I wonder if there is a favourite passage from scripture that you hold in your mind and your heart? Perhaps Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd? Perhaps one of Jesus’ parables?
On 8 June, God willing, I will be ordained Priest, at our ordinations we're allowed to wear a white stole (the scarf that goes around the priest's neck) of our choosing. Mine, to much amusement, is covered in bones, skeletons and people with their arms raised in joy.
I’ve already had a few comments and tilts of the head along the lines of – "Are you really going to process down the cathedral wearing skeletons?!" The lady who made the stole has very kindly given me a nice, sensible alternative on the reverse side so that I don’t freak out any baptism families!
The reason for the unusual stole is that, for me, the Bible passage which took hold of my heart many years ago is Ezekiel 37 - The Valley of Dry Bones, and the question which Ezekiel repeatedly asks: "Can these dry bones live?"
But who was Ezekiel and what led him to ask this question? From early youth Ezekiel had been educated and trained to be a priest in the kingdom of Judah, but his hopes and dreams had been dashed by the invasion of a King called Nebuchadnezzar, who took Ezekiel and other young Jews captive in Babylon. Separated from his spiritual home, Ezekiel was left wondering whether he himself would ever be able to serve God and his people in the way that he dreamed of doing.
But, amidst all the turmoil and confusion in Ezekiel’s life, God called him to be a prophet, ranking alongside other great prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. When he was 30 years old, Ezekiel began to experience astonishing visions from God, and it seemed that the invisible barriers between heaven and earth were somehow parted for Ezekiel.
The Valley of Dry Bones is one such vision. In the passage, God transports Ezekiel—perhaps literally, but most probably in a vision—to a valley full of dry bones and directs him to speak to them. Keep in mind that Ezekiel lived in a time when you could find literal valleys of bones - places where armies had been overwhelmed and defeated with nobody to bury them. These unburied bodies would be classed as cursed and impure.
It is to such a valley of hopelessness that God asks Ezekiel to speak. Ezekiel obeys God's command and watches in awe as the breath of God enters them. Bones start to come together, flesh starts to develop, skin covers the flesh, breath enters the bodies, and they stand up - a vast army.
This place of death, decay, emptiness and hopelessness – supposedly cursed by God – comes back to life as bones become an army.
I wonder where those places of decay and emptiness are in our own lives and in our communities?
God teaches us in this passage that he must not be underestimated. God can resurrect dry bones. He can give literal life to that which is dead and inanimate. It is a message that He can revive His people and turn them into a mighty army – into more than they ever thought they could be – to live and speak in his name, by His Spirit. What may appear hopeless and dead to you and me is a field full of possibilities for Almighty God. Nothing is too hard for Him. No matter how dried up and worthless we may feel, or how dead in sin we may be, God can restore us to life through His Word and Spirit.
May we be filled with that same Spirit and, like Ezekiel, step out in faith and obedience. May we cry out to God again and again with that question: "Can these dry bones live? "
God knows – they can. Revd. Kimberley Mannings
“Do not cast a clout till May is out”! One of the many sayings we have in our culture and language, it is a corruption of don’t take off or stop wearing your winter warm clothing until the end of May as it may still be cold because of the British weather!
Whit Sunday or White Sunday is another and means that people being baptised on that day wore white clothes! The other name we use these days is Pentecost Sunday which takes place fifty days after Easter Day. It is the day when we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church that is you and me! The disciples gathered in the upper room and they were frightened and worried about being caught by the authorities and being put to death like Jesus had been fifty-two days before and all that had gone on since his resurrection and appearance to them before his Ascension to be with God!
All these events are recorded for us in the gospels and Acts. We also have Paul’s letters in which he explains the gifts and the fruits of the Spirit that we can all have and use to show God’s love in Christ to others by word and action.
But what do you think of this Holy Spirit, and do you think that it comforts, helps, strengthens and supports you in your life and spiritual journey? The Church as the body of Christ keeping the gospel message alive has been split about the way the Holy Spirit is experienced and how the Spirit works in us. Some feel it should be showing the gifts especially speaking in tongues and it should have interpretation of the tongue spoken! But others feel it is the quiet inner strength that the spirit gives in helping us with the gifts to fulfil the commission to love! The most effective way of expressing this for me is St Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV):
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
We all need the Spirit, but we all need to show it in the Love of Christ.
