Archbishop Ramsey once said, 'We are an Easter people and alleluia is
our song!' But as we come towards the close of the great fifty days of
Easter and our thoughts turn to Pentecost and beyond, is that really the
way we live as Christians? Do we carry Easter constantly in our hearts? For
Easter is not just one day, nor even a season but an attitude of heart and
The journey through the triduum - the holy three days of Maundy
Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - teaches us three main things: the
Last Supper about community, love; the Cross about the reality and
purposefulness of suffering; the Resurrection about hope and the
astonishing triumph of God. So there should be three dimensions to our
living as an Easter people, whether it is in May, June or December.
Walking with Jesus from the Upper Room to Golgotha and the Empty Tomb
both places us more truly in history and yet at the same time,
paradoxically, sets us free from it. We are more in touch with the world
God created, with its pain, its groaning for justice, mercy and peace, and
yet placed beyond it, set free to see time and history, even death, from
the perspective of eternity. It is both daunting and liberating and at its
heart is an astonishing hope - that feeling of being 'surprised by joy'
that C S Lewis describes so well. To be Easter people is to enter more
deeply into the everyday world and to transform it, to be ever bringing joy
As so often, it was brought home for me by the words of a child. After
watching the Passion Play, my daughter told me - in that very assured way
that only three-year-olds have - that she only had the Baby Jesus in her
heart, Jesus on the Cross was too big and wouldn't fit. And then came the
question (as all parents expect... and dread!), 'Daddy, you're big. Do you
have big Jesus in your heart?' And that is the question - do I have the big
Jesus in my heart? Am I an Easter person? Is my heart constantly being
stretched by God to live out the great realities of love, sympathetic
suffering and above all astonishing joy and hope in everything I do? Or am
I only too happy to keep Easter in its season, to settle for the little
Jesus, one that does not make too many demands? Which Jesus do you have in
Let us call for the big Jesus! Let us truly be an Easter people all year
Many of you will know that on Sunday 24th April we said 'farewell' to
Ian and Janine Higginson. Ian joined us in October 2002 as Director of
Music at St Nicolas' and then, on the retirement of Malcolm McKelvey, was
appointed Director of Music for the whole Parish. Ian has played the organ
for services in both our churches and has led both church choirs. Ian is a
highly respected and extremely able musician and has brought a great depth
of musical ability and experience to his role. We are very grateful to him
for the time he has spent with us and also to Janine, who has generously
contributed her own musical gifts. We wish Ian and Janine well for the
future and send them our thanks and prayers.
The Thursday following Trinity Sunday is traditionally kept as the Feast
of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) or, in our Common Worship
lectionary, 'Thanksgiving for Holy Communion'. This year, on Thursday 26th
May, the Feast will be celebrated with a United Sung Eucharist in All
Saints' Church at 7.30pm. This Team-wide service will be followed by the
opportunity to enjoy one another's company over some wine and cheese!
In this Feast we give thanks for the most precious gift of the sacrament
of the body and blood of Christ; the Eucharist; the Lord's Supper; the Mass
- that which has been at the very centre of the Church's life from the
earliest days after She was born at Pentecost. We take the opportunity to
pause for a few moments and to reflect on just how wonderful and precious a
gift we have been given by our loving God. A gift that we should never
treat lightly, something that we should never cease to be thankful for. In
the Eucharist ordinary things - bread and wine - are taken, blessed, broken
and shared. These ordinary things, we believe, are brought to the altar and
they are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and become, for
us, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the conclusion of the service, we accompany the Blessed Sacrament as
it is processed out through the west doors and carried around the outside
of the church. A visible reminder that our God cannot be confined to one
place - to one building. God is, we believe, amongst us and is also out
there in the world amongst the community in which we live and work. We will
carry God, present for us in this most holy sacrament, triumphantly around
the outside of one of our church buildings, visibly reminding us that God
encompasses us. He surrounds us and is truly present with us in all that we
say and do.
