As Christians, we live cyclical lives. The church year – which is not to be confused with the secular year – returns, again and again, back to the preparatory season of Advent. Any movement in the Church has to take into account this cycle of prayer, worship, fasting and feast. It is never progress for progress’s sake. Inevitably, then, in a culture that is obsessed with the next thing or progress or change, to be part of a church can feel at odds with the prevailing culture. At best this sense of being counter-cultural can create liberating, prayerful joy; at worst, the repetitive nature of the Christian year can feel oppressive.
The opportunity, at this time of year, to look back and forth at how we live our Christian calling at St Nick’s does not fill me with dread or disappointment. Our liturgical life together – which is the ground of our wider life – has been rich and rewarding, even in the face of ongoing challenges.
Highlight, of course, was the 90th Anniversary celebration of the foundation of this parish. So often these kinds of events resolve themselves into deenergising ‘bun-fests’ with no sense of transcendence, thanksgiving and hope. Rather, I felt like that Sunday brought together the essence of what we seek to be at St Nick’s: prayerful, thoughtful and joyous, with a genuine sense of fun grounded in a trust in God’s abundant goodness. The food and drink we shared together flowed out of our desire to enjoy our worship together. It was exhausting to bring about and my thanks are too numerous to mention, though I especially thank Bevan Taylor for – in many ways – being the spur to actually bring something together.
In a wider context, our worship continues to be a refreshingly Anglican. We seek to balance Catholic good sense with liberal honesty and an Evangelical commitment to scriptural seriousness. This is a place where we seek to live authentically, by which I mean with a honesty about our wounds, our gifts and our differences. We are unafraid of mistakes and embody a relaxed confidence. In the summer, our staff team will grow to include a new curate, and our liturgical life continues to be enriched by Fr Alan and the many people involved in leading worship.
Alan once said to me, ‘Isn’t St Nick’s amazing? You turn up and it all just happens.’ I trust he now appreciates that this is an illusion. It requires incredible levels of commitment and passion from a dedicated team behind the scenes. Nothing ever just happens. If I have some anxiety for the future it is ensuring that we do not take for granted that worship and ministry just
happen. There are so many gifts and talents in this congregation, and I want each of us to feel we are cherished simply for who we are. Worship is a space where one ought to feel one can simply be and receive. At the same time, I also hope each of us is alert to God’s call. For some that will be towards licensed ministry, lay and ordained; for others that may be towards helping on the tea rota or being on the PCC. Time and energy matter, especially for those of us with demanding jobs. Nonetheless, it will be a token of our community if we can widen those who are involved in leadership.
I am delighted that we continue to pursue a path which leads towards greater community participation and relationship. Our support of Burnage Food Bank is well-known. Equally, our new dementia-friendly community craft café looks like it has real potential to serve and grow. We shall once again hold a Summer Holiday Club which we hope builds on last year’s brilliant offering. The variety of social and cultural events continues to expand and I trust this is a token of our preparedness to both look outwards and be changed by our relationships with the wider world.
There are any number of other aspects of life at St Nick’s I might comment on. I feel I do need to acknowledge the way hope is always grounded in realities and facts. I’d be lying to you if I said that we do not face serious financial challenges over coming years. Every church does, pretty much. We have become much smarter in our ways of recovering gift aid, and the PCC continues to review how we can ensure we use our hall effectively. We are also in the midst of preparing a new stage of work on our building which should both help us further secure the building for years to come, as well as adapt it for better community use.
We have grown and we have lost in the past year. Some of the dear friends who have gone to glory in the past year include Lucy Males and Muriel Clark. Many of us have lost individual loved ones and we are diminished when they die. Some of our friends struggle with ill-health. A significant sign of our faithfulness to God is revealed in our willingness to support and sit alongside those in greatest need, not simply those in florid health. We are not simply those who gather on a Sunday. The work of para-church organisations like the Women’s Fellowship, for example, is sterling and reaches beyond the bounds of this church’s core constituent. Equally, however, I’ve been excited to see new faces adding to our number in recent times. I think so much of
this depends on a culture of invitation. If we are not encouraging people to come along, how confident are we in the fellowship of which we are part? What we offer here – both on a Sunday and during weekdays – is a real feast of intelligent Anglicanism and community service.
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, as well as laughing and crying with those who are trying to make sense of it all. My involvement on General Synod and in the wider theological world has been exciting. I may be an unconscionable show-off, but you, my church family, keep me grounded. I offer particular thanks to our Church Wardens and the Curate for what they do, often unseen behind the scenes. I thank the many others who quietly ensure that St Nick’s is a place of hope and transformation.
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.