Gateway Magazine, December 2021

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

Gateway Dec21Jan22
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Christ at Christmas

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
December 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

Having a two-month edition of ‘Gateway’ for December and January means that it covers so much activity in church and in the wider world.

In the church calendar Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ will all take place before our next edition is published.

In the secular world, commercialism (even if lots of it is ‘online’) will witness millions of pounds being spent, people will travel to be with family, and New Year celebrations are expected to be much greater than those of 2021 — always supposing the Covid-19 conditions allow.

As the Church marks the life-changing effects the birth of Christ had on the whole of humanity, the ‘world’ largely celebrates in a way that, seemingly, takes little notice of God’s gift of love.

We can reac in one of two ways to this fact. Either, we can moan and complain that people have ‘taken the Christ out of Christmas’ or, we can continue to do the same thing Christ himself embodied when he walked this earth: love with all our hearts.

It is that gift of God’s great love, demonstrated most fully in the coming of Christ at Christmas, which we must allow into our hearts, lives and actions and which can continue to help others think (even if only for the most fleeting of moments) what it is that compels us to follow the baby in the manger from Bethlehem to the cross and resurrection — events which changed the world for ever.

As Jane and I prepare to leave Alnwick in the New Year my hope is that you will continue to demonstrate God’s love in Christ in all the ways you have done in recent years: faithful in worship; caring for one another; supporting those in need whether locally, nationally or internationally; being accepting of others’ points of view and extending welcome to all who find themselves crossing the threshold of St Michael’s.

Along with a greater care for one another, it is in this latter ministry which I feel we have made real progress — and which we might dare to hope would warm the heart of God as much as it warms the hearts of those who receive that welcome.

After almost ten years as your Vicar it will not surprise you that I want to include some words from a hymn! As Christmas draws near we will inevitably sing ‘O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee. From serving you over the last decade I also know that there is more than enough room in your hearts for the love of God to be active in all that you might be called to do in the months and years ahead.

With every blessing,

Paul

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Rest in the Lord

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
November 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

My lips curled up into a gentle smile last Sunday morning as the organ played before the service and I heard that lovely melody from Mendelssohn ‘s oratorio ‘Elijah’:
‘O rest in the Lord’.

Was it, I wondered, a ‘nod’ to the fact that I had announced my retirement the previous week!

The words come from Psalm 37 which, in the Book of Common Prayer version, read as follows:
“Delight thou in the Lord and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire. Commit thy way unto the Lord and put thy trust in him and he shall bring it to pass.”

Those words have meant a great deal to me all through my ministry as I vividly remember reciting them at Evening Prayer in Cuddesdon Parish Church on my very first day of training. They seemed significant then — just as they do now — and indeed have in the years between.

Whether we ‘rest’ in the Lord or ‘delight’ in the Lord (and I understand, more and more, that we can do both) surely it is the calling of each and every one of us.

God’s promises, made perfect as they are in the sending his Son, involve trust and commitment — but the reward is the fulfilment of our heart’s desire.

So, it seems to me, that whatever stage we might be at in our journey of faith resting and delighting in the Lord are thoroughly worthwhile pursuits!

Jane’s greatest concern for me as I approach retirement in that I have no hobbies. She wonders what on earth I will do to occupy my time when I lay down my current responsibilities.

A few things come to mind. I would be fascinated to trace my family tree; I might join a choir; time to have some gentle but regular exercise…. On the other hand, completely unexpected areas of interest might arise.

So many of those who are already retired tell me that they can’t understand how they found the time to go to work!

And so, although there are still over two months to go before the next adventure begins, whatever my retirement might have in store, it is my hope that I may learn more and more how to ‘rest’ and ‘delight’ in the Lord. And I hope that you will too.

With every blessing,

Paul

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Gateway Magazine, October 2021

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

Gateway Oct 2021
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Michael and all the Angels

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
October 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

Have you noticed how the evenings are already getting darker? We’ve not yet put the clocks back and yet dusk is with us by late afternoon.

Turning out in the dark for meetings or activities is something we have got out of the habit of doing since the first lockdown began but it is heartening to know that social activities in the evening are slowly beginning to take off once again. It’s lovely, for instance, to know that our indoor bowlers at St Michael’s are back in the Parish Hall each Tuesday evening.

