Dear sisters and brothers
I wanted to write to you as we approach Advent Sunday and the beginning of the Church year. This Sunday we begin to look towards Christmas and a season of expectant waiting as we look for the fulfilment of God’s promises. This Advent we are, of course, particularly looking forward to an end to lockdown, negotiating Christmas bubbles, and a hoped-for vaccine. There is much which we await!
In the life of the Church nationally and within our Team change is also afoot. This week the General Synod of the Church of England has been meeting virtually and exploring a vision for the church for the 2020s. Introducing this debate the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, spoke of a church which needs to be more Christ like and more shaped after the example of Jesus. He spoke of a church which needs to be humbler, bolder and simpler. There is much which lies below these key words and I’d encourage you to explore this further through the link below.
Closer to home, I also wanted to update you with regard to ministerial arrangements across the Team. This Sunday we will be gathering online and orders of service are attached for Sunday and for Morning Prayer in Advent. These services can all be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/pipandjims/timeline. From Sunday 6th December we are able once again to gather physically for worship under the guidelines for tier two, and I want to thank again all those whose hard work is making this possible. As you will know, Ken Shill continues to receive chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer and is on long term sick leave. I’m in touch with Ken and Celia regularly and they’re very grateful for the prayers and support which they have received and, all things considered, they are in good spirits! This last Sunday Fr Peter Quinnell also announced his retirement from ministry at St Stephen’s at Candlemas next year (31st January). Peter and I have been in conversation about this for some time and I am extremely grateful for the generous ministry which he has exercised at St Stephen’s and across the Team over these last few years. He will be sorely missed!
Over the coming year, these absences will present significant challenges to us all across the Team and will require some lateral thinking and flexibility in order for us to flourish as communities of faith, to live graceful lives that witness to that faith and to perceive the new things that God is doing amongst us.
In the short-term Pip and Jim’s and St Stephen’s will be worshipping together at St Stephen’s Church. I am also discussing cover arrangements with the PCC at Emmanuel. I hope that these conversations will give us some clarity regarding arrangements until Easter. Early next year, we look forward to welcoming a new URC colleague who we are likely to see in Warden Hill one Sunday a month and with whom we look forward to reviewing our Ecumenical partnership. As you would expect, I am also in conversation with Bishop Rachel and Archdeacon Phil about all of these matters. These are challenges for each one of our churches and, in writing to you now, I would ask that you hold these matters in your prayers and bear them in mind in your Church Councils. On 27th February at our Team away day facilitated by Revd. Canon Andrew Braddock we will have more opportunities to discuss all of this in more depth and to explore the new ways of working that this will require. It will be important that all of our Churches are well-represented at that gathering and that all of our voices are heard.
In amongst all of this, there are also opportunities for witness and service: Leckhampton High School is arising out of the ground, the new Pip and Jim’s will be opening in a matter of months, we have scores of people signed up to be part of our big crib event, ‘Away in a Manger’ taking place at St Peter’s, and Advent windows will be appearing across South Cheltenham and beyond thanks to the CNC initiative led by Rev. Sarah Haden.
So, we live in ‘interesting times’ which will require us to live in a faithful expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promises. As we do so, I invite you to pray with me the BCP prayer for last Sunday, “Stir-up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Rev. Nick Davies MA, MTh