We then return inside the church and, believing that God is truly with
us, we fall to our knees before Him in thanksgiving and in adoration. Then
we will receive his 'benediction' - his special blessing. And as the
sacrament is held up in blessing over us, we take that opportunity to know
the love and the mercy and the peace of God which is given to us. His
unique and most precious gift to us as his children. And as we adore Him,
so we give thanks.
Ascension and Pentecost
And don't forget two other great festivals this month - we celebrate
Ascension Day on Thursday 5th May with a Joint Sung Eucharist at 7.30pm at
St Nicolas', while Pentecost (Whitsun) ten days later on Sunday 15th May
will have normal Sunday morning services (8.00 Eucharist, 9.30 Eucharist,
9.30 Celebrate! and 11.00 Eucharist) followed by United Choral
Evensong at All Saints' at 6.30pm.
On 22nd March in St Nicolas' Church we gave thanks for the life of Frank
Merrett, Reader Emeritus in the Parish of Prestbury. Frank died at home on
11th March, suddenly but peacefully, listening to a piece of choral music.
The funeral service was a very fitting tribute to a man who had lived
such a full and varied life. All three of Frank's and Grace's children
contributed to the service itself. Christopher and Penny both spoke about
their father and Jonathan, a priest, conducted much of the service himself
as well as playing a piece of music on his flute as a tribute to Frank's
considerable musical interests and abilities.
In his address Fr Stephen related how Frank first came to Cheltenham in
1943 to train as a teacher at St Paul's College. On completing the teacher
training course, Frank was then called up to serve in the Royal Navy,
becoming a Sub-Lieutenant. We were also told how Frank was involved in the
Normandy Landings on Sword Beach in 1944.
After being demobbed in 1946, Frank began his teaching career, as well
as studying for his first degree and meeting and marrying Grace. In 1957
Frank was appointed to the staff of St Paul's College, lecturing in
Geography. The family moved into Prestbury and became involved in the life
of the church here, and Frank trained, and was licensed, as a Lay Reader in
the Diocese of Gloucester.
In 1962 Frank's next appointment was to be Vice-Principal of the Bahamas
Teachers' College, and the family moved to Nassau. They attended the
Cathedral, where Frank sang in the choir. Frank became Principal of the
College until 1969 when he returned to Prestbury. In 1971 Frank completed
an MA, and was appointed a lecturer in the Wolverhampton Technical College,
which eventually was absorbed into Birmingham University. Teaching within
the University Education Department he completed a doctorate in Education
Undoubtedly it was in the University Education Department that Frank did
his most significant work. He researched and wrote papers and books on
educational psychology and behavioural modification. He was appointed
Research Fellow in 1982, and continued in this post until 1990, when he
then became a part-time lecturer, working until 2003. In 1997 Frank was
honoured for his work by being awarded a D.Litt. - a worthy tribute to his
significant contribution to Education.
Frank's interests were varied - he trained as an Indexer, enjoying
especially the challenge of indexing scientific books, and he was treasurer
to the Society of Indexers. Frank carried on playing tennis, and his love
for music and music-making developed - the flute especially amongst other
instruments, and choral music - being a member of Cleeve Chorale. He worked
for the Children's Society as a local speaker, and he wrote letters for
Frank enjoyed travel, especially if it had a strong purpose, visiting
South Africa, Zimbabwe and Rumania in order to see members of the family.
He also visited Australia and New Zealand to lecture, and he made at least
three visits to Nigeria with UNESCO.
Frank's church membership was fundamental to him: a Reader for many
years within this Diocese, he was finally made Reader Emeritus and was also
the Covenant Secretary at St Nicolas'. A member of the choir for many
years, he was also a competent woodworker who made the cross above the
altar in St Nicolas', which is a focus for our worship. Fr Stephen
concluded his address by saying, 'it is with this empty cross, the sign of
and focus of the resurrection, which is perhaps an appropriate point to end
this tribute to Frank's life'.
We send our love and prayers to Grace and the family as we commend Frank
to the love and care of God, his maker and redeemer. May he rest in peace
and rise in glory.
