Rachel writes – February 2018

As I write this letter, we seem to be experiencing one of the rawest January’s in a long time. It’s cold and grey and the rain is relentless. We who live in Manchester are no strangers to wet weather, but I can’t tell you how ready I am for February.

February. When there is at least the glimpse of the spring that is yet to come! This is the month one begins to see snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils. I am not that fussed by flowers and gardens (well, not enough to want to tend one!), but I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see signs of new life and promise appearing.

Yet, February is also the time when we enter Lent, that time of great self examination, preparation and prayer, ahead of Holy Week and Easter. It can feel like a chastening time, especially on Ash Wednesday when we are marked with dust and reminded of our mortality and frailty.

For me, these two elements – the promise of new life and times of penitence – are bound together. February – in the space of a short month – represents a time which contains markers of some of the deepest mysteries of our faith. We see the hope of renewal and yet are invited to see that through the prism of mortality.

How could it be any other way? Jesus Christ comes to us in the frailty of human flesh, revealing the utter beauty of full humanity; yet, in his death and resurrection, he reveals that our frailty, our mortality and our sin is not the end. We are called into a deeper glory where we are Children of God, made in love and for love.

So, as we enter Lent on Ash Wednesday, to what extent should we be joyful? Well, I think, we should be exceedingly glad. Lent is not about pleasure, or having fun or feeling superior, but it is about joy. I am not talking about ‘joy’ as a feeling, so much as a way of understanding or reading the world.

That is, I think it is possible to experience the world as tough and a bit of a grind, and yet know joy in the depth of our being. It is possible because of our faith in the One who has redeemed the world. Right now, life might seem awful and indeed be terrible, but that is not the final word. The final word is God’s and the pain of our current age represents birth pangs of God’s New Creation.

When we are going through tough times it can be very difficult to glimpse the glory of God. That’s when we need the love, support and solidarity of fellow travellers in faith and seek to offer them encouragement in return. In the depths of winter, both literal and metaphorical, we seek after warm and heartening places. We need to hunker down. But we do not stay there. One day we look out of the window and see the first flowers of spring. Then, we know that soon summer will come.

Here’s to us all seeing glimpses of new life this February!

Rachel x

Click here to see a copy of the February 2018 Church Magazine

The Rector Writes – January 2018

As ever, the beginning of a new year is an invitation to both look back and look forward. It is a chance to take stock and get ready for the challenges
and joys of the future.

I want to begin by looking back. After the tremendous upheavals of 2016 – the referendum, the election of Donald Trump, the loss of some of the world’s most popular music and acting talent – 2017 has felt a little less dramatic. Just about! Internationally and nationally there remain extraordinary pressures and concerns. As I write this, the future of our nation and its relationship with Europe seems no clearer than it did a year ago, and further afield there are incredible threats to stability. It is a bewildering world.

Closer to home, I sense it has been an interesting and fruitful year at St Nick’s. I continue to see people growing in faith and service and, if we’ve said goodbye to people, we’ve also welcomed new friends. Personally, it’s been a curious and fascinating year. My sabbatical was refreshing and has helped me find fresh energy for the challenges of ministry. I feel like I have a richer sense of God’s desire for us all to flourish. I have also been appointed an honorary Canon of the Cathedral and Rector (as opposed to ‘Priest-in-Charge’) of St Nicholas.

As we enter a new year, we face on-going challenges and possibilities. Our magnificent building requires new boilers and I trust they shall soon be installed; they should help us to continue to make our community and church spaces attractive and appealing. Of course, the challenges of working with a listed building won’t end there, but as I’ve seen, again and again, we have the energy and courage to face them.

Of course, the real vocation of St Nick’s is to tell the story of Jesus Christ in mission and story. We are called to be faithful. The crowds we saw at Christmas reminded us once again that St Nick’s remains an important focus for community life. God’s story matters at the local level. 2018 will provide us with many opportunities to share the Good News. What those will look like we can’t be sure, but I suspect it will include opportunities to do so via arts and culture, as well as via our work with young people and children. Running through all our missional work is one of the great gifts of St Nick’s: our ability to share faith with humour and delight.

The Book of Ecclesiastes includes that much-quoted extraordinary passage in Chapter Three which begins, ‘For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under the earth…’ Ecclesiastes 3 has been used as a basis for a very famous pop song written by Bob Dylan and covered by the Byrds, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. It includes the words, ‘A time to be born, A time to die […], A time to weep and a time to laugh…’ and so on. It’s a beautiful and challenging passage and one I think should keep us humble as we seek to serve God. There is a time for everything and a season too. Our challenge is to listen, discern and follow where God leads us. I’m sure that God will bless St Nicholas this coming year, though we must be prepared for challenges as well as rejoicing.