In the Spirit
As I write this article the media is full of the accounts of the murder of innocent men, women and children, at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Their only crime was to be our Muslim brothers and sisters at prayer. If we needed a reminder, this crime shows us again the depths to which human beings can sink and reminds us of the darkness that can pollute the human soul.
Knowing how to respond to such an atrocity is hard, but we can thank God for the words of the Mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, who said: “This was a hate crime but we have to respond with love. Evil came into this country with this perverted man from Australia. Our only defence is love, and the Love of God at that”. Out of that dark and evil deed the Mayor was able to point to a way forward which is hard but will ultimately break the cycle of hatred and revenge. Love will conquer.
The Mayor’s comments reflect the Easter Experience. Out of the pain and anguish of Good Friday, God brought Easter Day. The events in Christchurch show that terrorists have no religion. True religion opens our lives to endless possibilities and sets us free to imagine the impossible, and that impossible is that a new world is being made. With the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour a new order has come into being.
Easter is tied to the change of the seasons and is always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. The days are getting longer than the nights; the light is stronger than the darkness. The green shoots are on the trees and plants are pushing through the ground, telling us that there is still new life when only a short time ago everything appeared dead.
God the Father raised Christ to life at the time of the Passover. The Passover (Pesach) is the spring festival when the Jews remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt; when the angel of death passed over their homes. The Hebrew word ‘Pesach’ means passing or leaping over. It can also mean to jump or to spring. The bursting, the springing of the season of new life is on us again. There is energy at this time of year which cannot be ignored. And Easter is not easily ignored.
For the peddlers of hate and intolerance, there is the power of creation to be seen and experienced. We see creation affirming that there is more to life that we can see or understand. This world, in which we live and share with all people, is full of life and that life is God given. New life and new meaning can come even out of death.
The images which surround Easter have the power of this universal drama, between life and death, darkness and triumphant light. New life was to come from God who creates all out of nothing. Whose power we see each new day, if we only have our eyes opened.May the light of the risen Christ dawn in all our lives this Eastertide.
The liturgical season of Epiphany has come to an end and we enter into ordinary time once more. In a few short weeks, Lent arrives and we journey into a season of prayer, penitence and examination of the heart. I wonder how each of us will embrace this challenge? How will we journey with Christ this Lenten season as we travel the tumultuous road of the Easter narrative to the great and glorious climax of Easter Day?
One thing that can make this journey profoundly heart-changing is by embarking on it together, rather than alone. Thus, on Wednesday 27 February at 7.30pm, this year’s Ecumenical Lent Groups begin at the Salvation Army Church, lasting six weeks and focusing upon the TV series ‘Broken’. Written by Jimmy McGovern and starring Sean Bean, it is set in an estate parish somewhere in the UK. The series focuses on the life and ministry of Father Michael Kerrigan, a Roman Catholic priest who, despite past trauma and anxiety about his own inadequacies, attempts to bring the light of Christ into the lives of the people amongst whom he ministers. The series portrays real life at its most gritty and unvarnished, and in doing so raises many questions along the way about how to live faithfully when life is very hard.
Each session will involve prayer, watching an episode, discussing in small groups questions that arise and thinking about where God is in the midst of the heartache and brokenness portrayed. There are no right answers, rather this course is an opportunity to open our hearts afresh to where God may be found in the brokenness of the world, the communities in which we live and serve, and within ourselves.
Jesus himself knew what it was to be ‘broken’. During Epiphany we remembered together the gifts of the wise men - one of which was myrrh, an embalming lotion for bodies of those who had passed away and a prophetic symbol that one day this tiny baby would grow up, and His body would be broken for the sins of the world. The theologian Karl Barth described Jesus as ‘the Son of God who went into the far country’. In other words, the God who doesn’t stand removed from humanity but, rather, the God who enters into the dirt, the mess and danger of the world and of human lives. The God who sits with us in those dark places and who is present in the heartache, despair and tears - the God who doesn’t run away.
Yet He offers us hope in those dark and broken parts of this world and of ourselves - that resurrection has and will come. Jesus is nailed to a rugged cross and His body is broken for the sins of the whole world, yet this isn’t where the story ends. Death is conquered and Christ rises from the dead - bringing hope and healing to a world in need. We remember this each week with the words “this is my body broken for you”, with the belief that, as hands are stretched out and broken lives handed over to Him, He hands them back to us changed and renewed. As He hands Himself to us in bread and wine, we dare to believe that His presence, His peace, and His touch can transform us and this world.
