In May 2019 I was invited by the lovely Mrs Hamer to go and talk about the colours of stoles and vestments worn at different times and seasons in the Church year with Year 4 children at Bishop Rawle C of E School.
I explained to the children that the red stole is not worn often but that my favourite time for wearing a red stole is at Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’s followers with tongues of fire.
I showed them my own rather plain but nevertheless special red stole that I had acquired at theological college from a deceased clergyman whom I hadn’t known, but rather liked the idea of its continued use and often wondered what he was like –it’s a long stole, so he must have been rather tall.
Mrs Hamer said the Year 4 children were in the process of drawing pictures of symbols representing the Holy Spirit, to inspire us, we looked at the story of the day the Holy Spirit came from the book of Acts in the Bible. We also talked about the account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove when he was baptised in the River Jordan.
Thrilled and encouraged by the children’s enthusiasm in the session I rashly said: “I’d rather like a new red stole, maybe I could look at your pictures, choose the best and pay for it to be designed into a new stole.” This caught the children’s imagination, all the drawings were brilliant, so then I had a dilemma on my hands! How could I choose from such a wonderful set of drawings? I might cause division, not unity in the class by choosing one design and in doing so blaspheme the Holy Spirit!
I discussed the problem with our wonderful team of servers in the Parish and Jenny a very gifted artist offered a generous solution, to try and combine all the pictures into one artistic design. This was a wonderful piece of work. I showed all the School the collective paper design in our Friday worship, promising the children that a newly designed stole would come to fruition by the following season of Pentecost in May 2020.
Now, we like Teddy Bears at St Giles the Abbot and St Chads; Sarah another faithful servant, clothed a teddy bear with a white surplus and glasses as a bit of a caricature of your present Rector and placed the paper stole design around the bear on the Church lectern. I explained the stole story to the congregation and one very generous lady preferring to remain anonymous, said she would like to pay for the stole to be designed.
In February, I established the exorbitant cost for a vestment company to design this and fretted a lot about the luxury of the purchase. Then lockdown came and all seemed impossible to proceed. It also seemed a real extravagance amidst a time when both the Churches in our Parish are closed and inevitably our finances have been very hard hit.
I have observed so many people using their God given resources, gifts and talents in this lockdown period, I wondered if there was any possible way the hand me down red stole could be upcycled. If only someone had the skill and talent to work with materials, applique, patchwork and stitching. I approached the benefactor and asked if I found such a person, would they consider a donation to the Church instead. They were very pleased to do this.
Just four weeks ago I approached Angela, another faithful server of the Parish and teacher of Nimble skills at the library, would she consider giving this a go? Angela accepted the challenge.
I was overwhelmed when the stole was delivered last Friday to the Rectory. Overwhelmed, because the design is an absolute replica of the children’s work and amazingly Angela did not have to buy one piece of fabric, incredibly almost unbelievably, amongst the remnants of material in her sewing box and attic, she found every piece she needed. The doves are especially delightful, carrying pieces of olive branch, reminding us of God’s promise.
I planned to wear this for the first time at the celebration of Pentecost this Sunday on a facebook live feed of worship and I will, but last Monday we had the really sad occasion of young Oakley’s graveside funeral, a beautiful bright, spirit filled boy from our community, full of love which he shared widely, so many of our young people understandably have so many questions, have been deeply affected and missing their special friend.
Oakley’s family and I, had already planned to have doves ascending at the end of the service as symbolism of the comfort, peace and warmth of the Holy Spirit. It seemed to me that this was exactly the occasion for the stole to first be worn.
The body of Christ has many ways of working, varied approaches through diverse people, but always the lifeblood running through, connecting it all, is the vibrant love expressed in the sacrifice of the cross, followed by the supreme joy of resurrection over death. It is essential we learn to recognise and harmonise with that connection-for apart from that love, nothing is lasting.
There was such an outpouring of love shown for Oakley and his family last week, the community connecting and demonstrating their vibrant and compassionate love for him and for them.
As we pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in these days between Jesus’s ascension and the day of Pentecost on Sunday, let’s keep that love alive in our community and let Gods love fill every corner of our lives, so we do see glimpses here on earth until they kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.
Thank you brilliant Year 4’s, who are now of course Year 5’s, thank you to my faithful sisters in Christ for bearing fruit of the spirit, God bless Oakley in his risen life, say our heartfelt prayers for his beloved family, may we always remember and live out the fruit of his sharing here in Cheadle.
Nicky Grey, Rector of St Giles the Abbot and St Chad’s