“My Chains fell off, ….”

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
June 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter the Prime Minister has just officially informed the nation that we can proceed to the next stage on the roadmap to recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic – freeing us up to begin to put back together the pieces of our lives. This is thanks, in no small measure, to the amazing rollout of the vaccination programme and, before we do anything else, we should give profound thanks for our National Health Service – still the envy of the world.

However slowly we begin our individual routes back to a less restrictive way of being there is so much to be thankful for. We are being freed up to socialise in a limited way once again, to hug – and be hugged, perhaps even to stay with friends and family if they don’t live too far away.

I am reminded of the line in the hymn “my chains fell off, my heart was free …”

And, at the rate time seems to be flying by, it won’t be too long until the next date in June and further restrictions are lifted. Further chains can fall off and, hopefully, much anxiety can be cast aside.

Being freed up to be who we are is critical to our general wellbeing – and the world is beginning to realise this. We now have Mental Health Awareness Week – a concept that was simply unheard of just a short while ago. Increasingly, people in the public eye (those who seem to have ‘everything’) are prepared to share with others that their seemingly enviable lives have often been fraught with problems and difficulties. These brave souls have released themselves from the veneer of perfection and admitted that they are scarred and vulnerable.

In his book ‘Simply Free’ Fr. Gerald O’Mahony says: “I’m free to grow because I am free to be less than perfect”.

As we make our way into our new unrestricted, post-pandemic life and allow our chains to fall off let’s not try too hard to strive for perfection. Rather, let us aim to grow – in contentment, in faith, in hope and in love.

None of these areas of growth require perfection – simply a willingness to allow God to work in us and for us to strive to be the best we can.

In the book of the prophet Micah (Chapter 6, verse 8) we read: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If we can do this and, at the same time, acknowledge that we are less than perfect we may know a freedom equal – or greater – than the falling off of chains.

     With every blessing,

Paul

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Gateway Magazine, June 2021

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

Gateway June 2021
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Journey Out of Lockdown

St Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
May 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As we continue to journey along our roadmap out of lockdown it had been really good to see so many people returning to church. Last Sunday, at the 10.00am service, there were sixty-nine people in the building (all well socially-distanced) and a further fifty-four ‘hits’ on our YouTube channel. Several of the ‘hits’ were from homes where more than one person was watching.

The decision about whether to come back to church or to worship from home is, of course, entirely individual and we recognise fully the fact that some are either unable to come or simply not yet ready to return. As the second vaccines are administered and time goes by we hope that more will feel able to return but, in the meantime, we should be very grateful for the technology (and the very talented operators of the equipment) which allows us to be the body of Christ in this place — whether physically or virtually.

Whether presiding or preaching, I really do feel that those who are watching from a distance are very much part of the worshipping community and my hope is that they, too, feel ‘in touch’ with what is going on.

Technical expertise in the parish also allows us to have our monthly ‘Sunday Plus’ services on a Sunday afternoon as well as our weekly Zoom coffee sessions, Thursday evening service of Compline and a book Group! We were also able to take part in a most inspiring Lent Course via Zoom.

So, even those of us (including me, the chief of Luddites) who are uncertain — or even dismissive — of technology have benefited from changes in church life which have allowed us to stay in touch.

For many, one of the most difficult aspects of the current regulations has been our inability to take part in congregational singing. We remain grateful that we can reflect quietly on the words of hymns as the organ is played but we all recognise, I think, that it’s not quite the same as offering the praise of our lips as our voices blend together. This, of course, is where those who ‘worship from afar’ have the advantage: they can sing as lustily (and as out of tune) as they wish!

My point in writing all of this is:

  • To give thanks for what we have;
  • To help us realise we can still be the body of Christ;
  • To accept that our pattern of worship might never be quite what it was;
  • To recognise that this might be a way of prompting us to think afresh what it is that honours God most.

However you feel happiest at the moment, please never lose sight that God receives our worship and hears our prayers.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship our spirit finds is like to that above.

Before our 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

We have been saddened by the loss of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

God of our lives,

we give thanks for the life of Prince Philip,

for his love of our country,

and for his devotion to duty.

We entrust him now to your love and mercy,

through our Redeemer Jesus Christ

Amen.

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Recovery

St Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
April 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this we are preparing, as a church, to take part in the National Day of Reflection marking a full year since our country first went into lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

What a year it has been. We have, of necessity, learned a new way to be and to do. Our lives have been restricted in ways that, even for those who can recall wartime, we could never have imagined. We have been separated from family and friends; we have been unable to mark occasions of celebration and sadness as we would have wanted; travel has been more of less impossible and, in the media in the last few days, we have heard that many people are declaring that they fear they have lost the art of socialising.

Our ‘normal’ church life has been completely disrupted but, at the same time, we have learned new ways to worship and to show Christian friendship and love in this place. Thanks to the technical skills of a very few talented people we have managed to stream worship into your homes, to hold regular ‘Zoom’ coffee times and enjoy a fascinating Lent course almost as if we were in the same room.

In addition I have been greatly heartened at the way in which people have cared for each other through regular telephone contact or socially distanced visits.

And in our town generally I have felt an air of caring and recognition in the way people have watched out for one another.

Perhaps most of all we should be thankful for the way in which the vaccine process has been rolled out. Many of us are now receiving their second dose and the courtesy and efficiency with which this has been carried out is a cause for much gratitude.

So, as we follow the roadmap to recovery with important landmark dates in place between now and June we give thanks and pray that mutual respect and common sense will continue to prevail as we are give a fresh chance to consider a way forward in a changed world.

Easter, of course, gives us a roadmap to recovery too. Recovery from the darkness of Good Friday to the glory and celebration of Easter Day and Jesus risen from the dead.

In the sadness and the rejoicing of those three days (and all that it means for our future) we see love. We see God’s love demonstrated to us to in the way we have seen people cope with the difficult circumstances of the last year – not least in the way in which we have helped one another simply get through the difficult days.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous song from ‘Aspects of Love’ springs to mind: ‘Love, love changes everything.’ Indeed it does!

In a new publication from the Iona Community are the following words:

Everything dies.
Life dies.
Death dies.
Everything is done.

Except love.

Only love is not done.
Only love will not die.
Everything is finished except love.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

At some point everything will be done.
Except love.
Love is never done.

With every blessing for Easter and as you journey on.

Paul

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Nurturing the Seeds

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
March 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

In early January Jane began her gardening year by planting tomato seeds.

This year we will have red, yellow and black – yes, black – tomatoes.

The seeds were carefully nurtured in the warmth of the house but now, with plants some three to four inches high, they are lovingly transported to the greenhouse each morning and then returned to the house overnight.

Whilst Jane simply loves the whole process of propagation and nurture I’m afraid my real interest is in consuming the end product. At the height of the season I’d be very happy to have home-grown tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper!

Perhaps it is because of ‘lockdown’ but I do find that I’ve taken more interest in watching the seedlings grow this year. Indeed, I was fascinated, when the tiny plants were mainly on the kitchen windowsill, to watch them grow and, more especially, to see how they needed to be turned each day as the leaves reoriented themselves to the direction of sun, growing taller and stronger as a result.

And then, at our streamed Eucharist for Candlemas, Gerard introduced me to a hymn I’d not come across before. I’ve found myself returning to the words regularly and they have become a source of encouragement and hope:

        In a world where people walk in darkness,
        let us turn our faces to the light, to the light of God
        revealed in Jesus, to the daystar scattering our night.

        For the light is stronger than the darkness and the day
        will overcome the night, though the shadows linger all
        around us, let us turn our faces to the light.

Paul.

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Gateway Magazine, March 2021

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:

Gateway Magazine March 2021
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Lent Prayer

A Lent Prayer

Lord, it is Lent. Lent is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is Lent after a long year. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.

Lent is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

Lent is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

Lent heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray. Amen.

