The Vicar's Monthly Magazine Articles

Peter Howell-Jones - Dean of Blackburn December 2019

posted 17 Jan 2020, 09:10 by Richard Jones

Vicar’s Message

Reconnecting with what is important 

 As we prepare to enter the Advent season with our eyes focused on the birth of the Christ Child, I can’t help but reflect on how detached our nation has become from the detail of the Christian story that frames much of our festive activity.  The cards we send, the carols we sing and the story we tell are all wrapped up in the disturbing reality of a homeless family, who make the difficult decision to become political refugees, driven out by a corrupt and tyrannical regime – sound familiar?  

 Closer to home, with elections looming and our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world still to be determined, we find ourselves on the brink of a decision that will reframe the future of our nation.  A decision that will in many ways redefine who we are and what we believe as a people. And like the Christmas story, this story has similarly been detached from the detail and reality of what it means to be made in the image of God and part of the wider human family. 

 Both stories focus on the expulsion of those who are seen to be disruptive influences, agitators or people who have the potential to cause increased political instability.  Fear overtakes contentment, rejection overtakes welcome and before we know it, the stories that inform and define who we are and the communities we inhabit, become diminished by a self-absorbed approach to living, that places ‘me’ at the center and everyone else on the margins.  

 Advent challenges this world view and way of living, inviting us, instead, to respond differently. The prophet Isaiah announces ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.’  The imagery of darkness and light is an important theme within the Advent story suggesting there is an alternative way of living – a way of living that draws us away from the murky realm of narcissism into the glorious freedom of the Kingdom of God.  

 There is a wonderful line in J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Dumbledore says ‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’

 Living differently is very much about the choices we make, and living differently is never easy.  The yearly experience of Advent places before us a fresh opportunity to think again about what is important, what we value and how we intend to live. What choices will you make in your life as Advent leads us into Christmas and we celebrate the birth of the Christ child one again?

 Will you let the light of the Kingdom of God shine brightly through your life and be an agent of that transforming love of God flowing through and from the churches across Balderstone, Mellor and Samlesbury? Or will you be consumed by darkness and self-interest, distracted by the worries and cares of our fallen world? The choice is very much in your own hands! 

 I pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ may fill you afresh this Advent and Christmas and that his blessing will be a catalyst for transformation and change in your own life, community and church.

 With every blessing 

Peter Howell-Jones 

Dean of Blackburn 

Gary - November 2019

posted 23 Nov 2019, 07:22 by Richard Jones

Vicar’s Message

Dear friends,

I hope that you will excuse me for starting this letter with a poem (not by me, but by Thomas Hood 1789-1845). It's called 'November'.

No sun - no moon

No morn - no noon

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day

No warmth - no cheerfulness - no healthful ease

No comfortable feel in any member

No shade, no shine - no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,


 Is this an exact descriptive poem about the hopelessness of this often dreary month? Or does it rather describe a clinically depressed person who does not realise that bright health is near (not too far to Christmas), but who is so wrapped up in the repeated joylessness of November that s/he can see no joy at all? Is this how you regard November? All gloom and doom. Surely as God's people we should regard this month as a time for remembering and of preparation for Advent and the joy of Christmas?

'Remembering?' I hear you say. Well. what about the first Sunday in November when we remember All the Saints? All the Saints!! How many do you think there are, and how many could you name? (There is no prize for the nearest approximation). According to my .Dictionary of Saints (pub.1985), there are 881 - an obviously out-of-date figure. What do you know about St Lebuin/Labienus (f.d.12 Nov)? Or St Justus of Canterbury (f.d. 10 Nov.), or even St Laurence O'Toole (f.d. 4 Nov.)? Neither do I, but they are all there in the book. On the other hand, you will all know something about St Andrew (f.d.30 Nov.), particularly if you are a Scot. All Saints is, of course, followed by All Souls when we remember those members of our families who are no longer with us and 'in a better place and on a wider shore'.

On November 5th we remember Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. Perhaps we should have a re-run with the current Parliament to see if that might bring some sense into their current deliberations!! Five days later we have Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day, when we cast our thoughts towards those who were killed, maimed or injured (military or civilian) in two World Wars. We are now almost half-way through this gloomy month, but there is still joy to be found, because the last Sunday of the month - the last Sunday before Advent is the Feast of Christ the King, when we remember him as the Lord of Creation. If you are of an older generation, you may think of it as 'Stir-up Sunday' when , by tradition, all Christmas cakes and puddings should have been made!!

So November is not all gloom and doom, but a time for quiet reflection and joyful preparation. I began with a poem, and I am going to end with another, which I think is more in tune with these idle thoughts of an idle fellow, and presents a fairer picture of this month.

November comes

And November goes

With the last red berries

And the first white snows.

With night coming early

And dawn coming late

And ice in the bucket

And frost by the gate.

The fires burn

And the kettles sing

And earth slips to rest

Until next Spring.

With every blessing, now and always, Gary.

Father Roland - October 2019

posted 1 Nov 2019, 08:43 by Richard Jones

Vicar’s Message

“The Word is like a Seed”

 My Dear Friends

This is the time of year when all around the country in Parish Churches the HARVEST is celebrated.

A seed is a marvellous thing – it can make barren ground fruitful – BUT a seed is extremely weak and vulnerable. It depends entirely on the kind of soil in which it is sown. If the soil is lacking, the seed will come to nothing; if the soil is good, it will produce a rich harvest.

So it is with a word. A word is a powerful thing. It can comfort, inspire, teach, correct, challenge, change a life – OR it can come to nothing. It is completely dependent upon the attitude of the one who hears it.

The parable of the sower makes for good reading at this time of year.

We know what happened when some seed fell onto stony ground - it took root - and soon withered away because of lack of soil and moisture.

So it is with people who hear the word – but when it comes to carrying it out – they lose enthusiasm and quickly abandon it.

Some seed fell into ground where weeds lay in wait – the seed gets a good start then the weeds appear and the seed gets smothered.

There are people who receive the word – BUT they have so many other interests, that the most important gets crowded out – too busy to pray or attend worship.

Finally, some seed fell on good soil – putting down strong roots, found nourishment and produce a good harvest.

This goes for people who hear the word, understand it and then act on it. Their lives are enriched by it.

The seed of God’s word, once dropped into the human heart, never dies. It is never too late to act on the word of God.

The word of God is a seed, it comes to us as a friend. It is a sign of God’s love for us. Through His word God calls us to a fuller and more fruitful life. Its purpose is to enrich us and that enrichment is the result when a person hears the word and acts on it.

If we refuse to receive the word, or if we receive it and don’t act on it, we are the losers.

Read the parable Matthew 13: 1-23 and then decide which seed you are.

Yours in Christ

Father Roland

John Hartley - September 2019

posted 27 Sep 2019, 08:22 by Richard Jones   [ updated 27 Sep 2019, 08:22 ]

Vicar’s Message

Dear Friends

 Whilst thinking about what to write as my contribution to this month’s ‘clergy offering’ for the United Benefice I was shown some thoughts about life, based on the theme of Noah’s Ark.   I am pleased to share with you the thoughts – passed on to me by Sue Brown (of Mellor) who received them from ‘a friend of a friend’.

 The piece is entitled ‘Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah’s Ark….’

   1 Don’t miss the boat.

  2 Remember that we are all in the same boat.

  3 Plan ahead.  It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.

  4 Stay fit.  When you are 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.

  5 Don’t listen to critics;  just get on with the job that needs to be done.

  6 Build your future on high ground.

  7 For safety sake, travel in pairs.

  8 Speed isn’t always an advantage.  The snails were on board with the cheetahs.

  9 When you’re stressed, float a while.

10 Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs;  the Titanic by professionals.

11 No matter the storm, when you are with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting …

 I think the above points show that life can be very ‘matter of fact’ at times, though it’s never as straight forward as we would wish it to be.   As we know from experience, life can be very complicated, both exhilarating and daunting. Yet, when we consider the thoughts expressed in ‘Noah’s Ark’ much of life is actually a matter of common sense – an ‘attribute’ that, sadly, seems to have disappeared from life, as we try to grapple with life’s ‘complexities’ facing us.

