‘Where are you going, where are you going, won’t you take me with you?’
These lines from Stephen Schwartz’s 1970s’ musical, Godspell have always haunted me. Sung by two female disciples just before Jesus is crucified, the lines form a plaintive counterpoint to the violence that’s about to take place. The women are desperate to be where Jesus is and have not yet begun to understand what that might entail. If they’re to follow him it might mean the death and resurrection of all they’ve known and treasured up to this point.
As I offer this report to St Nicholas’ Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) the words of that song are echoing round my
mind. I think it’s part of my responsibility to ask where we – as St Nick’s – are ‘going’ and equally to spend time discerning where Jesus is leading so that we can get involved and follow. But this is not just the Rector’s responsibility. If we as a serving parish community are to be around in the future, we are all called to examine who God is calling us to be and to get involved in his works of creation. Increasingly, the work of St Nick’s will be the work of the whole people.
Part of discerning God’s call entails looking back at where we’ve come from and seeing the good news (and, sometimes, not so good news!) within it. As our churchwardens have indicated in their own report, it has been an incredibly busy year for St Nick’s.
What with our production of The Tree of War, heritage open days, tree-lighting events as well as various fairs there has been an incredible footfall through our building this past year. Some people will ask, what has that got to do with being church? Let’s be clear, however: unless we become both a destination for people and also a community building, we can’t serve our local community. The hall continues to be well used and I have been delighted at witnessing a new Rainbows unit grow and flourish. The Burnage Community Choir goes from strength to strength, we have held another successful holiday club and we have never had better relationships with our local councillors. Equally, long-standing groups like Women’s Fellowship continue to be witnesses to God’s love. Though it continues to be a struggle for us to be seen, we are becoming more visible.
Our building is both a profound blessing and a challenge. We know this is a landmark building that is justly celebrated. But it remains a challenge for our congregation to manage and service.
We are waiting to hear whether we shall receive a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for c £170,000 to help repair our leaking roof. It has been a difficult process to go through and if we receive support it will continue to be challenging. Not only will we be required to manage the project with great care, but we’ll be required to raise match funding. I am pleased to say we’ve received some grant funding already and there have been donations, but we have a long way to go.
Buildings are not ends in themselves. That’s why I want us to focus on where Jesus is leading us. I want us to hunger to be involved in what the Spirit is doing and saying. We’re privileged to have Sally Robinson with us as an ordinand and, in the summer, Alan Simpson, will be joining us as curate. Sally is beginning to examine how we, as a church, can become an ever more welcoming and inviting congregation. I’m sure she is going to helpfully challenge us in all sorts of ways. Alan will bring his own wisdom and insight, and I trust will help us grow as we attempt to support and encourage him. I hope Sally, Alan and I will work together to develop our whole congregation’s theological understanding, not only through preaching, but by developing new home groups for prayer and reflection.
It has, as always, been a year of goodbyes as well as new beginnings. Our community mourns the loss of Vera Gawkrodger, Barbara Stenton, and Ken Paterson. Each, in differing ways, made lasting contributions to our fellowship and community. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. In a different way we say ‘farewell’ to Elaine Jess who stands down as treasurer after many years. I’m delighted that Caroline Abiodun has stepped in and it’s important that we carefully support her during this time of transition. Equally, it has been great to welcome Sam Travis and Rachel Varughese to our fellowship. Rachel’s design skills have brought new energy into the magazine. I extend my thanks to Alison Mills for her work as editor of the magazine, but I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that she’s glad to step down from this important role. This is also true for Anne Tudor and Norma Cookson who have let go the reins of arranging flowers. Thank you to Val Hagan and Christine Price for stepping in and continuing this valuable way of visually representing our trust in God.
I see so many seeds growing in this congregation and it is thrilling. I feel like there is so much promise and possibility at St Nick’s. We are a small fellowship, but in many ways a remarkable one. We are becoming a richer, more inclusive congregation and I think we’re slowly learning to be open to the communities in which we are set. I extend my particular gratitude to the Wardens for their patience, steadfastness and willingness to commit to these key roles. As you will know, my own health continues to be troublesome and I’m seeking to be a good steward of the energies and gifts has apportioned me. Please pray for me, as I pray for you.
(This text comprises the Rector’s Report given at the APCM, Palm Sunday, 29th March 2015.)