The Rector Writes – April 2015

Rachel Writes

Most of us have met one or two remarkable people. Sometimes those remarkable people will be counted among what the modern world calls ‘celebrity culture’. More often the people who are remarkable are self-effacing, ordinary folk who have found themselves caught up in extraordinary situations. They have not sought out celebrity, but have become high profile because of their insight or talent or courage.

One does not need to be a Christian to recognize that Jesus was remarkable. I’ve met many atheists, agnostics and adherents of non-Christian faith traditions who consider Jesus great, as a wise and original thinker and a singular holy person. Before I came to faith I very much believed that Jesus was an amazing figure who challenged many of the orthodoxies of his day and remained a critical ethical voice in ours.

The Easter story invites us to consider Jesus as something more than a wise person or great ethical teacher. As I’ve said before, there is something offensive about the ‘Easter Event’ – the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. For, on the one hand, if we suppose that Jesus is God the idea that he might die is offensive. How could God die and die a criminal’s death at that? Jesus is honoured as a prophet in Islam and – in virtue of his status as a prophet – they insist that he could not die on a cross. Given that we say he is the Son of God, how much more offensive is it to say he died on a cross? Yet, at the same time, if we believe, as Christians, that Jesus actually dies on the cross, the notion of his resurrection is an offense to reason. Don’t we all know that no one dies and lives again?

Yet, the Jesus we are invited to meet and be loved by is no mere teacher or prophet. He is the Christ, the Son of God, as St Peter has it. And I think the significance of Easter lies not simply in some act of redemption undertaken two thousand years ago, but in our ongoing participation in redemption now. Easter symbolizes an invitation to each of us to meet Christ afresh as if for the first time.

What do I mean? Well, while I return again and again to the powerful image of the Cross, for me the most powerful moment in the Gospels is found in the Garden on that first Easter. It is when the risen Christ meets Mary Magdalene. This is the Christ who comes with love, reconciliation and hope to the ones who betrayed him and failed to stand by him in his hour of need. It is the Christ who stuns his witnesses into awe.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I constantly want to meet again the Christ who reconciles and invites us into a way of peace, generosity and new beginnings. I suspect that this is because I’m conscious of the inadequacy of my faith and my need for forgiveness. But it’s also predicated on my desire to participate in God’s good news here and now. As we celebrate Easter, let’s not just see it as an historical event, as something from long ago, but as part of God’s living creation now. Let’s seek to live on the promises of God and be people of grace and peace today.

Rachel x

Download the April 2015 edition of the church magazine

The Rector Writes – March 2015

Rachel Writes

It feels like it’s been a long winter. I know it’s not been especially harsh in terms of snow and ice, but it has been dismal and bleak. People seem to have been unable to shake off colds and chills. There have been days when the sun has hardly raised itself from its slumbers.

I don’t think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) but I’m very glad that March is here and spring is almost upon us. I know that the weather can still be a bit yuck right through April, but at least we have the promise of the summer. Snowdrops are peeping out. Daffodils and bluebells are coming into bloom.

Recently I’ve been reading about how, during Christianity’s expansion in Europe after 300 AD, Christian festivals and culture overlaid earlier Roman festivals and gods. It’s fascinating stuff. In
rural areas, for example, devotion to a female fertility goddess – who blessed the grain and so on – took centuries to dislodge. Even then the fertility goddess stories were often turned into stories of female Christian saints.

Most famously it’s been argued that the name we use for the greatest Christian festival – Easter – is derived from the ancient name for the fertility goddess Eostre. Insofar as this is true, it’s a reminder that the age of Christian European expansion was a time not only of colonization, but also when Christianity had to adapt to local conditions in order to thrive.

When Christianity spread across Europe, most of its inhabitants lived in villages and were closely tied to the land. It was hardly surprising that the Church would appropriate the rituals and practices of the community to tell the story of Jesus. Even to this day, we use images of eggs and grain springing into new life as metaphors for Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb.

We live in a very different context to that in which Christianity spread. Not least we are all, basically, urbanites and city dwellers. As Lent progresses and we move towards Easter, I wonder how
well any of us still relate to the images of new life and the hopes for good harvest embedded in the old agricultural practices?