 Whatever your thoughts on this, why not cut out from this magazine ‘Noah’s Ark’ and display somewhere in your home – how about in the kitchen or wherever you put those little ‘ditties’, etc..


With every blessing

John Hartley

Rev Jane - July and August 2019

posted 2 Sep 2019, 09:29 by Richard Jones   [ updated 2 Sep 2019, 09:30 ]

Dear friends

Having spent almost 20 years as a primary school teacher in my previous working life, the six-week summer holiday was a   treasured time to relax, recharge, regroup, and prepare for the rigours of the next academic year. A fortnight’s holiday to foreign parts was a chance for a much needed break as I immersed myself in a foreign culture – hopefully with some sunshine!

From the Gospels, we know that Our Lord periodically took Himself off to recharge both His physical and spiritual batteries, and to give Himself time to hear afresh the voice of God speaking to Him.  Surely if Christ Himself felt the need to take time-out, how much more should we?

In the early days of Christianity, the Egyptian desert became the chosen place of retreat for those seeking to hear God’s voice. They wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the distractions of the increasingly secular world, and focus on God.  But the ‘distractions’ existing in those days were as nothing compared to those we experience today. 

So, what do we have in place to recharge our spiritual batteries so we can live lives following in the footsteps of Christ, Our Lord and Saviour?  Those early desert dwellers became well-known for their thoughts, recorded as ‘The Sayings of The Desert Fathers’, which over the distance of almost 2,000 years, still have much to say to us.  The maxim they lived by was ‘Flee; be silent; pray always’ – and maybe this could be ours, too. We don’t have to go to the extreme of the Egyptian desert, but merely make determined efforts to take ‘time out’ so we can be with God in the silence of our hearts, with a prayer on our lips.

And so this summer, amid the frantic preparations for holidays and time away, may we make the effort to focus on our spiritual lives, and learn from the Desert Fathers: ‘Flee; be silent; pray always’.

Happy holiday!

Rev Jane 

John Hartley - June 2019

posted 25 Jun 2019, 04:18 by Richard Jones

Dear Friends

The Anglican Church keeps 24th June as The Birth of St John the Baptist. ‘There was man sent from God, whose name was John. He came to bear witness to the light.’ John 1.6-7.

The great fact about John was that he knew what his mission was and he was content to fulfil it. He sought no greater office and sought no greater reward, than that of doing the work to which he had been called. He prepared for the coming of Christ and, as a signpost, he pointed the way to Christ.

His task was one of both privilege and responsibility. His modesty was outstanding, as was his candid truthfulness. He was content to be the forerunner, bluntly declaring (to avoid any confusion by his hearers) ‘I am not the Christ.’ All in all he knew what his life’s work was, and he was content to fulfil. He looked for nothing further.

John’s ministry was marked by three things: prayer, preaching and perseverance.

Prayer must have been important to him for God to have spoken to him as he did. Doubtless he (like us) would have wrestled in prayer with God, in the wilderness. Prayer was clearly the secret of John’s life and of his strength. For us, too, a strong prayer life is essential if we are to carry out God’s tasks.

John had a message to proclaim and to preach. He was enthusiastic about it. He confronted people with his oratory. Even provocatively, he spoke to everyone. We may not have the powerful words, but, with a deep conviction and a degree of enthusiasm, both by speech and action, our witness can be worthy of the God we proclaim to believe in and dutifully serve.

Although John’s ministry was cut short, from a dark and dank prison he sent his followers to Jesus for confirmation of his belief: ‘Are you the Christ?’ The answer Christ gave satisfied him and he persevered right to the end. We too, in the darker moments of life, when God seems to be very far away – dare I say we feel forgotten – must try to struggle through with all our grit and determination.

