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

Rector Writes – April 2017

One of the many striking things about the four gospel accounts of Jesus Christ is how much space they devote to the events of just one week. Indeed, if they were treated as novels or as a short story, you’d probably say, ‘nice try, but a bit imbalanced.’

Consider St. Mark’s account. It’s commonly accepted as the earliest account of the Gospel. It moves with the pace and style of tabloid journalism. Each incident is treated with dash and speed.
There is no account of Jesus’ nativity. As many scholars have pointed out, St Mark’s work has the urgency of one who expects the ‘end of the world’ very soon. Yet, for all of that, at least a third of the narrative concentrates on the events between Palm Sunday and the Resurrection.

That the Gospels are so ‘imbalanced’ is an indication of the centrality of the events of Holy Week and Easter to our faith. While many in wider society make a greater fuss about Christmas, for
Christians, Easter is central. It presents the account of Our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. That final week takes us to the centre of God’s love for and faithfulness towards a world of need.

Of course, the Gospels are not novels or stories. They represent a fundamental way for us to encounter the good news of Jesus Christ. As I’ve suggested in my letters and sermons over the years,
there is something utterly scandalous about that good news. Not only do the Gospels suggest that God may be represented in human terms, but, in Jesus Christ, God suffers, dies and is
resurrected.

No one can begin to claim they fully understand the mysteries of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. But we can participate in them and discover the profound power of God’s dwelling with and in us. This Holy Week there shall be a number of opportunities to meet Christ again on the path to death to resurrection. On Monday, as has become tradition at St Nick’s, we shall have our Stations of the Cross again. I’m also glad to say that, after a few years rest, our simple Agape Meal returns on Maundy Thursday at 6pm. We shall, of course, also be keeping our usual Good Friday and Easter Day services.

All of these services remind us that, if Holy Week and Easter are not simply stories, they are dramatic. We can participate in the drama. Indeed, at one level, we must. For in Christ, God stoops low to us and enters our drama. He makes an invitation to us to meet him in liturgy, in bread and wine, and in each other. If we are to taste salvation, we must make our response to his invitation.

So, as we draw close to the central drama of our faith, may you know God’s closeness, love and trust. May you walk the way of the Cross with him. May you wait at the Foot of the Cross, and know
the unconditional love of Christ’s self-giving. On Easter Day, may we all rejoice in the completion of that love; may we know the reconciliation and joy of the Living God.

With love and blessings,

Rachel xx

April 2017 Magazine

Rector Writes – March 2017

Finally, it’s Lent. It’s felt a long time coming this year, not least because Easter is about as late as it can be. As I write this, however, I think I’m ‘ready’ for Lent, if ‘ready’ is the right word. I feel in need of challenge and fasting and reflection. I feel it’s time we all took on board the holy, if challenging, joy available to us during this season of repentance and preparation.

Lest you think me a masochist, let me outline why I think Lent is ‘overdue’. What it comes down to is this: I think we all need a ‘wake-up call’ from time-to-time. I say this as someone who is
permanently sleep-deprived and could happily sleep in till 11 am each day if circumstances allowed it! But even a lover of sleep like me acknowledges the value of a good alarm from time to time. And that is what Lent is. It is a clarion call from God – a call to see ourselves and the world more clearly and respond to God’s loving invite into faithfulness.

This clarion call is made to all, but it is also specific. Lent is a challenge to communities as well as individuals. Indeed the idea that Lent is about individuals is quite a new idea. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use these forty days to search our consciences or give something up, but Lent’s deeper challenge is for the whole community to prepare for the heart of our faith: Easter.

So how might the wake-up call be applied to us at St Nick’s? Well, if I’m honest I want to say it is a matter for discernment rather than hard-and-fast rules. However, I’ve encountered enough of God’s startling love down the years to know that the wake-up call isn’t likely to be comfortable. It’s more likely to be the holy equivalent of a bucket of icy water thrown on our drowsy faces than a gentle nudge.

Here are some of the things I suspect God is challenging our community about as we journey through Lent. Firstly, that we can’t ever afford to be inward-looking. Yes, Sunday-by-Sunday we
gather for worship, and that’s great, but who we are is shown in our relationships with the wider world.

Equally, we can’t expect to be popular or liked simply because we call ourselves Christians. We have a great charge that we share in common: to serve and love with the wild abundant love of God.
And we may get few thanks for being faithful to that calling. We may not get much applause, but our task is to be faithful in a needy world. For when we strip back the cheap glamour and promises of the world, we come face-to-face with Christ. Christ comes to us in the shape of those who are on the outside. Christ is not comfortable but challenging.

