Vicar’s Blog

Gateway Magazine, April 2020

St. Michael’s Church has been temporarily closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, and so, our magazine, Gateway, has not been published in print this month. So that you can still read our articles, prayers, readings, and notices, we are providing Gateway here, as a downloadable pdf, or to read in the embedded pdf viewer below:

downloadable pdf

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Do Not Fear

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter on Monday 23rd March – a day after the first Sunday in living memory, perhaps in the history of the Christian Church in this land, when Sunday public worship was suspended by decree of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

What a strange day yesterday was! As I stood in St. Michael’s early in the morning, I imagined how, down the ages, the faithful folk of Alnwick had, in times of trouble, flocked to their parish church to plead before God for their health, their safety and the well-being of those they loved.

But, in 2020, it is different. Instead of flocking to church, the Church is telling us to stay away – apart from individual visits during the day whilst St. Michael’s continues to be open daily for private prayer, for a time of quiet and as a place of reflective contemplation.

My thoughts seemed even more poignant because this was the week when, if things had been ‘normal’, I would have been dedicating the newly placed memorial stone in our churchyard which commemorates the 136 victims of the Alnwick cholera epidemic in 1849.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have been the Rev’d Court Granville, the Vicar of St. Michael’s at that time; when those people – all 136 of them – died within a single month and had to buried and their grieving families comforted.

I wondered if, at that time, the Rev’d. Granville had stood where I was standing thinking of how his predecessors had felt in previous generations when dealing with outbreaks of plague and pestilence.

Our hope and prayer is that Coronavirus might be halted as soon as possible and that our modern day scientific research, medicine and approach to disease control will help in that respect. But the truth is that none of us have lived in such times and so we have no experience to draw on.

And so I wonder if, like me, you might be helped and encouraged by one of the readings for Morning Prayer which was listed for Sunday 21st March – the day the suspension of Sunday services began and yet a reading that had been chosen long before.

Again, in the quiet of St. Michael’s, surrounded by the stones which have soaked up generations of prayer by the folk of this town, I read these words from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43: 1b – 2)

In the midst of all that is happening around us; as we wait from day to day to see what the next development or instruction might be let us hold fast to the fact that God knows each of us by name; that he walks with us through every experience – both good and bad – and that, in all our tribulations, he holds us in the palm of his hand.

On the last Sunday we met together (15th March) our closing hymn at the Parish Eucharist was ‘To God be the glory’. We sang it with such gusto – not knowing that it might be several months before we could do so again. What beet way could we begin and end each day than to give God the glory – safe in the knowledge that we should not fear for he has redeemed us.

With every blessing,

Paul.

PS: Sadly Government instructions now mean the church is no longer open even for private prayer

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Coronavirus

Logo of the Church of England Diocese of Newcastle

CORONAVIRUS

In line with instructions from the Archbishops of Canterbury & York we regret to inform you that all public worship must cease for the time being.

The Church continues to be alive and active, but our buildings must close. We are seeing a huge increase in the number of people falling sick with COVID-19. We must distance ourselves from one another and prevent the spread of infection in order to save lives.

Therefore, as well as public worship being suspended, St. Michael’s Church, and all church buildings in the Church of England are now closed.

The Archbishops have written:

‘Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead.
Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church
on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day. We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people.
And we can certainly offer practical care and support.’

Even though it is now not possible to meet together for public worship, the prayer life of the church can and must continue.

Church Online

The Church of England has made available virtual and livestreamed services, daily prayer, and other resources at the Church of England website, and you are encouraged to use the ‘Simple Order of Prayer and Praise’ which can be downloaded below at home.  It can be used at any time but is perhaps especially appropriate for use at the time you would normally be attending a service.

Download the Simple Order of Prayer and Praise in pdf or Word .docx format.

If you would like to contact our Vicar, the Rev’d Canon Paul Scott, he can be reached via his email, paulscott1957@btinternet.com, or by telephone on  01665 603078.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

To protect the vulnerable amongst us, please do not leave your home except for essential trips.

Daily Readings from St Beuno’s Outreach

St Beuno’s Outreach is based in St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in the hills of North Wales, in the Diocese of Wrexham, and the St Beuno’s Outreach team, led by Father Damian Jackson SJ, has been producing a weekly prayer leaflet called PREGO, which offers reflections on the Sunday readings, for group and individual use. We hope these links, which are updated automatically each week, will provide you with ‘food for thought’ during this time. Please note that these links will take you to the St Beuno’s website.

Prayers

A prayer about the Coronavirus outbreak

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

A prayer for community cohesion

Lord Jesus Christ,
you taught us to love our neighbour,
and to care for those in need
as if we were caring for you.
In this time of anxiety, give us strength
to comfort the fearful, to care for the sick,
and to assure the isolated
of our love and your love,
for your name’s sake.
Amen.