Of course, for some, it’s equally good to be able to draw the curtains, put another log on the fire and enjoy the cosiness of an evening at home as the weather turns darker and colder.

In church on Sunday evenings we’ve revised our pattern of worship. We hope that, before too long, we might be able to reform our choir but, at least until then, it is quite a challenge to have a weekly sung Evensong without the lead of our choristers.

Our new pattern leaves Evensong on the first Sunday of the month but this is followed by an Iona-style service, the lovely evening office of Compline and then a Taizé-style service on the second, third and fourth Sundays of the month respectively.

So far this pattern has met with the approval of our Sunday evening congregation and, indeed, we have found that it has attracted others who might not otherwise have been evening worshippers.

Each of these lovely forms of worship have particularly engaging and memorable prayers within them. At Evensong the comforting ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord and, from Compline, ‘Visit, Lord, we pray, this place and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy. Let your holy angels dwell here to keep us in peace ‘

By the time you read this we will have celebrated once again St Michael, chief of the angels and the co-patron of our parish along with St Paul.

Perhaps we should have greater regard for the angels not only as messengers but also as protectors. I, for one, particularly bring them to mind as evening draws on. Perhaps that is from training in a theological college which sung Compline every evening — or maybe it comes from even further back

I suspect I was not the only child of earlier years who regularly sang at the end of the school day:

‘Lord, keep us safe this night, secure from all our fears.
May angels guard us while we sleep,
’til morning light appears. ‘

May you know Michael and all the angels watching over you both day and night.

With every blessing,

Paul

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The Bells at St. Michael’s

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
September 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

The front cover of this edition of our magazine shows Mark, Bishop of Berwick, at the wonderful service of blessing for our ten bells on 9th August before they were transported into the tower over the following two days and then given a ‘test run’ on the evening of 12th August.

What a joy it was to hear the bells pealing out over the town — and expertly rung by a team of ringers from all over Northumberland as well as Newcastle and South Shields.

As I write, the work of ensuring efficient sound control is taking place and within the next few days the refurbished clock face will be returned and attached to the carefully re-sited clock mechanism. Soon the scaffolding will begin to be dismantled and we will once again be able to see the sturdy tower which, if it could speak, would have such tales to tell as it has watched over Alnwick for so many centuries.

These days are, without doubt, an historical time for our church and our town as we look forward to the dedication service at 7.00pm on St, Michael’s Day, 29th September. How privileged we are to witness these happenings.

Soon this amazing set of bells will draw the faithful to worship week by week, ring out joyfully for weddings and mark significant occasions for our town and nation. For all of this, thanks be to God.

Like bells, we to can draw others to worship and show them a better way not by making a noise but by the manner of our lives and the way in which we deal with others.

By living Godly lives — not, however, being over-pious — and by doing that which is right, just and honest we can become recognised as people of faith and integrity and so draw others into our fellowship.

In a hymn which is becoming increasingly popular there is a refrain at the end of each verse:

‘All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us all strive to supplement the call of our new bells by doing what is right in God’s eyes and ensuring a welcome for all who are drawn across the threshold of St. Michael’s.

With every blessing,
Paul

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Thankfulness

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
August 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

I want to begin by thanking many of you for your cards, good wishes and the assurance of prayers during my recent, somewhat unexpected, bout of chickenpox. How I wish I’d experienced this illness as a child rather than at this stage in my life. To be certain, it takes much more effort (and a deal of patience) to recover for those of us who fall into the category ‘of riper years’.

Being laid low did, however, help me to realise how much of our lives we take for granted; perhaps, even, assume as our right. Chief of these must be our health.

My morning routine has always been to get out of bed, jump into the shower, get shaved and dressed and then be ready for what the day brings. Just at the moment, by the time I get to the end of those simple tasks I’m quite exhausted. I know, of course, that each day will see me getting a little stronger and that my supplies of energy will increase but I have resolved to try and be more thankful for such simple yet profound good fortune.

Thankfulness really does need to pervade every aspect of our being. We have a roof over our heads; there is food in our stomachs; we know love and companionship from family and friends; as lockdown eases, we are increasingly free to go where we want and see whom we will.

Equally, in our lives of faith, we have untold freedom to worship without hindrance: a right which is still denied to many across our world. So let’s not take that wonderful freedom for granted either. Rather, let us be thankful for all that is good and, more importantly, to actively seek out and enumerate each day the good fortune that is ours.

