The Vicar's Monthly Magazine Articles

Rev'd Ness Starkey - March 2020

posted 3 Apr 2020, 03:19 by Richard Jones

Clergy Letter

This month we are grateful to the Rev'd Ness Starkey, who

ministers at Balderstone St Leonard, for writing the letter for

the United Benefice magazines.


There’s a saying that’s doing the social media rounds at the moment. It’s also appearing on (expensive) T-shirts and mugs. Ironically, popular though this phrase is, because of the lack of the very quality that is shouted from the many different platforms that proclaim it, a young, female celebrity felt hounded to death and she is not alone. What are these words? “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” 

Caroline Flack was struggling. She was vulnerable and she was under the intense scrutiny of the public gaze because she was a celebrity. She experienced kindness as something that was in very short supply, even though her boyfriend, family and friends tried to support her, encourage her and demonstrate how much they love her. The media and social media weren’t kind. She was subject to hideous trolling and character assassination. Various psychological studies have shown that it takes a minimum of three positive experiences to overcome the psychological damage and pain arising from just one negative experience.  A culture of kindness might have helped Caroline to cope with the difficult business of living under a microscope where one moment you’re held up as a paragon of all that is perfect and the next, tumble from grace to be demonised. “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” 

Traditionally, in Lent, we voluntarily give something up, to bring alive the story of Jesus’ privations, as he fasted in the desert for forty days. By the time you read this, we’ll be well into Lent and you’ll already have decided whether to give up various yummy foods and/or drinks or maybe you’re going for zero single use plastics, or shopping only at local markets and independent shops. We’re aware of many kinds of “fasts”, these days and that’s brilliant. Perhaps you can be persuaded, as an aspect of Lenten work, to take on something extra?

Jesus wasn’t a two-dimensional, soppily over-emotional character. He was strong, challenging and yet, he was endlessly kind. In your parishes, I have been the grateful recipient of much kindness. I have been warmly welcomed and encouraged. You have graciously overlooked my (many and various!) shortcomings. Thank you! From what I’ve experienced, there is kindness aplenty here. Speaking from my own perspective, it’s very easy to be kind on Sunday morning in these sacred spaces and yet, can I sustain kindness throughout the week? With God’s help, I pray so!

This extra Lenten fast then, is this…….”In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”


Rev'd Bill Sloan - February 2020

posted 24 Feb 2020, 07:45 by Richard Jones

Clergy Letter

This month we are grateful to the Rev’d Bill Sloan who ministers at Samlesbury St Leonard the Less for supplying the Clergy Letter.

A very happy and peaceful New Year to you all. I hope and pray 2020 is a really good year for everyone.

When I was thinking about 2020 I reflected on the year 2000, only 20 years ago and all the scaremongering that abounded at that time. We were told computers would stop working, the millennium bug as it came to be known would not only stop computers from working but will also stop aeroplanes, etc. None of this came to pass.

As we enter a new decade what are your fears for 2020? Perhaps you’re looking forward to the New Year with excitement and have no worries. Or perhaps you have some hangovers from previous years.

Whichever side of the fence you are on we can all trust that in God while we travel through the decade He is always with us and is always prepared and willing to listen to anything we have to say. All we have to do is to talk with him. For some this talking with God follows a relatively formal time of morning or evening prayer. This is what all clergy have to do as they pray for the parish and its people. For others it is less formal and regulated as they talk with God at every opportunity in the day. And for others it happens on an irregular basis, once each week, month or even year. It really doesn’t matter how often or how regular your prayer is, the valuable thing is it does happen during important times in your life.

In our services in the Church of England we are encouraged to pray for the Church, the World and to Thank God for His goodness. I would suggest this is a good place to start and you could try reading your Bible, perhaps at the same time and one chapter, and see where you are in a few months time. You could follow this pattern at some point in every day bringing the needs of your family to God and asking for His help in solving them.

As we live through this new decade what are you dreams for it. Whatever they are talk to God about them and ask Him to lead you in the way.

This new decade of 2020 will be entirely different from the 1920s. There will be a lot to talk to God about with all the uncertainties we see in the world just now. One area I would ask you to focus on in your prayers is for peace in our world. There are far too many wars in the world with some people trying to escalate these wars. Pray that God will heal broken and war torn nations and bring a lasting peace to His world.

My prayer for you as you journey through 2020 is that it will be a Holy, Good and Peaceful decade and you will find peace in our Lord Jesus.

With every blessing for 2020

Rev’d Bill Sloan

Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn - January 2020

posted 31 Jan 2020, 08:04 by Richard Jones

New Year, New Beginnings

By the time you read this, we shall have a newly-elected government, which will doubtless bring joy to some and disappointment to others in our divided country. Those whom we will have elected deserve our respect and our prayers as they work to heal the nation’s divisions and get to grips with the difficult challenges that have stalled Parliament for the last three years.

The New Year also brings a new season of church life, with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. For those of us who were in the Holy Land a few weeks ago the Epiphany, when we celebrate the revealing of Christ to the world through the coming of the Wise Men, will have a special resonance. We read that the Magi were filled with joy when they saw the star come to rest over the place where the child was. We were certainly filled with joy as we queued in a vast throng from all the nations of the world to descend into the Grotto of the Nativity. There we sang Away in a Manger.

When I stood in the ancient church of the Nativity, with Pam and Paul Daunton and others from around the diocese, we were reminded that this is the oldest standing church in the Middle East. Originally built by the Emperor Constantine after he was converted to Christ, and enlarged in the sixth century, the church survived the Arab invasion of the Holy Land because when the invaders arrived in Bethlehem they saw painted on the front of the church a huge fresco of the Magi, wearing familiar Arab dress. Out of respect for the Magi, this ancient church was preserved from damage.

This New Year will also, we pray bring a new season in the life of our united benefice. I am filled with hope by the way the churches have come more closely together and are using every opportunity to reach out to their communities. The churchwardens of the three churches are now meeting regularly to pray and to plan together. They are preparing a parish profile so that we can advertise for a new priest. This work is nearly complete, and once the profile is approved by the three PCCs we hope to be able to advertise for a new vicar early in the New Year.

I invite you to join with me in praying that this New Year will see a new beginning in the life of our three churches, that God will bring the person of His choosing to be your new priest, and that many new people, young and old, will come to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ (Romans 15.13)

Happy New Year!

Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn

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 Sept 2019, 08:22 by Richard Jones   [ updated 27 Sept 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 Sept 2019, 09:29 by Richard Jones   [ updated 2 Sept 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

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