The good news, however, is that God is faithful. We can be so easily discouraged (Well, I know I can!). However, the paths we follow are those already walked by Christ. We follow after him. He
may lead us into unexpected, challenging places, but he doesn’t abandon us. In our personal struggles, in our corporate fears and in the world’s endless need, God is present. And he cherishes us and we are called to cherish and delight in him.

May Lent be a time of wondrous discovery for you!

Rachel xx

Rector Writes – February 2017

As many of you will know, I’m fascinated by words. Perhaps that’s hardly surprising given I’m a writer. ‘February’ is an interesting case in point. Its origins lie in Roman antiquity. It’s derived from the Latin name for the second month of the Julian calendar, ‘Februarius’. This name itself was derived from the Roman festival of ‘Februalia’, a term which basically means ‘purification’. So, the meaning of ‘February’ is – effectively – ‘time of purification’.

I have to admit, when put like that, ‘February’ sounds rather ominous. ‘Time of Purification’ sounds like a slogan Chairman Mao might have used in Communist China, c.1965. It would have
presaged nothing good. For the Romans, ‘purification’ would have referred to rituals of cleansing and preparation, of purging excesses. In an agrarian society such practices would have been
significant as it prepared for spring and the agricultural year. It was both ‘spring cleaning’ and ritual purification.

These ideas of purification – of purging excess and spring cleaning – all have resonances in our modern world. February is usually the month in which we begin Lent, that extended season of preparation and fasting. Shrove Tuesday is a modern way of gathering up ‘excess’ and having a splurge before a time of restraint. And in February – as we usually see the first signs of spring – people often begin to think of having proper ‘spring clean’.

This year February is slightly different. As Easter is very late, it’s March before we begin Lent. Yet, in some ways, perhaps this year’s extended wait for Ash Wednesday only amplifies the (forgive the word!) ‘purgative’ nature of February. In my imagination, February always conjures a time when the weather is at its bleakest and – despite the appearance of flowers like snowdrops – there is snow on the ground. It feels to me like the deepest bite of winter. I think of it as ‘cleaning up’ the last remnants of the previous year.

In our modern technological world in which most people live in cities perhaps we’ve lost connection with the deep rhythms of life that most of our forebears knew. Pieter Bruegel, the great 16th
century artist, understood how seasons, life and devotion all went hand in hand. He – and his team of painters – produced extraordinary images of early modern life in which ‘holiness’ and
devotion were simply part of life. That incredible painting of the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ is shown as taking place in deep snow in the Netherlands. He is always alert to how the divine – in both beautiful and terrifying manifestations – waits to greet us in the ordinary. If you have time, look that painting up (as well as the justly famous copy of his ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’.) The extraordinary always lurks in the ordinary.

Perhaps that’s what we all need to recover: a sense of God’s grace and wonder and terrific power in the midst of our humdrum lives. As we prepare, once again, to enter
Lent, perhaps it is time to look around and see, or to still ourselves and listen. February can feel like a bleak month, where we are caught between the echoes of the old year
and the desire to get on with spring and summer. But perhaps that’s its power: God is sometimes to be found ‘in-between’: in our frustrations and longings as much as our joy and fulfilments. On
chilly and dark mornings I hope that you, along with me, are prepared to wait on God and discern his love, emerging like the first spring flower.

Rachel xx

The Rector Writes – January 2017

The turning of the New Year is often a time for reflection and reminiscence. In any ordinary year there will be a lot to consider and reflect on. However, 2016 has, by any measure, been extraordinary. Many important 20th century popular culture icons have gone to join the Great Majority, including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood and Alan Rickman. More significantly, the implications of the Brexit Referendum vote in June will be felt not only in the UK, but around the world for decades to come. And, then, we have President…well, resident Trump.

I know there will be a range of views about all these things. Many people will say, ‘Who cares about the death of someone like David
Bowie?’ However, the sense that many 20th century icons have died suddenly is an indication that we’re truly into the 21st century now. The 20th Century that formed so many of us over the age of forty is history now.

Equally, some people will say, the UK leaving the EU is long overdue. Personally, I am still in shock. It feels like a catastrophe in
the making. I’ve grown up in the EU and I am a proud Brit and a proud European. I think for many people younger than me it just seems unbelievable that the European dream is over. And, then, we come back to President Trump. Frankly, his appointment strikes me
as one of the most worrying international developments of the past fifty years.

So, 2016! On a global scale, I suspect it may go down as one of the significant moments in the story of the 21st century. It may signal
the point at which the 21st century ‘came of age’. However, as our thoughts turn to a New Year I still believe we do so in confidence. Why? Because, in faith, we say, ‘Jesus Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow.’ And we don’t do so in some stupid, complacent way. That is, we don’t just say, ‘Nothing can trouble us because we’re special.’ Rather, because we seek to follow in Christ’s Way, we trust that – in the midst of life’s challenges – ultimately God’s Story is definitive.