Downloads:

Coronavirus Notice in pdf and Word .docx format
Coronavirus Prayers in pdf and Word .docx format

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Living to Please God During Lent

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I find it quite astonishing just how often what seems to be a chance reading of an article – or a debate apparently accidentally heard on the radio – can set off a train of thought which helps to consolidate or clarify my own thinking on a subject.

Each day, after Morning Prayer, Gerard and I share a reflection on one or other of the Bible readings set for the day. Today the reflection, by Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, was on the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and posed this question: “Am I living to please other people or living to please God?

What a splendid question for each of us to ask ourselves at the beginning of Lent! Indeed, it is a question that we might like to ask ourselves each morning of Lent as we wake up ready to face another day.

The Covenant Service, originally the sole province of the Methodist Church, but now also an established element of Common Worship in the Church of England states the following:

Christ has many services to be done:
some are easy, others are difficult;
some bring honour, others bring reproach;
some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both;
in some we may please Christ and please ourselves;
in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

As we journey through Lent 2020 at St. Michael’s there is a wide variety of activities on offer – all aimed at helping us to grow in grace and holiness. There are things to suit all manner of temperaments and tastes: quiet, early morning celebrations of Holy Communion; a Lent Course delving into the significance of the film ‘Chocolat’ and a sermon series on Climate Change. In addition the opportunity for weekly contemplative prayer continues as well as our regular round of worship and fellowship.

Just as the Covenant Service reminds us, some of what is on offer is suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both…..

But, just because they are contrary, it doesn’t mean we should decide immediately that they’re not for us!

Indeed, the question posed by Bishop Croft could be amended to read: “Am I living to please myself or living to please God?” During Lent, especially, we should try to live to please God. So perhaps we might like to join in with something which is slightly inconvenient to us (e.g. getting up early) or something which is extra (e.g. coming to a midweek service or Evensong as well as Sunday morning).
None of us really like to be inconvenienced in the (usually cosy) way of life that we’ve established for ourselves; but living to please God – and grow closer to him – is as good a Lenten way of life than any other I can think of.

Why not resolve to be inconvenienced over the next six weeks: it might be an added facet which you come to value greatly!

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

On 6th February this year our Queen will have been our monarch for an amazing sixty-eight years.

Many of us will have seen the old black and white footage of her arrival back in Britain from a trip to Africa where Prince Philip had the arduous task of breaking the news to her that her beloved father, King George VI had died.

Although, in some small ways, preparations had been made for the day when she would accede to the throne, and given the pledge of commitment she famously made on her twenty-first birthday that her whole life, ‘whether it be short or long’ would be devoted to the service of her country, not even she might have imagined the length and extent of that service.

Down the years Queen Elizabeth has continued to grow in wisdom, integrity and devotion to duty. Whether royalist or republican in leaning, no one can deny the quality and degree of her service. Only last week one royal commentator declared that, in his estimation, she had never put a foot wrong. That, in the eyes of some, may seem an exaggeration as opponents immediately took the opportunity to recall the famous speech she made in the London Guildhall in 1992 when she referred to her ‘annus horribilus’.

Be that as it may, we cannot but have the greatest of respect for (as the Book of Common Prayer has it) ‘our most gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth’.

And, whatever the degree of her service might be, we know that it is all underpinned by her firmly held Christian faith. in her annual Christmas message the Queen almost invariably take the opportunity to declare how she continues to be strengthened and inspired by God sending his son into the world for all people.

In these recent weeks and months, when a further ‘annus horribilus’ seemed to be fast approaching, our Queen has once again demonstrated her faith-based wisdom and perception.

Perhaps all of us might hope and pray to be sustained by the good news of the Gospel – God’s gracious love and mercy for us all; that ‘Enduring Melody’ which the late Bishop Michael Mayne writes in his life-changing book with that title. In it he talks of the critical truths and experiences that seized and shaped his life; those aspects of faith that speak to him of what is authentic and to which he can return, touching base, as it were, at every stage of his journey through life.

As our Queen enters her sixty-ninth year of service may we be inspired by her constancy and by our common faith in him who is our great Sustainer in life.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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A New World is Coming

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter the run up to the general election is really beginning to take off.

No one knows what result we will wake up to on 13th December; it might be ‘more of the same’ or it might be a completely new regime.

Whatever the outcome, the lives of many could be changed dramatically – if and when all the promises that have been made come into effect.

As December dawns and, through Advent, we approach all that celebrating Christmas means, we find ourselves in a similar situation; will it be ‘more of the same’ – or is there a chance that we might have a new start?

On one hand we may gain great comfort by placing on our Christmas tree fragile glass toys that belonged to our parents or even our grandparents whilst, on the other, modern day technology might mean that we can see and talk with loved ones living many miles away – even on the other side of the world.

