Gateway Magazine, December/January 20/21

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is now available in hardcopy format, but you are also welcome to read the magazine here, via a downloadable pdf, or the embedded viewer below:

GatewayDecember
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Longing for Light

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter in the middle of November for an issue of ‘Gateway’ which covers the period to the end of January.

In terms of the Church’s year this will see us through Advent, Christmas and most of the season of Epiphany; times of patient expectation, of great rejoicing and of understanding how the baby born in the manger was God’s gift to the whole world.

As the weeks pass by, we know that the observation of these important days will take place – just as they always have down the ages – but just how we might be able observe them remains a mystery as we await further news on the ending of a second period of  ‘Lockdown’, what might be required in the way of ongoing restrictions and, in particular, the extent to which we may, or may, be able to gather with friends and family over Christmas and New Year.

Uncertainty is all around us – including the uncertainty of just when a safe and effective vaccine may be successfully developed and freely available.

It depends, to a large extent, on each individual’s personality as to just how much uncertainty one can deal with. For my own part, I function much better when I know what plans are and how they will be implemented; but the simple fact of the matter is that this is just not possible at the current time.

This time ‘round, Christmas and Epiphany may be times of ‘waiting’ just as much as Advent: waiting – but without the full knowledge of what might lie ahead.

The expectancy of Advent is always undergirded with the joyful anticipation of the birth of the Christ-child at Christmas and, although that everlasting joy and truth remains, it will, most likely, be the oddest of celebrations most of will have experienced.

More than ever, the opening words of the hymn we often sing in Advent reflect the mood of all of us ‘Longing for light, we wait in darkness’.

As we journey through the dark days of winter, however different our celebrations may have to be, we know in our heart of hearts that, come what may, our God will be with us. His love, demonstrated in the gift of his Son, is unwavering. Now, despite all the uncertainties, is a time to rest in that simple yet profound truth.

‘Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake,
all now mysterious shall be clear at last.’

May you know God’s abiding presence as we continue to live through the uncertainties of these days and may our longing for light be rewarded with better days ahead.

With every blessing,
Paul

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Gateway Magazine, November 2020

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is now available in hardcopy format, but you are also welcome to read the magazine here, via a downloadable pdf, or the embedded viewer below.

Nov 20
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Being ‘FINE’

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

How are you?

That feels like the most appropriate thing I can ask as the clocks go back, the dark nights descend and the prospect of a difficult winter lies ahead.

But then, a slightly different question comes to mind.

How are you – really?

So many of us are able, even in the most trying of circumstances, to ‘put on a brave face’ and give people the answer we think they really want to hear:

“I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”

After more than twenty years I can still recall that, as my year group was preparing to leave theological college and begin our lives as curates, the Principal invited a well-known and very experienced clergyman to talk to us about parish life.

“Beware,” he said “when, standing in the porch saying goodbye to people as they leave church on a Sunday, someone asks: ‘And how are you?’

Your immediate response will be you say, ‘I’m fine, thank you!’ Remember – FINE stands for FRUSTRATED, INSECURE, NEUROTIC and EXHAUSTED!”

As we get used to the restrictions of life in ‘Tier Two’ mode (and with the threat of ‘Tier Three’ never far away) none of us should feel embarrassed, foolish or less than perfect if we admit to being any – or all – of those four things.

The simple truth of the matter (and you don’t really need me to remind you of this) is that this awful virus, and all its horrible consequences, has been with us now for nine months.

During that time – and to varying degrees, of course – most of us will have been challenged, inconvenienced, felt lonely and isolated, worried about family and loved ones, been ill ourselves and possibly experienced bereavement.

I have no magic answers that will take this situation away – and I know that telling you others are experiencing the same sort of thing doesn’t help your own situation.

So, please, remember what ‘FINE’ stands for. Feel free to ring the Vicarage ‘phone  number. It might be me who answers – or it might be Jane. We’re often FINE ourselves but we’re both good listeners!

Remember, too, that God is with us in every step we take. He knows our thoughts, he understands our feelings and wants to share our burdens.

Whatever the future has in store for us, God continues to hold each and every one of us in the palm of his hand – and, for that alone, we must give thanks.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Gateway Magazine, October 2020

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is now available in hardcopy format, the summer 2020 issues are available here as a downloadable pdf, or via the embedded pdf viewer below.

Oct 20
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Lead, Kindly Light

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter the news is not good.

Northumberland, along with the rest of the North East, is now under a scheme of restrictions in a bid to halt further transmission of Coronavirus. Other areas in a similar situation include parts of the North West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands and today (20th September) the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that, if people do not comply with the restrictions, then a tougher regime will be introduced.

The thinking behind the restrictions is fourfold:

  • To control the spread of the virus
  • To prevent the most vulnerable from becoming infected
  • To protect the National Health Service
  • To save lives.

The possibility of a national two-week mini lockdown to act as a “circuit breaker” is already being considered – just as people seem to be beginning to recover from the previous lockdown which began in March and didn’t end until July.