We thank God for John the Baptist. We pray that we may share his strength and courage in our own smaller, but nevertheless important lives. We are privileged to witness to Christ where we live and work, but with all privileges there is a degree of responsibility too. Do we realise that ? Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand !

With every blessing

John Hartley

John Hartley - May 2019

posted 29 May 2019, 09:26 by Richard Jones

 Dear Friends

The hymn ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ quite plainly has, as its theme, the friendship of Jesus.   Strangely enough there are few hymns that deal with this subject and what’s more, the title ‘friend’ is never directly given to Jesus in the NT.   His critics, in contempt and derision, did refer to him as ‘the friend of sinners’. Even so, the title is true. Jesus was, and is, the friend of sinners, which means He is our friend.

Now a friend differs from a relation.   We have no choice as regards our family – bound by blood ties, by birth.   But we are free to choose our friends and such a choice is very important one.   The bond of friendship is a spiritual not a physical bond. Such is our relationship with Jesus.   His love draws us to him and we are bound to him for life. As such he is a friend for everyone.

Jesus is also the friend in time of need.   Don’t we say “a friend in need is a friend indeed”.   Times of need prove the worth of friends and the quality of their friendship.   Friends mean so much to us when things go wrong. Not only is Jesus a faithful friend, He is a sympathetic one – sharing our sorrows and knowing our weaknesses.

Jesus is the friend always on call – 24/7 !   Our human friend is not of much help if they are far away, out of reach, inaccessible.   In contrast He is always accessible, always available. He is there at all times and in all places – though the gift of prayer.   It is a great privilege to have instant access – by prayer. Furthermore, we must remember that prayer isn’t a spiritual chore. Prayer is more than a religious duty.   It’s a glorious privilege. Do we make a habit of taking everything to God in prayer? Remember! Nothing is too big to pray about, nothing too small. What’s more, our ‘big’ things are all small to God’s power and our ‘little’ things are all big to his love.   If we fail to pray, how much we lose. Pray without ceasing, pray about everything, pray with confidence. Never underestimate the power of prayer !

With every blessing

John Hartley

Reverend Roland - April 2019

posted 14 May 2019, 23:43 by Richard Jones

My dear friends


For me this is a very important question for all of us to it just another chance to have a indulge with a few chocolate eggs or maybe buy something new to wear for Spring ?  BUT no matter what we think .. the CROSS, EASTER and THE RESURRECTION remain pivotal to our Christian Faith.

As a young boy (a long time ago) I remember how on GOOD FRIDAY along with my mother we would stand in a queue at Bennets Bakery waiting to buy freshly baked ‘Hot Cross Buns’ they were special....those days have gone as now you can buy them all year round...also I remember going to my Grans on Holy Saturday to be given my ‘Easter Egg’ which was a fresh hard boiled egg done in onion skins to make a reddish pattern.. an egg for all of her family and grandchildren a tradition carried on by my mother and now by my daughter in Scotland.. but today’s grandchildren prefer a chocolate egg! Another event that used to happen was mum using her Co-op Divi to buy us new clothes and shoes.

It is good to remember the past but as a choirboy then and to the present day Easter was and still is a very special Christian Festival...I never tire of singing the Easter Hymns words and music reflecting and retelling the message of Easter.

All of us will be able to look back in our lives and remember things that have now gone, and is the same with our patterns in worship which I hope it will continue to change for the good of the church and future in our worship community. Already we are seeing in many churches a reordering and the use of modern technology that will enhance the worship but at the same time does not mean that we have to change our Heritage, Tradition or churchmanship.

The Easter message will and always will be the same that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ died for all upon the Cross and on the third day rose from the grave, but the way in which we use our worship and buildings may not be the same as in the past.


May I wish you all a very Happy and Blessed Easter.

Rev'd Roland Nicholson

Letter from the Area Dean - March 2019

posted 2 Apr 2019, 02:37 by Richard Jones

One of Jesus' most memorable sayings, found in Saint Matthew's Gospel as part of the Sermon on the Mount is, 'blesséd are the peacemakers'; which was misheard in Monty Python's Life of Brian as 'blesséd are the cheese makers'. No doubt cheese makers are as deserving of being blest as anyone else, especially if they make creamy Lancashire(!), but in reality it was peace and not cheese that Jesus was thinking about when he taught the crowds who had gathered to hear him on a Galilean hillside nearly 2000 years ago.

