NINETY-SIX vigorous participants ran for gold in today’s Messy Olympics at Bramhall Parish Church. A wonderful occasion – supported and undergirded by our marvellous Young Church team and a host of adult helpers, together with Double Act our much loved puppet ministry, and some of the best loved “caterers” in the business – it showcased junior / infant athleticism par excellence, enthusiastic worship, and a grand high tea of baked potatoes, cheese and beans and salad and, wonder of wonders, donuts for afters!

The Barnby Choir was rehearsing in the Church after a delightful Wedding had been celebrated in the morning. The Parish Hall, Lounge and grounds were buzzing with happy people of all ages. St Michael’s is a wonderful place to be on days like today … or pretty much any day really 🙂

Sheila Newbon oversaw the fabrication of our Olympic Flame – bearing the signatures of all participants – now placed close to the altar in the parish church where it will be for us a beacon in the coming months, and a reminder that we’ve more to be thankful for in this place and at this time than most of us could account for.


OUR PARISH CHURCH has been taking seriously the need for fresh expressions in our shared life, worship and prayer. Ours is a relatively large church (the people, and the “house of the Church” too) and so there’s need for variety of expression simply because we’re comprised of a variety of people. Our life is shaped by daily prayer and space for silence and meditation, and by four main celebrations of the Eucharist in an ordinary-time week – three  consecutive celebrations on a Sunday at 8, 9 and 10.45am – each of these slightly different in make up and character, and by another on Wednesday mornings, and by a larger number in the various residential homes for elderly persons in the parish. For at least the past decade our liturgy has been almost exclusively taken from Common Worship and eucharistically shaped. We’ve used the NRSV version of the Bible. And we still use / do all of these things.

But we’ve also been engaged in diocesan-encouraged “Growth Action Planning”. And our usual Monday morning “Vicar & Wardens” meeting today involved (as it often does) a review of where we’re up to. And our variety of fresh expression currently involves

i) a burgeoning Messy Church ministry that is colouring not only our church life but also daily family lives; and

ii) the re-introduction, several times a month, of liturgy according to the Church of England’s ancient Book of Common Prayer (yes, we bought brand new copies), with readings from the King James Version (AV) of the Bible, including, most recently, an Advent Evensong. We have been freshly surprised that younger people are among those who’ve welcomed this initiative (not all young people elect for noise and high-octane action; more than a few express a real need for “space and place and silence”) and

iii) an exciting and very popular puppet ministry, which, fascinatingly, we’ve discovered, brings people of all ages together and enables conversations (by the mouth of the puppets – rather than by the mouth of the prophets!) that may very well not have taken place otherwise. And there’s lots of laughter, plenty of noise, and even some reflective silence involved in our Double Act say-and-pray-in-a-new-way performances. And then

iv) and perhaps, for some, most surprising of all, we’ve been enjoying a Monthly silent Meditation session on Monday evenings  throughout 2011 – with plans to continue through 2012 – which has attracted around 75 people altogether with 40+ people attending quite regularly and others reporting that they practice the Meditation whether they’re able to be physically present or not.

And then there’s the call to be apostolic: to baptise, to proclaim, to afford hospitality, to tend the sick and needy, and to “send out”. So our well attended and popular Baptism preparation evenings for candidates, parents and godparents are a priority focus area and all Baptism celebrations have been brought into and embraced by and in the context of Sunday Eucharist. Our Young Church team are engaging in well received contact with local schools. Our Missionary Giving co-ordinator is facilitating our active and aware involvement in the disbursement of funds allocation. And our now 2 year old link with the Diocese of Newala in Tanzania, having received and been blessed by the visit of Bishop Oscar to Bramhall, will lead to reps from Bramhall visiting Newala in 2013.

Preaching, teaching and learning, reading (a substantial and well-used new church library), Doorway courses and other study groups have all been further developed (what is the place of Christianity in the context of our 21st century’s pluralistic society? – which we want to celebrate); table fellowship is shared and enjoyed between groups of men, and between groups of women, and between men and women and youngsters all together.

Care of the sick at home and in hospital (a large lay pastoral-care team, some of whom are actively involved in local hospital chaplaincy), bereavement and funeral care are all part of our daily life – though as the work develops and becomes more widely known so the needs reveal themselves to be greater and we see more clearly where we’re not meeting some of those needs. This, in part, is what lies behind our recent communications review.

