The afternoon of Saturday April 8th saw John CR and I set off for our 30th and first (respectively) Holy Week to the parish of St. Giles, Cheadle with Freehay St. Chad, Staffordshire! It is commonplace for parish clergy who know the community and who have perhaps trained at the College to ask for the preaching and officiation of CR brethren during Holy Week, while the ordinands of COR assume running of the liturgies on this site as part of their formation. It is perhaps not so usual in recent times for a senior father to chaperone his exuberant novice junior –yet aware that I too need to be formed in the life of CR, Fr John willingly agreed to have me with him for what came to be truly a great week for both of us.
Fr James Rosie is St. Giles’ rector; he is also an old College student whose training incumbent was my former spiritual director. This oblique connection served us well in forming instant common ground, and I soon felt at ease with Fr James. John CR and I stayed in his vicarage, eating and praying together each day, whilst also being amply looked after by the good burghers of the parish! As a Parish Assistant in six rural villages before coming to CR, I appreciated this hugely, soon beginning to feel on familiar ground amongst the people and parameters of Cheadle. We got friendships and good food throughout the week – what’s to be sneezed at?
The churches lie near to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and John and I were pleased to visit Hanley Park on Holy Saturday to do the Parkrun there. (I came 152nd out of 267 runners – not bad for a novice!) Maundy Thursday brought a lovely visit to Lichfield Cathedral for the Chrism Mass, giving us and several accompanying parishioners the opportunity to rededicate ourselves as an ‘oily people’ – (viz. Bishop Michael’s sermon) – to the apostolic life. John spoke with one or two former students – (Quelle surprise!) – and we both saw familiar friends of the Community, there to reaffirm their own calling in God’s service. We rounded off the excursion with soup, rolls and a coffee in town together before getting back to Cheadle for a quick snooze and a last look at the sermon I’d written for that evening’s service. It was a privilege indeed to share the preaching with Fr John, to wash the feet of God’s faithful at the Maundy Thursday liturgy, and to be back on the incomparable terra firma of a parish church sanctuary to serve the chalice on Easter morning. The regular ministers and servers in both churches could not have made us more welcome or appreciated as we joined them. It was gratifying to experience the loving presence of God in this way.
Yet perhaps more than anything, it was excellent for me to learn and share with our brother John CR, who undoubtedly bears the marks of Christ in his priestly ministry, and who was more than prepared to encourage my own offering of ministry amongst those to whom we were sent this Holy Week. I have had a great opening experience of CR’s work in this regard: it was valued by the folk and supported with brotherly counsel and love. I will remember it always gratefully and with fondness. Many thanks indeed to James and John!