‘Thank Your Vicar’ week was held recently across the country – but for one caring parish in Lancashire it seems every week this year has been ‘Thank Your Vicar’.
Like all good church families, members of St Wilfrid’s Church in Standish have been demonstrating what it truly means to work together, serve and care for others – but in this case the person being cared for was their vicar, Rev. Canon Andrew Holliday.
The vicar, who is 55 and married to Vanessa, was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2016 and found himself having to step back from performing frontline duties for a while.
For a busy clergyman, who was also once one of six head waiters at Claridges in London before being called to the priesthood in 1992, taking some time out didn’t come easy!
“More often than not clergy are perceived as the ones doing the caring and serving. It is only when something stops us in our tracks that we can truly, honestly, become aware of those who pray and support us in so many ways,” Rev. Holliday, who is also the Diocesan Warden of Readers, said today.
“This time last year I found myself undergoing a number of tests which led to the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). It was a brutal blow to me personally.”
(NHL, also known as lymphoma, is a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes, part of the body’s immune system.)
Rev. Holliday continued: “My wife, ever the stoic person, took the lead. And I suddenly became aware that I had to do what my parishioners told me, namely to be assured of their support and prayers.
“Treatment began - a total of six cycles of chemotherapy - and the flow of love and prayers also began. At the same time, we received many tokens of their love and support for us both.”
Rev. Holliday’s treatment is now over but that hasn’t stopped the flow of love which continues to wash over Andrew and Vanessa.
Rev. Holliday said: “Truly, my congregation demonstrated just how much we are part of the family and, no matter who it is, if one of us is not well they rally round to be there when needed. My treatment is now over but they still stop and care, appreciating the need to continue their support and encouragement.
“My life has been touched by theirs because we share and care together.”
The Archdeacon of Blackburn, The Venerable Mark Ireland, said today: “It is wonderful to hear how supportive the congregation at St. Wilfrid’s Standish has been to their rector during his recent illness. It is humbling for a priest when they are unable for a while to care for others to discover how much they are loved and cared for by those they serve.
“I am thrilled that Andrew’s treatment is now behind him and that he is now fully back in harness this Christmas doing the job that he loves – leading the people of Standish in worship and mission in the name of Christ.”
Now, with Christmas approaching, the mission continues in earnest as Rev. Holliday and his congregation prepare to do something extra special for the wider family – their local community - on Christmas Day.
That’s because the parish team will be catering for more than 60 local people to give them a Christmas meal to remember … especially when the vicar is a former Claridges head waiter!
Speaking about the meal, something a number of local churches will do on Christmas Day, Rev. Holliday added: “We are giving up a little time to bring joy, love and peace to their lives and make a difference.
“That difference is made by the sheer generosity of the donations we have received – food and money as well – enabling us to buy gifts so that there is a present for everyone to open.
“The local refuge will also be having gifts taken to them so that their Christmas Day can be special too.”