The dictionary defines peace as; freedom from war, noise, disorder, or mental agitation. It describes it as quietness, calm, serenity, and harmony. Not surprising therefore that Jesus regarded those who are able to bring about a state of peace, in whatever context, as being blesséd, because by their actions they confer a blessing on others, and are blest themselves in doing so.

Every year the Nobel Prize Committee awards a Peace Prize to an individual or organization who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of peace; past winners have included Martin Luther King (1964), Mother Teresa (1979), Nelson Mandela (1993) which he shared with the then president of South Africa Fredrick de Klerk, American president Jimmy Carter (2002), and in 2014 Malala Yousafzai. All different, but all sharing the distinction of having made a significant difference for good in their particular area of influence.

Interestingly, Jesus not only called peacemakers blesséd he also said they were children of God, meaning that in their actions they reflected the nature and character of God himself.

More than that though, it tells us something of what Jesus understood as being God's highest hope for human society, that it should exist in a state of universal harmony, in which jealousy, rivalry and hostility have disappeared.

Of course you don't need to be on the world stage to be a peacemaker; those who help to establish peace between friends, or family, or in the local community are in that moment also reflecting the nature and character of God, and as such bring about a blessing by their actions. When Christians pray one of the chief topics of their prayer is that peace might be established in the world; may we all seek, by our attitude and action, to be the means by which our prayer is answered.

Jonathan Carmyllie.

Rev'd Charles - December 2018

posted 10 Jan 2019, 02:51 by Richard Jones

“What’s in a Name?”

Well surprisingly quite a lot. For instance, “P.G.Tips” , the tea monkeys loved to drink, started out in the Second World War as “Digestive Tea” which eventually became “Pre-Gestee”, a variant of the name, and then abbreviated to P.G. “Hovis” – once our favourite brown bread - started life in 1887 as “Smith’s Patent Germ Bread” – hardly a mouthwatering prospect. So a competition was arranged with the winning entry being “Hovis” – taking the Latin words “hominis vis” (strength of man) and then subtracting the middle bit!

“Jelly Babies” began life in 1864, invented by an Austrian immigrant working at Fryers of Lancashire and were originally marketed as “Unclaimed Babies”! By 1918 they were produced by Bassett’s in Sheffield as “Peace Babies” to mark the end of the First World War. Production was suspended during World War Two due to war time shortages but in 1953 the product was re launched as “Jelly Babies”.

Of course, names vary in popularity as the years go by. Children in China in 1949 were often called “Nation Builders”, “Liberators” and “Great Celebrations”. The start of the Korean war (1950–53) then saw a spate of “Motherlands”, “Patriots” and “Anti – Imperialists”,  while the cultural revolution spawned a generation of “Rebellions”, “Revolutions” and “Reds”. But old habits die hard. In 1990, for instance, a village in Eastern China named 21 newborn babies “Asian Games” which only goes to show how important names can be.

 And that is why the name Jesus is also so important for us to really understand - for if our greatest need had been for information, God would have sent us an educator; if it had been for money, he would have sent us an economist; if it had been for technology, he would have sent a scientist; if it had been for pleasure, he would have sent an entertainer. But because our greatest need was and is to receive God’s forgiveness he sent JESUS which literally means “Saviour” (Matthew 1:21).

For all of us, whether we choose to recognise or admit it, need a Saviour. Sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves, from a worry or a habit which so often drags us down. Sometimes we need to be saved from others, from those at work or at school, who make our lives a misery. But even more important than this, all of us need to be saved from an eternity without God “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is why Jesus the Saviour was born - for as Luke proclaims in Chapter 2 of his Gospel:

“I bring you good news of great joy. Today in the town of David your Saviour was born - CHRIST the LORD” for “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).


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