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

The Rector Writes – June 2016

Is there anything left to be said about The Queen? She’s Britain’s longest serving monarch, she has been served by eleven Prime Ministers and, through her longevity, has seen off more Presidents and Heads of State than it would be polite to list. (The list includes twelve U.S. Presidents!) As the United Kingdom and many other nations celebrate her 90th birthday this June, it is hard even for the toughest-minded Republican not to admire her energy and dignity.

At St Nick’s we shall be holding events to commemorate and celebrate the Queen’s 90th over the weekend of 11th and 12th June. Our Summer Fair takes place on the 11th and it promises to have a festive feel with much red, white and blue on display. Let’s hope for good weather and an excellent turn-out.

We, like many CofE churches, shall also have a ‘Life at Our Church’ display. St Nick’s may be a little younger than the Queen, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t got a lot of history to share! On Sunday morning we shall also have a special All-Age Worship for the Queen’s Birthday.

One of the things we should ask ourselves at this time is: What are we celebrating? I suspect there will be many different answers to that. For some the answer will be, ‘Majesty and Pomp’, ‘the Queen’s faithfulness’ and, no doubt, ‘Britishness’. For some it’s good to have an excuse to party. However, I sense many of us will be uncomfortable with flag-waving and nationalist sentiment.

Jingoism is often terribly self-indulgent and one of the lessons of the 20th Century is that mindless nationalism is a recipe for violence.

It’s hardly secret that I’m not much of a Monarchist. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect the Queen or her office as Head of State. As I often point out, as a CofE cleric, I pray for her all the time! What I hope we can concentrate on, during this 90th year of her life, is two things: firstly, her quiet, determined and obvious faith and the
emergent, diverse Kingdom she’s presided over.

There is simply no doubt that the Queen takes her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England very seriously. However, it is her faith which is striking. Rarely does she draw unnecessary attention to it, but it is clearly lively. She has spoken of the consolations ‘faith in Christ’ has offered in troubled times. I find this
lack of showy, shiny faith incredibly powerful. For if she is an icon of something, surely it is as an icon of quiet confidence.

So often I feel as if the dominant narrative in Christianity is based on the cheap tinsel of direct evangelism. That is, on crude, often quite insulting attempts to convert people to a particular brand of Christianity. Yet I fear that such an approach is counter-productive. It is in our being – our living as well as in our saying – that we
embody the good news.

The Queen’s long reign has been marked by remarkable shifts in the life of the United Kingdom, perhaps the most remarkable shifts in these islands’ long history. It has been marked by a retreat from Empire. The UK has become part of the European Community and learnt to reposition itself in the world. Some of these shifts have been traumatic for lots of people. They have led to nostalgia for ‘a better world’ that almost certainly never was. Equally, the UK has never been more diverse, open and varied. Even in my lifetime there have been shifts in culture, taste and inclusion that sometimes feel unimaginable. I hope we can celebrate this. I know there is very far to go, but the United Kingdom has undertaken an adventure in being open to change that I hope we won’t retreat from. And the Queen has presided over all of this. That is one heck of a legacy!

So, in the weeks, months and, indeed, years to come, when our faithfulness as a church community is tested – our faithfulness to the generosity of God and our faithfulness to the gracious, inclusive ethos we want to embody – I hope we can dare look to the Queen as example. Not because she’s the Monarch, or she’s perfect or any other such thing, but because she’s got on with being faithful to God and to public service.

Rachel x

The Rector Writes – February 2016

RachelM-Thumb-WhiteRachel’s Letter – February 2016

“I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting, and the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?”

One of my favourite musicians is an American folk artist called Dar Williams. If you don’t know her work, she’s well worth digging out. She writes quite beautifully about
growing up, love, gender and politics and many other things. One of her most striking songs is called ‘February’, from which the quote above is taken.

Ostensibly it’s about a relationship going through a very tricky ‘season’. A couple seem to be falling apart and arguing after Christmas, and February becomes a metaphor for the ‘freezing up’ of the couple’s feelings for each other.

As a February child, I’m always alert to metaphors and songs about it. It is the shortest month and yet, for some people, it can feel like it drags on forever. Often it’s even colder and more unpleasant than January. Winter often reaches a peak in February.

Yet, while February is most definitely still winter, it is often during that month we get a first glimpse of crocuses and other spring flowers. We often discover that the very worst point in the year is also its turning into the promise of spring. February once again signals the start of the discipline of Lent. Ash Wednesday falls on February 10th this year and, as we rehearse our repentence and mark ourselves in ash with the sign of the cross, we commit ourselves to a time of self-examination and rigour which is without parallel in the rest of the Church’s year. Yet, if this is a time of testing, it already gestures towards the extraordinary events of the Easter Event – Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day – that captures the heart of our faith. For in the midst of death and corruption we are caught up in God’s glorious invitation to new life and resurrection.

February, then, is a remarkable month. It can both be a time of fierce cold and unpleasantness, but also holds within it the promise of the new season to come. When Lent falls within it (which is as often as not) the sharpness of the weather acts as a powerful reminder of the demands of prayer. At the same time as we catch glimpses of spring flowers we see, unfurling before our eyes, the promise that lies in Easter.

I hope, then, that this February is a time for reflection. That it’s a time for keeping warm. And, if it’s your thing, it’s time for getting outside and taking some wintry walks. I also hope it’s a time for preparation, not only for the opening out of the new year into spring, but, more significantly, for the promise
of Easter. May you catch glimpses of glory in the ice and fog and in the challenge of prayer.

In the depths of winter it can seem as if we’ve forgotten what new life can feel like. Yet, new life is there, waiting for us. In that spirit, I’ll leave you this month with a few more words from Dar William’s song ‘February’:

“And February was so long that it lasted into March,
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus.”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?” And you said, “It’s a flower.”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you.””

The Rector Writes – January 2016

RachelM-Thumb-WhiteRachel’s Letter – January 2016

I always find writing the ‘New Year’ parish letter difficult. Inevitably, it involves a ‘looking back’ over where we’ve travelled from and an anticipation of where the New Year will go. It’s a chance to think about fresh beginnings but is also shadowed by reflection on the previous year’s (occasional) triumphs and unavoidable challenges. It can be a melancholic process in which one asks, ‘Where did the year go?’ It can also be a hopeful one, full of the longing for
‘a better year this year’.

For St Nick’s, 2015 was a busy, challenging, but very rewarding year. We said goodbye to dear friends and we welcomed some new people to our small fellowship. Finally, we began our long-awaited and planned repair works. Slowly, we are moving along, but it will be few months before the work will be complete. We’ve also had all sorts of fun and exciting events from choir concerts, fairs and a full-blown West-End style musical, The Tree of War.

There is, ultimately, one basis for all we do: God. Without the Spirit of God we might as well be social workers, or part of the National Trust, or even theatre impressarios! We must be a located community, unpretentious about our willingness to serve both need and offer new ways of being church. However, without prayer, all of that activity is mere clanging cymbal.

The God who calls us into life is both changeless and, yet, utterly located in our midst. This simple truth is one reason why we should not be afraid (as the hymn has it) ‘in all the changing scenes of life.’ I know that can be very hard to believe, but it is at the heart of our faith. Our lives are short; in the mind of the infinite they are barely a heartbeat. And yet…they are utterly precious and valuable. Christ gives his life that we may live. God offers himself to us, for us. God makes a gift of himself to us and that freely offered gift may set us free.

The New Year will undoubtedly be full of both challenges and extraordinary opportunities. However, I trust we shall attempt to face whatever the year sends with confidence. God never says that life will be easy. He promises only to be with us till the end of the age. If that sounds too high faluting then can I encourage each of us to attempt to be alert to the movement of God’s grace in the details.

Ours is a troubled and troubling world, but it is also extraordinarily beautifully and heartbreakingly wonderful. God waits with us in the dark and walks alongside us in the light. May you have a blessed and peaceful New Year.

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