The booklets New Daylight and Guidelines are available
from Michael Cole (St Mary's) or Paddy Spurgeon (St Nicolas'). For only
£9.75 a year, or if you would just like to give it a trial £3.25 for four
months, you have a well thought out, helpful introduction to a short
passage from the Bible each day. New Daylight has the advantage of
printing the passage for you, on the page, so you don't have to have your
Bible to hand or fuss over trying to find the right place. Printed straight
after it is a thought for the day arising from it, and a short prayer. If
you can set aside a ten-minute slot each day to follow the scheme it is
amazing what a benefit it can be.
Guidelines is a little more advanced, and is to be used in
conjunction with your own Bible. Michael or Paddy would be pleased to hear
Twenty-one members of St Mary's Flower Arrangers met at Sheila Beer's
house for their Annual Meeting on Thursday 31st March. Prayers were said
with a special mention to Sue and Lawson Bennett and the sad loss of Di
Petchey during the year. Lotte Rule was unable to be present but she had
been thanked for organising the Mothering Sunday Posies, a task Di had
lovingly and diligently done for many years. Lotte has agreed to continue
to do this, for which we are grateful, especially as she is new to the
Thanks were given to all the Flower Arrangers for the beautiful flowers
which graced St Mary's church throughout the year. A special 'thank you'
was given to the ladies who do the many arrangements for weddings and
festivals. There are twenty forthcoming weddings to date, with three on one
Saturday in August!
The Treasurer, Margaret Waker, gave her report, which had been audited
by Noel Brick and was adopted. Money received from weddings boosted the
accounts, which remain quite healthy.
Lindsey McGowan, who is in charge of weddings, had received several
phone calls and 'thank you' cards from grateful brides.
The Open Gardens weekend of 25th and 26th June was discussed and several
ladies readily agreed to do a small pedestal, table arrangements and
windowsills that would grace St Mary's when visitors came to the church for
'Afternoon Tea'. Garden flowers were thought to be appropriate.
Coffee and biscuits were served as the members freely exchanged ideas.
We still do need extra help on our Rota and we will warmly welcome
anybody who feels they would like to join us. Please do not be afraid to
For months before Good Friday many people were rehearsing confidently,
all trying to do their part to glorify the Lord and spread His message. I
was allocated the part of a young, inexperienced Roman soldier, who would
be on duty at the crucifixion. Being at the start of the play and the end,
rehearsals for the soldiers were very enjoyable as for much of it we were
forced to drink coffee and socialize! The hardest part for me was learning
the cues, as my lines were fairly simple.
As it got closer to the performance the soldiers were given their
costumes. Thank goodness we had good weather! The tunic came down to our
knees and the swirling cape, which looked very impressive, was not made to
keep out the cold. When it came to the dress rehearsal the costumes really
helped the atmosphere.
This was my second passion play and this time I think I was able to
appreciate it more because I was older. As well as meeting new people and
drinking coffee I could see that it was what we are called to do as
Christians, to spread Jesus' love. I think it was very successful and I was
proud to be a part of it.
Andrew W (aged 15)
When I was first asked to be in the Passion Play, I will admit I was a
little apprehensive, but after thinking about it I realised what an honour
it was to take part in the world's greatest story. I found that attending
the rehearsals each week really focused my mind on what Easter is all
about. I found that chocolate and sweets are not that important, and that
Easter Sunday should not be about eating as much chocolate as possible, it
should be about Jesus' death and his resurrection.
Throughout the rehearsals we were reminded of the days leading up to
Jesus' death, and his knowledge that one of his close friends was to betray
him; it felt strange to know that what we were doing had actually happened
and Jesus had died for us. The moment in the play which really struck me
was the Crucifixion; it felt as though everything and everyone had stopped
as they realised the whole meaning of Easter and how Jesus had died to save
I am really grateful for the experience I gained taking part in the
Passion Play. I met so many new people and everyone who took part did a
Lucy M (aged 17)
Moved to Tears
It was a really powerful experience. Most memorable was the conviction
of the acting and the way in which the drama involved the audience - for
example in the last supper when the bread was passed round to everybody.