My final words I leave to an old folk song I’ve loved since I first heard as a five year old in Worcestershire:

‘Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year!’

Rachel x

Rachel Writes – December 2017

1932 was an interesting year. Future US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was named Time ‘Person of the Year’. The aviatrix Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a solo transatlantic flight. In March the Sidney Harbour Bridge opened, and in that year Liz Taylor, Johnny Cash and Sylvia Plath were born. In Germany Paul von Hindenburg narrowly defeated Adolf Hitler in the presidential election.

Not least among that year’s events, at least for those of us who live in this small plot of south Manchester, was the opening of the brand-new Church of St Nicholas, Burnage. This December, we celebrate eighty-five years of the building (and eighty-nine years of the parish’s existence).

Eighty-five years is a long time in terms of a human’s life span. In Biblical terms, it is significantly more than the ‘three score years and ten’ we are told we are allotted. Yet, I’m delighted that we still have one or two people associated with the congregation who were here from the outset, not least Mr Bevan Taylor. He has been such a faithful archivist over the
decades and he has charted the many phases of life at St Nicholas.

What do we celebrate on this eighty-fifth anniversary? Well, we do indeed celebrate our magnificent Art Deco building. It is a landmark in church architecture. However, I’m glad to say we celebrate much more than simply a splendid collection of bricks and mortar. We are rightly proud of our church building and it deserves the plaudits it has received, but we all know that the church is much more than the building. So, we celebrate our building, but we rejoice in the fellowships and friendships that have flourished in and through it.

We celebrate old friends, both those who have gone to glory and those who remain. We celebrate the ways in which St Nick’s has offered an anchor and focus for the storms of life. We celebrate eighty-five years in which Burnage and Manchester have changed immeasurably and yet St Nick’s has evolved to meet the needs and challenges of our diverse community. We celebrate friends, colleagues and Rectors old and new.

We also look forward, knowing that this little parish is not done yet. We have so much to offer, not just alone, but in the company of friends at St Chad’s. We have so much to offer because we seek to make Jesus Christ central to all we do. He is the Light of the World and we delight in that light.

December, of course, calls us to a time of preparation and hope. We look forward to Christmas Day when we receive the Christ-Child anew. We are filled with anticipation and excitement. We prepare to celebrate.

As we celebrate the life of St Nick’s on Birthday Sunday, we give thanks. Thanks for those who’ve gone before us who made the church what it is, thanks for those with whom we share our life with now, and, of course, thanks for those who shall come after us to take the church forward.

All this is grounded in the God who comes to dwell beside us in Jesus Christ. This is the God who comes as one of us and whose face is shown in the vulnerability of a child. This God invites us to make a response: to show our love and care and grace.

So, may God bless us one and all this Advent and Christmas. May we rejoice in friendships and fellowships made. But more than that, let us prepare to serve the Christ who dwells within us – who calls us out of easy comfort into the bracing and exciting journey of faith and service!

Merry Christmas!

Rachel x

The Rector Writes – November 2017

At the start of September, two months into my sabbatical, I found myself in Alnwick, Northumberland. If you’ve never been to that part of England, I encourage you to go. It is almost eartbreakingly beautiful, a region of ruins and castles, of startling coastline and soaring moors. Alnwick itself is famous for its castle. It is the home of the Dukes of Northumberland, as well as the site of filming for the first two Harry Potter films.

Northumberland is, I think, what some Christians call a ‘thin place’. That is, it is a place where God seems very close. Not only is Lindisfarne or Holy Island found there, but there are countless sites and signs of Christian history going back the best part of two millennia. This is a place that has been prayed in and prayed over. At the same time, the ruins of castles also reveal it is a place that has been fought over. The signs of power-struggles are everywhere. The evidence of violence and prayer lies on every horizon.

Just on the outskirts of Alnwick’s town centre is one of those huge, striking memorials to the dead raised after the Great War. Three bronze servicemen stand on a plinth looking solemnly down on the traffic below. The memorial contains the names of dozens and dozens of men from Alnwick killed in the brutal campaigns between 1914 and 1918. It is a place of stillness in the midst of a busy thoroughfare.

I suppose we are used to seeing these memorials. Certainly, the commemorative events of the past few years have raised awareness again about the ghastly events of a hundred years ago.
Perhaps we have become more attentive to the lessons told by the sad, sombre figures which stand on memorials across this nation and many others. I hope so. In this year when we particularly remember the mud and terror of Passchendaele we certainly should.

