“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:2 NIV 2011)
This is my fifth Annual Meeting here and I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to serve here amongst you in this beautiful part of the Diocese of Chester. The vicarage garden bird list continues to grow and we have enjoyed the antics of a baby rabbit who has set up home on the back lawn. As you may know, most of my parish ministry over the past 30 years has been in large urban parishes in poor areas. When I came here, some of my clergy colleagues were surprised and wondered if there was anything to do in village churches. I can now tell them that there is plenty to do and that there is a joy and a challenge in God’s ministry wherever it takes place.
Some of the particular delights that I have experienced in the past 12 months are these:
- A couple, Tom and Judith, who spent time in Mouldsworth while moving between houses and worshipped with us here. When the time came to move on and they knew that they would have to look for a new church, they said that we would be a hard act to follow.
- The Good Friday ‘Walk of Witness’ from St Cuthbert’s to here. Over 70 people taking part: carrying crosses, praying together, enjoying fellowship. For me that walk was a wonderful answer to several years’ prayer
- The fun of our ‘First Sunday’ services, where newcomers learn that coming to church doesn’t have to be like medicine: probably good for you but rather strange. I have particular memories of a little boy and girl who, joining hands together at the steps to the chancel, seemed to want to get married as well as baptized!
- Being asked to preach at the Lord Mayor of Chester’s Civic Service at Chester Cathedral, a somewhat daunting experience, but a pleasure to see Ashton Hayes represented by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.
- The Lent study groups at the Vicarage in which I learnt so much as we read and discussed the Bible together
- The songs of the choir rehearsals drifting through the vicarage.
- Just spending time with people talking about things that really matter: above all, being able to talk about Jesus and his relevance to people’s day-to-day lives.
Of course, there are sad things too. In the past year, Jean Salisbury died after a long illness: we continue to remember Ron and everyone else in our church family who has been bereaved. We have also had to say goodbye to Reaveley Carruthers and Gordon and Shirley Dobson, who have moved from this parish to new churches. We wish them well.
There are frustrations too. I am always conscious that my post here is part-time: three days a week – in theory. I am being asked to do more by the Diocese, which I enjoy but it is time-consuming. I am still trying to carry out my own teaching, research and writing. I cannot do everything that a full-time vicar could do. As I look ahead to the next 12 months, I know that we need to carry out a Quinquennial (five year) survey of the church building, revise our inventory and health and safety policy and apply for a faculty for the church reordering. I would also like to produce new service booklets. I used to be a church administrator and enjoyed dealing with such tasks, but I cannot do these things and spend time on the pastoral and evangelistic work that I see as key to the health of our church.
Paul writes to the churches in Galatia that we should, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” So, I am very grateful to be part of a hardworking team with our readers, Alan and Philip, our churchwardens, Diane and Margaret, our verger and parish assistant, Alan, our choir leader, Yvonne, and everyone else who helps to “carry each other’s burdens”.
I am not going to try and thank everyone by name, although I do want to particularly thank three people for specific tasks. Diane, someone who is always kind and positive, is standing down as one of our churchwardens. Philip has now handed over the job of planned giving officer to Lesley Groves: thank you to him for his careful and conscientious work behind the scenes. Hilary has relinquished her formal post as ‘parish evangelist emeritus’, but will, I am sure, continue to be busy in the parish.
And thank you very much to everyone else who contributes in different ways to the life of our church: reading lessons, leading prayers, keeping the accounts and paying the bills, taking minutes and writing reports, leading our children’s work, singing, cleaning, baking cakes, decorating the church with flowers, delivering newsletters, showing hospitality, visiting the sick, helping with Christian Aid, Save The Family and the Food Bank, being good witnesses to Christ. You know who you are – and so does God!
As I look to the year ahead, I am excited about our PCC Away Day in May, which should give us a great opportunity to think more about being a church really means and how we “carry each other’s burdens”. I am delighted that the Midweek Club for 8 to 11 year olds has now started again, thanks to Debbie Groom and Philip. I hope for progress in our building reordering and I continue to pray that our church will indeed be the welcoming place that we proclaim on our notice board – that we will grow in faith and hope and love.
Yes, there is plenty to do in a village parish!
Vicar, St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes