Being Fed

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I sat down, early on a Monday morning, to write this letter and then get on with a long list of other desk-bound tasks, I found that I was unable to type a single word on my computer!

Not being the most technically-minded person in Alnwick, I very quickly began to feel the frustration rising within me. So much to do, so much planned – and I couldn’t get on with any of it.

Then I noticed a tiny light flashing and slowly (very slowly) it dawned on me that the batteries which power the keyboard to the computer had worn out. A quick walk to ‘Wilko’ and I was back in business!

As I walked back from buying the life-giving batteries two thoughts came to mind from the readings we had heard in church the previous day: in the morning Jesus teaching his disciples about the importance of spiritual food and, in the evening, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminding them of God’s promise that he would never leave us or forsake us.

Without being ‘fed’ from the batteries my computer could do nothing. It was, in effect, useless. Perhaps we can use this experience of mine to consider if we are being adequately fed in our spiritual lives in order to function as best we can.

On reflection, I can now see that, for a few weeks, my computer had not been quite as efficient as it usually was. Obviously the batteries were running down – and yet I didn’t recognise the warnings until there was a complete breakdown.

Our regular, ongoing relationship with God is how we are fed spiritually – how we grow and how we can be of greatest use to him. Our prayer life, our regular attendance at worship, our reception of Holy Communion all ‘fuel’ us in the same way as the batteries allow my computer to function. If you’re ‘hungry’ do make sure your spiritual batteries are topped up!

Secondly, in my frustration over all my plans going awry, it was good for me to remember I’d been advising others in my sermon the previous evening always to remember God’s promise that he would never leave us or forsake us.

Of course I was thinking of much greater instances in life than a malfunctioning computer – but how often do we allow the little irritations of day-to-day living to irk us and get out of proportion? How often do we feel that God has let us down because things simply aren’t going out way when, more often than not, the solution is in our own hands?

The two situations are closely linked. Being nourished spiritually also helps us keep the issues of daily life in proportion. The more we are fed, the more we will know that God, in his great love, will always be with us!

These words from the Iona community seem fitting:

The peace of God comes close to those caught in the storm,
forgoing lives of ease to ease the lives forlorn:
the peace of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk his way.

The joy of God comes close where faith encounters fears,
where heights and depths of life are found through smiles and tears:
the joy of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk his way.

The grace of God comes close to those whose grace is spent,
when hearts are tired or sore and hope is bruised or bent:
the grace of God is here to stay,
embracing those who walk his way.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Journeying with God & Friends

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

After the success of last year’s Sponsored Walk we have decided to repeat the event and so, on Saturday 18th August, another intrepid band of walkers will be striding out for approximately six miles – hopefully with full sponsor forms and raising some much-needed funds for St. Michael’s!

In addition to fundraising however, journeying alongside others is a rewarding and positive thing to do in many different contexts.

For those of us who will walk together on the 18th there will be opportunities to get into discussions – in twos or threes – about all sorts of things, to find out more about each other and to simply enjoy each other’s company.

Perhaps, like me, you journeyed together with one or two in your earliest years at school who have remained lifelong friends. Perhaps you have stayed in touch with a colleague from your first job or with a fellow-parent you came to know at the school gates as you dropped off or collected your own children day by day.

Whatever the context, growing in friendship and trust is central to an improved quality of life. We do not need to be constantly in each other’s company – but a regular acknowledgement and exchange of news and views is important.

Our recent ‘Strawberry Tea’ was a splendid example of lots of people just enjoying being together: journeying along life’s way and, in the simplest but most fulfilling of ways, enriching each other’s lives. After-service fellowship over a cup of coffee and showing interest in what others are doing adds an extra facet to who we are.

Of course in current times letter-writing has largely been replaced by e-mails, texts and ‘skyping’ but that need for ongoing contact is what builds up firm foundations.

A once-a-year note which says ‘we must catch up sometime soon’ on a Christmas card is not sufficient to maintain a true and deepening friendship – and, of course, the same is true of our relationship with God: the more we are in touch, the deeper the relationship will become.

All of us are ‘busy’ people but we can all make time for our friends if we really want to.

God never tires of our being in touch with him. Consider the time it takes to write a letter. Perhaps you can devote that amount of time consciously placing yourself in His presence. If that is too great an ‘ask’ then think about the length of a ‘phone call with someone who is important to you. Even the few moments it takes to send off an e-mail or a text, if spent ‘in touch’ with God will enhance our awareness of how much he has done for us and for the whole of humanity.

So, if the prospect of journeying alongside our sponsored walkers seems a little daunting – or is simply physically impossible for you to contemplate – do remember that journeying alongside God can be done anywhere, at any time, even from the comfort of your favourite armchair!

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Working Together for the Kingdom

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

By the time you read this blog, Gerard Rundell will have been ordained Deacon in our Cathedral Church and he, Karen and their children Theo and Phoebe will be beginning to ‘find their feet’ here in Alnwick.

When Bishop Martin invited me to consider becoming Vicar of Alnwick, some six and a half years ago, he said that he considered Alnwick to be a splendid context in which to serve a curacy and expected that candidates would continue to be offered that opportunity. It is good to know that Bishop Christine shares that view and I consider it a privilege to be given, once again, some share in the formation of another newly-ordained Deacon.

Such a “vote of confidence” is a recognition that this parish is already home to a viable and vibrant Christian community: a community which has firm foundations and which can be the basis for further growth and development.

And all of us are called – individually by God – to play our part in doing what we can to build on the foundation which already exists. Each one of us, from the tiniest of babies to the oldest of our number – including those who are now no longer able to make it to church, add something special and unique to the family of St. Michael’s.

Indeed, each of us is called to ministry. Never forget that wonderful analogy of the body with its many limbs and organs which St. Paul expounds to the church in Corinth. To be really effective we must work together for the extension of the Kingdom in this place – and each of us has been given a contribution to make towards that goal.

The way in which many folk at St. Michael’s already take seriously the challenge to make Christ known is a great witness that their faith is alive and healthy. Just think of the many jobs and responsibilities which go towards the smooth-running of the church in this place: from Choir and Servers, via those who help with the Mini Michaels and Messy Church to collecting for Christian Aid. The list is a long and varied one – and all of it undergirded by the prayer “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

As Gerard takes his place amongst us, and adds his own particular contribution to the life of the Christian community in this place, please pray for him and his family that God’s work will go from strength to strength and that we all will be richly blessed.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Weddings, Worship & Walking with God

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I’m sure that, like Jane and myself, many of you were fully occupied watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke & Duchess of Sussex) on 19th May.

I’m sure, too, that as I write these words, many parish magazine letters will be being penned by Incumbents the length and breadth of the country and, no doubt, a great number of them will be commenting on the address by Bishop Michael Curry.

For my own part ‘the jury is still out’ on his particular and very individual style of delivery – but of one thing I’m certain: it was far too long!!

The words of the Marriage Service in the Church of England are superb: they speak for themselves. The order of the service at St. George’s Chapel last Saturday was exactly what you would hear if you were to attend a wedding at St. Michael’s in Alnwick – or indeed in any English parish church if the Incumbent is doing his or her job properly!

Frankly, very little else needs to be said. Of course, each couple are involved in choosing the readings that are used at their own wedding and it is a great privilege for whoever is officiating at a wedding to take the readings and weave them into a short reflection which is as individual to the couple as possible. Far more important, however, is the opportunity to let the words of the service itself be said with meaning, feeling and sincerity.

Over the past two years the number of weddings at St. Michael’s has increased quite markedly – and for this we give thanks to God. It is a great privilege to work with couples as they approach their ‘big day’ and to spend time reflecting on the depth and symbolism of the words (and actions) so that their significance for bride and groom are fully appreciated.

And what is true of weddings is true also of other acts of worship in church. The Church of England holds word and sacrament in balance. It places equal importance on what is ‘done’ as much as what is said.

This is particularly true as we meet, Sunday by Sunday to do what Jesus commanded us to do. And so, as, once again, we enter ‘Ordinary Time’ my plea to you is to look afresh at the words which the Church has given to us and the actions which accompany them. Consider the true beauty and the depth of meaning (and the vast significance for our lives and our eternal salvation) each time we say or sing ‘Glory to God in the highest’, ‘Peace be with you’ or ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sings of the world’.

Within the words of our worship lie the path to an ever-deepening relationship with God – and with one another. Just as marriages grow, strengthen and mature with the passing of the years as both parties attend to the wellbeing of the other, so too, our walk with God can blossom and flourish if we devote our worship and our praise to him who, at all times, is the giver of all good things.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Polishing Floors (and People)

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Many of you will be aware that our Parish Hall has been undergoing a fair amount of upgrading and refurbishing in recent months. You will find out in the current edition of “Gateway” just how impressed one Easter visitor was by the improvements which have been made – and, by the time you read this, we hope the long-awaited dishwasher may have been installed in the kitchen!

In all that has been done, one of the most fascinating processes has been the refurbishing of the lovely parquet floors. There’s no getting away from the fact that, with so much activity taking place in the hall, the floors do get a “hammering”.

This is a good and healthy sign: it shows that the place is alive and well-used and it also shows that we are happy for it to be so. There is nothing more discouraging or depressing than buildings (especially church halls) which are treated like mausoleums and where signs appear on every wall or surface with commands which begin “Don’t touch this…” “Never do that…” and so on. God can be glorified in the messy, the noisy and the spontaneous – even if it does involve a little bit of clearing away afterwards!

But back to the floors: innumerable layers of polish which had built up over the years were stripped down and the sanding process then brought out the beauty of the natural wood which had probably not been seen for a very long time.

And then there was the change in the surface texture as the different grades of sanding took place: coarse, medium and smooth. Finally, several coats of seal were applied: each one in turn enhancing the beauty and colour of the wood.

“So what?” you may say. Well, it made me reflect on how things are in life generally. If we wrap ourselves up in cotton wool, as it were; if we refuse to engage in the realities of life – which often are messy, noisy or generally unpleasant, then we’re unlikely to grow in stature, experience or understanding. It is the “daily round, the common” task which moulds us into the people we are – and this includes all the mess, the sadness and the disappointment which life, in all its fullness, often brings.

When I was first ordained there were still a significant number of folk around who had lived through and could remember two World Wars. Now I don’t want to suggest for a moment that war is a good thing, but the hardships, the deprivations and the disasters which these sad times brought undoubtedly led to the tenacity and strength of character which so many of these people possessed. They had, in a sense, been “hammered” a bit like our Parish Hall floor – but they had survived and often had become stronger, more responsible and wiser people as a result.

In the eyes of those who knew them and, surely, in the eyes of God, they had become beautiful people, with a shine and a lustre born of trial and not a little worry.

I am reminded of the words of the 17th century hymn writer, Richard Baxter:

“Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.”

As the Church prepares to celebrate the Ascension of Christ and then the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we would do well to remember Christ’s words:

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Whatever life throws at us, we deal with it in the light of Christ’s victory – and his abiding presence. Through God’s good grace we will become stronger in faith (smoothed and more polished by experience) and equal to our task as Christians in his world.

With every blessing,

            Paul.

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Skimming Stones

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I may be taken to task for saying this (so, apologies in advance) but throwing stones into water does seem to be a peculiarly male thing!

For some, perfecting the art of making a stone skim across the surface of the water can occupy them for hours whilst others seem to be happy finding the largest stone around and making as big a splash as possible. Not that it takes a very big stone to have a profound effect – the tiniest of pebbles tossed into the centre of a pool can send ripples which radiate outwards until they eventually reach the bank.

In a sense, the same could be said of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

It all began so quietly, in a stable in Bethlehem and a baby lying in a manger and, even at the height of his ministry, the majority of the world’s population would have been oblivious to his existence. What could one man hope to achieve through his life, his death – or even his resurrection?

In global terms, it was a drop in the ocean – but what a drop! For still today the ripples of Christ’s actions are reaching outwards.

Who would have believed two thousand years ago that the good news of the gospel would still be changing lives and that people would still be coming together regularly in worship to acknowledge the love God demonstrated through his Son?

The effect of that one solitary life was beyond the worst nightmares of Christ’s enemies and greater than the wildest dreams of his followers. Yet that is the nature of our God; the God who, in his sovereign power, plunged himself into the pool of human history in such a way that the world would never be the same again.

As we revel once again in miracle of Easter and celebrate that Christ has “overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers”, so we praise God for everything that he achieved in Christ – transforming not just individuals but the very course of history through his life, death and resurrection.