We are seeing a wide variety of reactions and every possible opinion is being aired. Many of the opinions are coming from well-informed professionals and academics (though they don’t always agree) whilst most of the more extreme reactions appear to be less well researched.

The truth of the matter is that the world – relying heavily on the best advice available – continues to try and deal rationally with a situation it has never experienced before. People continue to be very seriously ill and Covid-related deaths are still taking place each day.

So what might we do as we go about our restricted daily lives here in Alnwick.

Well, firstly, we must try to honour the restrictions – however difficult and frustrating that may be.

Secondly we must remember that our God is the God who created order out of chaos, light out of darkness and continue to trust in his love for us as he walks with us through unknown and, at times, frightening days.

Perhaps our daily prayer might be:

Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
lead thou me on;
the night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
(John Henry Newman 1801-1890)

With every blessing,
Paul.

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Bearing and Sharing Our Burdens

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

St. Paul was very good at telling people off! In writing to the Church in Galatia he told the Christian community there: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

Easily said – but more difficult to put into practice. In an ideal world, bearing one another’s burdens would no doubt provide most of the support we could ever have need for. But this isn’t an ideal world, and there are problems that we either feel unable to share, or that no one can help with, or that people simply do not want to know about.

I imagine we’ve all been in situations when we’ve felt utterly overwhelmed by a problem and haven’t known who to turn to – hence the existence of organisations like the Samaritans.

During these recent months, however, I’m sure that, like me, you will have been greatly encouraged to learn of the many ways in which burdens have been eased for lots of people through the simple, honest goodwill of others. Alnwick, like many communities was quick to organise a whole band of volunteers to attempt to ensure that those who were housebound or vulnerable were supported in all kinds of ways: help with shopping, the delivery of essential medicines and so on.

Even as some restrictions begin to be lifted, of course, we’re not at the end of the road and the need, for those who can, to help those who still require support continues.

Thankfully, we do not depend merely on human support for assistance: we are able to share our cares and burdens with God. Do that and, though the problems will not magically disappear, we may well find a new perspective on them; an inner peace whatever our trouble – rest for our souls.

So I want to urge you to take some extra time to share your burdens and worries with God and pray too for all who are facing difficulties and problems to which they can see no solution. Remember those who are wrestling with inner fears and phobias; those racked by anxieties for themselves and for loved ones; those who have been prevented from spending precious time with friends and loved ones; those troubled about money, health, work or relationships – in short, for all who carry burdens from which they can find no rest.

Pray that God will speak to you, and to all who follow his way, with his still, small voice and grant the peace and quiet confidence that only he can bring.

But to hear that still, small voice and appreciate the peace which comes from God through Christ, we must listen very carefully and, in our prayers, give him the opportunity and the space to speak to us and assure us of his presence.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm!
(John Greenleaf Whittier)

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Gateway Magazine, August 2020

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is now available in hardcopy format, as well as being available here as a downloadable pdf, or via the embedded pdf viewer below.

Aug 20
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Gateway Magazine, July 2020

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is currently not being printed in hardcopy format due to the coronavirus epidemic, but you can read our July edition on this website, available as a downloadable pdf, or via the embedded pdf viewer below.

July 20
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For the Healing of the Nations

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter on the day our Prime Minister announced an easing in the Covid 19 lockdown situation in England.

The relaxation (which will come into effect from 4th July) includes, amongst other things, a reduction in social distancing from two metres to one, an ability to stay overnight in hotels, B&Bs and campsites and the luxury of getting a haircut!

Judging by the very reserved way in which people have taken advantage of more relaxed shopping regulations over the last two weeks, it may be that, apart perhaps from hairdressers and barbers, the ‘uptake’ of the new freedoms may be a trickle rather than a flood.

And the same may be true, of course, of the rate at which folk return to worship in church as that restriction, too, is lifted – but with a complicated set of instructions as to how it might be managed.

We have yet to work out details of what the return to worship in church might look like but, in the early days at least, it is unlikely to simply ‘pick up’ from where we left things in March.

In all that happens in the days that lie ahead I hope our prayer (and action) will continue to be focused on a vision of a church, a community and a society shaped on the values which Christ taught us.

And so I want to share with you the words of a hymn we have sung occasionally at St. Michael’s and which, once singing is again permitted, we may well find ourselves using more often and with renewed understanding.

For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom, from despair the world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness, fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice may we hallow life’s brief span.

You, Creator-God, have written your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service earth its destiny may find.

-Fred Kaan (1929-2009)

Amongst all the anxiety and mental anguish that the Coronavirus pandemic has brought to many – and in respect for those thousands of people whose lives have been lost as a result of its virulent nature – surely we all have a duty to reassess our outlook on life.

When all the current issues of climate change and racial justice are added to our situation then the healing of the nations, freedom and abundant living need to be priorities for prayer and action in all that lies ahead.

With every blessing,

Paul

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