A (Not So) Small World

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

“It’s a small world” so the saying goes – and so it has proved to be in recent weeks.

You will be aware that we receive lots of visitors at St. Michael’s and it is a great joy to me that our church is open each day to welcome them. Some come armed with Simon Jenkins’ famous book, ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’ in which St. Michael’s features, others come because of family connections going back many generations whilst yet others come simply to visit, to pray and to absorb ‘the beauty of holiness’ which St. Michael’s exudes.

In conversation with visitors it is my practice to enquire where people have travelled from and it is quite astonishing how often it is so easy to make a connection. In the last few weeks I have had, amongst others, conversations with a lady whose father’s funeral I took in North Shields many years ago; a gentleman who was at university with my former English teacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Morpeth and a couple who worship in Hampshire where Julia, our former Curate, is their Vicar.

It is always good to find a common link with someone as a conversation proceeds and to talk of people or places familiar to both parties.

But, whenever Christians meet together, whether or not we have been introduced before, we have an immediate common bond: our faith in Jesus Christ. This really is something worth celebrating. No matter where we are in the world, we know that somewhere nearby there is likely to be a group of Christians who meet together to worship and to pray. They may not do it in exactly the same way as we do, but our common faith in Christ draws us together in a very special way.

As we meet together around the altar week by week, as we proclaim the love of Christ in our daily lives, we do so as part of the great family of Christ which forms the Church on earth. And, if that were not enough, our prayers and praises are joined “with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven.”

That “small world” is actually bigger than we might think.

“Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

Before the Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.”

With every blessing,

Paul.

 

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Praying for Priests

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I always look forward to this time of the year: the weeks which lead up to Petertide, one of the traditional times, and probably the most popular, for ordinations. This year it is particularly special of course, as Gerard prepares for his ordination to the priesthood.

Each year at this time the clergy of the diocese receive a list of names of those preparing for ordination as deacons and priests in our own cathedral church and, at about the same time, I receive a list of those who have studied at my old Theological College who are similarly preparing to kneel before their bishops to be ordained in the service of God and his Church.

Even though I know very few of those for whom I have been asked to pray, it is great privilege to simply hold them (and the parishes in which they will work) before God, to ask that he will be with them, bless them and bless those to whom they will minister.

In a way, I feel I am paying back for all the prayers I know other people have offered for me in the past and continue to offer now.

It is important – indeed vital – that we pray regularly for vocations to the ordained ministry and also for all who are already ordained.

Most of the time the vast majority of the clergy simply get on with the day to day task of ministry – although what it involves is now much more complex than was once the case. Most of us love it (and I include myself in that category) and would not wish to be doing anything else. But, just as most of us delight in praying for our parishes, street by street, and for our people – by name wherever possible – so too we need your prayers.

On my prayer desk I have a little book entitled “I am Your Servant – A Priest’s companion and encouragement”. This is what it says on the back cover:

“To be a priest is not easy. It is an undefined role in a world where other work has beginnings and ends, and set boundaries. To be a priest is not only to read the gospel on Sundays, but try and live by it for the other six days. It is to bless the bread and wine for everyone else, and sometimes not taste the consolation oneself…”

To those of you who pray for Gerard and me (and all clergy), many thanks: it brings great strength. If you don’t, perhaps you would like to consider doing so. Gerard and I (and all clergy) would appreciate it greatly.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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When the Daffodils are Gone

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Easter was so late this year that our magnificent display of daffodils in the churchyard was well past its best even before Palm Sunday. So, rather than having a somewhat ‘wilted’ greeting awaiting Easter worshippers and visitors, some very kind-hearted people spent what must have been a considerable length of time removing all the flower heads along the gravel path, and leaving the simple long green leaves as a sign of continuing life.

And this struck me as being particularly symbolic. There is, I think, a lesson for us to learn from this in these early post-Easter days.

Yes, in the days after Easter we will be reminded of the post-resurrection appearances Jesus made to a selected number of his disciples: to Mary Magdalene in the Garden; on the road to Emmaus; in the Upper Room; beside the sea and suchlike – but, for the vast majority of folk, the seeming ‘absence’ of Jesus was something they simply had to live with.

Apart from those few who were fortunate to see Jesus in the days after his resurrection everyone else was in the same position as Christians down the ages have been ever since. All of us have had to try – and must continue trying – to understand the presence of Jesus in his (physical) absence.

Some may see that task as a huge burden – and yet it can be a freedom too. A freedom which gives us the courage to view life in a new way.

That freedom opens our eyes to the new creation and our ears to its resurrection song. It is the answer to the transience of daffodils and to life’s passing shadow: for, even at the grave, we sing ‘alleluia’!