Those of us who live in cities – and in the UK that’s most of the population – can feel both alienated from nature and from the rituals and practices of religion. Sometimes I think, as we shove another bag of pre-washed salad in the shopping trolley, we fail to appreciate how miraculous and fragile creation is.

I sense that right up to the Industrial Revolution, the people of the so-called West had a stronger and closer relationship with creation than we now have. For most people on the planet
outside the privileged west, that sense of both the bounty and also the danger of creation is still alive. I think that we have some lessons to learn here.

So I have an invitation to you this Lent and, indeed, a personal challenge to me. It’s to attempt to be more aware of the world around us. That is, to attempt to be more aware of the liveliness
of creation, even in our stark, urban surroundings. I know that sometimes we can think that there isn’t much ‘nature’ happening in the city, but it’s there in every moment. I just think that, in our busyness and hurry, we often don’t notice what is directly there before us.

We have come a long way from the agricultural world in which Christianity first took root in Europe. We cannot, nor should we, go back. We live in the here and now. But God is as present and
as vibrant as ever. Perhaps we just need to be more attentive to the work God is doing and reconnect once again.

Rachel x

Download the March 2015 edition of the church magazine

The Rector Writes – December 2014

A few years ago a clergy friend told me about a session he was running on the Christmas story. Right in the middle of it, a vicar on the course admitted that he was bored to death with Christmas. This vicar had been ordained so long that he felt he’d run out of things to say about the stories of Jesus’ nativity.

I’m glad to say I’m not in that situation (yet!). Next year (Christmas 2015) my new book, ‘A Star-Filled Grace’ – filled with poems and stories about Christmas – is due to be published. Clearly I still think I have things to say about Christmas, even if some days I worry I won’t have enough stuff to fill a book!

For any of us, however, the seasons of Advent and Christmas can feel an exhausting and draining time. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the way many of us ‘do’ Christmas. For it has become the ‘season of excess’ in more ways than one. I think I need to preface this by saying I’m not a party pooper. One of the things I really look forward to at Christmas is (digestion permitting!) some rich food and a chance to indulge in a little liquid cheer. When my family are able to be in one place we very much try to enjoy a feast – of company, food and fun. But I’m alarmed by the way our society’s expectations of a ‘good Christmas’ have been continually inflated in recent years. It can feel like a competition to see who can spend the most, who can eat the most and who can get most drunk.

Curiously, I take this conspicuous consumption as a sign that we’re empty and hungry. This might seem an odd thing to say. When most of us have got an abundance of food and drink, how could we ever be hungry? But the fact that we seem to always want more and more is surely a sign of our emptiness. It’s like we’ve stretched our stomachs – metaphorically and literally – to the point where we can never quite be full. And Christmas seems to be the season that underlines that fact.

In the midst of all this, Jesus – the central character of Christmas – can get lost. Unlike the amazingly glitzy and slickly-made ads which appear at this time of year, he does not shout for our attention or try to trick us into parting with our cash for something we don’t need. Unlike most of the shiny images we have family Christmastimes, his family was poor, far from home and without all the comforts we take for granted. While great events were taking place in other parts of Jesus’ world – in Jerusalem, in Rome – God crept in beside us in a no-note village called Bethlehem. Not as a king in a shiny chariot. Not as a powerful prophet, but as a babe with little shelter and in great peril. And – somehow – it is this God who will save us.

So often we surround ourselves with ‘stuff’. WE try to fill ourselves up so that we feel complete. But it is not our possessions or even our family who will save us, but the love of God. And we are called to love and serve him. So I hope that you do have a lovely and pleasurable time this Christmas, but I also hope you know the love of God in your deepest being.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmastide.

Rachel x

The Rector Writes – November 2014

November has increasingly come to be seen as the ‘Season of Remembrance’. In part this is because All Souls – the day we remember all those who’ve died – falls in this month. Equally, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday fall in November.