Do we dare to believe this Lenten season that nothing is too broken for the One who was broken for us? Do we dare to believe that His brokenness and resurrection has the power to transform our brokenness and the brokenness of this world?
Then dare to come.
Uncertainty seems to be in the air and especially in the House of Commons as I have just witnessed the great vote on the Brexit deal that the government has lost!
The feast of Candlemas will be upon on when you read this! It is when Christ was presented in the Temple and a sacrifice made of a dove, or pigeon, as thanksgiving for his birth in Bethlehem. It marks the end of the forty days of the Christmas season in the church year.
The certainty of this feast is based on the Old Testament rites of passage for a member of the Jewish faith at that time, Mary and Joseph fulfilled the law! Certainty in doing so and of being able to do what was right for their son.
Candlemas so named because the early church used to bless all the candles to be used for the following year!
In our lives we have all gone through our own rites of passage be it baptism, birthdays, especially certain special ones, 13 to be a teenager, 18 to come of age! And others, I had one last year when I was 65 and retired from paid work! Other events in life like marriage or partnership as they are these days are marked in anniversaries, and certain ones get messages from Her Majesty the Queen. My mother and father in law have just celebrated 65 years of married life and have two cards from the Queen proudly framed in their living room. Sandra had to apply for the card, and I had to obtain a marriage certificate for them to prove they had been married that long!
We all need some certainty in our lives, love, care security, sometimes it may be easy, others difficult, to accept.
Jesus says that He is the one who can give us certainty if we believe in him as God’s Son the Saviour and our friend and his love for each of us for who we are!
This certainty of salvation in Jesus is hope for us all! Unlike Brexit which I hope is somewhat clearer now than when I wrote this letter.
Blessing of Candlemas to you all.
The police stopped a man in Eccleston Street at 3 o’clock New Year’s morning. “Where are you going at this time of night?” asked a policeman. “I’m going to a lecture.” “Who would give a lecture at this time of night?” persisted the policeman suspiciously. “My wife” came the prompt reply!
We all have different ways of greeting the New Year. Indeed, it is said that ‘an optimist stays up to see the New Year in; a pessimist waits to make sure the old one leaves.’ Talking with people in the parish I know that quite a few worry about what the New Year may bring. With Brexit, President Trump, and the increasing influence of China, things are not exactly predictable at national level either! Over 200 years ago John Wesley copied a special Service from the Moravians, the Watch Night Service, so Methodists could meet on New Year’s Eve to thank God for the blessing of the outgoing year and pray for divine favour throughout the upcoming year. (History buffs will know that the Watch Night took on special significance for African American slaves in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln announced that he would declare their Emancipation on New Year’s Day 1863). So, the New Year can bring Good News! For sound reasons we will not be holding a Watch Night Service at St Mary’s but it is a Godly practice to take a little time as you greet the New Year to thank God for the blessing of the outgoing year and pray for His help throughout the upcoming year.
Sadly 2018 was, for many, a difficult year. Indeed, some felt confused and helpless in the face of daily reports from the Yemen, the Middle East, etc., not to mention negotiations over Britain’s place in the world and adjustments like Universal Credit to our welfare system! But, as Christians, we need to resist the easy path of giving up hope. First, we must not lose sight of our own spiritual growth in all this mess. G.K. Chesterton put it rather grandly: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” We must make sure the world we can control is a happy and fruitful place. Each of us can do this by taking the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ seriously and learning to practice each of them in 2019. They include: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.…’ If we make these our daily and prayerful requests we will make our small world a far better place for ourselves as well as our families and friends. It has to be our ‘daily prayer’ because this determination must be more than the usual New Year Resolution that ‘goes in one year and out the other’!!
May God bless you in 2019 and do remember the power of prayer. Please keep our world leaders, as well yourselves and neighbours, in your prayers, and whenever possible find the love and support of the praying community for yourself by coming to Church.
Now that we have a member of the clergy team, who is female and decades younger than the rest of the staff, I find myself facing some deep and puzzling questions. Such as, ‘Is it appropriate to wear Christmas pudding earrings during Advent’ or ‘Is it suitable to wear nail varnish with glitter during Lent! These are issues that the Reverends Peter, Jeff and I have never faced before. At least never in public!
Pondering these youthful weighty issues made me think of a quote from a German theologian and philosopher called Meister Eckhart, who lived in the middle Ages. He said: ‘God is the one who is forever young.’
We are used to thinking of God as unchanging, the Ancient of Days. But it is the God who is forever young who brings new worlds into being and has the power to transform.
