“Running up the down escalator!”

Address given on 25 October 2020 (“Bible Sunday”)

Readings: Romans 15: 1-6 and Luke 4: 16-24

Last Sunday saw the enthronement of the 98th Archbishop of York – Stephen Cottrell. And while he may not have that much influence on us, in this southern Province of Canterbury, he is nevertheless an interesting character.

I once heard him preach at St Paul’s Cathedral – back in 2011, when it was surrounded by Occupy London protesters in their multi-coloured tents – but that service sticks in my mind mostly because of the sermon. And I have to confess, for me that is usually NOT the case!

9 years on and I remember him giving both a very erudite reflection on Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, and also a very human recollection of his childhood.
As a 10 or 11 year old, he said, he enjoyed nothing more than going with his friends to the local shopping centre and indulging in the slightly risky challenge of “running up the down escalator” – pitting himself against the motion of the machinery, and hoping he didn’t meet anyone else trying to come down.

And that “gravity-defying” experience, he said, was rather like that of Christian ministry – which at one and the same time can be both exhilarating and exhausting!
I don’t know if that image is still in his mind as he begins his new ministry as an Archbishop – but there’s no doubt that, like the rest of us, he will face a challenging time in the months and years ahead.

As he spoke on last Sunday, there were two themes that struck a chord with me, and that seem to resonate with this morning’s readings for “Bible Sunday”.

He spoke of the Church as a place where we are called to demonstrate our love, for each other and for our neighbour, through generosity of spirit and active concern for the weak and vulnerable. He spoke of his determination that the Church of England would respond to the recent report on Sexual Abuse not just with hand-wringing and apologies, but with real systematic change. And I’m quite sure that determination will last.

In the context of Covid 19, he described the wearing of face masks as an act love – something which may be inconvenient and sometimes seriously annoying to most of us, but potentially life-saving to some. And so, to paraphrase St Paul, “those who are strong ought to put up with it, for the sake of those who are at risk”.
And I think that applies to other aspects of our church life too. Ever since July, when we took our first steps back into public Worship, there’ve been frustrations for us, both at the things we can’t do yet, and at the way that certain things have to be done differently. And for those of us leading worship, the need to re-think absolutely everything – from wedding rings to Communion wafers, to shorter services without service sheets – that’s all been pretty exhausting. And, sadly, unlike the Archbishop’s escalator game it hasn’t also been quite so exhilarating.

I know that some people are disappointed that I have followed the guidelines quite so firmly – and yet I have to say that I am disappointed that anyone might expect me not to.
Protecting the weak and vulnerable is absolutely at the heart of our faith – not just in the words of St Paul but in Christ’s own ministry and teaching.

And that does mean sometimes doing without things, or doing what we’d prefer not to – seeking through our worship to build up those of our neighbours who most need it, and not just seeking to please ourselves.
The alternative would be to cut the vulnerable adrift and cater for the healthy – and I’m really not sure how that could be seen as a demonstration of our love for each other, and for our neighbour.

The second thing that I picked out from the Archbishop’s comments was that it is his job “to bring alive the Christian message of hope” – again perhaps something of an “uphill sprint” just now but one to which all Christians are called.

As many people, perhaps most people, struggle to grasp the reality of the situation we’re living through – let alone what the future might look like – being able to offer some sense of hopefulness is vital.

And as we celebrate Bible Sunday an obvious place for us to look for that message will be in the pages if Scripture, as Jesus himself did to inhabit the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news”.

There is, though, a question of how we do that – of how we offer hope into a context of mixed emotions and fears and levels of understanding.

It’s tempting to start with Scripture and to pull out the things we think people need to hear.
But shouldn’t we really focus on discovering what people are really interested in or concerned about, before we start offering any suggested answers?

Answering questions that no-one is asking cannot bring hope – at best it just leaves us talking to ourselves.