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Towards a Thankful Lent 2021

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
February 2021

Dear Friends,
LENT 2021

Jennie and Iris were great friends and stalwart members of the church where I grew up and I remember them with great fondness.

Coming out of Evensong many years ago I recall a conversation that went something like this:
Iris: “Goodness, what miserable hymns we had tonight!”
Jennie: “Well, of course. It’s Lent; we’re meant to be miserable!”

It was at that point I resolved that, if ever I was to become ordained, I would ensure we avoided miserable hymns during Lent.

Despite the best attempts of many, it seems as if we have been in a permanent Lent for the last year. Undoubtedly, we have so much to be thankful for. There has been untold goodwill and concern. People have shown care and kindness for each other in a way that has been encouraging and refreshing — and now, as the vaccine is being rolled out so efficiently, there are signs of further hope which warm our hearts. For all of this: thanks be to God!

In the introduction to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist the president says: “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent”- Despite the call to repentance which we receive each Ash Wednesday (and, indeed, every time we celebrate the Eucharist) we are reminded too that it is followed by the assurance of forgiveness. Nowhere does the Church invite us to the observance of a miserable Lent. And so, this year in particular, I want to invite you to the observance of a thankful Lent.

Let us use the six weeks which lie ahead of us to be thankful and positive in our outlook and in the time we spend in prayer and reflection.

Of course, if giving up milk in your tea, or lemon in your gin and tonic, really helps you then far be it from me to dissuade you from such practices. I would, however, urge you to be especially thankful for the things and people we often take for granted, to recognise each day the love which God demonstrates in sending us his Son and, above all, to be kind to yourself.

In these restricted times we will continue each Sunday with our streamed service of Holy Communion on YouTube at 10.00am and with our Zoom coffee time afterwards.

On Ash Wednesday (17th February) there will be a streamed service of Holy Communion at 10.15am which can also be viewed at any time later in the day if the morning session is not convenient for you.

In addition we will broadcast a simple service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer each Wednesday of Lent at 10.15am and on Thursday evenings we will be able to meet via Zoom when Gerard will guide us through ‘The Character Course’ which promises to be fascinating.

Further instructions on joining in all of this can be found on our website alnwickanglican.com as detailed at the top of this letter.

Below, you will also find a selection of bible passages and prayers — some well-known, others less so — which I hope you will find helpful in the keeping of a thankful Lent.
With the assurance of my prayers and the hope that, before long, we may meet again as the gathered family of God in this place.

Paul.

You can see Towards a Thankful Lent here.

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Gateway Magazine, February 2021

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:

Gateway Magazine February 2021
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Bishop Mark

St. Michael’s Vicarage,  Alnwick

February 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

It was a delight and a privilege to have Bishop Mark, our new Bishop of Berwick, preach at our streamed service on Sunday 24th January when we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Bishop Mark subsequently joined us for our Zoom coffee session after the service and, amongst a wide variety of topics discussed, he echoed the feelings of many of us when he pointed out how eager he was to be able to be out, meeting with people and engaging in a more natural way than through streaming and Zoom meetings.

Of course we all recognise how fortunate we are to have modern methods of being in touch and the great blessings we can derive from instant communication in a way that our forebears would have thought impossible.

We are perhaps equally aware of the way in which these technological miracles can be misused.

Who would have thought that any world leader might find themselves removed from their greatest vehicle of communication because of their inability to express themselves in a temperate manner?

So, yet again, we are reminded that things which are, on face value, such a blessing can, in the wrong hands, be spoiled and abused.

In the world of communications St. Paul was, in his time, most definitely a leader in his field.  Undoubtedly some of his pronouncements were controversial but, as Bishop Mark reminded us in his sermon, Paul listened for the word of God in his life.

The book of Proverbs (21: 23) reminds us: ‘To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble’.

However we find ourselves communicating, now and when this pandemic has come to an end, let us do so with mutual respect, with an ear to what God might be saying to us and for the building up of relations and, above all, the Kingdom of God.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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