I worry that a perfunctory ‘nod’ to God that ‘all is well’ each day has been my attitude for far too long and am increasingly convinced that a real acceptance of his goodness and his bounty should feature much more in my prayers.

In sickness and in health we can, I am convinced, train ourselves to accentuate the positive.

With Jane, I used to visit a former parishioner of hers who, bent double with arthritis, had been bedridden for many years. In a residential home, with a brick wall for a view, that dear lady gave thanks each day for the tree behind the wall as she watched the buds appear in springtime, then the blossom and then the glorious colours of autumn.

And so I lay before you, too, the suggestion that we should actively look for reasons to be thankful and praise God for our good fortune.

With every blessing,

Paul

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Gateway Magazine, August 2021

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

Gateway Aug 2021 v2
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A Message from Gerard

There’s only short space here to fit in a great deal of gratitude as my time at St Michael’s comes to an end. I hope that I’ll get a chance to say goodbye and thank you to many of you in person, but, if I don’t, I hope that each of you knows what a privilege it has been to know and minister among you. My primary thanks of course, go to Paul for his support as a wise and encouraging Training Incumbent. It has been an honour to work alongside him as I’ve gained experience of parish ministry in preparation for being let loose on the church on my own! Thank you also to each of you. I have learned huge amounts from sitting in living rooms and chatting over tea (and maybe a bit of cake!), from praying with you, from hearing what it means to you to follow Christ in your own way. I’ll take each of those experiences with me into the rest of my ministry.

As we, as a family, move on and settle into a new chapter in our lives, can I finish by asking for your prayers. For the children as they settle into new routines and a new school. For Karen as she sets up teaching in a new area. And for me as I begin a new ministry, particularly for wisdom in discerning what steps are needed to strengthen and encourage the team ministering there. St Michael’s will continue in my prayers, and I’m deeply grateful for yours!

My Licensing to the new parish will be on Wednesday 8th September at 7.30pm in St Aidan’s Brunton Park. Anyone who would like to come would be very welcome.

Thank you to you all, from us all, for a wonderful three years!

Gerard

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St. Michael’s post-pandemic

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
July 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

Many of us had hoped that, by the time you were reading this, we would have been released from ‘lockdown’ and things might have been returning to normal — whatever that might mean.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that following the trauma of the last fifteen months, a new normal will need to be established in so many facets of life. The world — including our little part of it here in Alnwick — has changed and we need to reassess all sorts of ways of life that we previously took for granted.

And so I want to take the opportunity of using this letter to talk particularly about how we may best ‘be Church’ here in St. Michael’s in our new, postpandemic, life and especially with regard to Sunday worship.

Those who have been counting will know that in the last year we have seen the deaths of eleven of our most committed members: people who were in church faithfully, week by week, and whose presence and fellowship we miss greatly. This loss represents approximately 10% of our worshipping community.

And added to this, there are still those amongst our number who do not yet feel ready to return to church and who, along with a good number of others, are maintaining their connection through YouTube and Zoom.

All of this has led to much prayer and reflection — particularly on the pattern of Sunday worship now that more settled times are on the horizon.

After a fair degree of consultation and with the agreement of the Parochial Church Council we hope to begin, from July, a new pattern of worship which will be reviewed after a six month period.

Our aim has always been to offer, within the scope of our abilities, worship which caters for the broad spectrum of those who have made St. Michael’s their spiritual home. Over the years this has evolved from the days when Early Communion, Matins and Evensong were the ‘staple diet’ of Sundays to the pattern we had of four services each Sunday until we were hit by Coronavirus.

Later Morning Worship at 11.15am has become increasingly challenging to sustain each week as people have died, become infirm or moved away. Of course, over the years, it has been of special significance to considerable numbers of folk who have felt particularly valued, nurtured and able to give of themselves because of the informal nature of a smaller gathering.

It is important that we give thanks for the real blessings that many have received from that worship (not least, in recent years, the leadership of Sue Allen) as we launch out in faith into a new way of being.

Details of our new pattern of worship are given on the front inside cover and, as we try to pick up the pieces of our new normal, I would ask that you keep all of this in your prayers.

With every blessing,

Paul

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