Vicar’s Blog

Do As We Can

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Holidays dictate that I write this monthly letter further away from the deadline date than is usual. I was reminded, however, that for the July edition of ‘Gateway’, writing only a day or two before the European Referendum, my prophetic powers left something to be desired…

So, by the time you actually read this, who knows what might be happening in our town, our country and our world?

As I sit at my desk writing this letter we are just beginning to take on board the enormity of the shocking terrorist attack in Nice and the increased uncertainty around all that is happening in Turkey.

Our world, our lives – and all that goes on in them – feel much less secure and predictable than was once the case; and respect for the preciousness or sanctity of human life considerably reduced.

Through every generation of history, we read of countless ways in which humanity has devised new and increasingly horrific ways of disregarding this sanctity of life – and, as a result, we quite understandably tend to lose sight of the vast number of unrecorded acts of love and mercy and kindness which, day by day, counteract those things which are negative and evil in our world.

And so the temptation to wallow in negative thoughts about the state of the nations must also be balanced – indeed overcome – by Christian hope and by an unceasing commitment to work, wherever we can, justly and peaceably.

Jane regularly reminds me of a little maxim which is full of truth:

“You cannot do everything: but what you can do you must.”

As we continue to journey “through all the changing scenes of life” we realise that none of us can change our world single-handedly but that should never deter us from doing what we can.

Perhaps, like me, you can remember singing in Sunday School:

“Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean and the beauteous land.

Little deeds of kindness, little words of love,
make our earth an Eden, like the heaven above.”

They may sound outdated and sentimental in the harsh light of 2016 but they convey a way of being which help us to understand the work God would have us do in his name and to his glory.

With every blessing,
Paul.

Community

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter people are making their way to polling stations to vote in the referendum about Britain’s membership of the European Union.

‘Gateway’ is not the place to take sides on this matter – and people, largely, will have made up their minds some time ago. One thing, however, does interest me greatly. There has been much talk, and a huge amount written down in newspapers and social media about the EU – the European Union.

Perhaps I’ve been asleep but, until fairly recently, we almost invariably spoke about the European Community. What, I wonder, has changed? Has the idea of a European Community become unfashionable – or unacceptable? And, if it has, why?

Where there is a real sense of community life things almost invariably thrive. That can be true not only in international affairs and trading but in every gathering it is possible to think about: family, school, workplace, village, town, church, sports club, office to mention but a few.

In a community, people think not only of themselves but also of those with whom, to quote the Acts of the Apostles, they live and move and have their being. Whilst a community is made up of individuals who have some, but not necessarily all, things in common there is usually an acknowledgement that it is better (and often more effective) to be together than apart.

This is particularly true of the Christian church.

Despite there being several matters over which all Christians find it difficult to agree, it remains Christ’s wish that we should eventually all be one in him.

More locally, in Alnwick, we are incredibly blessed to be able to work together across the denominations of our town in all sorts of positive and helpful ways – recognising our common fellowship as a community of Christians.

Within a large church like St. Michael’s, where we have four effectively distinct congregations on a Sunday, we must be constantly working towards a visible unity which would allow us to flourish as one family united in our common fellowship in Christ.

If you are in any doubt about our need for each other then read, and read again, the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Recognising our interdependence of each other – our need to be a visible unity – not only for our own good but for the good of Christ is critical to what we do, if we want to do it effectively.

Coming together socially is proving to be a splendid way forward in this respect. Our recent lunch in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday was an excellent example of this and soon (15th July) we will be enjoying a Northumbrian Evening together. Please don’t think of these occasion as just ‘for those that like that sort of thing’! Come along and be ‘built up in Christ’ through a strengthening of community spirit in St. Michael’s.

It is said that those who pray together stay together. We are called to do more than that. We are called to flourish and grow, to enjoy each other’s company and learn more and more of what strong community is all about.

With every blessing,

Paul.

