One Year On: A chat with Revd Susan Bolen, Priest-in-Charge

Editor of Parkside Post, Juliet Childs, spoke to Revd Susan Bolen in February 2020, just as she completed a hugely busy first year as Priest-in-Charge at St Pauls Wimbledon Parkside.  In the interview, Revd Susan gives her impressions of her new incumbency, of the church building and of life in the parish, and describes her vision for the church and our community.

Juliet: What do you think of the church building itself?

Susan:  From the outside, the appearance is quite typical of the Victorian period.  What is quite remarkable, however, is the beauty found within.  The Kemp windows, the reredos, the elegant high ceilings, the wonderful acoustics and other features make it a beautiful setting. 

But there is something even more attractive and compelling, something intangible that I can only call ‘Presence’.  And it is that which drew me here from the beginning.  It is something I feel every time I enter St Paul’s.  But one must enter through those big wooden doors to experience it for oneself. 

Juliet:  How have you found getting to know the people at St Paul’s?

Susan:  The people of St Paul’s have been a primary part of what drew me here initially.  They are warm, welcoming, very inclusive and generous of themselves.  They are both thoughtful and thought-provoking.  There are very many remarkable people with amazing stories at St Paul’s.  The more I get to know them, the more impressed I am.  They are a real                                                                                     blessing, for which I am deeply grateful.

Juliet:  What are your impressions of the Wimbledon Parkside area?

Susan:  This is a beautiful area.  I am not a city girl, so it often comes as a bit of a surprise to me to realise I live in London!  But the beauty of this area, with its green spaces and especially the Common, makes all the difference. And I like the diversity found here; the real mix of people and various faiths, and the fact that there are so many young people. 

I find a certain openness here and enjoy being able to pop my head in at the local shops just to say hello.  I appreciate that most people respond if I smile and greet them as I walk down the road with Ella, my golden retriever.

Juliet:  It must have been difficult, starting as Priest-in-Charge living outside the parish. What’s it been like, moving into the vicarage at last?

Susan:  The vicarage is fundamentally a lovely house.  It has a history and is a special place to live, particularly since it has been refurbished. My family and I are very pleased to be here.  Being next door to St Paul’s has made an enormous difference to daily life and to my availability to spend time more fruitfully.  I hope that it will help enable the doors of St Paul’s to be open much more as well!

Juliet:  What are your hopes for the life of the church and the parish, looking to the future?

Susan:  It is my hope, my vision, to be a church – a Christian presence – for this community.  To be a place of welcome where people can come to reflect, pray, find peace, grow spiritually, meet friends and discover community. St Paul’s is very well situated – where people live – and I would love for us to grow to be something of a community hub where a sense of love, belonging and sharing can be experienced by all.

Juliet:  We look forward to realising that special vision with you, Susan.  Welcome!

What is Easter all about anyway? by Revd Susan Bolen

Easter is celebrated in various ways and in many places throughout the world.  But for Christians, the Easter celebration is far more, and far deeper than a festival of spring or a celebration of all things chocolate.

At Easter, Christians reflect on the suffering Jesus endured leading up to the crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is a time to contemplate Christ’s selfless expression of universal love. This is the basic tenet of the Christian faith.

Jesus’s teachings sharply conflicted with much of the thinking of his time, confusing his adversaries who strongly resented his insightful wisdom and principles of love and forgiveness. His growing support and respect bewildered and angered those who opposed him, ultimately leading to his death.

There are universal themes in the Easter story that resonate with all people. Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial and others abandoning Jesus when things got tough are all examples of what we have done to others, or what has been done to us. The death of Jesus is the story of brutality suffered at the hands of other human beings, and humankind’s redemption. Just as the promise of spring follows the dead of winter, Easter is a story of rebirth. It signifies a new beginning and offers hope, for without hope the struggles of life can often seem overwhelming. The story speaks of gentleness and kindness overcoming cruelty. It is a reminder that it is much harder to love one’s enemy than it is to plot revenge, but in the end, love wins.

For practising Christians, attending worship service is a commitment to one’s faith. There is no racing to the shops, focusing on unimportant distractions or responding to the persistent demands of the mobile phone. Most things can wait. The high ceilings of churches and cathedrals provide amazing acoustics for the beautiful hymns and musical accompaniment, a concert for the soul as well as for the ears. It is a time to be still, and appreciate that stillness. It is a time to reflect and pray. Reading biblical passages can bring both comfort and guidance in a troubled world. Reflecting on what Jesus would have done when faced with our own difficult life situations is a wonderful exercise in self-discipline, humility and forgiveness.

