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.

The Rector Writes – December 2015

RachelM-Thumb-WhiteRachel’s Letter – December 2015

If – at about 5.30pm on 24th September – you’d told me that, ten minutes later, I’d be lying on a Manchester street in absolute agony, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. But I guess that’s the point with most accidents: we never quite anticipate them. I think that, even in the aftermath of the accident, I couldn’t have anticipated how serious the injury would be. From the moment I hit the pavement, I knew my arm was broken, but as far as I was concerned it was just a broken arm. Two months later the arm is still not healed and I’ve been told to expect up to twelve months of rehab.

The world is a fundamentally fragile place. Those of us with very settled, comfortable lives can pretend that it’s not, but we’re wrong. The unexpected and the awful happen all the time. The travails of my arm are small beer compared to the horrifying events that took place in Paris recently, or the ongoing and seemingly endless violence in the Middle
East and other parts of the world. While our 24-hour culture generates extraordinary levels of anxiety and uncertainty, our world is a troubled (and, yes, beautiful) place.

Yet in the midst of this fragility, we’re invited to prepare, once again, to meet God in the form of a baby. If our society has turned Christmas into a festival of excess and consumption, the simple heart of the festival is vulnerability. It never ceases to amaze me that God’s answer to the fragility of the world
is to offer us yet more fragility. He does not send armies, he does not send the Biblical equivalent of a superpower. He does not enter the world as a superhero. He dwells in the world as one of us.

In so many ways this God who dwells with us in Jesus Christ is utterly absurd. The blood and guts of our broken world hardly seems to be redeemable through the intervention of a peasant baby who’ll lead a pretty undistinguished life. God’s strategies and tactics are clearly not those many of us would choose.

Hope rarely has the character of what we’d choose. Instead of lavishing the world with simple solutions, the God in Christ calls us into responsibility. As I’ve often pointed out, the only power a newborn has is to elicit a loving response from us. S/he cannot feed themselves, dress themselves and so on. They are dependent.

This is an extraordinary risk from God. For we can, as a community and as individuals, choose to refuse this invitation to love. In truth, how often do we spurn this invitation? More often than not, I suspect. We treat the world as not only a fragile place, but as a truly fearful place. Yet one of the meanings of the God who comes to us as a vulnerable babe is that it is not irredeemable and good news and hope is found in the most surprising places. This Advent and Christmas, let’s be alert to God’s irrepressible creativity and the part we are called to play in it.

Happy Christmas!

Rachel xx

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The Rector Writes – November 2015

Alan’s letter

Hello Everyone,

I have been asked to write a something for the November issue of the magazine and thought it would be a good idea to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself.

My name is Alan Simpson and on the 28th June this year I was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Manchester at the Cathedral, and subsequently licenced on the 5th July as the Self Supporting Assistant Curate to St Nicholas’s.

I am a Mancunian born and bred having been brought up in Miles Platting. I was baptised a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic Schools, so the practice of my faith has always been a very important aspect of my life from an early age. Following studies for a degree in politics, I was accepted by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford to study for priesthood within the Catholic Church. I commenced theological and formational studies in Spain, Durham and Rome before discerning that ordination into the Roman church was not where I thought God was calling me to be,
so I took the painful decision to leave formational training.

However, I can certainly relate to the old adage of ‘if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’! Having embarked on a career in Administration Management within the Higher Education sector, I found myself more and more drawn to the Church of England and the realisation that the sense of vocational calling to ministry I felt so keenly since childhood, had not gone away. I began to attend an Anglican church in Oldham where I was warmly welcomed by both the incumbent and the congregation alike. As I became more involved in the worshiping life of the parish, I began
to feel the pull to ordained ministry more and more. I was formally received into the Church of England in January 2009 and began the discernment and selection process for ordained ministry within the diocese. I attended a Bishop’s Advisory Panel in October 2012 and was selected for training.

I began my theological studies in September 2013 with the Yorkshire Ministry Course (based at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield) and I will graduate with a Post Graduate Diploma in Theological and Biblical Studies from the University of Sheffield in January 2016.

I am currently self-supporting, that is I am also in full time employment, currently working for the Diocese of Manchester as the Committee Secretary to the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee & Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches. I currently live in Dukinfield with my partner, Stuart and our dog, Rufus.

I was truly delighted when Bishop David asked me to explore the possibility of serving a curacy at St Nick’s, and I was even more delighted when Rachel and the PCC offered me the opportunity to serve my title with you. I have felt immensely blessed these past few months at the overwhelming welcome I have received and I am very much looking forward to the months and years ahead of journeying alongside you and serving you all as your curate.