Thrillingly there are some quite specific vocations arising in our members. We’ve currently one of our number training for the priesthood at Mirfield, and another two in the early stages of the discernment / Foundations for Ministry / training process and in conversations with the Director of Ordinands and others. Over 200 volunteers are listed on our various rotas.

Major building works have taken place and continue apace. Fresh expression is further enhanced by the maintenance of contact, old and new, with artists, poets, painters and other creative partners to mutual satisfaction. Just today the Church was visited at dawn by someone who wanted “a last opportunity to sit in silence” in company with Wendy Rudd’s wonderful Windsails – now wending their way to a new host. Our lantern tower seems very bare without them tonight.

Fresh expressions – all of them designed and shared in so that we may REMEMBER God and re-member the Church of God. Fresh expressions – because we mean business when we say that the doors of Bramhall Parish Church are as wide open as is the Heart of God – the Heart that appears to us to thrive in Eternal Silence, so encouraging us, in the midst of all of our human expressions, to be silent too, sometimes, in the face of all eternity, knowing ourselves dearly beloved in that Divine Heart, too.


PUPPETS HAVE BEEN practicing our Young Church folks (yep, that way round!) in preparation for Sunday’s Nativity Presentation at 9.15am. I nipped across to the church for ten minutes this evening and am able to report that they’re extremely friendly puppets (and youngsters) – if a little more energetic than the vicar, who’s feeling the cold North winds in his bones tonight. It’s striking that real relationships have been established between the puppets and their life-enhancing young church friends. There’s a lot of life-enhancing going on, two-way. Like the Incarnation actually. This is going to be a Nativity presentation and a half, I can feel it. Worth a fifty-mile round trip taxi-fare even. Don’t miss it if at all possible 🙂


EVEN JOHN HUMPHRYS has taken a shine to the power of Puppet Ministry. We just can’t help ourselves. They’re The Real Thing (sort of). Enjoy. God bless Children in Need.


The puppeteers from Fleet Methodist Church give the Status Quo classic “Rocking all over the World” a make-over

PUPPET MINISTRY was launched at Bramhall Parish Church today. Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday and the Church was literally rockin’ to the strains of “Witness All Over The World”. And as a large gathering of happy, well-fed and watered people offered worship the notion of witnessing all over the world took on a new flavour.

We’re blessed with Cornucopia, Fr David Stoter reminded us, with the horn of plenty. Some in the world know another reality, the horn that’s empty. Acknowledging that all created things are God’s Harvest we prayed for grace to accompany our witnessing. For any witnessing to the Love of God will require our own witness of a fairer sharing. Horns of empty can be turned into horns of plenty – for everyone. And that really would be worth witnessing all over the world! 🙂


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ONE OF THE PARTICULAR JOYS here in St Michael & All Angels Bramhall has been the willingness of the leadership teams to work with me, over the past five years, to create together a gently evolving best use of our beautiful building. Light and space have been keywords in hearts and minds. And the removal of as many “fences” (as Dean Richard Giles famously calls them) as possible. We’ve worked with Chloe Granger and John Prichard, a couple of the best architects in the business. We’ve prayed and experimented. We’ve decluttered and then decluttered some more. We’ve welcomed Cheshire Sinfonia to a new home, and (gloriously noisy and creative) Messy Church is comfortable here too. A new puppet ministry is on the horizon … reaching young and not so young alike – going out into schools, elderly persons residences, hospitals, bereavement ministries and so on. We look to prayerful liturgy – with plenty of silence, together with a warm welcome for every child, woman and man who could ever imagine wanting to come – as probably the most important thing we do.

We keep the church open long enough and often enough to be able to delight in daily “passing prayer”. Restoration works in the Tower space in time for last year’s Centenary celebration have given us an acoustically gorgeous home for one of our choirs, and space for suspended art installations, currently Angels (for said Centenary celebration) but shortly to house, all being well, Wendy Rudd’s stunning wind sails. Christmas here is a joy to behold. Light and space. Light and space. “Wow! Isn’t it fabulous?” is the response of most newcomers. “And gorgeously quiet”. 32 people gathered in a circle around the altar for (monthly) silent Meditation together on Monday evening last. Light and space. Light and space. Our “House for the Church” is teaching us, again and again, to make room for Light and space. Not to fill every blessed corner of our lives with clutter. And in the Light and space we’re finding God, or as a visitor said today, “truly finding Sanctuary”. Thank God for visionary shared leadership. Thank God for Light and space!

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