Just as our worship is at its richest when we bring all of our lives before God – “warts and all” – so our use of Scripture is most powerful when we acknowledge the things we’re struggling with, or that we can’t make sense of, and then “mine the tradition” – searching the Bible for meaning that resonates with reality.
Pray the Psalms – with their very earthy mix of despair, of anger, of resilient faith, of hope and salvation.
Read the Gospels with their central message of love triumphant over hatred, of good over evil, of light shining through the deepest darkness.
And if we can do that not only with our own experiences, but also for those of our neighbours, then perhaps we can bring that sense of hope that is so desperately needed.

Just to be clear then, I am not encouraging you to follow the boy Stephen’s example and heading into town to run up the down escalators – you may be relieved to hear!

But I do want us to share his aspiration to be bringers of hope – to do everything we can to listen to those around us, to gauge what the real challenges are, and then to offer some meaning and perspective from the story of our faith;
to express that faith in a way which will be understood and make sense to our neighbours;
to recognise the good things that are happening out there among out neighbours –
the acts of love and self-sacrifice that are too easily taken for granted,
and so to draw hope, and give hope, by celebrating and giving meaning to those things too.

This Bible Sunday reminds us then of both
the rich treasury of our faith –
and the need for humility in sharing that faith.

We do not have all the answers –
we cannot solve all the problems of our community,
let alone the world at large,
but we can be part of that solution.

Our scriptures and our faith give us a unique perspective on the events unfolding around us all.
We are called to offer that perspective
– as ably and as sensitively as we can.

Marking time..

Address given on Sunday 11 October 2020 – marking the 17th Anniversary of Wilton Parish Church’s Dedication

I think it’s fair to say that this anniversary year
has NOT quite unfolded as planned!
Concerts, social events, fund-raising campaign – so many things have been either shelved or postponed as we react to the unplanned events of 2020.

Who would ever have imagined this House of Prayer being closed to the public, or our celebrations of Easter here being cancelled?

And one of the consequences for this Dedication Festival is that I can’t do my usual trawl through the Visitors Book or comments on TripAdvisor – because this year there aren’t any!

So instead, I want to reflect on some of the things that have kept us busy over the past 6 months,
and where this Parish Church now sits in relation to the town it serves, and those many other people who feel some kind of connection to it.
As you will know from experience, this year has demanded a certain amount of creative thinking –
faced with a wall of things we can’t now do, we’ve had to invent new ways to achieve the same goals.
Our efforts to be a parish church – and to reach as many of our neighbours as we can – have most recently involved the filming and then posting online of services like this one.

And within that process I discovered a new phrase. Whenever I take the basic file from the recorder, and ask my computer to convert it into a suitable format for our website and Facebook page, the same phrase pops up.

As I click a button that says “export”, a little blue line appears on the screen, to indicate progress – and above it the two words “consuming” and “time”.

It usually takes 30 – 40 minutes to complete that process, so you’ll see why I’ve had time to notice them!
And it occurred to me, while twiddling my thumbs, that depending on where you put the emphasis, those two words could mean quite different things.

I assume it’s meant as “consuming time” –
the time taken for the computer programme to consume the information on my memory card.
But switch the emphasis to the second word, and it suggests a more intriguing concept of
consuming time itself!

And I wondered what would happen if I applied my little word game to the world outside my study.

“Consuming time” makes a lot of sense,
having witnessed this week’s relaunch of Wilton Shopping Village as The Guild. Their marketing has been very skilful, with new road signs, and enticing images on Facebook and Instagram clearly designed to draw us there, and to prompt some conspicuous consumption.

And if we wander into Salisbury,
or one of the larger shopping centres,
we’re likely to observe not only those in the act of spending money and acquiring things,
but also those who seem to draw their retail therapy simply from the atmosphere,
consuming the experience of being there –
albeit a rather changed experience this year.

So whether we approve or not, consuming time seems to be very much a part of our culture today.
But what about my rogue interpretation of consuming time? Are we in fact using well the time we’ve been given – or are other things/other people eating it all up for us?

Many of us always seem so busy –
with little time to enjoy the things we’ve acquired, or even the gifts of nature that we haven’t needed to acquire?

How much time do we spend “On hold” waiting for a real person to speak to us on the phone?
How much time do we spend in meetings or filling in forms before we can actually get on and do something?
How much time do we lose, waiting for our internet provider to actually provide internet access?
How much time to we waste sitting in the traffic queue o the Wilton Road, wondering why our 2 minute journey home is taking for like 20?!

