Easter Day 2015

(Mark 16:1-8) Jesus is risen – that’s our Easter message.  But, what do we understand by it?  In the space of one week we have remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds shouting and cheering him.  We have recalled the last meal that Jesus had with his friends and the instructions he left that when we break bread and drink wine together we should remember him.  We have shared in the agony and pain of Jesus’ crucifixion and the total desolation that his mother and his followers experienced as he died.  And now we celebrate our belief that his death was not the end but that God restored Jesus to life, not so that he would then die in old age but that he would live forever and be a living Lord and Saviour for us all.

The resurrection is fundamental to our Christian belief and yet is not easy to understand and accept.  It’s not really surprising that many people simply reject the idea and sceptics try to explain it away, by, for instance, suggesting that Jesus didn’t really die and that in the cool of the tomb he then recovered.  Yet, the gospels each point to the fact that the cross was not the end for Jesus.  

My favourite account of the resurrection, that we’ve not heard this morning, is St John’s beautiful account of the women going to the tomb and finding it empty.  The others go off but Mary Magdalene remains weeping beside the tomb, when someone, who she takes to be the gardener, speaks to her.  She begins to question him about what has happened to the body and all he says is her name, and Mary knows immediately that it is Jesus.

In some ways, the account in St Marks’ gospel that we’ve heard this morning is less satisfactory because it doesn’t record anyone actually seeing Jesus.  Indeed, it presents quite a disturbing account because the women who have shown such love and devotion in following him right up until this point are now terrified into silence.  So, on a first reading we might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ life and death had achieved nothing.

But, St Mark clearly does believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and in these concluding verses of his Gospel, he intentionally emphasises the mystery and awesomeness of the Resurrection. But, he also believed that the world would end soon and the early church had to be ready for that, which explains the urgency of this passage.    The Gospel says that the risen Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee and, the disciples, despite all their failures and failings, are again called to follow him.  If they follow him, they will find him.  That message is for us too.  We also are called to follow Jesus who goes ahead of us.  And if we follow him, he will show us the way to God.  

Perhaps in the strange providence of God, the way St Mark’s Gospel ends encourages us to explore our faith again.  There is a blank at the end of the narrative that we’re invited to fill ourselves.  It encourages us to think again about how we feel about Easter and Jesus’ resurrection.  It encourages us to reflect on how well we know the risen Lord and to ask how we can get to know him better.  It encourages us to ask where it is that Jesus is calling us to follow him?  To wonder what tasks he has for us to undertake today, tomorrow, in the coming weeks?  And, whatever it is we are asked to do may we respond to his beckoning call wherever that may lead.

 

Christmas 2014

It is estimated that this Christmas around 90,000 children and young people in the United Kingdom will be homeless.  You have to agree that that is a shocking statistic for one of the world’s wealthiest countries!  This does not take into account either, all the people who will need to access the growing number of Food Banks over the Christmas period, not because they are scroungers but because they are hungry. While the adverts remind our children continually of all the things that they must have and should expect this Christmas and we are reminded of the gluttony that makes 
the perfect Christmas for everyone, I hope we will take time to stop and reflect on what Christmas is really about.  We also need to be mindful of the growing number of people for whom Christmas is a nightmare, especially those struggling with reduced incomes, debt and homelessness, and children who will have little this Christmas except broken dreams.

In many ways, the Christmas message, for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers, has been reduced to a story of a mother singing a lullaby to a baby sleeping peacefully on golden hay.  It is a sanitised version of the reality that records that at the time of the birth, Mary and Joseph were essentially homeless refugees and the baby was born in a stinking cave amongst the cattle.  It was not a prestigious start for God’s Son and is a salutary reminder to us that when God chose to come and live among us he did not choose to live with the rich and powerful but the meek and lowly.  Even the baby’s first visitors were shepherds who at that time were social outcasts.

As Christians, we should try to find time to prepare for this special festival and reflect on the precious gift God gave the world - his Son, born as a human child.  The season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is designed for that but taking time out for prayer and reflection when we’re so busy with preparations for the festivities isn’t easy.  Maybe taking a break from all our business and endeavouring to be in church on the Sundays of Advent is one option.