In sending his Son to earth, God involved himself in human history in a way that has never been known before or since. Rather than standing aloof from our need, God, in Christ, shared our humanity in order that we might share his eternity.

As we are caught up in the ripples of this timeless truth, may we feel the power of the risen Christ in our lives and ever work to his praise and glory.

A happy and blessed Easter to you all!

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Wholeness and Healing

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I cannot let this opportunity to communicate with you go by without first of all thanking so many of you for your kindness, your concern, and, most importantly, your prayers over recent weeks when I’ve been more than a little ‘under the weather’.

I’ve always been very keen on praying for the sick (and at one point ‘flirted’ with the idea of being a hospital chaplain) and have been told countless times just how much that ministry is appreciated. I have to say that being on the receiving end of such ministry has been not only strengthening and encouraging but has also led me to ponder, even more than usual, the whole business of quietly and regularly holding individuals before God – asking that they may know his presence and his healing love.

We are incredibly blessed to have a National Health Service in this country and, even though we may only have mistakes and slip-ups brought to our attention, the simple fact is that the NHS does an amazing job for the majority of the time.

I have the huge privilege of acting as Spiritual Director to a Hospital Chaplain who works in an extremely busy acute hospital and I know, from my conversations with him, how much what he and his colleagues do is valued by patients, relatives and staff.

By the time you read this letter we will have just had one of our twice-yearly Celebrations of Wholeness and Healing in St Michael’s when we concentrate on praying for the sick (whether in body, mind or spirit) and offering a ministry of the laying-on-of-hands and anointing.

What a blessing such a service is and, unfailingly, as people go home from it, they express the depth and the power of the worship and the blessing they receive from being part of it.

So – individual prayer for the sick, the work of Hospital Chaplains and the public ministry of healing and wholeness provided by the local church all contribute to a fairly constant round of Christian care and concern – all based on the fact that Christ himself healed and made whole people from all walks of life.

Thanks be to God for every opportunity to hold before our loving God those for whom we have a care – and asking him to work in each one of them the good purposes of his perfect will.

Let me leave you with a prayer for healing which, I venture to think, you might find helpful.

God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to those who wait in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make them equal of
whatever lies ahead.
Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God and we need you.  Amen.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Lenten Season

This post was written by our Guest Blogger, the Rev’d Colin Perkins.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is on St Valentine’s Day, 14th February. It lasts until Easter Eve, which is 31st March. During this penitential season we carry out in our spiritual lives something like the spring cleaning we do in our homes.

In church things are a little more sombre: no flowers or special decorations except those used for Mothering Sunday, and quieter, more reflective hymns. We leave out the Gloria in Holy Communion services.

In private we can think about our own progress in our Christian walk, and examine our consciences. It may be helpful to read a Christian book – there are plenty in our church library to choose from.

Here are some suggestions for things we could do as individuals:

  1. Read 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-7. Here St Paul writes about all the things that ‘Love’ is. Go over it, putting your own name in place of the word Love, and think about how true it is of you.
  2. If you don’t usually read the Bible every day, try it. If you don’t know what to read, the weekly pew sheet gives at least five readings for each Sunday and it would do no harm to read them again, one each day, during the week.
  3. If you are free, come to either or both of the midweek services. The regular Wednesday morning service at 10.15, and the early Thursday morning Prayer Book Communion service at 7.30am.
  4. It is a good tradition to practise some form of self-denial in Lent, but not just to lose weight! If you give up something give away the money saved or use the time saved in some worthwhile manner.
  5. Write an article for our magazine, Gateway: something that could be used at any time would be helpful. Everyone has memories, reminiscences or even rants, and something from more than the usual list of contributors would be gratefully received by the readers and editor.
Photograph of Rev'd Colin Perkins

Rev’d Colin Perkins

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Advertising Christmas

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

The latest supermarket ‘war’ seems to be with Christmas adverts! John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Aldi and even PC World are all at it – with varying degrees of taste…

So what about the Church? Well, so far as the Church of England is concerned, there is an advertising campaign in the run up to Christmas each year. In 2016 it used the strapline “Joy to the world” and this year it is “God with us – Your Christmas Journey”. You may or may not have seen something of this campaign – but one thing is certain, it will not reach the number of people that the supermarkets do on prime time television.