Clearly we can’t only do the things we find fulfilling and avoid those tedious things that have to be done – lovely though that would be – but it’s worth checking the balance now and then.

Are we doing certain things because they are necessary and helpful – to us or to someone else? Or are we doing them just because we think we really ought to?
And if it IS out of a sense of duty – rather than necessity – then we need to be careful, so that we don’t wind up worn-out, confused and no use to anyone.

In the life of a church – an anniversary, such as the one we celebrate now, is as good an opportunity as any to take stock and assess what we are doing, and how we do it.

As we celebrate 175 years of life in this building – are we busily intent now on preserving this building for another 175 years? Or is there more to it?

On one level, we can’t avoid that challenge of maintaining this building, – or the meetings and form-filling involved in keeping it safe.

But might this anniversary also inspire us
to refresh our sense of purpose –
to reflect on the people who’ve cared for and worshipped in his church since 1845,
why they did so,
and what it is we think we’re doing when we come here?

Isn’t the surest way to ensure that this building is still standing in the year 2195 to celebrate the life that is here now, and to try and build on it?

And if we can’t do all those things we used to do,
then let’s seize any new opportunities that arise and do whatever we can now do as well as we can, with whoever wants to be a part of it all.

The chief priests and scribes in today’s gospel reading clearly saw themselves as guardians of the Temple – fulfilling their duty by repelling all innovation or criticism.
And there’s perhaps a warning for us, who know this place so well, not to allow ourselves to become guardians of the past but instead to seek to be enablers of the present.

At this time we have to “guard” the way this church is used, in order to avoid infection. We can’t open our doors every day as we used to. And yet, even without the Morning Prayers that 4 or 5 of us used to offer here each day, easily ten times that number of people ARE now connecting with our daily prayer online.
Even when it is locked, this Parish Church can still be a focus for prayer.
As with so many things in 2020,
we’ve stumbled across new ways of doing things – which may yet prove to be temporary;
or a better alternative to what existed before;
or, more likely, a new opportunity to add alongside the tried and tested.

The important thing is that we don’t denigrate those things when they seem to appeal more to others than to us – “perfect praise”, Jesus suggests, may be found in the most surprising of places and people.

This Temple to God’s glory is not just for us, and neither is it the only place in Wilton where God is to be found.

God is not contained in THIS house,
any more than in the Temple that Solomon built –
and yet, still, his presence can be felt here,
can be seen here reflected in glass and stone –
and can be communicated from here,
through camera lens and phone or computer screen.

Let us give thanks then for the vision of Sidney Herbert and Ekaterina Voronstov, in providing this church
as a window on the reality of God’s presence on earth,
and a glimpse of the life of heaven.

And let us always aim for beauty and truth in our worship, so that there are moments when we find ourselves lifted beyond time – and resting in the timeless presence of God.

Minutes of APCM 2019

Record of the Annual Meeting of Parishioners – May 2019

1. Attendance.  63 Parishioners were present, 15 written and many verbal apologies had been received.

2.  Election of Church Wardens. The following were unanimously elected:

                                    Mr Peter Gulliver for his third year.

                                    Mr Andy Tyrer for his second year.

The Chairman expressed his thanks to the Church wardens for their diligent work on behalf of the Parish over the past year, this was greeted with applause.

3.  Confirmation of Deputy Church Wardens. The Rector announced that Katie Ray had been nominated by St Catherine’s DCC and Bill Hewlett and Sylvia Holloway at St Peter’s. The Churchwardens confirmed that they were content to delegate responsibilities accordingly.

There being no other business the meeting was closed.

Minutes of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting

held in the Parish Church

on Sunday 12 May 2019

Chairman: Revd Mark Wood. Present:  63 Parishioners

1.  Apologies.  See above.

2.  Inventories. The Church inventories were circulated around the meeting.

3.  Minutes. The minutes of the 2018 Annual Church Meeting had been made available and the Secretary stated that they had been scrutinised in detail; the Chairman asked that they be agreed.