This year a new little booklet, also designed to help us prepare for Christmas, has been produced called Love Life, Live Advent: Make Room for the Manger.  For each of the days in Advent there is a simple activity, ideal for families too, to help us pause, reflect and focus on the true meaning of this season and to make room in our busy lives to receive God’s greatest gift.  You can find out more about this at www.liveadvent.net .  

It is also worth taking time to look at the Church Urban Fund website and their article From despair to hope this Christmas.  CUF has produced a free online Advent Calendar to reflect on the issues and show how churches are helping. It includes a daily video, reflection and prayer.

I wish you a Happy and Joyful Christmas but I am also mindful of those for whom this is a difficult time, as I hope you are.

 

Reconciliation

Rev. Margaret's sermon from the 7th of September 2014

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Every time we switch on our televisions or open our newspapers we are confronted with images of conflict – conflicts between nations, between factions within nations, in the workplace, in the home, rivalry between siblings and physical, mental or emotional abuse of wife by husband or of husband by wife. Yet is it really any worse than it’s ever been?

Today the media ensures that we have up to the minute news from anywhere and everywhere in our global village. But today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper, or at least it used to be in days gone by! And that’s how it is – once the sensationalism of whatever it is – the shocking scenes of devastation wrought by the hostilities in Gaza, and in Syria and Iraq, the plane shot down over the Ukraine, the abuse scandal in Rotherham – it quickly disappears from the news, even though the lives of the people affected have been changed forever.

But, returning to my question is it really any worse than it’s ever been? I would have to say I’m not so sure. In the Bible there are countless occasions when people have been wronged – Cain murdering Abel, Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright, David lusting after Bathsheba and then sending her husband to his death, to mention just a few.

The theme of today’s readings is reconciliation and it is, without doubt, something that the world is in great need of. Where envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed, desire for power, anger and hate exist, people are going to continue to cause suffering for others. It’s at the root of all our troubles and more attempts at negotiation are so much needed.

Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness (2000) talks about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in South Africa when apartheid was abolished. He uses the ‘haunting’ words over the entrance to the museum at Dachau – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. He continues that those who were negotiating our future in South Africa were aware that unless our past was acknowledged and dealt with adequately it could blight our future. The notion of national amnesia was rejected … because it would have meant denying their experience; a vital part of their identity … The Truth and Reconciliation Commission empowered those who were cruelly silenced for so long to tell their stories, allowed them to remember, so that publicly their individuality and inalienable humanity would be acknowledged.” The effect was therapeutic. We found that many who came to the Commission attested afterwards to the fact that they found relief, and experienced healing, just through the process of telling their story. The acceptance, the acknowledgement that they had indeed suffered was cathartic for them.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear about what each of us has to do as regards reconciliation. We cannot ignore our responsibility to sort out our differences with one another. If we have an unresolved issue with someone then we are required to resolve it before we come to the altar, before we receive communion. It’s not easy. Personal conflicts can be very painful, especially if the other person refuses to accept apologies and attempts at reconciliation, if their own stubbornness and attitudes stand in the way of brokering peace. Undoubtedly further mediation and help from other agencies may need to be brought in. But what is clear is that if, as Christians, we cannot resolve our differences and be reconciled one with another, we are failing in our responsibility as Jesus’ followers and are failing to set the example we need to set for the wider community and for the world.

The changing role of the Church

margaret_portraitDuring the service at which I was licensed as Priest-in-Charge of this Parish, Bishop Robert, the Bishop of Stockport, said that he hoped as a Church we would not be undertakers or caretakers but risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. It’s a real challenge and one, not just for our parish, but for many Christian communities throughout Britain. In many places congregations are dwindling and although attendance at our two main services each Sunday morning remains steady, our congregations at those services isn’t growing significantly and certainly isn’t attracting the younger families we would like to see attending in larger numbers. So why is this?

There is any number of possible reasons. For some it is the one day when families can relax and do things as a family – have a day out, hit the shops, chill at home. For others, it is the day when children do football, rugby, swimming or some other activity. But, perhaps a significant reason is, that for many people below the age of fifty, going to church on Sundays has never been part of their routine and therefore has no relevance.

