The Rector Writes – December 2018

In recent years, St Nick’s has seen a considerable increase in participation in our Christmas events (something which reflects national church trends). There is a hunger for connection as Christmas approaches. Thus, for several years, we’ve hosted the local Christmas Tree Lights Switch-On which brings hundreds of people into the church. It’s become the traditional local signal
for the start of the festive season. In addition, we’ve seen our Christingle and Community Carol services grow in size and popularity, and that’s before onementions the many successful concerts given by the Greater Manchester Voices.

This year looks like being especially busy. In addition to the Christmas Tree Lights Switch-On on 30th November, there will be the usual Community Carol Service on 16th December at 3pm, as well as a full programme of Christmas services on Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day. This year, Greater Manchester Voices are holding an open evening on 20th December
rather than a full concert. Do join them, if you can! Of course, on 9th December, at our usual 10.30am service, we shall hold a very special Christingle. It will mark our 90th Anniversary as a parish. The service will be presided over by Mark, the Bishop of Middleton, and it will bring together friends old and new to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the parish of St Nicholas Burnage; it will also give us an opportunity to look forward to how we can continue to grow and evolve as a community.

On 8th December, at 10.30am, I should also like to invite you to come and join me at the Rectory for a Christmas Coffee Morning. I remember fondly how Vera and Sybil Gawkrodger used to hold a Christmas get-together and I’d like to reinstitute it. I’m no mince-pie baker, so I may have to rely on other people’s skills! However, I’m sure I can dig out some brandy to slip into your
coffees! Of course, there will be other opportunities to share fun, fellowship and reflection during Advent and Christmas. Do check your notice sheets regarding these.

However, a little note of caution. For all the busyness that December brings, it is important that we don’t lose sight of our true focus. Without it, all the tinsel and partying is mere clanging bells and sounding fury.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a killjoy. Far from it. Advent and Christmas are extraordinary seasons. Let us dare, then, to use December as an opportunity to prepare and pray and ready ourselves for the feast. But the point of that preparation is Jesus Christ.

How easy it is for any of us to lose sight of the centrality of Christ to our festal joy. In my busyness I can get a little lost. Many clergy find December such a bewildering marathon that the only thing they look forward to on Christmas day afternoon is a good sleep! This is understandable. We are all limited human beings. Yet, there are richer and deeper joys in our Advent preparations and Christmas feasting than trying to get the ‘big day’ right.

Ultimately, there is one Christmas gift: Jesus Christ. In his nativity, our hope takes flesh; in Christ’s vulnerability is the promise of peace and riches abounding. May you know his love, delight and wonder, this Advent and Christmastide.

Merry Christmas!

The Rector Writes – October 2018

St Nick’s is the kind of open and generous place where fresh and creative things are welcomed and embraced. Over the years, I’ve always been grateful for the willingness of church members to try new approaches to worship, be flexible while building works go on, and enjoy the creative arts in our magnificent building.

This month I want to write about the proposed next phase of work on the building. Now, I know this can generate weary groans among some. Building stuff is rarely something that sets hearts aflutter. However, at our most recent meeting, the PCC committed to exploring some very exciting plans for St Nick’s future.

Before I outline them, it’s important to say this: the primary concern of the PCC and I is to ensure that St Nick’s never loses sight of its primary purpose
as a place dedicated to the glory of God. We exist to worship God and one of the ways we do that is in being a servant community in our parish. The proposed plans seek to keep these primary purposes centre-stage.

So, let’s begin with the more functional aspects of the plan. During the last phase of work, it was discovered that the high-level windows (the small stained-glass ones) are in a parlous state. These windows were not included in the original work. However, we managed to find some money in budget savings to repair some of the worst-hit windows, but there are several which
require urgent repair.

Equally, it will not have escaped your notice that the east entrance area is in need of work. While it is now watertight, it is unsightly and does not signal the level of welcome any of us should like. The next phase of work aims to address the twin concerns of the high-level windows and the east entrance, but to do so much more.

Here’s the exciting bit, then: The PCC has engaged our architect to produce a feasibility study to explore the redevelopment of the east entrance (the Entrance Lobby) and Choir Vestry. That, of course, shall involve redecoration, but also includes the prospect of opening-up that area.