Proposed: Christine Stott   Seconded: Lynn Morley

          All in favour

4.  Annual Report 2018.  The Rector quoted from the Annual Report 2018  (Annex A – published prior to the meeting) referring to changes in personnel, church groups, community involvement and matters relating to the three church buildings.

5.  Treasurer’s Report.  (An extract of the accounts was made available at the meeting, the full accounts having been previously displayed in church.)       

The Treasurer drew attention to the key points as follows;

             a.   General     St Mary & St Nicholas Church recorded a small surplus

of income over expenditure in its General Fund over the year, amounting to £643, on a turnover of some £101,000.  This included the final two months payment of our Diocesan Share for 2017, which had to be carried forward to this year and was paid in full.  A grant of £9,760 from the Wallace Bequest allowed the final two months’ worth of our Diocesan Share demands for 2018 to be paid in full and thus no liabilities have had to be carried forward to 2019.

                b.  Expenditure    Expenditure in 2018 was broadly similar to 2017, with the principal expenses being our Diocesan Share, Insurance, Gas and Electricity charges, maintenance and repairs to the boiler system. The major upgrade to our electrical systems throughout the Church, which was started in 2017, continued in 2018. Payment for this work amounted to some £45,500 and was met principally from the Appeal Fund, pending a further bid to the Preservation Trust, whose income is designed for just this purpose.

                c. Diocesan Share   The Parish Diocesan Share contribution was set at £58,545 in 2018 – or £4,880 monthly, with St Catherine’s and St Peter’s contributing 6.5% and 6% of this sum respectively. Once again this represented over 50% of our annual expenditure.  Our Share contribution from the Parish for 2019 has been marginally reduced and will now amount to £58,182 or £4,850 monthly, with St Catherine’s and St Peter’s continuing to bear their 6.5% and 6% burden respectively.

                d             Charitable Giving   Donations made in 2018 were split between selected ‘Charities of the Quarter and amounted to some £2,050. 

                e.    Stewardship Collections at weekly Services and regular monthly donations continued to form the bulk of our income. Together with donations to the Church and support to our chosen monthly charities, this amounted to £61,300, a figure broadly similar to 2016.  Some 76% of these donations were Gift Aided.

                f.   Other Income   Fund raising events, Parish Fees for weddings and funerals, concert fees and a grant from the Wilton Educational Trust all contributed to the remainder of the overall income for the year. This amounted to a total of £101,620 for the Parish.

The full summary that the Treasurer provided is at …………………………………Annex B

Liz Pike drew attention to the large bank charges and suggested that it should be possible to find an account with a bank that didn’t charge.  The treasurer agreed to look at it.

The Rector thanked the Treasurer for his enormous contribution to the Parish.  This was greeted with much applause.

6.   Stewardship – Parish Giving Scheme.  The Rector reported that the parish is now registered with the scheme and gave a short reminder of the mechanics of the scheme. Those currently giving by Standing Order would shortly be invited to transfer into the scheme, which could then be extended to others if they wish to take part.

Nick Barsby raised the issue whether collections would be continued to be taken during services, and whether “tokens” might be used for those who donate purely through the Giving Scheme. The general consensus was that collections would remain, and that tokens might be made available to those who wished to sue them.

7.  Appointment of Examiner. The Rector thanked Ray Stedman for his diligent examination of the accounts and said that he was willing to serve again.  He was appointed examiner for a further year.

8.  Electoral Roll.  The Rector announced that Lucy Dalrymple was to remain as Electoral Roll Officer but in future the administration of the Roll was to be through the Parish office.

The numbers on the Roll were 184 (with one addition since the date of publication) – a significant fall from previous years but a more accurate reflection of those actively involved in the church.  

9.             Rector’s Address. (Annex C)

Peter  Gulliver, as senior Churchwarden, addressed the meeting and thanked the Rector for all that he had done over the past year.  This was greeted by enthusiastic applause.

10.  Election of the Parochial Church Council for the Year 2019/2020.  The following had been nominated and seconded. The Rector asked that they be accepted.