Those of us who attend church regularly are used to the language and the rituals – we know what’s going on more-or-less. But, if you’re not a regular church-goer, what happens during a service can seem quite alien. The small, faithful congregation, who attend our 8.00am Communion Services love the traditional language of 1662 used in that service, but, for anyone attending that service with no background knowledge it would just be gobbledy gook!

With our present congregations it would be easy to see ourselves as caretakers, clinging to what we’re used to and maintaining our services and our buildings as best we can. And if congregations begin to dwindle we could become the undertakers, waiting for our church to die, and wondering whether we’ll be able to preserve our buildings that are very expensive to heat and maintain.

But, during our recent Study Course we began to think outside the box and to reflect on what it means to be the Church in Whaley Bridge today. We have now held a number of ‘Messy Church’ events and these are proving popular with young families. The worship is informal and the families enjoy the activities and the food. This year we plan to hold ‘Messy Church’ on Sunday afternoons every other month -- 9th March, 11th May, 13th July, 14th September and 16th November. During the Study Course we also experimented with Café Worship and hope to trial that later this year.

Once every other month people from the Whaley Bridge Churches Together visit Cromford Court, where we may have a singsong or share party pieces, with afternoon tea in the middle. Reflecting about this, we realised that this is what some would call a ‘Fresh Expression of Church’ – not church in the traditional sense, but Christians taking the opportunity just to meet and share with other people. And, thinking in this way, realising that church doesn’t have to happen just on Sundays using particular services in certain designated buildings, frees us to become risk-takers for the Kingdom of God. The skills and expertise that so many in our congregations have are a rich resource for the whole community and it is important that in these difficult times we recognise this and use them for the good of all.

Many people still come to the church for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals and we want to encourage that. Please give me a ring or e-mail me if you would like to explore the possibility of your children being baptised or if you are planning to get married. Some people these days are also giving serious thought to Thanksgiving for Marriage and to taking the opportunity to renew their Marriage Vows. If you might be interested in this, please get in touch with me.

Messy Church

Messy Church takes place on a Sunday afternoon at Holy Trinity Church. It is an opportunity for all the family to have fun and fellowship. The afternoon starts with songs and a story, followed by the chance to do various craft activities or play games. At the end we all sit down for a drink and some food. The next Messy Church takes place on Sunday 9th March, 3,30 - 5,30pm. Why not come along? 

Advent

Rev. Margaret's sermon from the 1st of December 2013

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Today marks the start of a new Church year and is a really significant time in the Christian calendar. Yet, as we enter Advent I wonder what thoughts are going through your mind this morning. Possibly for you, as for me, the fact that we’ve entered Advent is reminding you of just how soon Christmas will be upon us again and of all that there is to do in the next four weeks.

Like me, you may be wondering how you will fit everything in, do all that needs to be done and be ready for the big day. Christmas is always such a busy time and the whole point of the festival and the period of preparation before it can all too easily get lost as we get caught up in our own preparations.

For me, today is also a significant day because it is the first anniversary of my becoming your Priest-in-Charge. For us here in this parish of Whaley Bridge 1st marked the beginning of our journey together as we sought and continue to seek ways to bring the good news alive in this town and look for ways to build up the body of Christ. I have to be honest and say that it’s not been an easy year for me but I am finally feeling that there are now a growing number of people who are grasping a vision of what it means to live and grow as the Body of Christ in Whaley Bridge and are seeking ways to implement it.

The Study Course that has run during November has been really well supported and has challenged us to think about our faith and how we put it into practice here in the 21st We have had to face the fact that what has kept us coming to church may not meet the needs of people today and to think what this might mean. Even preaching a sermon like this could be off-putting to some. But, I believe that many of us have also December 2012 Century. been encouraged by the course and to realise that we need to be ready to embrace change as we grow in love and care for one another and begin to reach out more to those around us. We have a chance to grasp the moment and allow others to see what living and growing as the body of Christ means. And today is a God-given chance to make a new beginning in our following of Jesus and I pray that we will take this chance together. I am also reminded of what Bishop Robert said last year when he said that he hoped we would not be undertakers or caretakers but risk-takers for the Kingdom of God.