My sabbatical visit to Northumberland, with its strange landscape of holy sites and ruined castles, reminded me that we shouldn’t take our commitments to peace and human flourishing for granted.
Beautiful though it is, its history reminds us that war runs deep in our DNA. Kings and would-be kings struggled over this landscape for centuries.

If my memory is accurate, atop the Alnwick memorial to the dead is a cross. It’s a good two metres above the bronze soldiers’ heads. It signals, perhaps, that faith, hope and love triumph over our violence. It indicates that the community which put up the memorial in the early 1920s had known tragedy and catastrophe, but wanted to show – in the Cross – that tragedy can be transformed into hope.

That’s what I like to believe they were doing. They channelled Northumberland’s ancient history of Christianity and its powerstruggles and showed forth their commitment to a world where the Cross stands for more than ‘the gun’.

During November, as our minds turn once again towards ‘Remembrance Sunday’ and all the mixed and complex emotions and thoughts that holds, we could do worse than meditate on the Cross. It’s a symbol that’s been used to legitimate wars that have raged for centuries and have destroyed countless lives. Medieval knights emblazoned it on their chests as they fought each other
and people in near and distant lands.

However, it also holds within it the challenge to turn away from violence. For, via the Cross we are led to the remaking of the world in Resurrection. The resurrected Christ invites us into practices of reconciliation and new life. It is from that perspective that we should attempt to live in this troublous, violent world. The violent wish to make the Cross the final judgment on the world. God invites us to another way: to live in the world from the perspective of Resurrection.

From The Churchwardens – October 2017

Jane and I have welcomed the opportunity to write the letter for the October magazine. We’ve been in charge for three months during Rachel’s sabbatical and although it has been a reasonably quiet time in the church calendar, we shall be glad to hand back the reins!

The assistant wardens and congregation have all helped us to keep things ticking over. July and August tends to be a quiet time in the life of St.Nick’s, a time for holidays and relaxation.
Father Alan has done a brilliant job of delivering Sunday services and keeping us all in check with worship and pastoral matters. He has not turned the church into a Basilica as yet but as I write this letter, there are two weeks to go until Rachel’s return, so there is time!

Father Alan has certainly been a source of invaluable advice and support. Rev Mark Hewerdine from our sister parish St.Chad’s has helped out with the 08.30am Sunday BCP service and Wednesday
morning services in July and September. We are very grateful to Alan and Mark for their contributions to our worship and for simply being at the end of an email or phone call.

In early September Father Alan delivered a training for all lay assistants and readers. We opened the building as usual for Heritage Open Days as part of the Didsbury events and we welcomed 68 visitors over the two days. Jill Lomas belongs to Chorlton Art Group and we are grateful to Jill and her friends for holding their usual exhibition in Church over the Heritage weekend. The art display adds interest and colour to the walls of the building.

We were also looking forward to Sally and Lee’s wedding, to Harvest Sunday and the start of the church preparation towards advent. Our Harvest collection has once again been donated to the charity for the homeless in Manchester, Barnabus.

Saturday September 16th brought a very special event to church, the marriage of our former ordinand, Sally Robinson to Lee Longdon. Sally is now a deacon and Lee is an ordained minister. When Rachel first announced that Sally and Lee has asked to hold their marriage service at St. Nick’s we were delighted and excited to be able to witness this special celebration. Sally and Lee kindly invited St.Nick’s church family to attend the wedding.

Jane and I realised that the wedding was going to be a rather grand affair when we were informed that over 230 guests were expected, there would be a Holy Communion and many of the clergy from the Diocese of Manchester would be in attendance including two Bishops, two Archdeacons, a list of Canons, the diocesan registrar and other VIPs. As well as lots of family and friends, no pressure then!

Sally and Lee had meticulously planned their day including hiring an extra 100 chairs, caterers and a florist. Lee had also hired a temporary organ which had the capacity to fill the whole building with sound. Rev Dr Michael Leyden, Sally’s tutor from St.Mellitus College married the couple, Bishop Mark presided at the Holy Communion and Archdeacon David Sharples delivered
the sermon. It was a new experience to prepare communion for over 200 guests with 4 chalices of wine. If only that could be our weekly congregation!

Sally and Lee’s wedding was a wonderful occasion, it was so special to share in their special day. Many congratulations to Lee and Sally!

Thank you to all the St.Nick’s folk who helped on Friday and Saturday including our hardworking car park attendants.