This year is particularly poignant. 2014 marks one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. As many of you will know, both my grandfathers fought in that conflict. I think it’s fair to say that both of them were scarred by their experiences and those ‘wounds’ had a huge impact on my family. Grandpa Bert, for example, carried an inoperable piece of shrapnel around in his leg for over sixty years and it blighted his (and his wife Edith’s) life in all sorts of ways. But there were other less obvious wounds. My mum tells the story of how each Remembrance Sunday Bert would insist on watching the parade on TV alone. As a nipper I couldn’t understand why. It was only after his death that I found out that it was because he couldn’t bear to have anyone watch him cry.

Today, we know so much more about the effects of war on men and women. We’ve moved from talking about ‘shell shock’ to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’. Some people – usually those who’ve never been under fire – will claim that these problems are not real. Yet there is no doubt that violence is traumatizing and damaging. The impact of being under fire and living in a kill-or-be-killed world is not to be confused with a gung-ho video game.

Despite knowing how damaging war is, it seems that the human race will not learn. Again and again we’ve plunged headlong into hell. The extent to which the rejection of great wickedness and injustice is predicated on standing up to monsters like Hitler is moot. What is clear is that, even if just war is possible, too often our brave boys and girls have been sent into impossible situations. ‘A land fit for heroes’ has so often failed to emerge and has been betrayed by the craven adventuring of politicians desperate to maintain Britain’s place in the international order.

Jesus is often called The Prince of Peace. This is not because he’s some sort of ‘lily-livered’ coward. He stood up to the authorities and powers of his day and was courageous enough to die for what he believes. Rather, he’s the Prince of Peace because he models and embodies the deep truth at the heart of God – that we are called to seek reconciliation and forgiveness in our communities and within ourselves. Violence and war typically generate more violence and war. Human history shows this. However, Jesus subverts this pattern. Jesus is, himself, the victim of violence – he is put to death – and yet in resurrection he comes not seeking revenge, but welcome, reconciliation and love. He invites us to live in a different way to that which the world typically lives by.

This season of remembrance is meaningless if it entails simply looking backwards and saying, ‘How sad that so many died’ or even allowing it to be an excuse to let our chests swell with pride. I am proud of people like my Grandpa Bert, but if the memory of men like him is to be honoured, that’s not good enough. We have to commit ourselves to living in a different and more creative way than simply repeating war over and over. Anything less is a betrayal of men like Bert.

When I think of Bert – an often silent and distant man – I am haunted by the thought that, such was his war-trauma and such were the cultural expectations on him as a man, he felt he had to keep his tears away from view. His lived as if his pain was his and no one else’s. He must have been so alone then. That is not how God wants us to live – to let the horror of our memories cut us off from others. It’s one reason why war is such an appalling sin.

The Rector Writes – October 2014

It’s seems like forever since I last wrote a letter for the parish magazine. And, given the vagaries of my health, I have to admit it has been a little while. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the love and prayers since my stay in hospital in July. I’d particularly like to thank Alison Mills and Jane Cawley, our lovely Church Wardens, for rising with such skill and sense to the challenge of having me out of action. I very much hope that you both appreciate their work and join me in praying for them. It can be a challenge being a church warden at the best of times, let alone when the Rector is poorly.

Some of you may be wondering what the future holds for me. I am pleased to report that since coming out of hospital I’ve been reasonably stable. My medication – a regime already with side effects – has been doubled and I’m hoping this will bring some of the active Crohn’s under control. I’m dealing with some less than lovely side effects from the drugs and there is a big question over whether the NHS will support the increased dose (one of the drugs is eye-wateringly expensive), but I’m sure we’ll get there on that front. The surgical aspects are more complex.

I am hoping to avoid any more major surgery. Alas, I’ve had so much surgery in the past that any intervention in the abdominal area will be tricky. It is very much a last resort, but given how serious things were in July it remains a real prospect. I have some serious narrowings in my remaining bowel and surgery may be unavoidable.

However, before that becomes the main option I’m hoping that a smaller surgical procedure will do the trick. It is possible to dilate sections of bowel, opening them up so that food can pass more easily through. I’ve had this done in the past and it provided temporary relief. My consultants and I are hoping that it might provide more than temporary relief this time. However, there is no guarantee of this. Equally, I am in a bit of limbo as the person who is capable of carrying out the procedure might yet decide that my particular case is too tricky.

