TO PADIHAM NAZARETH UNITARIAN CHAPEL this afternoon for the Induction of their new Minister, Jeff Gould. Absolutely freezing cold when we stepped out of the car, and a wonderfully embracing warmth of welcome as soon as we stepped over the threshold of the Chapel. Thank you, Nazareth, for your generous hospitality. Jeff’s a fortunate man – I know he’ll be well fed! And Nazareth is fortunate to have a new, wise and open hearted man of God to share in ministry alongside. How very good it was to be present in company with such a large ecumenical presence and to meet friends old and new – many of us giving an account of how it seemed we’d known Jeff “almost forever”.
I came away with lots of food for thought and thanksgiving, and two things in particular: the first connected me immediately with a meeting of Greater Manchester Churches Together held, 15 or so years ago, in the strikingly simple, and for that all the more beautiful, Cross Street Unitarian Chapel right in the heart of Manchester City Centre. It was good to meet Jane Barraclough the present-day Minister of Cross Street today. It’s a wonderful oasis. And I sat at lunch that day with Christopher Mayfield, then Bishop of Manchester, and one of the most gracious and calming bishops I’ve ever known – an oasis himself, I thought at the time. But what I remember about that occasion most clearly was not the content of the business meeting, nor the rather splendid lunch, but the wonderfully quiet Act of Worship that preceded it. And the Unitarian chalice light, that wonderfully poignant moment when
We light this candle as a symbol of our faith
By its light, may our vision be illumined;
By its warmth, may our fellowship be encouraged;
And by its flame, may our yearnings for peace, justice
And the life of the spirit be enkindled.
I was deeply moved by the act and by the sign. And that same sign opened today’s Induction Service. How thankful I am for an image that invites me, and all who share in the act, to remember our human calling to be ‘chalices’, to be bearers of light. Glorious singing, including a stirring rendition of Mozart’s gorgeous Exsultate, Jubilate, an inviting sermon from retired Methodist minister Roger Stubbings, and much else besides led us to a final prayer of dedication and to the second chief memory I brought back to Bramhall with me – J G Whittier’s
He whom the Master loved has truly spoken:
The holier worship, which God deigns to bless,
Restores the lost, binds up the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the parentless.
O loving soul, fold to thy heart thy neighbour;
Where pity dwells the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of him whose holy work was doing good:
So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour
Of wild war-music oe’r the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.
(sung to Irish – “Danny Boy”)
And finally to the extinguishing of the chalice:
Though we extinguish the light of this candle,
Our faith burns on.
Our vision remains bright;
Our fellowship warm;
And our yearning for peace, justice
And the life of the spirit, constant.
So be it until we meet again.
An evening commitment meant that I was unable to sit down with the 250 or so other guests who were to be treated to a sumptuous tea. But I’m glad to post this note to register great gratitude and thankfulness for The Reverend Jeffrey Lane Gould, and for a taste of Padiham’s lovely hospitality … until we meet again.