Rector’s Sermon – Sunday 15th September 2019

The Sermon preached by the Rector at St.Mary’s Church on Sunday 15th September 2019

Luke 15: 1-10

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Last week I wrote to everyone on the church Electoral Roll. 

If you received your letter on paper, but would like email in future, to reduce costs, please let me know.

If you are not on the Electoral Roll, and would like a copy of the letter, please take one from the back of church.

The letter includes an appeal for greater giving so that we are not hobbled by a deficit in the future – a deficit that will drain our reserves.

Each parish church is given the responsibility for paying its own way.   If we can pay our own way – this benefice of St.Mary’s and St.Catherine’s, Birtles – we won’t have to join another parish.   Paying our way means paying our parish share – most of which pays me – and paying all our bills, without dipping into our reserves. 

With 186 people on our church Electoral Roll, and an annual shortfall of £28,000, that’s £150 each to pay this year and succeeding years – in addition to current giving.   £150 each to pay per year, is £12.50 per month.

All parish churches are in the same boat – except that parishes in the wealthier areas – such as us – pay more in parish share, to cover parishes which are urban deprivation areas – to make sure that they still have parish clergy, even though they can’t pay for them.   It’s all accounted for by the Diocesan office: you can find it online.

Between us, the benefice needs to pay its full parish share – which we do – and pay all other costs – without having to take from reserves. 

Reserves are there because of the significant responsibility of this building. 

The costs over and above parish share are insurance, utilities, my expenses, building maintenance, grounds maintenance, keeping the office going, keeping church services going.

I know it is a shock that St.Mary’s is in the red, but we all know now.

I know that you may be unable to give more than you do currently

But some on the Electoral Roll will be able to increase their giving by £150 a year / £12.50 per month.  Some will be able to give more than this.  I think I will send out a follow-up letter.   Or maybe I will communicate these figures in the parish magazine and on Facebook and the church website and the Sunday news sheet.  And you can get out the message – an additional £150 per person on the Electoral Roll per year.

We must accept the responsibility that is ours.  

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I will speak about a friend of mine who is dying.  I will call him Bob. 

Thirty years ago I took care to maintain my professional capability from before I was ordained.  Town and Country Planning is the discipline of arbitrating between different interests in land.  After my degree in the subject and working for seven years as a Planner in local government, I trained to be ordained and I left Planning behind. 

But soon after being ordained and taking up a Curacy, I began to pick up the threads again, and I obtained Membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute. 

Twenty years ago I started a quarterly bulletin on environmental matters for local government Planners and a church readership, and fifteen years ago I looked to see if anyone would want to give me work one day a week – on my Vicar’s day off – as a Planning consultant.  The Bishop said he didn’t mind me doing this for a while.  That led to a day a week with an environmental consultant in Reading in their planning team. 

Among the Planners, there was a positive welcome.  One of my colleagues – I’ll call him Bob – kept in touch with me after I left.  Bob told me early this year of his cancer diagnosis.  Since telling me, Bob has emailed me, and I have emailed him.  We occasionally speak on the phone.  Bob told me a few weeks ago that it looked as if palliative care was the only option.  I haven’t heard from Bob since just before he was going to see the consultant six days ago.

I send Bob vignettes of parish life in east Cheshire – alongside engaging with the situation that Bob finds himself in.  I described the Fun Dog Show and Fete, and the art exhibition at the Reading Room at Over Alderley.  I told Bob that I had been surprised to find a steady stream of winners on the tombola bringing me their bottle of beer to use the bottle opener on my Swiss Army penknife.  “Isn’t there a bottle opener in the kitchen?”, I asked.  But the bottle opener in the kitchen was broken.  How did they know I had a bottle opener?  I told this to Bob, and in the post from Bob came a new bottle opener for the Reading Room.

Just before going to see the consultant, Bob wrote in an email: “The true magnitude and range of my own sins in thought, words and deed is now coming over me in waves of remorse.  Sorry to burden you with all this, Jon”.

This is my reply to Bob: “The Christian understanding of awareness of our own sinfulness is that, unlike Judaism or Islam, there is no set of hard and fast rules for different circumstances of life in Christianity: only the general principles that one loves God and loves one’s neighbour. 

But none of us can live up to the high bar that our conscience reminds us about, and as we get older we become more aware of our follies in the past.  The Christian understanding is that when we acknowledge our own sinfulness, it is the actual act of allowing ourselves to be in that vulnerable place of making that acknowledgement – and of doing that before God – which, in Christ, absolves us. 

In other words, the person who denies the voice of their conscience and never acknowledges any fault is the one whose sins remain entirely their own possession.  But by making ourself vulnerable before God in acknowledgement of our own sinfulness, ‘God forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness’.   Our sins are taken away.

The First Letter of St. John, Chapter 1, verses 7 – 10:  ‘If we walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us’.

That was sent on Monday of last week.  This week I will probably send a card to Bob.

Each of us is a priest to those around us.  What I wrote – you can do that, too. 

Bob has been searching for the lost coins of his faith, and I pray that he has now found them.  Pray for all who are dying, and all who watch and wait with them. 

And pray for each other, because we can all be priests to each other – confessing our sins and leaving them with our Lord.

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There are several ways in which you can give to St.Mary’s Church, or increase your giving. 

This is taken directly from the church website:

Donate by Pay Pal via the church website

Direct bank transfer – please contact our Treasurer – Will Ablett for our bank details –

Regular giving envelopes – please contact our Envelope Administrator – Donald Henderson for more details –

Don’t forget to gift aid any donations that you can – please complete and return the form available

In addition, please talk with Will Ablett about leaving a legacy to St.Mary’s Church.