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’


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: 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 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

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

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

Rector Writes – May 2017

Since our last APCM in March 2016 we have become used to hearing new, unexpected and, for many of us, unwelcome phrases. Perhaps strangest of them all is the phrase, ‘alternative fact’. It
emerged, of course, out of the fantastically divisive US Presidential Election in which ‘the truth’ – already a slippery concept deserving our full attention – became something to be treated with contempt. We are now, apparently, in a post-truth age. The events of the past twelve months have indicated that perhaps we have entered a new era of brazenness.

The language of alternative facts, of truth and integrity are not simply political terms. They are important for religious ideas and discourse, even in this seemingly small plot of the Church of England we call the ‘Parish of Burnage, St Nicholas.’ In these tricky and tricksy political and cultural times, we – as followers of Christ – are being challenged as never before to model the hope and truth that lies within us: Jesus Christ. We do not want to pretend that ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ will do. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Where do we do start? Well, first a theological point and then some practical ones. We start, theologically, with the truth: that we are all, at some level, liars and tricksters. We gather in Church not to show our goodness, but to show our need for redemption. We are not good, but we want to be. We all stretch truth and are prejudiced and see it from our limited point of view. We all see through a glass-darkly and we long to see God face-to-face.

To acknowledge this theological truth can be incredibly liberating. It means we do not have to pretend we know all things. It reminds and challenges us to focus on God in all we do. When we place this in the context of our wider culture of flim-flam and self-promotion, this is a serious business indeed.

So, here’s a reminder that, though we continue to be a small fellowship facing challenging times, we are serious in our mission of service to the living God. Firstly, we should be glad that – for all practical purposes – the major phase of building work we initiated several years ago has come to an end. We are currently waiting for our architect to sign off the project after the ‘cooling-off’ period. I want to especially thank Tony Witty for his support, good humour and willingness to wrangle over often very confusing figures with me. Our building is watertight for the first time in years, a fact that will be essential if we are to properly serve our communities in the years to come. Of course, a building like ours needs constant servicing, but we are at last ready to move forward again.

At the heart of our work is prayer, worship and thanksgiving, week by week. In the past year I have been delighted to see a blossoming of our curate Alan’s ministry among us. He has shown
us a new, more Catholic approach to embodying priesthood and I have been resourced by it. I also think that we at St Nick’s have enabled him to be more informal, though I suspect it shall be a
long-time before we witness him coming to church in ripped jeans!

We are also in the process of saying goodbye to Sally who has been our ordinand for three years. She and Abby have brought delight into our midst and I’m thrilled that Sally and her fiancé Lee
will be married at St Nick’s in the autumn. We pray for her and her new ministry which begins this summer. As a congregation I think we are waking up to the importance of everyone’s call to vocation, and I’ve seen encouraging signs that members of St Nick’s are now exploring vocation to ordained and lay ministries with great seriousness.

After an incredibly busy year of activities in 2015, including The Tree of War, 2016 was quieter, but with many rewards. Being a major building site meant we were careful about what we
committed to, but our Summer and Christmas Fairs were fine occasions, and the building is now being used more and more by community groups. Our Community Christingle – which adopted a
different format this year and made stars of our Rainbow unit – was a roaring success and our Christmas services continue to speak far beyond the boundaries of the church walls. Burnage Community Choir, which emerged from this congregation, has become part of the warp and weft of our wider community and is an extraordinary musical ensemble.

St Nick’s is also entering an exciting phase as we begin to formally link with St Chad’s, Ladybarn. I’ve been delighted by how organic that process has been and it was wonderful to welcome St Chad’s to join us for Community Carols, as well as us heading up to them for our celebration of new ministries for the Feast of St Chad’s. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road as we travel together, but I genuinely believe that our travelling together will be gift. We have welcomed new friends to our fellowship and I’m thrilled about how they continue to challenge us to grow and change. New people always bring fresh ideas and new eyes. Of course, just as we’ve welcomed new friends to our fellowship we have lost a few precious ones including Muriel Nicol, Barbara Gregory Tony Huddart and Derek Wheatcroft. We also remember Jim Mills who was and is precious to several members of our congregation.

God is good, abundant, but s/he also challenges us. Over the past twelve months, the church wardens, a small group of congregation members and I have begun to develop our Mission Action Plan. It has been a revealing process. It has indicated that the church is strong at pastoral and human relationships as well as being open to liturgical innovation. However, we face significant financial challenges as well as the challenge be more closely connected with our wider community.

Equally, the second half of last year revealed how one cannot plan for the unexpected. When our dear Caroline Abiodun fell ill last autumn her roles with the finance and the hall meant we had to engage in some swift footwork. The churchwardens, assistant wardens and others rose magnificently to the task. I can’t say how grateful I am to them for their work and for Katy Mills stepping in as our interim treasurer. We continue to pray for Caroline as she gets better.

For me, personally, it has been a rich year and I thank you for your support for all I do. There have been numerous highlights including the simple joys of day-to-day ministry: being with people at the big moments of life, and laughing and crying with those who are trying to make sense of it all. It was great to re-instigate the Rector’s Quiz, to wear a silly Christmas jumper for the first time, as well as act as Lord Mayor’s Chaplain for our own Carl Austin-Behan and bring a new book to birth. I may be an unconscionable show-off, but you, my church family, keep me grounded.

There are very real issues for us in this year as in every year. Our financial situation is challenging, but we face this year with hope. As a result of negotiations with the Diocese I believe we shall pay our Parish Share in full for the first time in many years. St Nick’s must become more outward looking. The Diocese has implemented a new process of Mission Action Planning which will help us focus on particular aims and goals. I think it will become ever more important that we work closely with partners like Burnage Food Bank, the local Council and other churches.

There is much to be excited about in the coming years. I see new faces and new energy emerging in our worship life. I think closer working with St Chad’s will help us identify how God is calling us. There is so much talent and ability in this congregation, and oodles of commitment. God is good. God is abundant. God invites us into joy and new life. We are called to discern where that is and get involved.

Rascel xx

May 2017 Magazine

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