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.