Rev Sue gave this sermon at our services on Sunday 24 April 2022 – the day of our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Here it is again for you.
The last twelve months have seen us adjusting gradually to life with fewer restrictions, although, ironically, many of us did contract Covid during that time. Precautions have become a matter for personal choice, rather than mandated by the government, so we have been tentatively bringing back elements of our life together. A landmark was the return to sharing the wine for those who wish to do so. Not everything is as it was. On Easter Day we had a procession with a crucifer, but no acolytes, as we are short of volunteers. It has been good to return to meeting in person, for instance for the Lent group, although we still find zoom useful from time to time. Sadly, our Mothers Union branch has decided that the time has come to cease meeting, and I would like to pay tribute to the hard work put in by members over the years.
Financially we have kept our head above the water, but our income has been depleted – partly, but not wholly, from the loss of revenue from renting out the church halls. Expenditure has exceeded income, and we will need to look carefully at the situation this coming year. The number of people on the electoral roll has also declined once more.
Music has continued to be a strength, with Maggie’s Music Makers supporting our hymn singing as well as contributing anthems and solos, supported by our excellent musicians on organ, piano and violin. Our church buildings remain attractive and assets in our worship and are in good condition and lovingly kept clean and decorated with flowers. We have continued to livestream services and offering recorded content, the latter especially in Advent and Lent. We have begun to make plans to upgrade the facilities we have, which do not go much beyond personal mobile phones!
Rev Deborah has been much missed during her current stay in hospital, not least because she has not been able to post morning payer and compline on Facebook. But even from hospital she has continued her care of the parish by personally writing Easter cards to all. I was licenced to the parish as half time Associate Priest last September and we have already received much support from our newly formed Prestwich and Kersal Mission Community, and our Area Dean.
Social events are resuming, the Lent lunches in particular were well attended and generously supported by both soup makers and those who came along. We have looked beyond the parish as we have continued to give generously to charities, to support the porch boxes and to knit prayer blankets. Our hearts were touched by the plight of Ukrainians, and we both gave money and expressed our love and solidarity with local Ukrainians.
I look forward to this next year as a time of new beginnings, of the re-establishment of some of the things we have missed, but with an acknowledgement that some things will not return as they were. Today is the Annual Church Meeting when we elect the wardens and PCC who are responsible for the decision making in our churches, but the well being of our churches depends on every one of us as individuals, and it is a time of decision making for you, too. Will you return to filling the roles you have always had, or is it time to take up a new responsibility? Maybe now is the time to volunteer for the first time. Are your gifts practical, helping with the upkeep of the church or the administration or would you like to take part in the worship as reader, intercessor, serving at the altar or as acolyte or crucifer? Perhaps you are called to be involved in organising social and fundraising events, or to work with children? Or perhaps, it is time for you now to step back, to worship and to pray, but to take a less active role. I hope that no one will feel they have to carry on with tasks that have become a burden and not a joy.
Today’s gospel reading began with the disciples cowering behind a locked door. They had failed to understand or believe the message that the women had brought that Jesus was raised from the dead. And yet Jesus did not waste words on chiding them for their lack of faith, but he gave them his peace, and they rejoiced to be in his presence again. Then once more he wished them peace, to calm their excitement and to ready them for the task ahead. And he gave them his Spirit, as he sent them out. Their fear had been of little consequence when Jesus had spoken to their hearts.
Thomas wasn’t there, and didn’t believe the others, but Jesus once more was not angry, but gave Thomas the proof he needed – he allowed Thomas to touch him, even his wounds. Thomas’ response was “My Lord and my God” – a declaration of Jesus’ divinity that went further than anyone before that moment had dared to voice. His disbelief was turned upside down into faith and understanding. God can work with resistance and struggle so much more easily than with apathy.
If you are afraid, or despondent or feel that your faith is shaky you are in good company – the company of almost all the people who went on to spread the gospel throughout the known world. The reading from Acts described how the disciples who had cowered behind locked doors were now standing up to the Jewish authorities. Jesus wants to breathe on us and fill us with his Spirit, but he cannot do that unless within us there is the space for it – the yearning for his presence and the desire to live a life of love and service.
Today’s readings are about the beginnings of the church – the decisions of individuals to serve God with their whole lives, and to work together to spread the Good News. The next stage is listening to God’s Spirt and discerning what the way forward will look like. Here in St. Margaret’s and St. George’s there will be a welcome to everyone who wants to participate in that vision of the future. Our watchword for the year is “To build community together”, in our churches, in Prestwich and in the world beyond and I invite you to join us in our mission.