If we ponder carefully the essence of the Christmas story we will see that we are fortunate to have the benefit of ‘more of the same’ and the thrill of something new and exciting.

At the heart of it all is God’s great love for humankind in sending his Son to be our Saviour. The fulfilment of the Old Testament promise that ‘a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel’ (Isaiah 7: 14) is unchanging, eternal and a source of deep-seated assurance.

At the same time, we can, indeed must, allow ourselves to engage with what the kernel of the story might mean for us in our own day and age; here, in Alnwick, in 2019 and 2020. What is that might be if, in the words of the well-loved carol, we open up our hearts and really let ‘the dear Christ enter in’?

I want to suggest to you that the careful balance of taking hope and comfort from the age-old Christmas story – and the risky excitement of allowing the love which came down at Christmas to dwell in our hearts and minds so that our actions reflect the love, joy and peace of the Christ-child will result in us having a perfect mixture of ‘more of the same’ and an energising new start.

So, whatever the outcome of the general election – whether it be ‘more of the same’ or a new regime, perhaps we should take our cue from the cowboy’s carol:

“There’ll be a new world beginning from tonight” it says.
A new world informed by and inspired from the message of the angels who, on that night, sang of peace on earth and goodwill to all.

With every blessing for Christmas and all that 2020 has in store,

Paul.

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An Unceasing Chain of Worshippers

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

It is now well over thirty years since I qualified as an accountant.

After several years of studying for exams, at the same time as going to work, I was solemnly elected to membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. My “reward” was that I could place “CPFA” after my name – and pay a large sum of money in subscriptions each year for the privilege of doing so.

When I left secular employment to train for the priesthood I wondered if it was really worth continuing to pay my subscription but was persuaded by a friend to do so. It was, he said, ‘part of who you are.’

But in those years I have made no use whatsoever of my membership. I have been to none of its seminars or any of the regional meetings – I haven’t even taken the cover off the weekly magazine. In effect, all I have done is stump up my membership fee: I am a nominal member – no more than a name on a piece of paper.

Such membership, of course, is meaningless. Belonging to any organisation should mean being involved and playing a part – and this is worth bearing in mind when it comes to being part of the Church.

We may carry the label “Christian” but that by itself is insufficient. We need to meet together, to worship, to pray, to learn and to work together, united in the common cause of Christ. We need to offer our time and our effort as well as our money, looking for ways in which what God has given each of us, in the way of gifts and resources, may be used for the good of all.

Above all, we need to make time for one another, so that we are not simply members on paper but a family in practice. To be Christian means to be part of the body of Christ.

We know that generations of Alnwick folk have worshipped on the site of St. Michael’s at least since the 12th century – perhaps even since the 8th – and so we give thanks that we, in our day, are part of an unceasing chain of worshippers and celebrate the wonderful fact that we belong to Christ and are part of his body in this place.

And as we do so, let us ensure that we make time for that precious fellowship which arises from being part of the Church here in Alnwick. By doing so we will know even better the strength that comes through sharing together in the joys and sorrows of life.

All praise to our redeeming Lord,
who joins us by his grace,
and bids us each to each restored,
together seek his face.

He bids us build each other up;
and, gathered into one,
to our high calling’s glorious hope
we hand in hand go on.
(Charles Wesley)

With every blessing,
Paul.

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Worrying

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I know that some of you, like me, enjoy watching the television programme ‘The Repair Shop’.  If you haven’t seen it, do watch out for an episode.  In the programme a team of skilled and caring craftspeople rescue and restore all manner of items which are precious to people for varying reasons – but which appear beyond repair.

The resident carpenter on the programme is a young man called William Kirk and his skills are phenomenal.  In a recent episode he brought back to life a broken piece of fretwork for a lady whose late father had painstakingly carved the original many years earlier.  It had been made to hang on a wall and read: “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is well”.

It struck a chord with me and so I looked up quotes about ‘worry’ on Google and discovered it had been written by Dale Carnegie, an American self-help expert who wrote the well-known book ‘How to win friends and influence people’.

The article gave several other quotes on the topic of worrying including these:

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength” and “worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due”.

What wisdom there is in those words – yet how hard we find it to act upon them.  We know, deep down, that worry is futile: it not only fails to achieve anything but can actually undermine our ability to face life’s problems – yet, sometimes, we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

Up to a point, that is natural – however sure our trust in God.  When our welfare is threatened, or our loved ones are in any kind of danger, we would be less than human not to worry about it.  Yet to worry about what might happen when there are no grounds to fear it, to fret about possibilities rather than certainties, is foolhardy.  There is time enough to deal with these if and when they arrive without facing them several times over beforehand.

