Letters: Festive Messages

'Why this Christmas means so much to me'

Wednesday, 6th January 2021, 12:30 pm
Pastor Andrew Gardner, of Fulwood Free Methodist Church, with Ian Clarkson, current associate pastor. Ian will become acting lead pastor when Pastor Andrew steps down

This will be my last Christmas as the lead minister of Fulwood Free Methodist Church.

Over the last 25 years, I’ve enjoyed working alongside many Preston churches for events such as the 2012 Preston Guild and HOPE 2008, when people from 30 churches did practical work across the city from painting shop fronts to tidying a mosque car park.

I think back to when Hazel Sewell first approached me with her idea for Cedar House, a family counselling ministry that flourished.

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And there’s Street Pastors, the food pantry, a community choir, indoor bowls, Celebrate Recovery and other practical ways to serve our community.

I work with the most enthusiastic, hard-working staff team. Over the years, we’ve seen babies born, dedicated, grow up, and many marry here. The church has grown numerically, so we’ve expanded the building, baptised new Christians, and run courses such as Alpha for those wanting to know more about faith.

Our young people have travelled in teams to work in hospitals, schools and churches across the world; Rwanda, India, and Ecuador, forming deep and lasting relationships.

When I arrived in 1995, this church building was on the edge of north Preston.

Not anymore!

Suddenly, we’re surrounded by thousands of new homes and Aldi, Lidl, Costa ... you’ve seen it.

I am privileged to have been here for so long.

Being a minister (or Pastor as I prefer to be called, a word stemming from the Latin for shepherd) means working long hours, and not just Sundays as some imagine!

It means caring for the sick, sitting with the dying, praying for the distressed, guiding the troubled, as well as the joyful stuff, such as sharing in our Family Fun Day, or watching our teenagers lead worship.

2020 has provided its fair share of hurdles, but we’ve learned how to livestream our Sunday services, and used Zoom for small group chats, Bible studies, and praying together.

So, for me, it is time to move on to new things, but Fulwood Free Methodist Church is in good hands.

And as 2021 approaches we’re grateful for the promise of a vaccine, but we’re far more thankful to God for the real hope we have in His Son, Jesus. Have a happy Christmas, and celebrate safely.

Pastor Andrew Gardner

Fulwood Free Methodist Church

Embracing a better normal for 2021 and beyond

I have to say mixed emotions race around inside me when I visit a foodbank. Some feelings are of appreciation for what is being offered. But my other emotion is of shame that such a service is needed. And how can we prevent addictions causing more damage to wellbeing? Sadly, these issues have escalated because of the pandemic.

The reality of how things are sets me up to speak of the hope the Christmas message brings to the table. It’s about a God who sees all that and demonstrates He wants to do something about it.

God sent His only Son into this messy world. We celebrate God’s intervention. He came to give His life as a sacrifice, so the world could be free.

It is a temptation to hope everything will go back to normal. I want to encourage us to think of a better ‘normal’. A normal where foodbanks are not necessary and where communities care for one another.

So as I wish the people of Lancashire a happy Christmas, it is with this hope that many will discover why the birth of Jesus is so significant; will discover the difference that knowing Him today can make in our lives and so embrace the new and better normal for 2021 and beyond.

Rt Rev. Julian Henderson

Anglican Bishop of Blackburn

A message for Christmas

It’s a devil of a job trying to plan anything, given the uncertainties we are experiencing. The BIG wheels in the machine that holds society together are things like local government, NHS, schools and colleges, sport, employment, social care, charities. Much could be added to the list. But I think of the little wheels in the machine too, especially the little wheel we call family. Big, small, multi-generational, together, or at each other’s throats! Close, scattered, successful, struggling, welcoming new members, or grieving for those we have lost. Exhausted, or full of laughter, anxious about ageing and poorly, bothered about bills, accommodation and debt, or stable and comfortable. Struggling with neighbours who are far from ideal, or blessed with new found friendships. What a mix we are!

Now, Christmas and new year are coming, that crazy time when we normally have licence to go mad and indulge . . . but this year is different, and we don’t know what will happen or what mustn’t happen. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, my prayers go out to you. May you sense something of the peace that this world can’t give and can’t take from you, because it comes as a gift from God.

Perhaps it’s the most important present you could ever wish for.

Paul Swarbrick, Roman Catholic Bishop of Lancaster

A time we can celebrate that ‘God is with us’

In the last months of his life, I asked my father, who was born in the 1920s, what were the best times for Christmas?

He replied, “The war years”.

He said things were simpler and less extravagant.

This year, because of Tier 3 in Lancashire, it will not be the Christmas to which we have become accustomed.

If we are able to, we will see family but for many that will be impossible.

However, is a reduced Christmas really so bad?

Can a simpler one be better? Should we all seek a greener, planet-friendly Christmas? Is it really all about feasting?

Every year, some families meet with sadness, recognising the absence of a loved one. In a year of pandemic, there will be even more.

Christians believe this is a time when we can celebrate that ‘God is with us’. Immanuel, a word we hear a lot at this time, means just that.

For me this describes the fact that, even under restrictions, in bad times and good, we can give thanks for the love of God most clearly expressed in the birth of Jesus that we mark at this time.

Happy Christmas.

Paul Davis

Lancashire Methodist Chair

In the manger lies answer to our ultimate problems

How did you react when you heard the news of a vaccine for Covid-19?

Seeing the first images of people being vaccinated and knowing the year we have gone through was quite emotional for me. It brings such hope to see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel and may allow us to resume somewhat of a normal life. It is agonising to be socially distanced from our loved ones and to see the death and devastation Covid has wrought on our world and we’ve all felt ourselves longing for the simple things again.

The hope the vaccine brings is a glimpse into the ultimate hope Jesus brings us at Christmas. As the famous carol says, Christmas comes like “a thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious down”. The birth of Jesus is tantamount to announcing the ultimate vaccine has been found. In the manger lies the solution to our ultimate problems of sin, death, and suffering, motivated by God’s extravagant love for us. My prayer is that you know his great love for you this Christmas season. Let me take this opportunity to wish you a blessed and peaceful Christmas and a happy new year.

Sam Haigh, Vicar of Preston

Preston Minster

The true spirit of Christmas and the peace it brings

We join with all Christians across the county in giving thanks for the birth of Jesus Christ.

Because of Him we can find joy in the ordinary, peace in the storm, and courage to carry on when times are uncertain and the way ahead unclear.

Perhaps this year, more than any other, we may find ourselves longing for home, longing for family, for familiar things and cherished traditions.

Maybe this year we will seek again the true spirit of Christmas and the peace it brings.

The true spirit of Christmas is in the angel’s announcement.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

“The true spirit of Christmas is in the call of Jesus to ‘love one another, as I have loved you’” (John

15:12).

We invite all to come unto Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, and to hear Him during this blessed season and into the coming new year.

President Michael Gratton, Chorley England Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The ahh of a baby is also the wow of God being born

Happy Christmas season. How do you react to the birth of a child? Are you an AHH person? Do you look at the fingers and wonder how something so small can function? At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a human child, the Ahh. We also celebrate God being born as a human, the wow. So, for me the Ahh is also a wow.

This Child is the one who grew up and challenged injustice, gave hope to the hopeless, healed the sick, turned the lives of those in fear upside down to give a new purpose.

This Child spoke the truth, helped us to understand the creation of the world, our care of it and our responsibilities.

This Child taught us to pray so that we can better understand God.

This Child died so that each and every one of us can know and understand how much God loves us. Now that is a wow.

So, as you go about the activities you have planned and enjoyed the ahh of meeting families, if you were able, and the ahh of the Christmas spirit, take time to wonder at the reason we celebrate.

God Bless.

Revd Jane Wild, Superintendent Minister, Preston Ribble Methodist Circuit