The season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas and the message for today is that of a wakeup call. St Paul tells us, it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep – to be spiritually awake. And being spiritually awake means being open and receptive, attentive to God and to others. It means living in love.

As members of this church we really have two options: we can be awake or asleep, a watcher or a sleeper. It’s easy to be a sleeper but sleepers waste their lives. It’s harder but very much more rewarding to be a watcher. To watch means to be awake, to be alert, to be concerned, to be active, to be interested, to care. Jesus urges us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be on the watch. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from answering Advent’s wake-up call.

Advent helps us to remember and appreciate the great blessings God has given us in his Son, Jesus. It encourages us to hope and my hope and prayer today is that we will walk together on our journey and will grow together in love and service as we seek to draw others to join us on the road. Let us seize the day!”

Revd Margaret shares some thoughts on the Cost of Christmas

margaret_portraitAlthough as I write these reflections it is only the beginning of November, I am already unable to escape the constant reminders that we’re into the countdown to Christmas, that great annual commercial bonanza. In the shops, on television, in magazines and through the post, we face a continual bombardment of what we really must buy if we are to make Christmas that special occasion that everyone now expects and are not to be seen as a failure as a partner, a parent or a grandparent. The commercialism of Christmas puts a huge pressure on many of us and this year, perhaps more than ever, that pressure is likely to be even greater as costs go on rising faster than wages or pensions. Budgets that are already stretched are likely to be endangered further and I am sure it is no coincidence that adverts about loans as a way to spread the cost of Christmas are proliferating.

I am sure we need a time of celebration in the darkest days of winter and it was no coincidence that a pagan midwinter festival was Christianised in the fourth century as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But, in our materialistic, consumerist world, these facts are often forgotten and for many people Christmas is just a name for this winter festival.

As we prepare for Christmas I think it is important that, as Christians, we try to take time to reflect on the Christmas story and what it says to us for today. When the wise men followed the star and searched for the special baby, they expected to find him in a palace. But, the child was born in a cave where the cattle were housed. His parents were homeless refugees, surviving in difficult circumstances. We believe that this was God’s Son and that by becoming one of us God shows his great love for us but also his desire to come closer to us. In this choice though, God shows his bias for the poor. He cares about the disadvantaged, the homeless, the lonely, those who live on the margins of society. And if they’re that important to God, surely we should be concerned about them too and should try to find ways to show them our love and support. It may be by putting a few more items in the Night Stop box in church or by making a donation to a charity. It may be by taking time to call on someone who lives alone and who will be alone this Christmas.

For me, Christmas is also a time to remember the important things of life - our many blessings, including our family and friends. It can be a magical time for children and this year, all being well, all my grandchildren will be here for Christmas, which will be great fun. But, I am also aware that not everyone looks forward to Christmas and for some it can be a difficult time and we are mindful of them.

We hope that as we celebrate Christmas many of you will join us for one of our services. The Carol Service on Sunday 22nd sing those favourite carols and to hear again the Christmas story. The Christingle Service on Christmas Eve is always a special family occasion that many look forward to. But so is our family worship on Christmas morning. At that service it’s exciting to see the gifts that others have received so I hope you’ll bring one of yours on December provides an opportunity to Christmas morning to show us all.

I wish you all a very Happy and Joyful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Christmas Tree Festival 2013

Our very first Christmas Tree Festival - and the first in Whaley Bridge - takes place in Holy Trinity church over the weekend Friday 6, Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 December. Dozens of trees, sponsored by local businesses and organisations will light up the church and signal that Christmas is on its way.

The timetable:

  • Friday 6 December: from 6.30 -8pm onwards. Children from our two church schools - Taxal and Fernilee primary and Kettleshulme St James - will entertain at the opening event. About 20 members of Class 4 at Taxal and Fernilee will be singing Christmas songs, including the Tudor Wassailing carol. Handbell ringers from Kettleshulme St James will provide a different Christmas mood sound.
  • Saturday 7 December: 10am-4pm, the trees will be on view (admission £1), Refreshments will be available all day, with a tombola and raffle.
  • Sunday 8 December: 12 noon-4pm. Trees on display, with full refreshment service and further opportunities to win a prize on the tombola or raffle. The organiser thank businesses and organisations that have supported the event with a tree ( and paid the £15 fee) as well as giving prizes for tombola and raffle. We appreciate the work of volunteers with the refreshments, and most of all we appreciate the public for their support and visits.