Not-so Ordinary Time

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

Since 29th November last year (the first Sunday of Advent) the Church has had a long round of celebrations and observations. We have prepared ourselves for the birth of Jesus, celebrated that wonderful fact at Christmas, remembered the visit of the Wise Men with their gifts and the fact that God’s only Son was baptised in the River Jordan.

We’ve journeyed with Christ in his forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and walked with him in the last and most holy week of his earthly life recalling his gift of Holy Communion and washing of the disciples’ feet, his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection on Easter Day.

We have thought again about the appearances he made to his followers after his resurrection, celebrated his ascension into heaven and rejoiced in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Finally, we have acknowledged the mystery of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit on Trinity Sunday.

So, what do we do now?

Well, the Church asks us to enter ‘Ordinary Time’. With all these celebrations and observations over, it could be thought of as an opportunity to ‘coast’ for a while, to simply get on with the day to day business of leading our lives.

I’d like to suggest to you that there is nothing at all ‘ordinary’ about ‘Ordinary Time.’ I’d like to suggest to you that each new day is a special – even extraordinary – gift in itself.

Each new day will bring with it a unique mix of blessings and challenges. Some days there will be more blessings than challenges and on others the balance will be reversed. But, in each and every unique blend, we should remind ourselves that God is with us and that he rejoices with us when things are going well whilst grieving with us in our times of unhappiness and despair.

God never leaves us completely desolate: he walks alongside us each step of the way – and that seems to me to be pretty extraordinary! Irrespective of our acknowledgement of his presence, he is never far from us. Indeed, he is closer to us than our very breath.

So, let us take every opportunity to recognise and celebrate the wonder of ‘Ordinary Time’, let us value the uniqueness of every day and of each of the people with whom we have to do.

In one way the long round of celebrations may be over for another year but, in another, each new day gives us the opportunity to count our blessings and put our hand into the hand of him who loves us so much he sent his Son to show us the way.

New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

New mercies each returning day,
hover around us while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
John Keble (1792-1866)

With every blessing,

Paul.

The Queen at 90

Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter our Queen is celebrating her 90th birthday.

I am sure that she is inundated with messages of congratulation and goodwill – and rightly so. Hers has been a lifetime of service and she has been (and continues to be) a fine example of devotion to duty, of faith and of integrity.

She may be handing over a number of her responsibilities to other members of her family but, as the oldest and longest serving of any British monarch, she continues to have a workload far, far greater than most people of her advanced age.

Whether or not you are a royalist I believe we should all be heartened by a statement which was shared recently on social media. Her Majesty has said:

‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.
I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.’

As the happiness continues, and we look forward to the second weekend in June when the time of her official birthday is marked and the nation will celebrate in a variety of ways, we would all do well to consider these words very carefully indeed.

If each of us were to live our lives by the teaching and example of Christ we would find energy to go on and strength in times of trouble and the world would, indeed, be a better place.
But, if making the world a better place sounds a little ambitious then let me remind you that mighty oaks do, indeed, from little acorns grow. Little by little, each of us can play our part with the gifts God has given us to help bring about more of his kingdom here in Alnwick.

Already, of course, many of our church family contribute both to the life of St Michael’s and the wider community by giving of their time and expertise in all sorts of different ways – but, please, don’t let that prevent you from looking for ways in which you can be more active in giving back to God what he has given to you. As our Queen continues to demonstrate, age need not be a barrier!

At St Michael’s we will have our celebrations on Sunday 12th June when the 9.30am and 11.15am congregations will come together at 10.00am for a joint act of worship at which the preacher will be our own Canon Alan Craig – one of the Queen’s Honorary Chaplains. After our usual post-service coffee we will then enjoy a Parish Lunch together at 12.00noon. Tickets will be £10.00 per person and should be on sale by the time you read this letter. Do make a note of the date, purchase a ticket and come along to join in the fun!

We should not forget, either, that our Queen is Head of the Church of England and that we should pray regularly for her that she may continue to be given strength, wisdom and faith to carry out her responsibilities.

Heavenly Father,
as we celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Her Majesty the Queen,
receive our heartfelt thanks
for all that you have given her in these ninety years
and for all that she has given to her people.
continue, we pray, your loving purposes in her,
and as you gather us together in celebration,
unite us also in love and service to one another,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With every blessing,
Paul.

Recognising Our Blessings

St Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

All of us take so much for granted. If we wake up in the darkness of the night, we can stretch out an arm and, at the flick of a switch, we have light. If we come home from work or shopping on a cold winter’s day we can be pretty certain that the central heating will provide us with a warm, cosy house. If we suddenly decide it would be nice to have a chat with a friend or relative, we pick up our mobile ’phone and, hey presto, we’re texting or speaking to them within seconds – whether they live in Seahouses or Seattle!

And then there are all the wonderful ways in which our medical professionals and the National Health Service (with all its shortcomings) help life to be free from pain and discomfort – or at least alleviate some of its worst excesses.

But it’s not only technical and medical advances in recent years which, generally speaking, go to make our life a pleasant existence. Just call to mind the sight of a glorious sunset over the Northumberland coast or the joy we derive from witnessing the excitement of a child on Christmas morning.

To our shame, we often give little more than a nodding acknowledgement – if that – to the wonders, the miracles of daily life.

All this comes to mind because of a conversation I had a short while ago with a Roman Catholic nun. She was asking me about my life and background and I expressed to her how fortunate I believed I had been in having a loving, stable family, a happy and contented childhood, the benefits of a good education, a rewarding time in my previous profession as an accountant, a wonderfully fulfilling experience of Christian ministry and priesthood and then, more recently, the joy and companionship of married life. “In short,” I declared, “I’ve had a charmed existence.”

“Surely you mean your life has been richly blessed” she replied.

And, of course, she was exactly right – and incredibly perceptive! Furthermore, she made me realise the need to acknowledge the source of such blessedness. Not only were the opportunities that I have had (and continue to have) God-given, but the motivation and the energy I needed (and need) to respond to them also come from that same God who gives and sustains all life.

Often, at the Eucharist we say: “Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour and the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.” (1 Chronicles 29:11)

Perhaps we should consider making this acknowledgement of God’s repeated intervention in our lives part of our daily prayers. Indeed, if thankfulness to God for all his blessings were to be an ongoing part of each Christian life, how different the world might be!

To get back to my old “soapbox” it’s all about seeing glasses as half-full rather than half-empty. Let’s all make an effort to recognise the blessings which are ours each hour and each day – and, having recognised them, let’s give thanks not only in our prayers but in our manner of life and in our dealings with one another.

In the words of George Herbert – which I know I’ve quoted to you before:

“Lord, who has given so much to me;
give one thing more, a grateful heart.”

With every blessing,
Paul

Vicar installed as Honorary Canon at Newcastle Cathedral

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The Vicar of St Michael’s Church, Alnwick, the Rev’d Paul Scott, has been made an Honorary Canon of St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle at an evening service on Sunday, 13th March.

The title of Honorary Canon is given as a recognition of dedicated service in the diocese. Paul has been Vicar of Alnwick since 2012 and last year was made the local Area Dean. Following three years as Curate of North Shields he was then Vicar of St Mark’s, Shiremoor for nine years before coming to Alnwick. Born a little further up the coast in Cresswell, Paul is thought to be the first Northumbrian Vicar of Alnwick for over 200 years.

The ceremony, in St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, was presided over by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Christine Hardman and the installation carried out by the Dean of Newcastle, the Very Reverend Christopher Dalliston.

During his sermon, the Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, Right Rev’d Frank White said, “We are here to honour you for your service to God and our neighbours. It is appropriate that you receive this recognition in a time of prayer and worship, and we hope that this will be a springboard to greater things in the future.”