Few things have the power to crush the human spirit like worry, yet the irony is that most of the things we worry about never materialise and those that do are often less awful than we imagined.  And, for the Christian, there is the added confidence that, even when our worst fears are realised, God will be there to support us.

So, if you are worrying about things you cannot change, just stop for a moment and ask yourself what effect this is having on your life.  Remember that God promises to all who love him a peace that passes understanding and then focus on the present moment and living each day in the light of God’s love.

The experience of people of faith shows us, time and time again, that God holds everything in his hands and that, even when our worries prove justified, he give us the strength to get through.  Whatever clouds may appear on the horizon and whatever storms life may throw at us, we should strive to trust God and to be at peace.  As we read in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel:

“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

With this in mind, we can praise God for what has been, thank him for what is and ask him to sanctify what will be.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Jesus is not Safe

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

If you were in church at either 8.00 am or 9.30 am on 18th August you would have heard Gerard preach a most inspiring sermon. In it he brought us face to face with the important, though challenging, concept that Jesus is not ‘safe’.

Now this is quite an uncomfortable truth…for the simple fact is that we all like to feel safe, don’t we? One of the things we hope and pray for, particularly for our loved ones, is that they may be kept safe. A sense of safety and protection is a basic human need. From it flows an ability to face all kinds of difficulties and challenges. For the Christian, such a sense provides us with a quiet but empowering assurance that God, in the form of his only Son, is on our side.

Earlier generations used to sing ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’ and old Sunday school pictures of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ help to reinforce this concept.

My dictionary defines ‘safe’ as: protected from or not exposed to danger or risk. And so, in that respect, a follower of Jesus, getting on with the day to day business of life, risks the same chance of danger and risk as anyone else in their street, village or town. However ‘paid up’ a Christian you (or I) may be, we have no special rights of protection.

But, when Gerard spoke of Jesus not being ‘safe’, I was reminded of Christ’s words to his disciples in John 16:33 – “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

This is such an important truth to grasp as we continue to journey through life, trying our best to be the people Jesus would have us be; keeping alive the rumour of his love in this place.

Our Diocese of Newcastle markets itself under the strapline “Growing Church Bringing Hope” but that growth and that hope can only, and must only, be considered in the reality of everyday life now, in Alnwick, in 2019.

In so doing, there is no protection from danger or risk; indeed, there is likely to be constant exposure to it. Every glimpse or experience of safety we have is, without doubt, a bonus a particular God-given gift. But, please, let us ‘be of good cheer’. Lack of safety in this concept is nothing to worry about. Some may even consider it a cause for rejoicing – for in all we do we know that Christ goes with us every step of the way.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Wholeness and Peace

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Throughout my ministry one of my great interests has been the Church’s ministry of Wholeness and Healing. It is an area which, by prayer and sacrament, the Church has much to offer (not least given all the strains and stresses of modern life) but it is also an area of ministry where I suspect there is still some misunderstanding. Services of Wholeness and Healing are not only for those who are sick but for all who wish to pray for and seek wholeness in their own lives or on behalf of another.

If we are really honest with ourselves we all have need of God’s healing touch in our lives, for none of us is free from brokenness of one kind or another – however much we may like to make those around us believe otherwise.

We may be physically fit but nursing some hurt in our lives; we may be leading so-called full and active lives but, in doing so, we may be placing ourselves under undue pressure and strain. In addition, obeying God’s law of love will almost certainly bring sorrow and upset into our lives at some time or another since pain is the price we pay for love. Whatever our situation, there can be a tendency to shut God out of the picture – but without a clear recognition of his caring presence the darkness will only become darker.

It was, for me, a ‘defining moment’ in my life when I came to realise fully that the Almighty, All-knowing, All-seeing God is also the God who comes alongside us, heals our wounds and binds up the broken-hearted.

And not only that: this self-same God does more than sympathise with us – he is actually right there in the suffering with us. Timothy Rees, in his beautiful hymn “God is Love: let heav’n adore him” puts it like this:

God is love: and he enfoldeth all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching deep within the heart of God.

What a wonderful and comforting fact this is: to know that, whatever obstacles or tragedies may come our way, the God whose very name is love holds out his arms, enfolds us and carries us until we are made whole again.

Recognising this will help us to give God the opportunity to work in us and take away the strains and stresses of life so that we may come to luxuriate in the wholesome peace which was Christ’s parting gift to all who believe.

Our next service of Wholeness and Healing will take place in St. Michael’s at 6.00pm on Sunday 20th October. Many folk have found this opportunity to experience the quiet transforming love of God through the laying-on-of-hands and anointing a memorable encounter and a source of great comfort.

Reading this during August, October might seem a long way off but do consider making a note of this date in your diary and coming along.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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