In these days and weeks after Easter we have begun to cross over into a great new Beginning: Easter’s glorious springtime that will never end.

Even with the bright yellow of the daffodils removed, Easter remains the truth by which we live and die – and live again!

In the light of these thoughts perhaps you might like to reflect on these words from the writings of Arthur Tessimond for they are full of Easter hope.

One day people will touch and talk, perhaps easily,
And loving be natural as breathing
and warm as sunlight,
And people will untie themselves,
as string is unknotted,
Unfold and yawn and stretch
and spread their fingers,
Unfurl, uncurl like seaweed
returned to the sea,
And work will be simple and swift
as a seagull flying,
And play will be casual and quiet
as a seagull settling,
And the clocks will stop,
and no one will wonder
or care or notice,
And people will smile without reason,
even in winter, even in the rain.

Even, perhaps, when the daffodils are gone.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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The Spirit of Easter: Trust and Hope

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

This letter will be published on Mothering Sunday – the morning after the clocks go forward one hour. Hopefully the negative aspect of losing an hour’s sleep will be outweighed by the obvious benefits of lighter evenings.

Before we know it we will enter Passiontide and Holy Week with all the attendant concentration on Christ’s suffering and death. But then, at the end of the month, will come the glorious celebration of Easter with the wonderful message that the same suffering Christ has risen and overcome death and the grave.

There is no doubt that life is a balancing act: holding together a whole variety of disappointments and worries alongside reasons for happiness and celebration. At times the disappointments may outweigh the reasons for happiness and, at other times, the balance will be reversed.

In all this, Christians are called upon to live their lives – both as individuals and as a church – with trust and with hope. It always fills me with amazement when I consider how Jesus’ followers must have felt as the events of his last week, culminating in his crucifixion and death unfolded. They had no knowledge that, in a few short days, their darkness would be transformed into the light of resurrection.

We, on the other hand, know, even in darkest days, that, ultimately, the light will overcome the darkness. Many of us also know that the true strength of the light is better appreciated after the experience of acute darkness.

There is much that is dark in our world at the present time. Indiscriminate stabbings seem to put little or no value on human life; natural disasters like that in Zimbabwe and Mozambique devastate whole nations and the mass shootings in Christchurch New Zealand, at the hand of one man, leave us reeling.

Many are asking what can be done. How should seemingly ordinary Christian folk respond to the darkness and suffering which seems to be permeating so many aspects of everyday life?

The answer is not a new one. It is, I would suggest, to continue to trust and hope. To trust that the vast majority of humanity are good, honest and upright citizens – and to continue to faithfully trust in the God who aches with us in our pain and despair just as much as he rejoices with us when we have reason to celebrate. And to hope. When we hope for something we wait for it through patience. Longed-for beneficial outcomes rarely happen without continuing effort and the faithful holding of our hopes before God.

So, as we journey through Passiontide and Holy Week we must brace ourselves for the harrowing experience of hearing again the sufferings of the Son of God. But we do so in the knowledge that, through the Easter story, good did triumph over evil.

That same spirit of Easter is available for all of us – even in Alnwick in 2019. Indeed, it is what will turn darkness into light.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Holy Week and Easter Services

A purple banner with white text reading "Holy Week"

Palm Sunday

A procession of servers and choristers bearing palmsSunday, 14 April

8.00am Holy Communion with Blessing of Palms
9.20am Blessing of Palms & Procession from the Barbican
9.30am Sung Eucharist & Dramatic Reading of the Passion
11.15am Late Morning Worship
6.00pm Sung Evensong & Sermon

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Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday of Holy Week

A reredos screen with scenes from the birth, death and resurrection of Christ

Reredos in St Catherine’s Chapel

Monday 15th, Tuesday 16th & Wednesday 17th April

7.30pm  Compline & Devotional Address

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Wednesday, 17th April

An image of a Priest distributing Communion to a chorister at St Michael's

10.15am Holy Communion
7:30pm Compline

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Maundy Thursday

An illustration of waves around a chalice, with the words "Maundy Thursday"

Thursday, 18th April

7.30pm Sung Eucharist of the last Supper, Footwashing & Stripping of the Altar

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Good Friday

A stylised illustration of Christ on the cross, with the words "Good Friday"

Friday, 19th April

2.00pm An Hour at the Cross

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Messy Church on Holy Saturday

A red splotch with the words "Messy Church" and, underneath, the text "St Michael's)

Saturday, 20th April

11am Messy Church

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Holy Saturday

Image of an angel with a candle, in front of stained glass in St Michael's Church

Saturday, 20th April

7.30pm  Easter Ceremonies & Renewal of Baptismal Vows

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A purple banner with the words "Easter Sunday"The text "Easter | Easter Sunday" against the backdrop of a sunriseSunday, 21st April