So, as the sabbatical comes to a close, the church is still in one piece and there have been no major catastrophes. The prayer groups have continued, pastoral visits and home communions have
been delivered, the PCC has met and continued to monitor all aspects of the church finances and fabric and we have enjoyed Father Alan’s weekly sermons and reflections. We have a lot to do in the coming months so let’s be thankful for all we have achieved together over the past three months and look forward to the rest of the year with eager anticipation for all it will bring.

With sincere thanks and love for all your prayers and support,

Alison and Jane


October 2017 Magazine

Alan Writes

AlanDear friends,

As I write, there is a scent of Autumn in the air – I confess, Autumn is my favourite time of year and I look forward to dusting down my array of hats, coats and scarves with great anticipation!

September is always, the ‘gearing up’ month, with lots of young people everywhere ‘gearing up’ for new experiences and challenges as they take their next steps on their respective educational journeys – new schools, new teachers, college, university, perhaps new places to live, new friendships, new steps on the road to independence and adulthood. September can be a time of real buzz and excitement alongside the busyness it brings. We will shortly be celebrating the wedding of Lee and Sally at St Nick’s and it promises to be a really good ‘do’ with no less than two Bishops in attendance! We very much look forward to supporting them both on their big day and I know we as the St Nick’s family, alongside Lee and Sally’s families and many friends, will help to surround them with much love and prayer on such a special occasion and beyond as they build their life together.

As we ‘gear up’ for the weeks ahead, it is important that we do not get too lost in the busyness that a month like September can bring. If we can, let us ensure that we continue to find opportunities to ‘take time out’ for refreshment, relaxation and, most importantly, time for prayer and stillness to connect deeper with our Heavenly Father.

Every blessing,

Fr. Alan

September 2017 Church Magazine

Rachel Writes – July 2017

‘Summer time and the living is easy…’ So runs the famous song from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’. In the opera, the aria is a lullaby sung to her child by Clara, a young mother. It evokes all the languid beauty of an evening in the Deep South of the United States. It’s both beautiful and sad, sung by a mother who – living in Catfish Row, a tenement in South Carolina – is poor and struggling. And yet she sings …

July – even if the weather sometimes tells us otherwise – is very much ‘summer time’. It should be a time when we enjoy the longer days and perhaps take time out in a garden, have a barbecue, or
go a holiday. July is one of those months that, at its best, is there for enjoyment.

For many, in this country and beyond, there is, of course, a great deal of uncertainty. For many, there won’t be much enjoyment this July. Locally, communities continue to process the tragedy that took place at Manchester Arena just a few weeks ago. Further afield, London has been a victim of terrorism once again. Equally, after an unexpected and unscheduled General Election many will
be sick of politics and be quite glad that parliament will soon be ‘breaking up’ for the summer recess. I won’t bore you by going on about the complexity of Brexit and its ‘hard’, ‘soft’ or ‘open’ varieties.

What is clear is that all sorts of challenges are going to be faced by the UK in the coming few years. Equally, in the midst of our national challenges, people around the world face extraordinary issues generated by environmental change, war, and geopolitical imbalances. These changes and imbalances will affect rich and poor, though – as ever – it will be the poorest who will carry the harshest burden.

Perhaps Clara’s refrain – ‘summer time and the living is easy’ – seems hardly appropriate in the wake of tragedies and the emerging problems in our world. And yet … one of the striking
things about Gershwin’s song is that it is sung right in the midst of life’s issues and agonies. The characters in Porgy and Bess are living through tough times. Their story unfolds in the midst of the 1930s Great Depression. And, still, Clara sings …

As Christians, we are called to live in the midst of reality whilst holding on to God’s promises. This is a tricky balancing act. I’m not sure human beings are made to face too much reality. Perhaps that’s why we are capable of making comforting fantasies for ourselves. Yet, if we do not face up to the challenges of living in a complicated world I’m not sure we’re being faithful to God. After all, it is this world that God redeems through Jesus Christ. But we face the complexities of the world with hope. Our hope is Christ. He is the Way, the Life and the Truth. And in following him we know that the path to new life and glory can be the way which is unafraid of pain and suffering.

The Psalms offer us a model for singing God’s song in the midst of life’s triumphs and failures. As I pray each day, I try to read at least one psalm. The Psalms constitute the Bible’s great song book and when we pray them we add our voice to that of God and his pilgrim people. In many ways, Clara’s song from Porgy and Bess is a modern-day psalm. It offers a lullaby in a cruel world. We too are called to sing God’s song – by turns, lullaby, protest-anthem, hymn of praise. What will you sing for God this day?