The Rev’d Canon Paul Scott said, “I was both humbled and honoured by the invitation to become an Honorary Canon of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral.  I have many happy associations with the Cathedral – not least as the place where I was ordained Deacon and Priest and where Jane and I were married.  I look forward to doing what I can to support the witness and ministry of the Cathedral and to promote its life, and the many exciting activities that happen there, in this part of Northumberland.”

A group from St Michael’s Church and other well-wishers from Alnwick also travelled to Newcastle to witness the ceremony alongside former parishioners from North Shields and Shiremoor.

Photos courtesy of the Diocese of Newcastle.

Article in the Northumberland Gazette

Good News – Now

Dear People of Alnwick,

Do you remember in the “old days” when it was the common practice to lay newspaper under the carpet? A few years later, probably when redecorating, it was always interesting to read what had been in the news at the time. Often, events which seemed important then had completely gone from our minds.

And, of course, it’s no different today: yesterday’s news is old news. How different is the good news of the resurrection! For Christians, that good news is as fresh this Easter as it was on the first Easter Day.

Why? Because, if we will allow it, it continues to change lives in the present. Each new day the wonder of Christ’s resurrection offers hope and fresh beginnings to believers across the world.

Easter Day, like every other day, consists of only twenty-four hours; the Church’s season of Easter lasts for only fifty days – but the message that Christ is risen from the dead is good news every day.

None of us should underestimate the continuing power of the Easter message to speak in our lives – and the lives of other people – even in Alnwick in 2016!

So let us make it a priority this Eastertide to thank God that the message – the good news – of Easter is not just about events long ago – but about now; not just about others – but about me; not just about certain aspects of life – but about life itself.

And let us also thank God for the truths of Easter which Christ’s victory brings:

of good over evil;
of love over hate;
of life over death;
of weakness into strength;
of fear into courage;
of doubt into faith.

With the message of Easter in our hearts even the dullest day can be pierced with the light of the resurrection and so new beginnings can happen –even where there is despair.

So my prayer this Eastertide is that, with this great hope in our hearts, those we meet may see that Jesus’ victory over death and the grave actually makes a difference in our lives. If they do, it could be the beginning of him making a difference in theirs too.

Jesus lives! For us he died;
then, alone to Jesus living,
pure in heart may we abide,
glory to our Saviour giving. Alleluia!

With every blessing,
Paul.

Lenten Activity

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter, having only a few days ago put the Christmas decorations in the loft, I am conscious that Lent will soon be upon us – so three cheers for the Archbishop of Canterbury who is backing a suggestion that the date of Easter should be fixed – presumably allowing us a little lengthier break between singing ‘We three kings’ and ‘Forty days and forty nights’!

Over the years I have attended, contributed to and led numerous Lent Courses. Amongst those that were most memorable was a series led by the late Brother Edward SSF in the early 1970’s on famous Anglicans who had influenced his thought and, more recently, two courses based on splendid little books by Bishop Stephen Cottrell called ‘The Nail’ and ‘The Things He Carried.’

I do, however, have one slight hesitation about traditional Lenten activity. Extremely worthy though our acts of discipline and self-denial may be (and they are) the very kernel of our faith, Christ’s victory over death through his resurrection from the dead, can get side-lined.

With this in mind, the plan is that we spend this coming Lent looking at some implications of the resurrection – and, not least, implications for us here in 21st Century Alnwick.

We hope to have two groups (at least) running: an afternoon session and an evening one – and more details of times and venues will be published soon.

Working with the title: ‘ENCOUNTERS – meeting the risen Jesus!’ we will hold five sessions which will enable us to reflect on people’s encounters with Jesus after his resurrection, and to think through the implications for our own lives.

I hope that, as I do, many will feel excited by this prospect for it seems to me a golden opportunity to grow together in faith and in understanding.