8.00am Holy Communion
9.30am Blessing of the Easter Garden & Sung Eucharist
6.00pm Sung Evensong

 

 

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All are Welcome in this Place

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Hardly a Sunday goes by at St. Michael’s without finding that we have
some visitors in our congregation. At 8.00am we find people on holiday who
have plans for the rest of the day but still feel it is important to be at worship.
At 9.30am there are frequent visits from folk from all over the world – many
of whom have visited St. Michael’s for a look at the architecture and heritage
of the building and felt drawn to return to experience the church at prayer. At
11.15am we often find ourselves hosting those whose breakfast arrangements
have meant that this timing is better and at 6.00pm there is a fairly regular
trickle who greatly appreciate the fact that we maintain a regular sung
Evensong when this has been abandoned by so many parish churches.

Visitors frequently comment on the welcome they receive and the
friendliness of the congregation and this is something which we should most
certainly celebrate. As people ‘pass through’ Alnwick it is good to know that
one of their lasting memories may be the good experience they had when
visiting our church.

But we should not rest on our laurels! For visitors and, perhaps more
importantly, for those newly moved into the town who are looking to put
down roots in the church, we need to be especially vigilant.

Those of us who have made St. Michael’s our spiritual home and are a
real part of the fellowship there all need to remember that being a friendly
church involves more than being friendly with those we already know!

Occasionally you will see Gerard sitting in the congregation. This mirrors
what my Training Incumbent did with me many years ago. The idea is that,
as you worship, you might just ask yourself that, if you were present for the
first time, what it would be that urged you to return, what it would be that
might make you want to make this place your spiritual home.

As Lent begins we plan to look carefully at the whole concept of
welcome. We want to celebrate all we already do in this respect but, at the
same time, reflect carefully on where we might improve.

This is certainly a part of our ministry in which we can all be involved.
People happily share the Peace with those around them – but do we allow
that to be followed up with a friendly conversation at the end of the service?
If it is people you’ve not met before, do you extend an invitation to stay for
coffee afterwards?

Please commit these thoughts to your prayers and do what you can to
extend the hand of friendship. If all commit to this then we will be able to sing
with real integrity:

‘All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.’

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Faith: More Than a Hobby

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I never cease to be fascinated when, in conversation, people tell me about their hobbies. In fact, taking the dictionary definition of a hobby as “a favourite pursuit; a personal pastime that interests or amuses one…” I suppose you could say that one of my hobbies is hearing about other people’s hobbies.

Talking with people when visiting them in their homes, I have heard about many varying interests: travelling, photography, local history, music and building computers to name just a few.

Perhaps the reason why I am so interested in the hobbies of those with whom I come into contact is that it can give some indication of “what makes them tick”: what it is that contributes towards fulfilment in their lives; what it is that gives them a “buzz” and upon which they are prepared to spend countless hours of their time.

And sometimes it can be extremely surprising. What, for instance, motivated a friend of mine – a well-respected Parish Councillor and organised at his local church – to take up potholing at the age of 60? (Upon hearing the news, my own assessment was that, after years of working in the National Health Service, he had finally “lost the plot”!)

Of course, the spectrum of hobbies which exists amongst those of us who call ourselves Christians is just as wide ranging – if not more so – than any other group of diverse people. We are, after all, just as much in need of pleasure, enjoyment and being taken out of ourselves as anyone else.

We do, however, need to be extremely careful that we do not treat our faith as a hobby. Our belief in God and in the saving power of his Son, Jesus Christ, is not like a piece of embroidery or a book that we can pick up or lay down as the feeling takes us. Nor can we treat our faith like football supporters who only attend a game when they feel like it. Our faith involves determination and commitment to a cause. It demands a constant programme of prayer, reflection and worship; a constant striving to get the better of our weaknesses and blot out our shortcomings; a hunger to give ourselves more and more in the service of Christ and to show his love in a world that often appears to have lost its loveliness.

Our faith can and should be so much more than the dictionary definition I quoted at the beginning of this letter. Particularly, it needs to be much more than a “pastime that amuses…”

This year, we have the whole of February before Ash Wednesday and Lent is upon us. What a luxury! Yes, it’s a short month, but I urge you to begin to prepare for how you may use Lent to make a real commitment to seek out a spiritually fulfilling six weeks.

