Vicar’s Blog

Sacred Space

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick

Dear Friends,

A few years ago, when the parish of Holy Island was without a Vicar, my former Training Incumbent, Canon Syd Connolly, lived in the Vicarage there for three separate months, helping with the work of the parish and the ministry to visitors in that place until a new parish priest was appointed.

Whilst Syd and his wife, Pat, were living there I twice spent a day off with them: once in February and once in June.

Of course the context was very different on each occasion. In February, complete with hats, scarves and gloves, we enjoyed a brisk walk up to the castle in the biting wind followed by the luxury of sitting around a log fire contemplating the peace and tranquillity of an almost deserted island. In June the whole day was spent outside: on a longer walk (a hat was again needed, but this time to give protection from the sun) in the company of many hundreds of visitors and then sitting in the Vicarage garden listening to the seals singing.

Flow very fortunate we are to live so close to this sacred place – “the Cradle of Christianity” – where the Northern Saints prayed and worshipped and from where they set out to bring the love of Christ to our forebears.

At the present moment, I am still basking in the wonder of my recent trip to Assisi – another centre of prayer and devotion and which, just like the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, literally brings people to their knees as they are caught up in the sheer holiness of the place before returning to their homes energised by the experience of the pilgrimage.

Now I doubt whether St. Michael’s, Alnwick will ever become a centre of pilgrimage for the countless thousands who visit Holy Island and Assisi and other famous sites of devotion – and yet there is no doubt that it is a “sacred space”, and our many visitors often comment on the atmosphere of prayer and devotion they feel.

Technically, of course, the space was made sacred on some unknown date far back in the mists of time when the bishop of the day no doubt came to consecrate the building; but it is the prayers, the devotion and the celebration of the Sacraments by faithful worshippers in the intervening years (and that includes us now in our generation) that have been absorbed into the very fabric of the place.

As those of us who regularly worship at St. Michael’s receive grace and courage from Christ to live out our lives of faith in the world, so too, we can encourage each other – and those who are yet to come – by our constancy and our commitment as we join our prayers to those of our forebears.

Lord for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
Sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord for ourselves, in living pow’r remake us –
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
Past put behind us, for the future take us,
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
(Timothy Dudley-Smith)

With every blessing,

 Paul.

Pentecost

Dear People of Alnwick,

Some friends of mine recently had afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel in London.  I suppose it’s just possible that I might have that experience one day – but it seems unlikely.  Let’s face it, some things in life are reserved for a select few, whilst the majority of us have to make do with less spectacular existences.

The people of the Old Testament believed that this was also true with regard to the Spirit of God.  They were convinced that it was a rare and special gift which only a privileged few would experience.

It seemed impossible that ‘ordinary folk’ could be filled with the Spirit.  Surely, they thought, such a gift was reserved for people like Samuel, Ezekiel or Isaiah – people of ‘Stature’.  They believed that, for the rank and file, God would always be one step removed – with access to him coming through priest and temple.  But let us just remind ourselves of one of the Pentecost readings from the Acts of the Apostles:

When the day of Pentecost dawned, they were gathered in one place.  Suddenly, a sound like the rush of a mighty wind came from heaven, filling the house where they were sitting.  After that, tongues of fire appeared that divided, so that a tongue rested on each of them.  The were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in various tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.  This is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my spirit on all people; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  I will pour out my spirit even on male and female slaves in those days.’  (Acts 2: 1-4 & 16-18)

These words of Joel must have caused quite a stir when they were first heard because they suggested a completely new relationship between God and his people.

It is that type of relationship which is experienced by the Apostles on the day of Pentecost – and it is offered to each and every one of us in turn.  God is not remote and detached: he can be experienced as a living reality in our lives.  A reality which encourages, teaches, empowers and guides – ever at work within us.  The presence of God’s Holy Spirit within us is a priceless treasure – and he offers it to all, irrespective of our status in life!

As the feast of Pentecost draws near (8th June) it would do us all good to ask ourselves just how close we feel to God.  Are there times when he seems distant, removed from daily life?  And, if there are such times, have we done all we can to open our lives and let his Spirit in?  Remember, “I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

If we are prepared to open ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit we must expect surprises and be prepared to go with them for not only will we find our innermost needs met, we will find ourselves better equipped to serve God more fully and, perhaps, in ways that we had never dreamed of.

God’s Holy Spirit is yearning to work in all our lives; and through it we will find a deepening of faith, a strengthening of commitment and an enlarging vision of what we can do together as his people in this place.

O for a closer walk with God.
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

With every blessing at Pentecost and always,

Paul.

He is Risen

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter on the morning of Easter Monday with the ‘Alleluias’ of Easter day still ringing in my ears.

