Rector's Letter for October
DEAR SISTERS AND BROTHERS,
A school friend once lured me to a “pick your own” farm, where you were paid by the weight. My memory is that it was hot, uncomfortable and extremely dirty. Frankly, it was so grim that it put me off strawberries for years. Pictures of unpicked fruit, going rotten for lack of workers, brings back those negative memories and makes my admiration for those who labour in the farming and food industry increase.
Churches traditionally celebrate the Harvest around this time. We will be doing so on 14th October. Our decorations will remind us about the beauty of creation and should prompt our hearts to think about the beauty of the Creator and fill our hearts with gratitude for the good things we have access to. At the same time, drawing on the bible’s insistence that the world is the Lord’s, our thoughts about Harvest should delve more deeply into where our food comes from (the whole and complex food industry) and also ask who does not benefit from creation’s bounty.
Two things, then, which we might do in this season. Firstly, pay our food a bit of attention. Some Italians have created a “slow eating” culture. It is a conscious attempt to enjoy food, when we have it, to enjoy the company of those we eat with and, above all, a conscious attempt to resist that inner mantra that tells us we should be doing something more important than eating. The monastics would approve. And Jesus, always hanging around food and friends if you notice, would get the point. And, whilst we do that, in our prayers and in our charitable practice and in our paying attention, we should note who is going without food and, where possible, play our part in responding to the reality of Food Poverty here in Bury.
October also sees the beginning of our observance of the centenary of the Armistice at the end of World War One. Our church will be enriched by all sorts of contributions which will help us and those who cross our doors to engage with the reality of that conflict and its aftermath. We are hugely grateful to those who have put so much work into preparing the church. We will, in addition to home grown art work, welcome contributions from Bury Church of England High School and from Bury Art Gallery. It is lovely to work with those beyond our walls who see Bury Parish Church as part of the cultural tapestry of our town.
In addition to displays throughout October and November, we are hosting “A Victorian Wedding Revisited”. This is a display of the wedding dress worn by Sarah Fletcher on 27th March 1844, when she married James Kenyon, whose waistcoat we will also have on display. These are kindly loaned to us from Gawthorpe Hall and will be in church on Friday 2nd November and Saturday 3rd November. On the evening of 3rd November there will be a talk in the Blackburne Hall about the dress by Mike Hopkinson on the family history of the bride and groom.
A couple of weeks ago the Church of England released some research about the numbers attending church and research, too, about the beliefs of the nation. They made for extremely uncomfortable reading. The decline in attendance, in the decline in “life events”, baptisms, weddings and funerals, has been sharp. I know that people have noticed this. And I know, listening to people, that there is a huge temptation to imagine one cause and, thus one solution to these figures. And I know, because I have been privileged to be present, that many people at Bury Parish have wanted to be part of our journey to change that story here. Eldridge Cleaver once said that “If you are not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. I am grateful to those who have rearranged their calendars to be part of that conversation, part of the solution. The PCC will reflect on the feedback from the numerous meetings and will listen to what God is calling us to do. This will take time. We look forward to your support and encouragement in this journey.
Collecting data is troubling but it allows us to be honest about the reality of life rather than pretending there is a blip locally (which is often all we really know about). We may know from our own family experience, that the place of faith, belief and the practice of Church attendance, so important to us, is not so important, if at all, to the next generation. This reality affects us all.
The Church, nationally, diocesan-wide and locally is looking into ideas that might explore God’s purposes for us. One of the possible routes on offer flows from St Martin in the Fields, in London. Their experience of being a church surrounded by lots of workers and few parishioners has been to explore a four-fold ministry based on the letter “C”; Congregation (offering worship that truly engages the longings of those who cross the door), Commerce (being unembarrassed about the requirement to generate funds), Compassion (responding to those battered by life who hang around Church) and Culture (inviting into Church those who touch our deepest selves in music, poetry and the arts). There is a conference in Manchester at the end of this month about this. If interested, please see one of the clergy.
Much going on at Bury Parish. Come and join the story. Be part of the Conversation. Be part of the solution.
With love and prayers,