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The Rector Writes – October 2015

Sally’s Scribbles

It is great to be back with you after a summer break; I have missed you. Abbie had a wonderful summer, full of smiles and laughter as well as lots of hard work and new achievements. It was good to get away, but restful would be an exaggeration. It has been a long summer in various ways and perhaps not the recuperation I had hoped for.

I’m aware it has also been a very long summer in the life of St. Nick’s resulting in the amazing production of The Tree of War. It would be difficult to add to all that has been said of it, but it would be wrong to say nothing. It was a great pleasure to have some colleagues from college come and see the production. It’s always nice to bask in the reflected glory of an incredible achievement I had very little to do with, though greatly admire.

It takes an enormous amount of grace, patience and commitment to attempt something as ambitious as The Tree of War. I am incredibly proud to be part of a community which comes together to enable and allow these things to happen. It is a great credit to you all.

It is easy to think that with the enormity of The Tree of War that nothing else could possibly be happening but, as you know, this is far from true. It is wonderful to see the variety of things that are flourishing in the life of St Nick’s at the moment. Rainbows are back, Exploring Theology is continuing to meet with much enthusiasm and excitement, the afternoon group following the Pilgrim Course continues to be a joy and appropriately challenging, Burnage Food Bank is now distributing through St Nick’s, we have a number of people preparing for confirmation and there is of course much more besides in terms of worship and fellowship. It is an incredible privilege to be part of this place and to see the ways in which God is working in and through this community.

There is, of course, a risk of losing ourselves in the busyness. I am conscious that a lot of effort and energy has been committed in various ways over the past few months and as a community we are tired. I hope that the coming weeks will provide rest and peace and an opportunity to reflect and give thanks for all that has been achieved and to look forward with hope and expectation of all that is to come.

I am back at college, back to lectures and essays, and soon back to residentials as well. I am sure in no time at all it will feel like I have never been away. This term brings Christian Doctrine and no doubt many a headache as we start to grapple with concepts such as understanding God as Trinity. The term will fly by and advent will soon be upon us. My hope and prayer for you, and for myself, in a world which is racing by is that there will be rest and cherished moments of peace, stillness and encounter in the presence of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.



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The Rector Writes – September 2015

Rachel’s Letter

Well, it’s going to be a busy autumn. The long over-due work to make our building watertight will begin, we have a world premiere of a new musical The Tree of War, there are Heritage Open Days and – before we know it – Advent and Christmas will be upon us.

My article on the roof repair work is elsewhere in the magazine, but I want to acknowledge here that it’s been a long hard slog to get to the point where we can repair the roof. I thank everyone who’s made a contribution – in whatever way – so far. I hope there will be minimal disruption to the life of the church, but I guess we might have to get used to people in hard-hats making a lot of noise from time to time.

Speaking of people making noise, I’m not alone in being very excited about the forthcoming production of The Tree of War, between 15th and 19th September. One of the interesting developments at St Nick’s in recent years is our work with musical theatre. The Tree of War is a new version of the commemorative show we put on last autumn. It tells the story of a pair of Burnage lads who end up on the frontline in World War One and face all of the emotional and physical impact of that experience. The new version is a full two-act, two-hour show that has an extended cast of characters
and many new songs, whilst retaining the strengths of the original version.

I know it’s easy for me – as one of the co-writers, along with Oliver Mills – to be positive about this show, but it is an extraordinary venture. The cast and crew are fabulous and the level they’ve achieved is quite startling. I cannot commend the show to you enough. There will be laughter and tears, hope and sadness. The cast ranges in ages from nine to eighty and reflects how much talent there is in Manchester. Even if you saw the show last September and think, ‘Oh it’ll just be the same’ come along – the show has developed so much that you’re in for a real surprise!

In the past few years St Nick’s has become part of the Didsbury Heritage Trail over Heritage Weekend of 12th and 13th September. Once again we anticipate opening the church for visitors. It will – of course – coincide with preparations for The Tree of War, but we hope that this introduction to our grade 2* building will act as a reminder of how much St Nick’s is a living, breathing faith community and not just part of the heritage industry. During the weekend we anticipate having an art exhibition from local artists, themed around war and remembrance.

Sometimes it can feel very challenging to be part of a faith community in the 21st Century. We are all aware that these are challenging times for the Church. Yet, there is so much life and possibility here at St Nick’s. It’s going to be a tiring and exhilarating few months. I know that when St Nick’s becomes a building site it will be difficult. But it is part of ensuring that we can be a sustainable community resource and platform for our attempt to lovingly serve Burnage for many years to come.

Rachel x

Download the September 2015 edition of the church magazine

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