As you can imagine, all this uncertainty is a little unsettling. I continue to welcome your thoughts and prayers at this challenging time. However, I also want you to know how encouraged and hopeful I am about the future. It seems to me that seeking to live faithfully in the midst of the Living God is about trusting. The way of God is always precarious. It would be easy to imagine the Way of Christ as some sort of clear road-map that – with the right ‘skills’ – offers a clear and direct path to some glorious future with God. That has always struck me as appealing, but ultimately childish. God more often offers enough grace for the day, the hour, the minute ahead. Sometimes, when pain or distress is great, it can seem as if there is no grace at all. I don’t know what the future holds, but does that really matter? I see lots of options and expect lots of challenges. But God is to be found in all of them, sometimes in the most bleak and scary places. It was always thus. And – for all of us – so it will always be.

 

The Rector Writes – September 2014

Dear Friends,

We are resuming normal service at St.Nicholas on a gradual basis.

It is good to report that Rachel is back with us but she is taking a couple of Sunday’s off as holiday.

We have been fortunate to welcome a number of visiting Priests to take our Wednesday and Sunday services. With the help and support of our Area Dean Rev’d Stephen Edwards we managed to cover every service during Rachel’s absence .

As I write this letter Rachel, Ollie, the cast and crew of our new production ‘A Tree of War’ are very busy in the final week of rehearsals. Burnage Community Choir are singing in the musical. We are very pleased to report that Manchester City Council have awarded us a grant to help with funding for the event. All we need now is a full house at each of our performances. Tickets are available on line via the church website or can be purchased via a telephone ticket line 0161 432 7009. We do hope you will come and experience this wonderful event commemorating WW1.

September brings National Heritage Weekend and we will be opening the church doors to welcome visitors to our Grade 2* listed building. Do pop in between 10.00 and 4.00pm on Saturday 13th or Sunday 14th September and have a good look round the building—we will have guides available to take you on a tour. Our Harvest collections for Burnage Food Bank and Barnabus Charity for the Homeless will continue until Harvest Sunday on 5th October.

As the schools and colleges return for a new term it always feels as though our new year starts at this time of year. Two of our young people will be starting a new phase in their life as they leave for University in late September. Good luck to Emily Crossley off to Sheffield Hallam University and to Clare Lancaster who is to study at University of York.

The repairs to the church roof are entering a new phase. Initial surveys have been completed and we have been granted the next phase in the Heritage Lottery Funding. More grant applications will be made to help us to fund the work required. As a congregation we have to raise funds to contribute to the grant funding. You can all help by supporting our fund raising events.

After a hectic few months we should perhaps reflect and be grateful for all the wonderful support we have received from so many people…..

With love, Alison & Jane

 

The Rector Writes – August 2014

Dear Friends,

As I write this note on Saturday 19th July and prepare the August edition of the Church magazine, Rachel is unfortunately spending a few days in hospital. We hope she will be home soon, we have sent her our love, prayers and good wishes for a speedy recovery.

In the magazine you will see we have a busy two months ahead….. From 4th to 8th August we are hosting another Holiday Club, on 5th and 6th September there will be a performance of a new production entitled ‘The Tree of War’ written by Rachel Mann and Ollie Mills to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and the church building will be open on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th September from 10.00 to 4.00pm as part of National Heritage Weekend. The event will include a coffee morning on Saturday 13th from 10.00 to 12noon and an all- day café with guided tours of the church building. We need your help to provide refreshments and tours of the building….it is great showcase our unique church building and to demonstrate its versatility with a variety of events. More details of these events and ticket information is in this magazine.

Harvest collections are well underway for Burnage Food Bank and for Barnbus Charity for the homeless. Please remember to take advantage of two for one offers and bring along the spare items to church, toiletries, new underwear, socks, hats, gloves, tea bags, tins of soup, tomatoes, beans and other tinned goods. Thank you…

Please keep Rachel in your prayers,

With love and best wishes, Alison, Churchwarden.

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