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The Consecration of St Nicolas

30 September 2007

The Bishop's Address

During the service the Bishop addressed the congregation

Consecration of St Nicolas Prestbury

Itís a wonderful day, a great occasion. Itís a kind of coming of age. The apostle Paul says to the Ephesian Christians in our first reading, ďYou are no longer strangers and aliensĒ, you are something new - citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. People of St Nicolas, Prestbury, you are no longer children, a daughter church, an untested plant. You are something new, a mature Christian community, you are a grown up church, today you take your place among the parish churches of this team and, in due course, you will take your place among the parish churches of the larger North Cheltenham Team. To dedicate a church has a certain provisionality about it; itís a first stage. To consecrate it is to say confidently that, for as far as we can see, this church will be needed to serve the people of this part of Cheltenham and we want to call down Godís blessing as we set it apart for that holy purpose.

We give thanks, of course, for 37 years of faithful and imaginative ministry in and from St Nicolasí, with all the freshness that belong to a young church, breaking new ground. But today we celebrate the coming of age of a parish church. A great occasion.

When the church was dedicated in 1970 there was a focus on the font, on the lectern and on the altar table and we are revisiting that today. Actions speak louder than words, so I donít want to explain away the symbolic movements and actions of this service, but just let me do a little bit of underlining.

We have gathered around the baptismal font. Even before that we have showered the church building with holy water, and holy water is always related to baptism, a reminder of what is claimed for Christ in the water of baptism. And, at the font, we made once again our baptismal profession, publicly affirmed our faith, which is also the faith of the Church.

One of the things that a church building exists for is to provide a place where the community may bring people to faith. We makes disciples of them. We do it by welcoming them and teaching them, and somewhere along that way we bring them to the waters of baptism. Thatís how we make new Christians. I guess that has been important through the 37 years, but never more important than now. And perhaps nowadays we hear more clearly the call of Jesus to go to make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We donít simply wait. From here we go out to seek, to proclaim, to witness, and then we bring in to be welcomed, to be taught, to be discipled, to be brought to the waters of baptism. Thereís a priority for the Parish Church of St Nicolas Prestbury - bring to faith, bring to baptism.

And then we moved our focus to the lectern where the scriptures are read, the gospel is proclaimed, the sermon is preached. The lectern that we stand around and face when we hear the gospel, because in its words we meet a Living Lord who addresses us with Godís word for us, a Lord who nurtures our faith as we engage with the scriptures, as we struggle sometimes with their meaning, as we try to relate them to the challenges of our time and the complexities of our lives. Through reading the sacred texts, through listening to the preaching through participation in study courses and house groups, through prayerful reflection, we let Christ speak to us his word of life and it develops our faith, confirms our faith, deepens our faith, nurtures our faith. Thatís an on-going process for individuals and for communities.

Thatís been important through 37 years here at St Nicolasí, but never more so than now. We live in an age when there is such widespread ignorance of what Christians believe, so little knowledge of a faith that shaped this nation, such danger in a degeneration into, at best a kind of vacuous spirituality and a worst a godless secularism. Christians need to understand their faith, to be able to speak about it confidently, to understand its reasonableness as well as its mystery. We need to be a learning church. Thereís a priority for the Parish Church of St Nicolas Prestbury - nurture faith.

And soon we shall move our focus to the altar, where there will be a moment when we call upon God in prayer to consecrate this building.

We thank you for this house of prayer, which we now bless, sanctify and consecrate to your glory and in honour of St Nicolas.

Later still in the service there is a legal moment, when the Registrar reads the Deed of Consecration and I sign it. For the lawyers that is the moment of consecration. But, before ever the legal moment, the prayer moment.

We thank you for this house of prayer, which we now bless, sanctify and consecrate to your glory and in honour of St Nicolas.

And we set it within the Eucharistic Prayer, because then it becomes all caught up in our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and connected to what we do, to what people have done here for 37 years, week by week to remember Jesus. I said this church was built as a place where the community can bring new Christians to faith. It was also built to be a canopy for the altar, a tent under which the people of God can gather to do what Jesus commanded them to do in remembrance of him.

Bring to faith. Nurture faith. Draw near with faith. Feed on him by faith. Draw near with faith and be nourished by Christ, be fed at his table, participate in his life. Thatís what you do here at St Nicolas and its what you need to do. Keep coming back to be fed by Christ, so that you are always drawn close to him, always equipped by him for discipleship, always remembering what he has done for us, always holding before us the feast of heaven towards which he beckons us. You need to be a eucharistic church. It goes on being a priority for the Parish Church of St Nicolas Prestbury, a place where people draw near in faith and are nourished by Christ.

The Font - bring to faith. The Word - nurture faith. The Altar - feed on him by faith.

And that faith is always faith in Christ crucified. And we have symbolised that this afternoon by signing the church building, just as in baptism we sign a new Christian, with the sign of the cross, just as many of us sign ourselves with the sign of the cross at key moments in our worship and our prayers. For everything we do is in the light of the cross, every expression of faith makes sense because of the cross. And when we bring new Christians to baptism at the font, we pledge them to a pattern of life that is about dying and rising, death and resurrection - we draw them into a relationship defined by the cross. When we open the scriptures and proclaim what we believe, we tell a story of Godís relationship with humankind that finds its ultimate meaning on a hill outside a city and in a garden where a stone has been rolled away from a cave. As Paul puts it, ďwe preach Christ crucifiedĒ. When we gather around the altar table, week by week, we receive bread that speaks of a broken body and a cup of wine that speaks of the shedding of blood upon the altar of the cross. We make our lives a sacrifice in solidarity with the sacrifice of Christ once for all on the cross. We proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes.

The cross is not something to frighten us or to appal us. It is a sign of victory, a sign of glory, a sign of wonderful wonderful love. But it hovers over everything we do in this church and its message impacts on everything in our lives. Let the consecration crosses put you in mind of that as you go forward, the Parish Church of St Nicolas Prestbury, with your mission

  • To bring to faith.
  • To nurture faith.
  • To feed on Christ by faith.
  • Faith in Christ crucified.

+Michael Gloucestr:

 

Barn Dance on Saturday 29 September

The Flowers that decorated the church

The Bishop outside St Nicolas' Church at the start of the Service

The Service of Consecration of St Nicolas'

The Address by the Bishop of Gloucester

The Deed of Consecration

The Reception


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