We are looking at adding glass doors to the entrance (whilst retaining the original doors). This would mean being able to have the original front doors open for services all year around. It would address the issue that many new people face when coming to St Nick’s: coming in through those imposing
doors. Instead, the imposing doors would be held open and people could see in through the glass doors.

In addition, we have increasingly found that we lack usable spaces for community and church use. Thus, the architect is going to look how we can adapt that front area so that it can be hired out by the community. It would involve looking at the current lavatory arrangements in that area, as well as adding a kitchenette in the choir vestry. It would need to be both wheelchair accessible as well as secure, so that the space could be hired out without giving immediate access to the church or Rector’s Vestry.

A further area we want to look at is how we can make the main church space as flexible as possible, for both worship and community use. Some of you will recall that in about 2012/3 we looked at removing some of the pews and replacing them with chairs. We had general support for this, and – subject to certain conditions – support from the Diocesan Advisory Committee. This is something we want to revisit.

Our pews are tricky and bulky items of furniture to work with. Whenever we have a Fair or a big community event they need to be moved around. This is a task that has become more wearisome over time. They also limit our options for worship, especially for Taizē. It also means that we are quite limited in how we might make the church area available for (appropriate) hire. Thus, we are considering the replacement of most of the pews with chairs.

Clearly, this is a process that will take time and about which I hope to hear your views and opinions, both positive and negative. It is also predicated on raising substantial sums of money (again!). I appreciate that that side of things can be unpalatable, especially after you have been so very generous with donations not only for previous work on the roof, but also for our new
boilers.

I genuinely hope that the main burden of raising money will not fall on our regular congregations. The proposed works are so major that we shall be dependent on the support of national as well as local sources for grants. I am confident that, as a nationally significant building already on the Historic England radar, we shall find a great deal of financial support for our work.

Nonetheless, much responsibility will come back to us. We are the stewards of a mighty building and a fine heritage, but more than that, a people who keep alive a living faith. Our building without people and faith is but a clanging cymbal; with us it sings a symphony of love. If it can feel like a burden to keep the ‘show’ on the road, it is also our gift to be stewards of a
building that can have so much to offer in the future. We are called to keep the rumour of God alive in Burnage, and more than that: to celebrate the vibrant presence of God in our community and beyond, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Rachel xx

October 2018 Magazine

Rector Writes – September 2018

September. For me, as for many, it will always be the month when everything starts again. Perhaps, it’s because I’m someone who (as an honorary Fellow at a local university) still has a foot in academia; perhaps, it’s because I’ve never quite grown up; perhaps, it’s because all of us find that our school experiences stay with us for the rest of our lives and September is ‘back to school’ month.

Whatever the reason, September is the month when it can feel like the world comes alive again. Kids go back to school, parents and teachers go back to work, and in Church our eyes turn towards Harvest, Remembrance and, well, dare I mention it, Advent and Christmas.

This autumn we approach a special time in the life of St Nick’s. Unbelievably, it is ninety years since the foundation of the parish. This is surely something worth celebrating. On December 9th (almost ninety years to the day since St Nick’s foundation), the current Bishop of Middleton, Mark Davies, will join us for a celebratory morning service, and lunch. I hope you will put the date in your diary.

We shall begin with our Christingle at 10.30am, led by Mark, and our Rainbow unit, followed by a lunch with sandwiches and cake and wine. Friends from past and present shall be invited, including one or two of the ‘great and the good’. The most important thing, though, is to have you there. If you think of someone we should invite to this celebration, please let me or the Church Wardens know. It’s going to be a great day.

In addition, now we’ve completed our boiler project, it’s time to think about how we can address some other aspects of our missional work. This is going to involve a new phase of work on the building as we look to repair some parts of it, as well as make it ever more flexible for the demands of the church and wider community. Clearly, there are some pressing matters, not least some urgent repairs to some of the church’s high-level windows and bringing our front porch back to life, but the PCC and I are keen to see how we make these works add to our ministry rather than damage it. We look forward to sharing some ideas with you very soon.

One area that the Mission Action Planning Group, a sub-group of the PCC, has begun to explore is ‘dementia-friendly church’. Dementia is something that affects the whole community and it is surely only right that churches work to become places where those with dementia, their families and friends, are especially welcome. This autumn we expect to move this work forward as we plan not only a special service, but look towards developing some dementia-friendly events. It will be an important part of our mission of service and an expression of our commitment to Inclusive Church.

