Rector's Letter for May


May Day (in this case, 1 May, not the Bank Holiday) triggers all sorts of rather wonderful, earthy, deeply rooted traditions; choirs singing from church roof tops, Morris Dancing, May Queens, Beehive moving. In some Church traditions, May is observed as the Month of Mary. The whole “May Queen” thing is a bit of an echo of that. Mentioning Mary, I have found over the years, triggers all sorts of reactions about church attendees. Some find great encouragement in the person of Mary; her “yes” to God’s invitation to make space for his purposes in her life, her care of Jesus, our willingness to learn from her son and, at the Cross, Jesus’ returning of all that affection by making provision for her. Others find any talk about Mary rubbing up against half-understood, barely articulated but deeply ingrained prejudice, as if, somehow, Mary is a paid-up member of the “other lot”.

Being Rector of a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary for the first time, and being interested in these sorts of reactions, one of the things I did on arrival is to look to see how our church’s architects and craftsman responded to the invitation to create a Christian worship space dedicated to her. Here’s what I think I find. I think

I find that the artists who wove their skills into building our church found Mary utterly fascinating and present her, in the grandeur of our place of worship, as the channel through which we, mere humans, can approach the Lord. At the high Altar and in the South Chapel, at the visual centre of the Altar pieces, we find Mary holding Jesus. It is as if she is saying; come here and meet my Son.

How do you feel about this? Where is Mary in your spirituality? If it helps, this is approximately where I find her to be in my spiritual life. Mary sets before me an example; an example of prayer and openness to God’s will and learning from the things Jesus taught her. And an example of evangelism, of pointing others to Jesus, just as she did at the Wedding Feast. And an example of compassion, of staying with those in pain and sorrow, just as Mary stayed and watched her son die. Do I pray to Mary? I do, sort of. I ask for her prayers (‘pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death’ as the Hail Mary puts it) in the same way that I ask for your prayers and the prayers of the saints. Christian spirituality is a corporate thing; it’s ‘us and the Lord’, never ‘me and the Lord’. The New Testament is written with verbs in the plural, not singular and the New Testament tells me that nothing, not even death, separates us from the love of God – which is why it makes utter sense to ask the saints to pray with us and for us. On Saturday 4th May I am going to a Shrine of Mary outside Preston with a group of fellow priests. If anyone fancies joining me (I’ve not been there before), do ask.

We held our Annual General Meeting and our Annual Parochial Church Meeting on 7 April. We elected Pat Webber and Eric Duckworth as our Wardens. I cannot tell you how delighted I am about this. We also elected a new PCC. We do ask you to pray for them as we approach new tasks in our life together. The Church Wardens are formerly sworn into office at the Archdeacon’s Visitation, which falls on 23 May. The service will be at St John and St Marks, off Walmersley Road. A gentle reminder that Sidespersons are formerly invited to this service.

At the end of May, we enter into this new Season of Thy Kingdom Come. This starts on Ascension Day (30 May) and ends on Pentecost Sunday (9 June). What is this season about? Thy Kingdom Come is a global prayer movement that invites Christians around the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. What started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. In other words, we here in Bury Parish (or St Mary the Virgin, Bury, to give us our real name [see above]), are invited to actively participate in a period of prayer.

Praying for what and for whom?

• For ourselves, that we may know God more profoundly

• For our family, friends and neighbours, that they may encounter Christ through us.

• For our world, that it may be transformed by the presence of Christ.

See elsewhere in this edition of the Magazine about what we are inviting you to do.

And finally, just a heads up about the priesting of our curate, the Revd Dr Sheila Beattie. Sheila is to be ordained priest on Saturday 22 June. She will preside at the Eucharist on 23 June at 10.30am. This will be followed by a ‘Jacob’s Feast’. We will be joined by the godly folks of St Paul’s, Bury. Please pray for Sheila as she prepares for her ordination.

With love and prayers,