Lent does not need to be miserable! It is possible (and definitely preferable) to have positive experiences whilst still growing and deepening in faith. Not everyone feels motivated to get up really early for a quiet service of Holy Communion – but some do. Not everyone finds discussion groups their ‘thing’ – but some do. Look out for what is on offer and resolve to commit wholeheartedly to making progress. You might find it even more rewarding than a game of golf or a trip to the cinema.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Christmas at St Michael’s 2018

Sunday, 9th December

An image of the exterior of Denwick Chapel, with another photograph of the interior, with the words "Carols at Denwick Chapel" beneath them

4pm Carols at Denwick Chapel

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Wednesday, 12th December

The words "Mothers' Union: Christian Care for Families" in blue on an white background

2pm Mothers’ Union Advent Eucharist

The Alnwick Town Council logo

6:30pm Mayor’s Christmas Civic Carol Service

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Sunday, 16th December

A photograph of a robed choir singing, lit by candles

Morning worship as usual, then
6pm Candlelit Carol Service

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Thursday, 20th December

A grey cross on top of a circular rainbow with the text "St Michael's C of E Primary School, Alnwick"

2:30pm St Michael’s School Walk-about Nativity and Carols

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Christmas Eve

Monday, 24th December

An aerial view of a church with people wearing Santa hats, and holding oranges with candles in them

4:30pm Christingle and Family Carols

An image of a covered chalice, flanked by a candle, with the words "Midnight Mass at St Michael's 11:30pm"

11:30pm Midnight Mass

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Christmas Day

Tuesday, 25th December

An image of a priest administering the Eucharist, with the words "Christmas Day"

8am Holy Communion
9.30am Christmas Eucharist

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Wednesday, 26th December

St Stephen’s Day

Two images of candles in the church with the words "St Stephen's Day Holy Communion"

10:15am Holy Communion

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Thursday, 27th December

St John the Evangelist

An image of St Michael's Church in the snow, with the words "St John's Day Holy Communion"

9:30am Holy Communion

A divider line with a snowflake on it

Friday, 28th December

The Holy Innocents

Another image of St Michael's in the snow, with the words "Holy Innocents' Day Holy Communion"

9:30am Holy Communion

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Sunday, 6th January

The Epiphany

The word 'Epiphany' in a cursive, purple and yellow script with a star

8am Holy Communion
9.30am First Sunday Eucharist
6pm Evensong

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Refurbishing Halls – and Souls

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter the day after our very successful Winter Market which was, once again, held in our own Parish Hall. And what a splendid occasion it was!

So many people worked happily and willingly together; not only on the day itself but for weeks and months beforehand producing crafts and jams, wrapping up ‘mystery parcels’ and sorting through books and jigsaws as well as persuading family and friends to buy raffle tickets as we prepared for the ‘Great Day’. Lots of people came to hear the children from our own Church School open the occasion with their lovely singing as well as snapping up some bargains for Christmas and enjoying each other’s company.

A photograph of curtains and purple chairs in St Michael's Parish Hall

New curtains in the Parish Hall

Many folk commented on how lovely our Parish Hall is now looking following a protracted period of improvements which have just culminated in beautiful new curtains in the main hall. Together with all the work recently finished in the kitchen, the entrance hall and the ladies’ toilets, we only have to attend to the small hall and all will be finished. Then we can say, after much planning and hard work: “Come, for all is ready!”

As we enter December and all the busy-ness leading up to Christmas, we really do need to have the same approach to our hearts and minds. Advent is the perfect time to ‘refurbish’ – just like we’ve done in the Parish Hall. A time to get in to the dusty corners of our souls, to, metaphorically, apply a coat of new paint and do everything else necessary – from a spiritual point of view – to be able to say, when Christmas arrives: “Come, for all is ready!”

On Tuesday afternoons and Thursday evenings in Advent Gerard will be leading four sessions in church entitled: “Prophets and Prayer”. You might like to consider coming along. Treat it as your own personal ‘refurbishing’. Take time, once a week, to spend some quality time with God as your main focus. Imagine your own soul newly prepared for the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas. Even imagine people commenting on how you have been transformed – for they will be able to tell by your actions, your demeanour, your outlook on life – once the cobwebs have been cleared away.

In a hymn, rarely sung these days, can be found these words:

Happy all who hear the message of Christ’s coming from above;
happier still who hail his coming and with praises greet his love.
Blessed Saviour, Christ most holy, in a manger thou didst rest;
canst thou stoop again, yet lower, and abide within my breast?

Evil things there are before thee; in the heart where they have fed,
wilt thou pitifully enter, Son of Man, and lay thy head?
Enter, then, O Christ most holy; make a Christmas in my heart;
make a heaven of my manger: it is heaven where thou art.

And to those who never listened to the message of thy birth,
who have winter, but no Christmas bringing them thy peace on earth.
Send to these the joyful tidings; by all people in each home,
be there heard the Christmas anthem: ‘Praise to God, the Christ hath come!’

With every blessing, as you ‘refurbish’ this Advent,

Paul.

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