All in all, then, there will be much going on, in addition to the usual round of Church activities and plans. I hope that the mission work of St Nick’s is something we can all feel part of and have a stake in. After all, we are called to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This includes not only being faithful to our call to holy living, but showing willingness to be representatives of the Good News. As things get going again this autumn, I really hope you will be inspired to not only get involved, but dare to dream of new ideas and share your hopes with me, the Curate, the Wardens and the wider leadership team. Exciting times lie ahead.

Rachel xx

September 2018 Magazine

Rachel Writes – August 2018

Rachel writes…

If, for many, August is a time to go on holiday, throughout history it has always been a season for war and conquest. August was the month in which Christopher Columbus set off on the journey which led to the European ‘discovery’ of the Americas. It was the month that Julius Caesar’s Roman invasion landed in Britain, and the month when the Battle of Bosworth took place in 1485. August 4th 1914 was the date the British Empire declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and August 7th 1964 was the date of the Gulf of Tonkin Declaration that led to the US becoming more involved in Vietnam.

I tell you all this because this August we enter the last phase of remembrance for the one-hundredth anniversary of the Great War. On August 8th 1918, the ‘On- Hundred Day Offensive’ began that led to the final defeat of the German Empire. In 2018, churches and faith communities are being encouraged to pray for peace across these ‘one-hundred days’.

The One-Hundred Day Offensive was, as were so many Great War battles, horrifyingly bloody. However, it also shakes-up our ideas of what World War One was like. In our minds, we think of blood and stalemate. These final one-hundred days of the war were full of movement and demonstrated that, by the autumn of 1918, Britain had the best army and tactics of all the combatants. If Germany was a spent force, its military and defences were still formidable and the casualties were eye-watering. Among the dead were the Great War poet, Wilfred Owen, killed just seven days before the Armistice on November 11th. His mother received the telegram about his death on the day war ceased.

If all of this seems rather grim for an August letter, I simply want to remind you that we still live in troubled times and in our fractious world not only is war ever present, but conflict forever threatens to break out. In an age of authoritarian and pompous world leaders, brinksmanship is back on the agenda.

How might we react? One route, which perhaps we all take from time-to-time, is to bury our heads. We might think, ‘Oh, let the world hang’ and head off to the garden for a cool drink. It is an understandable reaction and one that, when I’m on holiday, I’m inclined to take. Such is the nature of our world that we can feel powerless.

Perhaps, one more pro-active approach is to seek to spread a little peace wherever we are. This is when, metaphorically (and sometimes literally) we open the peace of our own ‘garden’ up to others. So, instead of retreating from the world, we invite those around us to be involved.

How might we do this? Well, one way is simply to model peace in our interactions. When we’re tetchy and tired (especially in hot weather) this can be challenging, and yet most people instinctively respond to kindness and generosity. (Recently, I remember seeing a photo of Anne Holmes and Anne Tudor outside Didsbury Mosque joining in a ‘demonstration’ of solidarity and hope one year on from the Manchester Bombing. I was cheered to see them standing in solidarity with people of faith and none for peace over violence.) Another way to model peace is to invite our friends and neighbours to join us at church from time-to-time simply to encounter a community that is seeking to be shaped by love and peace.

And, of course, we can pray. We do that week-by-week, of course, but prayer extends throughout the week in our daily lives. There are many different patterns and I believe we all pray much more than we give ourselves credit for. However, being intentional – that is, keeping times to pray for specific things – matters.

This brings me back to the ‘One-Hundred Days’ of prayer for peace. While many people are cynical about the efficacy of prayer, I’m clear that it does change things. That may not always be obvious at the geo-political or world level, but if prayer wasn’t powerful it wouldn’t have so often been banned (as in some communist regimes) or coopted by the authoritarian right (the Nazis, a godless lot if there ever was, loved to co-opt churches for their own ends).

Prayer shifts minds and attitudes and can motivate us to action. Indeed, it is an action itself. So, friends, do pray and keep praying, both individually and together. If you’d like to know more about the One-Hundred Days of prayer, see:
https://www.hopetogether.org.uk/Groups/256563/Remembrance.asp
May we all have a blessed and peaceful August!

Rachel xx

August 2018 Magazine

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

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

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

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