One of the organisers, Eveline Hughes, said: "Thank you to the community of Whaley Bridge for such great support." Tree sponsors can retrieve their tree after 4pm on Sunday or between 10am-2pm on the Monday.

Profits from the event, organised by the communication group, will go towards funding the free copies of he parish magazine, which are available to the public at several outlets. We will also be making a contribution to another charity.

Here we come a-wassailing: singers from Taxal and Fernilee school will entertainat opening night

Christingle, the best way to approach Christmas

Christingle 2012: Children entranced by the nativity story
Christingle 2012: Children entranced by the nativity story

FOUR o' clock on Christmas Eve. It could be out-of-control excitement for children - or you could bring them to Holy Trinity church on Buxton Road for the annual Christingle service. Guaranteed to calm everyone down in the final build up to Christmas.

Christingle has been a tradition at Holy Trinity for years. At the centre of the service, which will be conducted by the Rev Margaret Jones, is the nativity story. Usually, there is a youngish baby, with mum and dad playing the parts of the holy family.

The orange - which represents the world, with ribbon, candle and sweeties attached, is a delightful part of the tradition. Children seeing it for the first time are amazed.

Come early, because it's always a full house. Enjoy the respite of calm and beautiful Christmas carols. Then you can go home to deal with preparations, happy that you came.

Welcome to Holy Trinity!

Orange, symbol of Christingle
Orange, symbol of Christingle

A lone figure, remembering Whaley dead of two wars

cenotaph lone figure A woman from Whaley Bridge, who had planted her personal cross in the grass near the fencing in Memorial Park on Remembrance Sunday 2013, walked a little nearer the Cenotaph at the top of the hill. It looked a very sad, unused memorial. She has been coming to the service of memory at the Cenotaph every year since her parents died. The unknown woman was remembering her father's two uncles, who died in World War I. One lies in a war grave in France, the other was killed at Gallipolli. She also remembered a close friend of the family - known then as 'uncle' - who was killed in World War II, serving with the RAF.

A pledge to 2014: We will remember them

2014 - the centenary of the start of World I - will provide many opportunities for Whaley Bridge people to remember our war dead. Following the controversial closure of the Cenotaph in Whaley Bridge's Memorial Park in autumn 2013, because of uncompleted work on the park makeover, attendances at local remembrance services gave a foretaste of what is to come. boy bugler 2JPG

Services throughout Whaley Bridge and Furness Vale were higher than previous years. Young people were to the fore, with several carrying banners or laying wreaths. A ten year old member of Whaley Bridge Band, Javan Carrington played the Last Post at ceremonies at the Furness Vale and Bridgemont war memorials. Javan,from Chapel en le Frith, has been a member of Whaley band for only a few weeks. He also plays drums in the Dark Peak Orchestra.

gen view

Later Javan joined the full band who played in a crowded Holy Trinity church for the main ceremony. The Rev Margaret, priest in charge of Whaley Bridge, and Rev Michael Peat, minister of the Uniting Church, conducted the service. Holy Trinity was so full, there were no seats for many members of the congregation, who stood throughout the service.

rev M in procession

While this main service was going on, about 30 people attended an unofficial service of remembrance in the park, at the nearest point to the fenced-off Cenotaph.. Wilfred Owen's famous poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, was read. A very large poppy was placed against the fence, keeping people away from the area where work is still going on.

Ex-servicemen and members of many organisations, as well as the general public, marched behind Whaley band from Holy Trinity church to the station car park, There, the Rev Michael Peat led a service round the stone memorial cross which was gifted to Whaley Bridge by owners of the Jodrell Arms a few years ago.

The chairman of Whaley Bridge Royal British Legion John Cooke, who had protested at High Peak Borough Council's failure to keep the Cenotaph open for the 2013 Remembrance weekend, was delighted with the turnout at local services.

Now, as centenary year approaches, thoughts will turn to 2014 commemorations. Work on Memorial Park is expected to be finished in the spring, with the Cenotaph once more the focal point of public and private mourning.