WITH A LITTLE HELP …

PAUL DEAKIN (vested, left) preached an encouraging and challenging sermon this morning, attired for a few brief moments in a too short preaching scarf – because it’s more ordinarily employed at Stockport County FC!  It’s great having Paul home on leave from his studies at Mirfield. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – Nathaniel asked of Philip. Well, of course, someone could and did! And Paul Deakin’s one of the many good things to “come out of” Bramhall.

DAVID TAYLOR (robed, right) served the dual offices of assistant verger and altar server, at short notice, in the midst of one of those whirlwind sort of mornings that Sundays at St Michael’s often look like. With consecutive celebrations of the Eucharist at 8, 9 and 10.45am there’s a lot to be done behind the scenes to make sure there’s a smooth flow. With David and other willing souls like him we’re able to sing: “we get by with a little help from our friends …”

AND ANDY BROWN put imagination into gear and was quick to snap the moments when some of my wonderful young friends here got stuck into “the priesthood of all believers” liturgically. Literally “active angels”, we encouraged each other to pray according to the style and practice of ancient tradition, standing, and with arms raised in a posture of praise, thanksgiving and receptivity. And we all shared in times of silence and stillness too. It all made for a holy communion. Eucharistic. Something accomplished. Religio – a binding together. And I recall that the great son of man who came out of Nazareth once said: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends – John 15.15-17

ALMOST SPELLING ‘HOLY’

WRITING ABOUT stained glass fragments “blown apart in wars” and haphazardly reassembled later, the priest poet David Scott, in the second stanza of his A Window in Ely Cathedral, tells of

A leering bit of face with twisted lips,
a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’,
a sheaf of corn, a leaf, and then the sun dips,
lighting Mary in her simple glory.

Piecing Together
A Window in Ely Cathedral,

stanza 2 of 3, page 29

In the economy of God there’s something afoot. I can feel it in my bones. The downtrodden, the dispossessed, the shattered, the fragmented and the forgotten, wherever they are in the world, are raising their voices. They cry for the reconciliation, resurrection and restoration of a humane humanity – for people of every race and nation, and of every creed (or lack thereof), or “class”, or colour. Too much has been blown apart by wars and for too long. But days wear on, the sun dips in her course, illuminating that which speaks of life’s real glory, and is thereby truly holy.

This is exciting. This is the stuff of the reign of the Source of all of our lives, to whom we have prayed, and with whom we have yearned, in every time and place, in every political and religious tradition, for so very long. Whether we’re speaking of ordinary Libyans standing up to be counted, intent on “occupying” their own entitlement to a bit of their own space as human beings; whether we’re speaking of Occupy New York, or Occupy London, or occupy-a-space-in-the-queue for fresh air, or clean water, or a bowl of rice, something is most assuredly afoot. The sun dips, lighting Mary in her simple glory, and because at evensong we’re rather quieter than usual we may hear her softly say and pray

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek

Come Christ-Mass this year the stable and the tent will not be featured only in hand-picked and glossy Christmas cards. Tents and stables are being raised up alongside cathedrals and churches. Tents and stables are being raised up in our dreams and in our slowly-awakening hearts. Here are opportunities to catch real glimpses for the possibilities of life’s glory, opportunities that are thereby truly holy. Some amongst us, nonetheless, will not look any more kindly upon such fragmented opportunities than they would ever have looked upon the teenage mother in the stable of Bethlehem.

But something of and from the divine is afoot. The leering bit of face with twisted lips, a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’, must give way to the sun’s dipping

lighting Mary in her simple glory.

OLD WISDOM

the theatre of life: everyman’s epic …

ONE OF THE REAL CHALLENGES, and for me perhaps one of the greatest joys, in the life of a parish priest is that part of the task that requires the sharing of the old Wisdom – the received Tradition – in language that can be understood today. And in both the challenge and the joy there are reminders for the priest that The Story is not his or her story, not the work of his or her own art or talent. It’s a Shared Story. An epic!

Today I’ve engaged in at least a dozen very different pastoral encounters. All, in their different ways, were “asking” for some pertinent, relevant, cringe-free sharing of Christian faith. And I’m never happier than when I hear the sound of the “penny dropping” in my own life, and in the lives of the people I encounter and converse with. Never happier than when it becomes obvious that people’s misconceptions of who the priest is likely to be, of Religion with a big R, of fear or confusion – are replaced by what I’ve often called “relieved relationship.”

And when we allow ourselves simply to relax in our day-to-day relationships The Story often unfolds naturally and thus the more relevantly … constantly drawing upon, constantly bringing to mind, the stories and experiences that have illuminated our own lives and the lives of our fellow pilgrims.

It’s important that I remember that I’m not primarily about telling “my” story – though I ought not to hold back on that story either. But the priest, like the poet, is about telling “everyone’s” story … many, many combined distillations of over 2000 years of Christian history … and of a much bigger canvas reaching back much, much further than that – and reaching forward much, much further than that.

Priests, then, will always and everywhere feel that they’re telling their own AND someone else’s story in order to communicate everyone’s story in a hundred thousand different ways. Because they are! The Christian, not just the priest, is like a magpie, says Bishop Michael Marshall. Always “borrowing” from the combined experience, from the “tradition”, from the nests of saints and fatheads alike – in order to “translate” the Word; to fan sparks into flames; to encourage the leap from enquiry to a new knowing, and a new world’s growing.