God’s invitation to live on his promises is incredibly challenging. I am reminded of the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a Lutheran
Pastor during the Second World War. He was arrested for resisting Hitler and, after over a year in prison, was put to death. In the face of incredible challenge, he continued to live and work for the Gospel and he didn’t give into despair. The world was crumbling
around him and he kept faith, because God keeps faith.

While in prison, he wrote the following poem:

All men go to God in their distress,
seek help and pray for bread and happiness,
deliverance from pain, guilt and death,
All men do, Christians and others.

All men go to God in His distress
find Him poor, reviled, without shelter or bread,
watch Him tormented by sin, weakness and death.
Christians stand by God in His hour of grieving.

God goes to all men in their distress,
satisfies body and soul with His bread,
dies, crucified for all, Christians and others,
and both alike forgiving.

Of course, it’s a translation and as such it loses much of its power and subtlety. But it’s still possible to discern an extraordinary theological claim: That God meets us in our need, no matter who we are. Not because we’re Christian or good or special or blessed. No. He meets us and offers himself body and soul and forgives us. Why? Because that is God’s very nature. Because God is the Love Supreme.

God’s wondrous nature remains no grounds for complacency. In being invited to Follow The Way we do so in acknowledgement that we’re Christ’s Body on earth. And how we go about that way of being matters. We can choose to sit on our hands, we can bury our heads in the sand. Or we can show courage and faith and love. We can live as Christ lived. It may be costly, but it is also the way to abundant life.

May you have a Happy New Year!

Rachel xx

January 2017 Magazine

The Rector Writes – November 2016

Recently, in a rare moment of clarity, I realised that if I were to be a season I should be ‘autumn’. Even though this is the season in which the weather becomes inclement and the nights draw in, I find autumn both exhilarating and comforting. Example: I have permission to don my waxed jacket again, and pull on wellies for walks. One can wrap up warm and put the heating on. It is a time for cosiness and rich wines and soothing food. If I were allowed to eat more expansively I’d grow very fat during this season on partridge and wood pigeon, marron glacé and rich bramble pies.

Yes, autumn is a special time and November is its final flowering. The light dies early in November and, yet, you still get moments of blazing sun shining off the rich amber of oak leaves. As the wind blows, great piles of fallen leaves are sometimes lifted up to dance.

November is also the time where we both look back and also to look forward. We look back in remembrance – firstly on those who have died and gone to glory (All Souls Day) and then on the War Dead on Remembrance Sunday. This year our Service of Glad Remembrance for all who’ve died is on November 6th at 3pm. I hope that many of you will be able to join us for this occasion. Equally, during this period when we’re remembering the shattering events of the Great War and are also aware that parts of the world are in a complete mess, I hope you’ll be able to make time to be with us on November 13th for our Remembrance Sunday service.

Yet, if November entails remembrance, it also gestures towards hope. On Sunday 27th is Advent Sunday. On that day we enter a period of great anticipation and waiting, as we begin to prepare for the extraordinary joy of Christmas Day. A season both of Light and of Penitence, Advent offers us an opportunity to look forward and reflect on how we can become closer to God. This year I’m excited about the prospect of having a Tuesday afternoon Advent Group to which all at both St Nick’s & St Chad’s are invited, as well as a reciprocal group at St Chad’s on Wednesday evenings. I hope it’s a sign of our emergent closer ties with St Chad’s.

So this November shall be a busy one. In addition to all the church activities, we also have our Christmas Fair. Yet, if we risk being over-busy as we draw to the end of another year, let us also take pause. If there are bright and crisp days this November, I hope each of us can take a moment to wonder and delight at Creation; I hope that as the nights become bleak and wet, we have warmth and good company; and through it all we can face the seasons of Advent and Christmas with hope, expectation and delight.

Rachel x.

The Rector Writes – October 2016

It would take an act of almost wilful ignorance for any long-term UK resident to be unaware that the Church of England has some problems. Since the 1950s there’s been a gradual reduction in church going in England, and, since the 1970s, a strong sense that most people no longer see their default identity as ‘C of E’. There are, of course, many factors in these changes and I’m not going to outline them here. Rather, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge ‘the facts’.

As a Church of England parish church, St Nicks faces many challenges and opportunities, whether that’s in terms of fabric or in terms of the helping our congregation to grow and thrive. In many respects I am not over anxious about these matters, primarily because God is extraordinary gracious and good. That which is of God cannot be kept down in the long-term. However, it’s also clear to me that we are called into partnership with God to work for the Kingdom. We are people of The Way and we follow where Christ leads, but we only do that in participation. We are also the Body of Christ. If we are to be that in the world we have to get on actually live it.