Rachel xx

July 2017 Magazine

The History of St Nicholas Church

During 1998, Mr Bevan Taylor, a parishioner and long serving supporter of St. Nicholas, compiled a documentary archive of the life and times of St Nicholas

1st Edition – Published 1998

A History Of St Nicholas – Volume 1
A History Of St Nicholas – Volume 2
A History Of St Nicholas – Volume 3

2nd Edition – Published 2002

A History of St Nicholas – 2nd Edition – Volume 1
A History of St Nicholas – 2nd Edition – Volume 2

More information relating to St. Nicholas Church can be found on the Burnage Memory Bank website  http://history.burnageactivityhub.org.uk

Rector Writes – June 2017

It’s June and – God willing! – summer should be coming into its own. Gardens should be looking lovely, cricket games should be in full swing, and many of us will be thinking about holidays. It also strikes me that June is a good time to be thinking about ‘vocation’. As people begin to think about the hazy days of summer it’s a good time to begin to prepare for the new things God may be calling us to later in the year.

Vocation is a curious, unfashionable word. Once upon a time it was common to talk about certain careers and professions as ‘vocations’. Nurses and doctors, as well as teachers, were seen as
people in ‘vocational’ professions. They were invited to see themselves as somehow ‘called’ into something higher. Rather than being driven by money or even prestige, there was a sense in which
people were called to serve. I suspect that these days, that talk seems very old fashioned! Money and status (or lack of it) take precedence over service. The days of Mr Chips and Dr Finlay are
long behind us.

Vocation clings on in religious circles. The Church talks about vocation all the time. Most particularly it sees ordained ministry as vocational. Bishops, Priests and Deacons are called by God to serve him and his church. Increasingly, the church has become alert to the extent to which all are called. Indeed, our first vocation is as baptised Christians – to serve and follow Christ in a world of need. This vision of our common calling is an exciting one. It enables each of us to ask, how is God calling St Nick’s, and how is God calling me to serve? Vocation can include everything from helping set up chairs through to being a minister of the Sacraments. Priests often find themselves doing all these things.

I’ve been thinking about vocation for various reasons. This is a month with a very significant St Nick’s ‘goodbye’. After four years with us, we say goodbye to Sally Robinson. Sally came to us in 2013 on placement. She was exploring her vocation to ordained ministry. Along with her daughter, Abbie, she immediately brought new life into our fellowship. Together they’ve made us more fully aware of God’s generous vulnerability, his faithfulness and the power of resurrection. In the last three years – during her training and formation – we have travelled through many highs and lows together and seen Sally become more fully herself. We wish her every blessing as she is made deacon and goes to serve her title with Rev. Jackie Calow in the north of the diocese. (However, we haven’t quite said adieu to her yet! We look forward to welcoming her ‘back home’ for her wedding to Lee at St Nick’s in September.)

What has become clear since Sally joined us is that vocation and calling should be treasured amongst all. I’ve been thrilled to witness people coming forward to be involved in St Nick’s liturgical, social and missional life in so many ways. We now have a new roster of readers, servers, intercessors and lay assistants. We have new people on the PCC. We even have a few people seriously investigating being ordained themselves.

At a deep level, being called and then responding to that call is a work of humility. It is about recognizing that it is God who starts ‘the conversation’. It is about listening to his voice and responding. It is, then, about understanding the world aright and daring to become the person God is calling us to be. It is in that spirit that I have some news. From the beginning of July
through till the end of September I shall be on sabbatical. That it is happening now has been the result of long periods of prayerful reflection and negotiation with the diocese.

I’m sure that some of you will be wondering what that means for St Nick’s. Crucially, it means that Fr. Alan will temporarily be ‘actingup’ as lead priest and minister. He will, of course, be ably supported by our church wardens, Alison and Jane. However, all three will be dependent on your support at a deep level, both practically and pastorally. For Alan it will an important step in his growing ministry as he takes on more responsibilities. In Mark he shall have a wise priest-colleague, and our Area Dean and our Archdeacon are both first-class.

During that three months I shall not, alas, just be ‘on holiday’. For me, that period will be a time of reflection, prayer and listening. I, like all of us, am called and, as your parish priest, I want to listen to God’s voice. In my nine years at St Nick’s I think we’ve been two phases of ministry work: the first part involved building up relationships between ourselves and our community; the second part has been acting on them. I’m keen to listen to what God is inviting us to next.

Practically, during that three months I won’t be available. When I am in Manchester, please don’t expect me to respond to calls etc. I shall be grateful for your prayers. Letting go of the parish, even for a short while, is really hard, not least because I love you all dearly. Pray for me, as I shall pray for you.

Rachel xx

June 2017 Magazine

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