(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.