As such, we have ‘re-booted’ our Mission and Stewardship Group. It includes people like the church wardens, the curate and me as well a number of other volunteers from both the PCC and the wider congregation. We are in the midst of developing a Mission Action Plan (MAP). If you haven’t heard of them, expect to become a mighty expert on them in coming months! I’ve no wish to sport with your intelligence, but for those of you who don’t know what a MAP is, it’s a way of reflecting on where we are as a congregation/parish and – by understanding our hopes, priorities and opportunities – planning our mission strategy. If that still sounds a little opaque, do not be alarmed! In essence, a MAP is there as a tool to help us think about how we can practically serve the wider community as well become a growing congregation.

The one thing a MAP is not is a magic wand. By attempting to follow through on the priorities we set we shall find that some things work and some things don’t. The MAP also shows us where we’re doing good and exciting things already. In having a plan written down we have a reference point. If a particular project isn’t going well, then we can revisit it and adjust.

Apologies if this all sounds very dry. In one respect it is. For those of us who are rather more instinctual in our faith and who delight in the wild wanderings of the Spirit, Mission Action Planning comes across as the invention of the managerial mind – safe, planned, and unimaginative.

However, MAP offers us a way to hold our mission to account. And it exists as a tool. In the coming months, I hope more and more people – as the MAP process develops – will take ‘ownership’ of our Plan. What I mean is, that each one of us (whether we see ourselves at the centre of the church’s life or at its edges) have an opportunity to shape our plan of action for coming months and years. I hope to have a session or a morning in which feedback can be worked into the Plan. I shall also preach on the matter at some point. (Oh, how you wait with bated breath for that one!)

‘Consultation’ isn’t about paying lip-service to congregational views, but a reminder of my earlier point about us being Christ in this little plot of Manchester. We are people God is calling to service, love and proclamation. The future of the Church of England and of St Nick’s is ultimately in God’s hands, but we are representatives of those hands in this world. We have so many gifts, so much hope and a whole panoply of joy here at St Nick’s.

 

Rachel x.

The Rector Writes – July 2016

As you read July’s magazine, I trust that this year’s ‘big production’ has gone off without a hitch. No, I’m not talking about a successor to last year’s stage production, The Tree of War, but the curate Alan’s first service as a priest!

Preparation for it was quite an undertaking, given the number of people who wanted to come and take part. I extend a particular ‘thank you’ to the Church Wardens and their team for ensuring that we handled the occasion with aplomb.

To be ordained priest is a huge step in the life of any minister. Whilst being made a deacon represents a first and often terrifying move into ordained ministry – I’ll never forget the first day I walked down a street in my dog collar! – it is the priest who traditionally gathers up those things which make the church ‘the church’. S/he
can pronounce forgiveness and blessing and preside at the Eucharist amongst many other things. It is a role in which is vested awesome and humbling authority. Furthermore, it is a way of being faithful to God’s call which cannot be sustained without two essentials: grace and humour.

When I was ordained priest in 2006 I actually made a bit of a fool of myself. As the hands of the Bishop and the priests was laid upon me I burst into tears. Not the quiet tears of joy that one might hope for, but huge gasping sobs. I remained a blubbing wreck for the rest of the service. It was not my finest hour (imagine the poor
Bishop as he had to pronounce blessing between my sobs!).

However, my emotional response was a token of the powerful moment that ordination can be. For me it signalled the culmination of many years of discernment, false starts and, ultimately, trust that God would reveal the path. I want to remind each of us that God is faithful and is calling us into deeper service and vocation. For the primary call God makes to us is not directed towards priests or deacons or bishops, but on each of us as Christians. It is our baptismal commitment that matters.

When we are baptized we commit ourselves to not be ashamed to confess our faith in Christ. It is easy to imagine that the work of service and commitment is primarily that of the ordained. However, if that world-view ever worked, it has lost traction in recent years. The church has begun to recover a proper sense of the priesthood of all believers. In short, that the vocation of being a follower of Jesus, of being baptized into his Body, is the starting point for everything.

So my challenge this month is to invite you to think about how you might deepen your relationship with God and seek to embody the Good News. The word ‘embody’ is important. It suggests that what we should seek to do is live our relationship with God in our bodies, not simply in our minds. In other words, it’s not about intentions, but about living. For example, when we pray, we are doing something embodied. Our posture often changes, perhaps we
close our eyes. We become more concentrated and hopefully in a place where God can meet us and we meet God. And as we pray, we draw into closer relationship with the world. That then can act as a spring to deeper action and faithful love. As God changes us, we begin to show more of God to the world in our action.

So, as Alan commences a new stage in his ministry, may we all be open to discern where God is calling us to be.

Rachel x

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