God’s Word spoke at the dawn of creation and the universe born; and this month we will once again celebrate this mighty creative Word, who in the form of a child is born into the world he created.
The birth of the Christ Child heralds the transformational hope of the young. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ The good news is that we are all favoured by God; we are made in his image.
Meister Eckhart also said: “We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity... But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.”
May the love of the Christ Child be born in all of our hearts this Christmas.
Sunday 25 November is the Feast of Christ the King, when churches around the world will remember afresh that Christ is the King of this Universe. This year, 25 November is also the day of the Toy Service – an all-age service where children and adults alike will bring brand new toys to the Parish Church which will be offered up to God as an act of worship and then given to homeless families within our parish, through the wonderful work and provision of Yates Court.
You may think it odd for these two events to coincide: a Feast Day and a Toy Service, yet I don’t think Christ would have found it strange at all.
In the Old Testament, God promises the Jewish people a Messiah – someone who would be sent by God to save them, to free them and to bring them home. As time went on, the Jewish people’s vision or picture of this person grew. He would be a warrior who would fight for them and would win every battle. He would punish their enemies and free the people. He would be a descendant of King David, one of the greatest of the Jewish kings, so he would be royal, rich and powerful, riding on a beautiful white horse. He would save his people, so he would become their Saviour.
1500 years later the Messiah does indeed come – but he takes his people by surprise. He is born to an unmarried mother in an unimportant Northern town called Bethlehem. He grows up to be an apprentice carpenter who gains a reputation as a travelling preacher, riding on a donkey. He is arrested by the Romans as a troublemaker, is humiliated, tortured and sentenced to death.
But His death is not the end.
This Messiah is the Son of God and his death and resurrection conquer death itself, bringing liberation and hope to a world in need. This Son of God, Jesus Christ, lays aside his crown to walk among us, to wash the feet of many, and to meet people where they are at in their walk of life.
And He calls us to do the same.
So as we look to Christ the King on 25 November, we look to the Christ who is both King and Servant, to whom everything on Heaven and on Earth belongs yet who walks beside you and me. As we present our gifts to Him that day, to be used for His glory and to serve and bless others, may we give to Him everything we have, everything we are, and everything we ever hope to be.
This time of the year the world of nature is changing from its bright summer colours to its russet and golden colours of autumn. The grim branches defunct of foliage give a dark and dull winter outlook until the snow comes and covers it all in a white magical beauty. Cold and bitter it can be at times, just remember the ‘beast from the east’ earlier this year!
As well as the autumn ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ as Keats puts it, for some it is a time of new starts at schools, colleges, universities or apprenticeships as they begin a new phase of life! It is also a time of reflection as we remember the past and all that goes with that at the end of October with Halloween etc,.
I have just returned from a four day retreat at a Retreat house attached to the Community of the Resurrection Mirfield; the theme was of life and contradictions in the faith we follow. We used verses from the bible of words said by God, or Jesus, to people - they are called Dominican sayings. “I will restore you” was one used as a contemplative exercise. I was struck by the way in which all things can become unused, useless and unable to be used but that things can be brought back to use by being restored. A simple polish and clean-up by a craftsperson using their skills can bring a thing back into a useful state like the daytime TV programme ‘Money for Nothing’, in which objects bound for the tip are restored to a new use. Then they are useful.
I was thinking that sometimes I need to be restored at times and a retreat was, and is, a great way to be able to take time to see how you need to be restored and made new again in certain aspects of your life or spiritual life.
This is a challenge for all of us as we need to keep ourselves fresh and renewed. Just as trees can shed old leaves and then grow new fresh leaves in spring, so too we can restore ourselves in Jesus so that we are renewed and full of hope and enthusiasm for our faith life.
Give it a go - even a few moments thinking about how you can come to Jesus for some rest and recreation and to be restored.
Or why not try the up-coming Parish Weekend in November – just talk to one of the clergy.
Yours in Christ
Yours in Christ Peter Cowley
Over the past months it has been very interesting the number of people who have asked me why the tower and spire are covered in scaffold. There is a genuine interest in the wider community about what is happening to the Parish Church, as a building. People’s understanding of what this building represents will differ according to their experience. On an ordinary Sunday the thousands of people who live in our parish may seem to have little, or no need, of their parish church; but that isn’t the whole picture.
