Friday, 2 March 2018

Not quite what we were expecting…

… and certainly not what we wanted! I started the month of February full of expectation. Throughout most of 2017 I’ve been taking part with other diocesan clergy in a course of residential and other gatherings called Missional Leadership for Growth. It’s taken me away from the parish - but it’s also had its counterpart in meeting with a small team at St. Cuthbert’s and sharing of how we can move forward with members of the PCC and others. It’s about the Church’s “mission” (indeed God’s mission which he shares with us) - and how that may help us grow. And we have been making progress with plans for the future - especially looking to see how we can link our life and work here with a national initiative for prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost in May. That’s a period when Christian Aid Week takes place - so we want to link in with that as we consider our Christian responsibilities. And those ten days will start as we welcome members of other parishes to join us for a Deanery Eucharist on Ascension Day - so it will remind us that we are part of a greater whole. We want to look at all the good things that are going on - from Messy Church to Lunch Club - and try to join them up still more effectively.

We’re not changing those plans. But how they are delivered will no doubt be affected by circumstances beyond our control. We did not count on the leak in our church heating system. To call it a “leak” feels like an understatement of the problem. It’s a catastrophic failure. One hole… but it took three visits from the heating engineers to find it. We could see the water pouring through the wall into the old boiler house below the choir vestry. But only when the experts followed the ducting through which most of the pipes run, excavating as they went, did they find that the source of the leak was a pipe buried under the flagstones beneath the red carpet near the font. The pipe itself was under another pipe, which meant both sets of pipes would have to be cut through to reach it. But all the surrounding pipework was so decayed that it wouldn’t be just a matter of replacing a couple of sections. The hole is at the heart of a complex system of junctions, bends and bifurcations. There would need to be a massive excavation (at least two weeks) and the font would need to be moved. An estimate was given for the repair (with no guarantee that it wouldn’t be more) of £13,300 + VAT. And once that work was done, there would be no guarantee that a leak wouldn’t occur elsewhere - an experience we’ve known to our cost on several occasions.

So we have realised that we need to think hard - and hopefully replace the whole ancient system of pipework which must be almost if not as old as the church’s 168 years. Bear with us in this, please - and be patient. It’s a massive undertaking!

For the moment - and with the Bishop’s permission - Sunday services will be held in the Church Hall. It would be good to be back in church for Easter Day - but that will be without heat, so wrap up warm if we do that! Then we imagine we’ll return to the Hall till it gets warmer. Will that put us off? I’m glad to say that on our first Sunday in the Hall, numbers went up! Let’s keep it that way!

Since then, of course, we’ve had horrendous winter conditions. In the midst of which we’ve had two weddings. We hired in an industrial heater and borrowed others. On each occasion they raised the temperature by about 3 degrees - which isn’t much when you’re starting at 3 degrees! The second wedding had to contend with deep snow - not only on the Bank but also in getting to us. But happily they persevered - and the outcome was wonderful! Something they’ll certainly be able to tell their grandchildren about.

The night before that wedding, I posted on Facebook that we’d welcome help in clearing what snow we could. I wondered if anyone would notice. But then - as they say - it went “viral.” People took it to heart - and shared it with others. The original post reached about 28,000 people! The next morning there was a tractor clearing the Bank, and a Land Rover with a snow plough, and 40 to 50 people with shovels. And people serving them hot drinks to keep them going. It’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve ever known - and it’s been repeated since over the wider community. The story itself has been in the Chronicle, the Northern Echo, the Church Times, the Times of Malta(!) and on BBC and other websites - and I’ve found myself talking about it in three different radio interviews.

The word gets round - when it’s something people want to hear, when hearts are ready to be touched. That’s what I think we can learn.

What are we wanting to say? What do people hear us say? What’s the good news we can share? How can we turn a disaster into a triumph?

And, of course, that’s what the Easter story is about. So many hopes pinned by the Disciples and even the crowds of Palm Sunday on one man, hailed as a Messiah, but then betrayed and deserted by those closest to him. The Cross is about the death of that man - and about the worst that people are capable of doing to each other. But it’s also about the means by which God brings about something else still greater - and unexpected. It’s about the triumph of his love. The new life by which he raises Jesus from the dead is greater than death.

I’m not full of empty confidence. Over the last two weeks I’ve lain awake in bed wondering how do we get through this? - how do I even get through today? I still don’t know the long-term answer to our big fabric issues. But I am touched by the human response that I’ve seen - and especially as it related to people at that most important time of their lives, in committing themselves to each other in love.

What do we hope for? I can be glad for the human resilience I’ve experienced in these last few days - and for the way that action has been an expression of love. But still more, as Christians, I hope we will find cause to reflect and act on what our faith means to us - and God’s love which is its source. We need to do something about the fabric of our church - but there’s only any point in doing it if it says something of what we believe. Every day I need to ask myself, why do I do this? Unless the answer has something to do with my faith in a God of life and love, then mine has been a wasted life. Let’s grow together through the remainder of Lent, so that at its end we may recognise again that “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!

Martin Jackson
From the March issue of our Parish Magazine - click here to read it online

No comments: