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

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

xx

October 2017 Magazine

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