Rector's Letter for August
DEAR SISTERS AND BROTHERS,
What a great delight and joy it was, to be at Manchester Cathedral for Sheila Beattie’s Ordination to the Diaconate. A full church, an amazing number of candidates (23 plus a former Roman Catholic priest being welcomed into the ministry of the Church of England), a deep sense of commitment to mission and ministry, not just in the candidates but in God’s people gathered in our Mother Church.
The preacher, the Revd Kate Bruce, spoke about Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Less Travelled. In that poem, Frost speaks of choices, the easy, well-signposted, oft walked path and the one that explores strange, uncharted territory. She took it as a metaphor both for those starting their role in the ordained ministry and us, facing the new challenges of being “Church for a different world”.
It is tempting, when there is a new “member of staff” to relax a little, to imagine that a bit more ministry is being done and therefore we are able to ease our foot off the pedal. I am rather hoping that Sheila’s new role in our community will have the opposite effect. I am hoping that Sheila’s role as “animator” (one of the tasks of the deacon in worship is to direct the congregation to change posture, to stand, sit, kneel) will also animate us all. Sheila’s particular role will contribute to pastoral care in our community. And that role, caring for each other, is something that we all can do. Sheila, along with Liz Dyson, our Pastoral Care Coordinator, will be looking to you to alert us to people whom we have not seen for a bit, people you know (and we may well not know) who are poorly or who would value a visit, value communion.
And a final note on the Ordination. One of the things that really has struck me is the number of people who expressed pleasure at being in our Cathedral and surprise at being among lots of other Christians. This suggested to me a couple of things. One is that perhaps many of our congregation have little experience of worshipping elsewhere and that our own experience of worship and of church more generally is essentially only at Bury. So, a request. When you go on holiday, bring back the pew sheet from the Church where you worshipped. Bring back the magazine. It’s always interesting to see what other Christian communities do. Bring back stories of what it was like being welcomed into another worshipping community. Bring back ideas of how we, here at Bury, might make what we have to offer really rather special. The other thing that has crossed my mind is that, given that the Cathedral is a short hop away on the tram, perhaps a visit to Manchester, to the Cathedral, perhaps to the Art Gallery, as a day out is something we might think about?
I belong to a group of clergy and among recent communication there was a request to share ideas for a “light Summer read”. I have read the book that the Book Group will have looked at at the end of July (Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor) so I suggested that. But the question made me think. What would I suggest to a church community as accessible, thoughtful, encouraging reading matter? Does this community read? (I’d love to know, by the way; and I’d love to know whether you read specifically around the Christian faith. Do let me know).
So here’s a suggestion; “Simply Good News” by Tom Wright. Tom Wright was a bishop and now teaches and writes under two names; NT Wright, his scholarly “hat” and Tom Wright, his books for the likes of you and me. And if not this, my challenge to you is, this Summer, to pick up a book about our faith and read. And then talk about it. To me, to Sheila, to Rhiannon, to your friends at church and friends you know.
Many years ago we started to go to a Christian Festival that gathers over the August Bank Holiday Weekend. Greenbelt titles itself a Festival of Arts, Faith and Justice. It gathers speakers, musicians, artists, writers, poets, film makers, worship leaders, workers in Christian Charities across the world and in our most deprived towns and cities, children’s activities, spiritual space, drama, comedians, theologians, stirs the pot and sees what happens. I always come away with my heart surprised, my mind buzzing and my faith renewed. A bit like Sheila’s Ordination, I see and hear things I have not exposed myself to, some I like, some I think, frankly, a bit odd; I am encouraged to see Christians from across the spectrum of traditions, learning from each other, sharing worship, conversation and community. To draw on the imagery of Frost’s Poem, each of us needs to listen to God from the road we know well and also from roads less travelled. That way, we truly get to hear and experience the Lord in all his love and fullness. That way, we learn to speak of the Lord to others in language and imagery and enthusiasm in terms that they can hear. That way, we learn to be a “Church for a different world.”
With love and prayers,