And yet, come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, people will flock to churches in massive numbers. The cynic may say that, for many, it is simply part of the ‘hype’ of the secular celebrations and that, if there is a gentle snowfall to add to the candlelight and the Christmas tree as folk make their way home from church, all the better.

In truth there is likely to be some substance to this claim but, as I stand at the door of St Michael’s on such occasions and wish people a Happy Christmas as they head back for further festivities I am convinced that many do take seriously the message of God’s love which the birth of the Christ-child signifies.

Of course, there may be much more emphasis on family celebrations in the current day – but, heretic that I am, I become more and more convinced that our God is so loving that he will revel in the enjoyment that many experience over the Christmas season.

Let’s be honest, there have been periods in the history of the Church when people of faith did nothing to advertise the wonderful message of the birth of Christ and its significance for humankind. Under Oliver Cromwell the celebration of Christmas was frowned upon and it is even suggested that he made the consumption of mince pies illegal!

The responsibility for advertising Christmas – and the wonderful truth of the Word made flesh – lies first and foremost with those of us who are regular, card carrying members of the Church locally. If those with whom we have to do see the faithful folk who worship week by week in a positive light: being welcoming, caring, compassionate and non-judgemental – not just at Christmas but all year ‘round – they will ‘catch’ some of that way of life and want to be part of it.

So, my plea is that, here in Alnwick, our Christmas advertising campaign will be a way of life, a daily activity filled with the love which came down at Christmas.

‘Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, Love divine;
love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.’

With every blessing for a Christmas filled with the love of God and a New Year that brings happiness and contentment,

Paul.

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Stages on the Journey

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

The other day I dipped into a book which Jane had recently purchased. Entitled ‘Re-enchanting Christianity’, it is by the author Dave Tomlinson who is well-known for an earlier book, ‘How to be a bad Christian…and a better human being’.

Reflecting on the way in which a considerable number of people who were formerly regular churchgoers have become disenchanted, Tomlinson says:

“Church is not supposed to be a place of theological ‘purity’ or rigid conformity to certain beliefs and conventions, but a mishmash of believers, doubters, dissenters and malcontents, each of whom is grappling in his or her own way towards a mystery that is God.”

It seems to me that St Michael’s is a microcosm of Tomlinson’s description of what the church should be – and for that I’m hugely thankful. Whatever stage each of us may be in our pilgrimage of faith, we’re all ‘in the soup’ together and we’re all loved by God equally!

At this stage in the life of the Church – and not least in Alnwick – we need to recognize that all of us are at different points in our understanding and in the intensity of our faith but that God is calling us to be his followers at this time and in this place.

Within the vastness of God’s unbounded and unchanging love and mercy, we can find ourselves unnerved by change and disheartened because ‘things aren’t the way they were’. I was, therefore, really heartened to read these words in a section of the book entitled ‘Behind the mask of certainty’:

“’When I was a child,’ St. Paul says, ‘I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways’ (1 Cor. 13:11). We are not meant to remain the same, to stick with the same outlook on life or to hang on to the same beliefs and attitudes, come what may. We are meant to grow as people, and as that growth occurs all kinds of change will come about in the way we go about interpreting and applying our Christian faith. This can be exciting and stimulating, but it can also be unnerving – both to ourselves and, more especially, to those around us.”

So, recognizing that, as followers of Christ, we are called to be taken out of our comfort zone, let us embrace this ‘adventure’ which is membership of the body of Christ and do all we can to bring about his kingdom and earth (and especially in Alnwick) as it is in heaven.

As we do so, I would draw your attention to the information in our ‘Gateway’ magazine on the ‘Bishops in Mission’ programme entitled ‘Pathways’ which is being planned for September next year. It feels as if this will be a splendid opportunity to celebrate our diversity as individuals and communities alongside all we hold in common in and through Our Lord.

A prayer from Eric Milner-White, a former Dean of York, seems fitting:

O Lord God,
who called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown:
Give us faith
to go out with a good courage,
not knowing where we are going,
but only that your hand is leading us,
and your love supporting us;
to the glory of your name.  Amen.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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