Rector's Letter for March
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Ask most clergy and they will say that they rather like Lent. There is something about the permission the season gives the practicing Christian to be consciously and openly disciplined. Not austerity for austerity’s sake, but a reining in of our capacity to indulge, an acceptance that we might not do what we usually do, permission giving (if permission giving is necessary) that we will avoid some things and take up others.
To which some might say…. “I am too weak for all that” and crack on with life as if there is no difference between Lent and Christmas. To which I say… “really?”. It seems to me that if we take that attitude, that Lent is all too difficult, all too “serious”, all too “Christian”, then we have sold the pass, we have drunk too much from the cup of secularism and consumerism and that we have floated off the sacrifice of Jesus and cost of the cross and merely want the nice bits of the faith; Easter without Good Friday as it were.
So, assuming that if you are reading this Parish Magazine because you take your Christian life seriously, here are some suggestions how you might discover afresh the Lord’s love for you this Lent.
We begin with food, with pancakes. What else? We will be offering pancakes (and all those associated toppings) on Shrove Tuesday from 5pm in Church House. Here’s the offer; come and eat pancakes, play games (find the inner child!) and learn about the amazing work of Network Together which is part of the Church Urban Fund. We will end the eating and fun with a short act of worship for Shrove Tuesday.
We tip into Lent on Wednesday 6 March. We have two services, at 11.00am and 7.30pm, each with Ashing. It has always been my practice, before ashing others, to receive ashes on my own forehead, administered by someone else. It reminds me, at the beginning of this season, that I am on a journey too. I receive the ministry of another in order that I can approach other people, not from a position of perfection or superiority, but as one poor man seeking to share what I have with others. I remain puzzled why I do not see more regular members of churches in Church on Ash Wednesday. Surely this is a day to shift the furniture of our lives around in order to make place for the Lord? I’m looking forward to seeing you, dear reader, at Bury Parish on this most holy day.
Archdeacon Jean and the Bishop of Bolton and I and a few others will be offering “Ashes to Go” on the streets of Bury Town Centre. We are not quite sure where but we hope to place ourselves in the way of people and engage them in conversation about faith and life and offer, should they wish, ashes on their forehead. We are tremendously shy about our faith. Ashes are a way, a visible and physical way, of people acknowledging their own puzzlement about life, their awareness of imperfection and their desire to change. Along with our usual services with their Lenten inflections, I invite you to consider taking up one extra activity. This is as part of our Mission Action Planning work around the theme of developing our Congregation. Here are two ideas.
Morning Prayer, offered in the South Chapel on Mondays, and Thursday-Saturday at 9.30am, is a chance to wait on God. We simply read the psalms and the bible passages set for the day and intercede for the church and world, the sick and the sad. It is a beautiful thing when our numbers gently swell with others seeking to spend time with God.
The other activity is our study group. We will be watching and thinking about the message of love, forgiveness, judgement and grace in the musical Les Miserables. We will be hosting a couple of groups on Wednesdays at 2pm and 7pm. The groups will start on the week after Ash Wednesday (13 March) and the same material will be used in the same week, not only at Bury Parish but also in Kirklees Valley parish on a Tuesday evening. We hope that many of you will make one or other of these opportunities. There will be more details on the Cornerstone Pew Sheet nearer the time.
Every few years there is a Christian Resources Exhibition. This is held at Event City which is next to the Trafford Centre. This year there is going to be a CRE on 13/14 March. What’s there? Everything a church might want to think about; heating systems, Sunday School materials, mission activities overseas, resources for music, liturgy and prayer, Retreat houses, evangelistic ideas and so on along with speakers on a variety of subjects. As we crank up our thinking about our Mission Action Planning, I’m rather hoping to encounter God in the ideas there. It’s quite a thing. Fancy going? If you do, have a word with Julian. It’s a ticketed event and tickets are much cheaper if you order beforehand. You can find out more if you look on the web: creonline.co.uk/
And finally, should we need reminding, Rhiannon is moving on. Her last Sunday is Easter Day (21 April). There is much for us to think about. On the human level, saying farewell is hard work and emotionally tough. On the ministry level, there are all sorts of things for us to think about; how to sustain ministry; what it is that we can and should do in the future; what we cannot and maybe should not be doing; what we should expect by way of ministry and who should be doing that ministry; what is it that God is inviting us to look at. On the spiritual level, there is a practice of thanksgiving to activate and a longing to listen to the Lord that we each need to invest in. So make a note of the date and watch this space.
With love and prayers,