There are times in everyone’s life when we need to acknowledge that there is more to life than what we can touch and see. Occasions like birth, death and marriage - the celebration of human relationships - bring us into contact with forces beyond ourselves. Those extra dimensions of human experience, those spiritual experiences remind us that we are not the centre of the universe.
At such times people are closer to God whether they realise it or not, and at such times many want and need their parish church.
Here at St Mary’s and at St Paul’s such people are made welcome. Yet it is not enough to say we will baptise your children, bless your marriages and celebrate the lives of those who have died. It is not enough to say come to us for hope and consolation, if all that we can offer is a kind pious fiction. The basis of our welcome, and our existence as a church, is that the Christian faith is true. There is a God who is interested in each one of us, and we have seen his love in the life of Jesus Christ.
God can, and will, use each of us to make the world a better place if we allow him. This month we celebrate our Patronal Festival, when we remember Mary saying ‘yes’ to the will of God; a yes which brought Salvation into our world.
My name’s Kim/Kimberley (take your pick!) and I’m the new curate at Prescot Parish Church and St Paul’s. I have been overwhelmed over the past few weeks by the incredibly warm welcome I have received and the kindness shown to my husband Stephen and I. Thank you so much for your hospitality, the fantastic cake, the beautiful Pentecost stole which I will treasure forever, and for being so lovely and welcoming to the two of us.
A little bit about me: I’m 28 years old (although still get asked for ID when buying paracetamol!) and am originally from Huyton but moved around a bit for university and teacher training before eventually returning to Liverpool to begin a teaching post in 2012. I was a secondary school RE teacher and spent many happy years working in a Catholic all-girls school in Liverpool before beginning ordination training in 2015 (and getting married in the same week!). Towards the end of my training I moved back to my home town of Huyton where I now live with my husband Stephen along with our pride and joy – Philly, our seven-year-old rescue greyhound!
I have had a wonderful three weeks of getting to know people and attempting to learn the geography of Prescot (including the very important ‘which hill leads to which place!’). I can scarcely believe that it was only three weeks ago that I was ordained Deacon at Liverpool Cathedral (on 24 June).
Someone asked me recently whether or not there was one particular moment within the ordination service that impacted me most profoundly, and immediately my mind transported me back to one instant. I had just been ordained and was kneeling at the altar rails while a cantor from the cathedral choir sang over us, invoking the Holy Spirit to come. In that moment I looked up at the East window above the High Altar and noticed that at the top of this magnificent stained-glass window is a smaller, round window bearing an image of the risen Christ. In all of the hours I have spent in the cathedral prior to that day I had never noticed that window.
So, why was this precise moment so significant? For me, it was the great reminder that Christ goes before us, always. That, whatever situations in life we may ever find ourselves in, He stands above them all, and we are never, ever alone. A reminder that we cannot bear the weight of His calling upon each of our lives in our own strength, but can rest safely in the knowledge that when we fix our eyes on Him, He is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.
On the last Sunday of last month, we went to the cathedral to attend the Ordination Service in which our new Curate the Revd Kimberley Manning was made a Deacon in the Church of God. Ten years ago, on the last Sunday of June 2008, on St Peter’s Day, I too was made a Deacon, so it brought back many happy memories for me of my own ordination.
It is the culmination for a person of many years of discernment and of testing the vocation of someone to be ordained. Then comes a lot of study and placements and thinking through all that it means to be ordained it seems to go on forever with no end.
Calling and vocation is something that all of us should think about and we should ask ourselves what God is calling me to do for him; what is my vocation to be and how should I develop it for his service to others in love.
I cannot talk about other people’s vocation it is up to them and God to see the way forward for them. I know that my own vocation began from when I was 19 years old and first felt called to be a candidate for the Church Army. Thus began my journey which led to my ordination thirty years later and my coming to Prescot twenty-one years ago last month.
I have to say that people tend not to understand the way ordination is; and the process of being a Deacon is one that is, in a way, lost in the folklore of being a Vicar. A Vicar is an office, or post, that someone holds e.g. Vicar of Prescot, Vicar of Huyton etc. But most people think all of us with clerical collars are vicars – we are not!
A Deacon is defined as: ‘Deacons are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes in love…. They are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible.’ (Ordination of Deacons: The Greeting. Common Worship).
Let us all pray for Kimberley as she begins her new life as a Deacon and also her husband. We are all called by God and the Deacon’s Greeting could also apply to all of us for what God wants us to do in spreading the good news of love to the people we are in touch with and who we have to serve.
Yours in Christ
Yours in Christ Peter Cowley