It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High; To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning and of your faithfulness in the night season; on the psaltery and on the lyre and to the melody of the harp.  For you have made me glad by your acts, O Lord ; and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.” 

These words from Psalm 92 give us good cause on this Thanksgiving Sunday to acknowledge the generosity of our God in showering us with a wide range of gifts; above all, his Church, founded on his Passion and Resurrection, demonstrating the depth of his love for each one of us. The deep faith that we share, leads me to believe that we are not just human but that we possess another self, an inner,
eternal self, my spirit, that spark of divinity that links us to the Divine Ground. So, we give thanks for our religious calling and the grace of the Holy Spirit which empowers us to make sense of our existence, to recognise and cope with the ups and downs of life so that we can faithfully serve our God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. In this magnificent church dedicated to King Oswald, one of the
first medieval supporters of Christianity 14 centuries ago, we pursue our spiritual pilgrimage joining with the many generations of worshippers who have kept the light of Christ burning as a bright beacon in this place whilst maintaining the beauty of the building. Our Visitors’ Book constantly testifies to the multitude of people from all over the world who share our joy and find a feeling of awe, majesty and divine peace in this wonderful place of worship. As guardians of this House of God, we acknowledge our responsibility of passing on this masterpiece to future generations in good order.

About five years ago, the PCC decided that much work had to be done to conserve and repair the fabric of our church. So far, we have completed two of the major projects; the roofs over the North and South aisles and an external extension for toilets and an internal kitchen area both at the North door. The total costs of both projects came in at the original estimates; £150,000 for the roofs and £250,000 for the toilets and kitchen. As we all share the responsibility for the upkeep and preservation of our church, so we all share in the joy of work successfully completed to repair or extend this historic building. It was therefore fitting that Cate Howell visited us last Sunday to officially open our new extension of conveniences and kitchen area, a project spearheaded by her late husband Peter. It is a wonderful testimony to his drive and leadership that we have a fine, practical addition to our church, a 21st century addition. We also extend our hearty thanks to the members of the finance and fabric teams whose hard work and prudent financial management over the years has been amply rewarded. Earlier in the year, the lead piping stolen from the exterior of the church was finally replaced with cast iron pipes. Over the next few years, we will need to finance the last part of major repair work; the heating is estimated at £60,000, the lighting at £90,000 and the chancel roof at £40,000 making a total of about £200,000. We have obtained permission for the electrification of the church clock so that the work can start soon. The Village Council contributed £1,000 and the remaining £7,500 came from several donors. The PCC hope that the work will improve the efficiency of the system which we and a great many villagers would welcome.

On behalf of the PCC, I would like to thank you all for your continued, generous financial support for our church which allows these essential repairs to take place. Currently, we have £185,000 left in our reserves so the PCC has decided to finish the programme of refurbishment as soon as possible. Over the past twelve months we have raised about £15,000 for the toilet block and kitchen via the Buy-a-Brick Appeal and various social events. This is a truly magnificent effort, not only by you, the parishioners, but also by our many friends in the village and beyond. About 90% of that total sum will be gift-aided so adding another £3,500. Because of the success of these fund-raising efforts our income so far this year is a little more than at this stage last year.

On Thanksgiving Sunday it is important for all of us to give thanks for our church family. Over the past twelve months I have heard several members of the congregation speak poignantly about the support they have received from church members in their moments of dire need. They tell of being fortified in their travails by the support of others, acknowledging the power of compassion that has brought them solace and hope. When we give or receive a helping hand we experience that unselfish form of love we call compassion, touching something which is as deeply rooted, as primary in human nature as selfishness. I believe that whenever compassion shows itself, even for a moment, it is like the sun breaking through to light up an object, and if it is not a sign of our God likeness it is quite simply inexplicable. Greatness in the eyes of the Lord lies in the compassionate, often humdrum, service of others.

In our Rector we have a supreme example of the compassionate shepherd, whose ministry flourishes by dint of selfless and committed service to all of us, whether we are parishioners or inhabitants of the village and surrounding areas. I hear so many positive comments of how much people respect and admire him for his genuine concern for every soul he meets and his involvement in village affairs. He sets us
the highest standards of service and, for that, we are extremely grateful and pray for his ministry amongst us. We are also thankful for his mentoring of Helen, our curate, who has already been well received by those she has met on account of her friendliness and concern. Our parish is fortunate to have both of them working so hard on our behalf. We also offer our thanks to Canon Peter Lee, a very good friend
of St Oswald’s.

We are also indebted to our Rector for providing such a rich and inspiring range of worship – worship which I believe has been enhanced this year by the celebrant facing us at the altar in the Holy Communion services. His appointment some years ago of Stewart Smith as Director of Music was truly inspired. This is a man of superb musicianship and the ability to direct choirs to reach exceptional heights
of performance, so providing a sense of awe and wonder in many of our services. Two stand-out moments for me over the last twelve months illustrate the point. At the beginning of September I joined with another 100+ souls to listen to his magnificent rendition of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D on the organ in Chester Cathedral. It was breathtakingly good. Chorally, I recall the wonderful singing of our choir here at St Oswald’s last Passiontide of Allegri’s Miserere. To perform that masterpiece to such a high standard not once but twice, was truly remarkable, but that is the standard we are now accustomed to on a weekly basis. There are very few churches in this area, and indeed in the country, that are blessed with such a high standard of choral worship. So, we thank Stewart and all the choir for their hard work that enhances our liturgy, lifts our spirits heavenward and gives us a glimpse of the Beyond in our midst.

One of the main reasons for giving thanks today is for the fellowship we enjoy at St Oswald’s, promoted and nurtured by our Rector and all the souls who, behind the scenes, faithfully serve our parish in a multitude of ways; whether it be in providing a wide range of social and musical events, in keeping the church, its fabric and surroundings in good order, encouraging the young to learn about their faith,
serving us on the PCC and especially those who work so hard to inspire our worship with magnificent music and tolling of bells. We are indeed fortunate to have so many of our congregation actively engaged in a host of ways to promote the vision of a caring and vibrant church and to encourage outreach in our village. They all play an integral part in the life of our church and its sacred ministry.To-day, therefore, we have much to be thankful for. In our quiet moments we should reflect on our own contribution to God’s ministry in this place; recall the many blessings bestowed on us by our generous Creator; consider how we should respond to our own personal duty to financially support our church and, if possible, give of our time and talents to assist in God’s mission here at St Oswald’s. Our Lord demands much from us but blesses our endeavours with an abundance of grace to make a valuable contribution to his work of salvation. The PCC is constantly looking for more people to shoulder the burden of doing God’s work in
the parish. If you feel able to assist in any way, please discuss it with the Rector or churchwardens. Whatever we give or do should be meaningful, regular and sacrificial and done in the spirit of our own personal thanks to God for his munificence to us. Above all, we need to remember that each of us has a part to play, an invaluable part, however small or great, in His redemptive work in Malpas.

“All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you. Amen.”

Brian Fletcher