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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Gateway Magazine, June 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 June edition on this website. It’s available as a downloadable pdf, or via the embedded pdf viewer below.

June 20
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“Ordinary” Time

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I looked in my diary the other day I could not help but smile. According to our church calendar we will be entering Ordinary Time at the beginning of June!

Well, from most people’s point of view, there’s nothing very ordinary about the times we live in at the moment.

Ordinary Time is, of course, simply a way of recognising that we have come to the end of the cycle which begins at Advent and then takes us through our annual commemoration of Christ’s life from his birth to his ascension and culminating in the gift of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Dr. Paula Gooder, a former lecturer at my old theological college and now Canon Chancellor at St. Paul’s Cathedral, wrote a book a few years ago entitled ‘Everyday God’ in which she says:

“Ordinary is out of fashion; so much so, in fact, that calling something ‘ordinary’ suggests that it is somehow substandard, disappointing and certainly lacklustre.”

She then goes on to acknowledge the simple truth that most of us, even those with a perceived ‘glamorous’ lifestyle, have significant periods of ordinariness in our lives. More importantly, Paula then points out that, within these periods of ordinariness, there can be a richness and a deep potential for reflection and encounter.

How right she is! For most of us ‘lockdown’ has provided us with an opportunity to spend a little more ‘quality time’ in which perhaps to read, to be in our garden, to pray and to reflect.

In his sermon last Sunday, Gerard recommended lying flat on our backs and gazing at the sky. Already I’ve had e-mails from several of our congregation who have taken that advice quite literally. But, if getting down on the ground (or, more specifically, getting back up!) is too much of a challenge for you, a comfy chair would work equally well.

Whatever position you adopt, I want to suggest to you that, even within the unprecedented extra-ordinariness of these current times, there is great value in recognising the ordinariness of our daily lives.

As we continue with ‘the trivial round, the common task’ there is a huge opportunity to take stock of (and give thanks for) all that God has done and continues to do for us.

Within the constraints of our current situation let’s use a little of our time to celebrate how fortunate we are to have ordinary yet essential blessings in our lives (whether it be the breath we take, the ‘phone call we receive or the unexpected act of kindness done for us) and, perhaps, to realise how extraordinary each of them are.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Little Things

This letter, and the rest of St Michael’s Church magazine, are also available as a pdf on this website.

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

None of us has previously experienced such times as those in which we currently find ourselves. At the time of writing this letter it seems that ‘lockdown’ is likely to continue for several more weeks and, as we continue in this restricted way of life, I have been heartened to hear of, and experience, a number of simple, kind gestures – acts of love – which are taking place.

From the amazing achievement of Captain Tom Moore in his fundraising effort for the National Health Service to the kindness of the unknown person who left fresh eggs of the Vicarage doorstep, ‘little things’ can have a profound effect.

Do you perhaps remember, as I do, singing at Sunday School the hymn:

‘Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean and the beauteous land’?

The third verse goes like this:

‘Little deeds of kindness, little acts of love,
make our earth an Eden, like the heaven above.’

“Childish doggerel” you may say; and perhaps you’re right. But the essence of the message is valid.

Adversity seems, somehow, to bring out the best in people – just as familiarity breeds contempt.

In a trice, it seems, we begin to value things which previously we took for granted or to which we never gave a second thought.

I have been overwhelmed at the positive response arising from the ‘Spiritual Companion’ we issued for Holy Week and Easter. Telephone calls, letters of appreciation and e-mails have flooded in from people saying how grateful they were to know that they were, in some way, ‘’joined’ with other folk from St. Michael’s in their Easter worship.

Yes, that booklet involved some effort and some expense (‘though a very kind donation resulting from receiving the booklet largely covered the cost of postage) but, in relation to the response it felt negligible.

And so I simply want to say to you this month what many have been saying since the early days of this epidemic: ‘Be kind’.

Being kind, showing love in the simplest of ways can be profound beyond measure – and it is at the very heart of the Gospel.

With every blessing,
Paul.

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Gateway Magazine, May 2020

St. Michael’s Church is still 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

May 20
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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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