Moving from one scene to another we felt as if we were part of the crowds
in Jerusalem. I felt myself wanting to shout for Barabbas - such was the
strength of feeling - then felt the shame of it minutes later as Jesus hung
on the cross.
Hearing the reasoning of the chief priests, and the discussions with
Peter around the fire before the cock crowed, I was startled by the
similarity of the logic with that used by people today when they try to get
their own way or try to look for the evil in others rather than themselves.
The stark contrast of this with the strong and high-minded Jesus made this
a striking commentary on today's issues.
My children, aged eight and six, were completely gripped by the story
from beginning to end. I was moved to tears - and was clearly not the only
The Passion Play
My Daddy played the part of Jesus. My brother David, Mummy and I were in
the crowd. We wore costumes like they wore in Jesus' time and sandals on
our feet. We went with Daddy to some of the rehearsals on the scout field
The crowd followed Jesus waving palm leaves and shouting Hosanna. After
Daddy broke the bread Emma and I gave it to the crowd. We shouted for Daddy
but Barabbas was freed.
I didn't like seeing Daddy on the cross but we knew it was only pretend.
When I looked at the crowd I was really happy to see Nanna, Grandad,
Grandma and Grandpa and friends from school.
At 'Celebrate' on Easter Sunday it was like a party and we hunted for
by Rachel J (aged 6 years)
Could I just offer my thanks and congratulations to all the people who
took part in the Passion Play: for various reasons, this was the first time
I had attended and I didn't really know what to expect. I came away having
lived the story of Holy Week in an intensity which surprised and delighted
me. Well done to all concerned!
Passion Play re-visited
The Editor asked me to write a little about this year's production of
the Prestbury Passion Play as I was inevitably very involved in the first
and subsequent three productions. I was very impressed with how it has
evolved and yet retained its original impact and pathos as the story
unfolded ... and seeing the costumes brought back a host of memories from
dyed sheets to plaited girdles! The purpose of doing the play (as some of
you will remember) was to 'tell the story in the market place in the
medieval tradition', and this witness reaches far more people than would
ever be in church on Good Friday.
I liked the innovations of the live pigeons and sharing the bread at the
Last Supper and I was particularly taken with the new Epilogue - bringing
us all back to the 'here and now', but would it have been even more
effective if Fr Stephen had worn his 21st century costume?
You certainly had 'the weather you deserved' as Ian always prayed - so
well done everyone!
Prestbury Passion Play - Good Friday
Congratulations and Thank You to all who contributed in many different
ways to this moving presentation.
The retiring collections raised £1,600 for Christian Aid.
There will be a Reunion with photos and videos on Wednesday 4th May
at 7.30pm at St Nicolas' Church. Forget your lines, but please bring a
small contribution towards the bring-and-share refreshments!
Our skittles evening held on 1 April at the Royal Oak in aid of
Children's Homes in Kerala State was a great success. We raised just over
£310 - a tremendous result, I feel. My thanks go to all who contributed in
any way, whether by participating, donating prizes, buying raffle tickets
or helping on the night. Especial thanks are due to Simon, the landlord,
who generously loaned us the alley free of charge for the event.
As far as I know, everyone who joined us on the night enjoyed themselves
and many had the opportunity to meet and speak to Robin Radley, who helped
set up the children's homes with Sister Mary. He spent a few minutes
explaining the background to the project and described some of the
difficulties presented by suspicious and blinkered villagers. It is not
easy for us to understand how so many of the local people can be so hostile
in the face of what to us is an unambiguous demonstration of divine and
human love, but we can understand Sister Mary's instinctive reaction to
want to pray with the children about everything. When George and I were
there in February, she shared with us some of her extraordinary experiences
and answers to prayer. One neighbour, for example, refused to do anything
about his teak trees which were posing severe problems for Sister Mary and
the home, so she gathered the children together and prayed about the
situation. Not long afterwards an angry storm blew up in the night and when
they got up the next morning they found that the trees in question had been
uprooted! These stories were a very real reminder to us that our God is
very practical, if we but give Him the opportunity.