christ. I encourage you to behold the world with gladness and delight.

I also want to offer a small corrective, lest we lose sight of the profound truth held in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For, there are occasions when our alleluias and our rejoicings can have the character of unreality. What I mean is this: Easter offers a focussed time for our rejoicing and feasting, yet the world so often seems such an unregenerate place. Wars rage in places like Syria. Israel/Palestine seems no closer to reconciliation now than they did fifty years ago. Across the world both tyrants and elected politicians seem to spend much of their time showing off and acting as if the world were their own personal fiefdom. In such a world as this, our alleluias and rejoicing can come across as fantasies of the most self-indulgent kind.

From time-to-time, I suspect all of us have questioned whether it is right and proper to feast and rejoice when so many face challenges and difficulties. We may have asked whether we are just selfish fantasists. Well, I think we can be. However, Easter acknowledges and challenges not only our personal selfishness, but makes a profound statement about the deep reality of our world.

In short, Easter recognises that catastrophe and suffering and travail are real facets of life, but represent a ‘semi-colon’ rather than a ‘full-stop’. That is, as Christians not only must we accept the reality of the world’s pain, but that does not signal the final word. Jesus Christ was crucified and he was raised. In that sentence comprises truth: that pain, death, crucifixion cannot be avoided in this life. Our world is shot through with violence and hate. However, Easter also models the truth that violence is not the end. God’s ‘full stop’ asserts that hope, life and joy are restored in resurrection.

This message matters as much today as it did two thousand years ago. One of the things that tyrants want us to believe is that their reign and power is without end. Every empire that has ever existed, including our own, has never really had a proper sense of its own limitations. Intemperate leaders and regimes often want to claim that we cannot think outside the limits they place on them.

Yet, Christianity offers something else. It says that only the God embodied in the resurrected Jesus Christ sets the limit. And the limit is one which upsets the violent strategies of totalitarian regimes. Perhaps that’s why Christianity has so often offered succour to those who have been at the violent end of a cruel world.

So, I say, dare to proclaim your alleluias during this holy time of Easter. Not in the spirit of vain ignorance about the painful realities faced by so many in our world, but in hopeful trust that we are people who live and breathe in the Living God. Not as smug people who’ve been saved, but as people who are challenged to live in a different way.

As many of you will know, the early Christians were known as ‘Followers of the Way’. This is a Way based on Christ’s extravagant generosity and grace; a grace shaped by Easter.For at Easter, Jesus Christ – who has been humanity’s victim, our victim if you will – is raised to new life. Not vowing revenge, but offering reconciliation. He comes to us with open hands still showing the marks of crucifixion and violence and says, ‘Come, let me show you another way.

‘Happy Easter’

Rachel

The Rector Writes – March 2018

Lent presents countless opportunities for us to deepen and enrich our faith. It can take us far beyond the common (and not to be belittled) practices of giving up chocolate or alcohol. It offers us ways to enrich our Lenten ‘fast’ by taking on something new as well as giving something up.In this month’s letter, as we press deeper into Lent, I want to reflect on and encourage us to consider some of these options.

Firstly, a word about some of the things I hope we’ve all considered at this time of year. St Nick’s has, for a long time, held Lent study groups. This year there is one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Both explore Lenten themes through the prism of the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. It has to be said that it is a challenging film, exploring the problems faced by those who fall foul of the benefits system. However, I know these sessions have also been richly rewarding. They are open to all. Please consult the weekly newsletter for updates on meetings or drop me a line.

There are many other ways we can keep a holy Lent. Most fundamentally, in prayer. Each of us will have our own patterns and disciplines of prayer. During Lent I switch from the usual Church of England daily prayer to the pattern established by the Northumbria Community. I find its simplicity and directness incredibly powerful and challenging. I hope that, even if you feel many forms of Lenten discipline are beyond you, prayer is a place of possibility and enrichment. For those of you who are technically minded, do try the Church of England Lenten app, ‘#LiveLent’. It’s full of good and useful material.

Many of us feel moved to be very practical during Lent. There is an abundance of options. One of the most popular is ‘Forty Days Forty Items’. This draws attention to the way in which many of us ‘horde’ and ‘gather up’ loads of unnecessary ‘stuff’; each day, the practice encourages us to find an item we no longer need and add it to a bin bag. At the end of Lent one gives this haul away to charity. It can be way of helping both charities and finding a less cluttered way to live.

Or, you might want to try ‘Forty Days of Thankfulness’ – this is a way of reminding people how much you care for them by sending them a note, or ringing them for a chat, or dropping them an email or electronic message. One Lent, I sent a postcard every day to someone around the world. It felt like a powerful way of connecting with others.

This year the Church of England has begun a new project that I’m quite excited about. It’s called the ‘Lent Plastics Challenge’. It aims to cut down on the use of single-use plastics. I suspect anyone who has watched TV programmes like ‘Blue Planet’ will know that the planet is facing a crisis around plastics use. The Lent Plastics Challenge offers new ways to cut down on their use as each of the weeks of Lent progress. For more information see: http://www.churchcare.co.uk/images/Plastic_Free_Lent.pdf. Please, as ever, do consider giving to Burnage Food Bank as it prepares for whatlooks like being a very busy Easter period.

I tell you about all these practices because I think Lent gestures towards more than forty days of preparation for the joys of Easter. Prayer and action are things we are called to pursue all year around. I hope that, as a church, we can commit to taking up elements of the Lent Plastics
Challenge all year around, especially as Manchester Diocese looks to become an eco-diocese in years to come.

As you read this, then, I hope you think there’s still time to consider exploring Lent’s possibilities. More than that, that there’s time to think about how we can live more disciplined and holy lives throughout the year. During March, let us look forward to a joyous Easter, but do so with hearts and minds prepared to receive God’s goodness and love.

Rachel

Lent Course

IDanielBlakeSt Nick’s Lent groups are starting from Monday, 19th Feb. For 5 weeks we’ll be meeting on Monday afternoons 2pm, and Monday evenings 7.30pm. This year we’ll be exploring the season using the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. Get in touch for more details, all are welcome.

Post expires at 12:00am on Tuesday March 20th, 2018

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