Do consider joining one of these groups and please, don’t think ‘Oh that’s all right for those who enjoy that sort of thing, but it’s not for me …’ It might just be that it is exactly for you!

Even before we begin, I know that we will not end up with lots of perfect answers. Actually, that is not the purpose of the exercise: rather, it will give us an opportunity to reflect together and to consider just why it is that we say (in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo) ‘We are an Easter people and ALLELUIA! is our song!’

Amongst everything else that we do during Lent, including giving things some up and/or taking extra things on, may we come to Easter Day understanding a little more why it is such Good News!

With every blessing,
Paul.

God’s Eyes at Christmas

Dear People of Alnwick,

In his best-selling book ‘Prayers of Life’ the French Roman Catholic priest, Michel Quoist wrote:

I would like to rise very high, Lord,
Above my city
Above the world
Above time,
I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.

What, I wonder, is God thinking at the moment as he looks down on his world and sees the way his children are abusing it and each other?

If the perpetrators of the recent carnage in Paris took a moment to look down on the world, which they are in the process of destroying, I wonder if they would see anything of the amazing beauty of creation or the huge potential there is for men and women everywhere to live in peace, in mutual respect and in harmony?

And if we, as individuals, could borrow God’s eyes and look down on his world for a brief period, what would we see?

All is fragile – very fragile – and respect for human life and dignity is at an incredibly low ebb.

But this world of ours has dealt with fragility before – when the Son of God was born a fragile little baby in a feeding-trough in Bethlehem. And that fragile little baby brought with him HOPE – the theme of Advent which leads us into rejoicing as we celebrate his presence with us at Christmas.

So we should look for signs of hope – however small – here in our church and in our town. Did you know, for instance, that nine full car loads of bedding and warm clothing have been transported down to Newcastle’s West End Refugee Service in the last few weeks? Did you know that in excess of £500 has recently been raised for Cancer Research by the children of Mini Michaels and our Church School – or that, just as this letter goes to press, over £300 has been raised from a Coffee Morning to help purchase Christmas presents for the children of parents who are currently in prison?

In simple but profound acts like these we show compassion and hope in the one who was born in poverty and who knew what it was to be a refugee.

During this Advent and Christmastime we may not be able to prevent massive acts of terrorism and suicide bombings taking place but, by single steps of love and compassion, we can ‘borrow God’s eyes’, recognise the fragility of God’s world and approach all we do with hope.

My prayer during those days – and I hope it may be yours too – is that we may ‘borrow God’s eyes’ and be filled with compassion and hope as we await and then celebrate Emmanuel – ‘God with us.’

I would like to rise very high, Lord,
Above my city
Above the world
Above time.
I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.

With every blessing for Christmas and all that lies ahead in 2016.

Paul.

War – and Peace

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

On Sunday 8th November, from tiny village War Memorials to the great crowds that will gather at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, people will meet together to remember those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and in the service of our country.

It is now over one hundred years since the outbreak of World War I – the ‘war to end all wars’ – and yet still men and women take up arms against each other.

What is it that we lack? Why cannot men and women live together in harmony and respect?

These questions are almost as old as the world itself – and yet the answers elude us.

When Christ said to his disciples (John 14:27) ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” he went on to say “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Perhaps he was recognising the particular ‘other-worldly’ tasks his followers would constantly have before them.

If, as Christians, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’ then our constant, unending task must be to pray for peace and to work for peace in whatever way we can. Whether it be peace in our homes, peace in our families or peace in our workplace or church, these ‘local’ situations can have an effect on much larger issues.

But, above all, we must have peace in our hearts: for that can lead to so much more.

Perhaps those words of a lovely prayer may help you as much as they have helped me to pray regularly for peace of heart – in the hope that I may join other people of peace and, in some small way, work for the coming of the kingdom.

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.
Peace, peace, peace.

As we gather to remember this year, let us make it a real opportunity to pledge ourselves afresh to be peacemakers – in the name of Christ.

With every blessing,

Paul

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