1Katie RaySt. Catherine’s DCC
2Earle Broadbent 
3Nick Barsby 
4Dawn Humphries 
5Lisa Humphries 
6Lynn Morley 
7Richard Norris 
8Christine Stott 
9Neill O’ConnorTreasurer
10Tim RobertsonSecretary
11Madeleine DrageDeanery Synod Member
12Christine LawsonDeanery Synod Member
13Tim PurchaseDeanery Synod Member
Ex-Officio:  Rector  Mark Wood Curate Caroline Titley 2 Churchwardens   Peter Gulliver   Andy Tyrer

Proposed: Liz Pike   Seconded: Peter Lawson

All in favour

10a.   PCC Officials.  Following a proposal by the Rector, N O’Connor and T Robertson were duly elected as Treasurer and Secretary respectively.

11.   Appointment of Sidespersons. The following had volunteered for Sidesperson duties for the forthcoming year.  The Rector asked that they be approved.          

Alexandra Kinsey

Andrew Kinsey

Ann Hindley

Ann Meredith

Caroline Fanner

Christine Stott

David Newth

David Willmets

Diane Poynting

Emma Codrington

Emma Cox

Frances Bennett

Grahame Booth

Jane Stedman

Lucy Dalrymple

Peter Gale

Pippa Tyrer

Ray Stedman

Richard Lord

Richard Norris

Roger Best

All in favour

12.   Safeguarding – “Past Cases Review”.  The Rector reported that the Diocese was undertaking a review of safeguarding matters, asking each Parish to investigate records since 1950 and to ensure that any allegations of abuse, by clergy or Church officeholders, be reported to the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer by the end of May.

Written records had been checked and contact made with two former incumbents and former churchwardens/church officers. Parishioners with any knowledge of allegations were also asked to contact the Rector before the end of May.

13. Future Events. The Rector drew attention to the following:

          a.   30 JuneSt Peter’s day”. There would be a public meeting at St Peter’s, to try to reignite interest in a development plan for the building. The Rector has been advised that the cost of the church to mains electricity would be c.£2000 and that there might be sources of funding available for this.

          b.   St Edith’s Fayre on 15 September.  This will mark the beginning of Wilton History Festival. Building on the previous year’s pattern, with Civic Service in the afternoon, it was to make this our main social and fundraising event for the year – with stalls and a Grand Draw during the time between the two services.

Helpers would be needed to manage this.

          c.  Lighting of the Town Christmas tree.  There was uncertainty over the timing of this event – with a possibility that it would be moved to Friday 6th December.  

          d.   There were also new possibilities at the parish Church, as the Salisbury Community Choir would no longer be holding their annual Carol Concert in Wilton. Possibilities included a joint concert with the District Band, to be held in either the Michael Herbert Hall or church and Community Centre and a Carol Service, requested by Francesca Wilson. Peter Redpath was keen that the latter should follow the nine lessons and carols format. The Rector stated that careful balance was needed – since St Catherine’s already hosts an Advent Carol service in this format and a similar Christmas Carol service on one of the two services before Christmas.

14.  Distribution of Holy Communion. The Rector summarised the revised system for distribution of Communion at the 10.45 Eucharist – designed to avoid the need for the congregation to negotiate the Chancel steps. He noted that this revision was not universally welcomed, but that it has seemed to work extremely well, both “aesthetically” and practically, and that he proposed we should continue.

This was met with general approval, with some contrary opinion acknowledged.

15.  Items by Consent.  

          a.  Christine Lawson raised the subject of the promised crossing of the A36 from Wilton Hill. Ivan Seviour, on behalf of the Town Council, confirmed that the crossing was still planned and part of the agreement needed before the developer could “sign off”, but that there had been difficulty finding a suitable contractor.

          b.  The Rector drew attention to Morning Prayer, which is held at 0930 each morning, as a useful spiritual and refreshing ten minutes to start the day.

16Signing of the Inventories. The inventories, having passed scrutiny by the meeting, were signed by the Senior Church Warden and a lay member of the congregation. Ann Hindley thanked Peter Gulliver for his excellent re-writing of the inventory. This was greeted by generous applause.  

There being no further business the meeting closed at 12.55 PM