BACK TO RINGWAY (yes, the airport is in the parish) where my friend Fr Roger Clarke is now the Vicar, for All Saints’ Sunday. I was Vicar of Ringway from 1996-2001, following in the footsteps of Frs Bernard Gribbin and Tommy Griffiths, another two old friends, who’d been there before me. These were very happy years indeed, (living in the ridiculously huge but absolutely gorgeous – now former – vicarage pictured above) and especially blessed by strong bonds of affection on the ecumenical front generally, and with neighbouring Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church particularly.
One of the last joys celebrated with the community in Hale and Hale Barns was a wonderful 10 days long Ecumenical Festival of Faith – with an act of worship in one of the local churches on each of the ten days. (The headmaster and students of St Ambrose College throwing out long-prepared plans and pulling together a simply stunning act of reflection and worship in just hours after the tragic events of 9/11). My final service at All Saints’ as parish priest was accompanied by a fabulous Black Pentecostal Band and Choir from central Manchester, and I enjoyed deep friendship with members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths possessed of a quality and depth that have left a permanent mark of blessing on my life. Unforgettable. And then it was great to return a couple of years ago for the dedication of the newly re-ordered All Saints’ – and to say farewell to Fr Rob Hinton who’d supervised it, towards the end of his time as Vicar.
Nonetheless I was taken aback by just how emotional an experience it was to be back “on the patch” this morning. Conversations that took place 10-15 years ago came back to Jilly and / or to me as though they’d taken place yesterday. Names, personal details like birthdays, dates of deaths, hospital stays, even telephone numbers; community issues, problems, or causes for celebration; the fact that the two churches adjacent to each other were wonderfully called “Saints and Angels”. The bringing to mind of a host of loved ones “gone before us” and the supportive, smiling presence this morning of both Saints and some representative Angels rendered me decidedly “wobbly” during the first hymn!
Saints and Angels. What a gift for a preacher in the tradition of Jesus! What a commission for a people. The one, a vocation to holiness – quietness, humility, gladness and deep thankfulness before God for the precious gift of life afforded to all humankind. The other a call to be messengers – bearers of something that is actually rather than just nominally good news for every man, woman and child in the neighbourhood and beyond. The very patronage of saints and of angels under which the churches of Hale Barns are blessed will call them always to delight in simply being alive there, in a community made up of people of different creeds and colours, every single one of whom is embraced by the tender Love of an all-faiths-and-none embracing God, an all-faiths-and-none embracing Life. I shall forever be grateful for the hospitality of their hearts, for their response to the call to holiness, and their readiness to be messengers, angelos, of the life and love of God.