Unfortunately, it has become fashionable to reject organised religion and worship as being irrelevant in today’s world. And yet, faith has much to offer a world fraught with violence and injustice, one where compassion and love for one’s neighbour is sorely needed now more than ever.

Jesus loved all people and was especially drawn to the weak, the sick, the impoverished and the persecuted. He recognised and welcomed those living on the margins of society, and his actions spoke of inclusion and caring.

At St Paul’s, all are warmly welcome.  Pop in for a cup of tea on a Saturday morning and have a look around.  Or better still, join us on Easter morning! This is your church.

With every blessing.

Revd Susan
Reverend Susan Bolen
Priest-in-Charge
St Paul’s Wimbledon Parkside

Easter People, by Norman Allen, Reader

We are Easter People whether we know it, or not.  That you are reading this article shows that you are close to recognising how much you owe to Christianity, – our calendar, our culture, our political structures, our legal system and even our townscapes!

St Hilda

The celebration of Easter is a variable event, depending upon a decision taken on a Yorkshire clifftop more than 1,350 years ago.  This decision affects all our lives, whether we are Christian of not; – school holidays, airline schedules, what we wear and shopping for seasonal delicacies, not least hot cross buns and chocolate bunnies!

As a new convert to Christianity, King Oswiu of Northumbria called the Synod of Whitby in AD 663, in order to decide whether to follow the native Celtic traditions of worship led by Irish monks based on Iona, or to adopt the Continental style of worship, as laid down by the Bishop of Rome.  The Synod was hosted by the redoubtable Abbess Hilda. The debate lasted more than a year, as the two sides argued their respective cases.  Mystical Celtic traditions were promoted by Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne, whilst Bishop Wilfred of Ripon and missionaries from Rome favoured centralised authority.  The two main issues were, – calculating the date of Easter and how monks should be tonsured (head shaving)!  King Oswiu was eventually persuaded to adopt the authority of Rome, setting the pattern of Christianity in these islands for the next 900 years, until the upheaval of the Reformation. However, if you look and listen carefully, you may find vestiges of Celtic Christianity in the crosses, remote monasteries and the Green Man, – reflecting the earthiness of former times, when we lived close to the edge of the dark wood.

Whitby Abbey – East Front

Calculating the date for Easter was based on the Jewish celebration of Pesach, – the Passover, – when the Jewish people escaped from slavery in Egypt (about 1,250 BC).  The Western system for calculating Easter depends upon Golden Numbers from 1 to 19, the Spring Equinox and the Full Moon, – to fall between 21st March and 25th April (this Year 12th April).  There have been moves to fix the date of Easter, but they have so far failed; so school terms continue to be elastic!

We have been moulded by Christian faith, whether we worship at St Paul’s or not. God’s Jesus Story continues down the centuries, the message of hope and harmony, of sacrifice and reconciliation: shaped by Golden Numbers and The Golden Rule to, – Love God and Your Neighbours (all of them) as Yourself.  A happy and blessed Easter to all Easter People!

Easter Recipe – Simnel Muffins

A new twist on a traditional recipe and perfect for getting the children involved in the festivities.

Ingredients:                                                                                                               

  • 250g mixed dried fruit
  • grated zest and juice of one medium orange
  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 tbsp milk
  • 175g marzipan

Decoration:                                                                                                                 

  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp orange juice for mixing
  • mini eggs

Method:                                                                                                                          Tip the fruit into a bowl, add the zest and juice and microwave on medium for 2 minutes (or leave to soak for 1 hour). Line 12 deep muffin tins with paper muffin cases.

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, spices and milk until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes) – use a wooden spoon or hand-held mixer. Stir the fruit in well.

Half fill the muffin cases with the mixture. Divide the marzipan into 12 equal pieces, roll into balls, then flatten with your thumb to the size of the muffin cases. Put one into each muffin case and spoon the rest of the mixture over it.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until risen, golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool.

Beat together the icing sugar and orange juice to make icing thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Drizzle over the muffins and top with a cluster of eggs. Leave to set. Best eaten within a day of making.

With thanks to BBC ‘Good Food’