What a splendid occasion Easter Day was in St. Michael’s! Even the sun played its part as so many people streamed into church to be met by the wonderful Easter Garden in the porch. The proclamation “CHRIST IS RISEN!” was greeted with the firm response “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” and our worship continued in that celebratory vein before the children demonstrated egg-rolling in the aisle and then disappeared, full of excitement, into the churchyard for their Easter egg hunt!

How very different the ambiance of the church as I sat alone in St. Catherine’s Chapel this morning “in the beauty of the lilies” quietly saying Morning Prayer and reflecting on the gentle peace which the good news of Easter brings into our hearts.

In those two contrasting scenarios lies an important message about the way in which the resurrected Christ can come to us – and stay with us – as we journey on in faith.

In the noise, the excitement and the sheer exuberance of Easter morning, our joy and our confidence in the significance of the empty tomb stirs up in us a great party spirit: we are energised and spurred on by the fact that this, indeed, is “the day of resurrection”.

But, in the quiet contemplation of Easter Monday with the vision of the risen Christ saying gently to his gathered friends “Peace be with you” so, too, we proclaim the fact that “Love’s redeeming work is done”.

In our lives of faith we all have Easter morning and Easter Monday experiences. Sometimes the knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and the grave makes us want to proclaim it from the rooftops; but, on other occasions, we simply want to bathe ourselves in the quiet certainty that Thomas was later to express in the unforgettable phrase, “My Lord and my God”.

When I visited the Holy Land a few years ago I was helped to appreciate the contrasting ways in which the risen Christ can be experienced.

After following the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem we found ourselves in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was so crowded and full of ‘hype’ and expectation that, after a short while, we were, quite frankly, glad to leave it all behind.

A few hours later, we visited the site of the Garden Tomb – an alternative, but less probable setting for the events of the first Easter Day. Here, in quiet, unhurried contemplation, we were able to experience a sense of risen presence which was much harder to leave behind.

Whatever our situation in life (and, of course, there will be constant fluctuations) the risen Jesus is with us. Indeed, we have his assurance that he is with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20)

May the power of the cross,
the joy of the resurrection,
and the presence of our risen Lord
be with you now and always.

With every blessing,

Paul.

Holy Week & Easter Services 2014

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

13th April

8am – Holy Communion (said)
9:20am Gathering at the Barbican of Alnwick Castle to process to the church for:
9:30am – Parish Eucharist
11:15am – Late Morning Worship
6pm – “Olivet to Calvary:” a sacred cantata performed by our Augmented Choir (see Events page for more information)

Monday, 14th April

7:30pm (19:30) Holy Communion

Tuesday, 15th April

7:30pm (19:30) Holy Communion

Wednesday, 16th April

10:15am Holy Communion
7:30pm (19:30) Holy Communion

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

7:30pm (19:30) Holy Communion with Washing of Feet

Good Friday

Good Friday

12pm – Act of Worship in Alnwick Marketplace

A short ‘Christians Together in Alnwick’ event focused around the large wooden cross and featuring readings, prayers, and a couple of well-known hymns. Please note there will not be a march this year – we will gather directly in the Market Place. Please come along and help give public witness to the importance of the Easter story!

2pm (14:00) – 3pm (15:00) Act of Worship for Good Friday (St Michael’s Church)

Holy Saturday

vigil-candle

10am – 2pm Alnwick Market Place:

There will be a Christians Together stall in Alnwick Market Place from 10am to 2pm manned by volunteers, with creative activities for children, information about Easter services, church activities, the Alnwick Food Bank, Contagious (the ecumenical youth charity) and more. An informal opportunity to share God’s love.

7:30pm (19:30) Easter Eve service of Vigil, New Fire & Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Sunday, 20th April
Easter Day

Alleluia

8am Holy Communion
9:30am Parish Eucharist
3:30pm (15:30) Afternoon Tea in the Parish Hall
Cost per person: £5; please add your name to the list at the back of church
6pm (18:00) Evensong

Easter People

Dear People of Alnwick,

My friend Laura is a busy, experienced parish priest in the heart of London and is regularly asked to have a conversation with potential candidates for ordination.

London, as most of us are aware, is an unusual place in many ways and this is particularly true of its church life.

The city has within it several very well known churches which are vibrant with activity and particularly attractive to young, often wealthy, professional people. Church life in those places is extremely well organised, intellectually stimulating and based firmly on recognising Jesus as a personal Saviour whose dying on the Cross is viewed as the climax of Salvation.

So”, you may be asking yourself, “what is wrong with that?” Well, to a degree, nothing – and yet, at the same time, everything!

The end ‘product’ in these cases is that very significant numbers of potential ordinands are coming forward who, to borrow the title of a book by Sheila Cassidy, are ‘Good Friday People’.

Now, before letters of complaint are sent off to the Bishop about the heretical Vicar of Alnwick, I need to make it perfectly clear that I am not trying to underestimate the absolute centrality of Christ’s action on the first Good Friday – but we do need to see what happened there in the light of Easter Day.

Of course, Easter Day would be impossible without Good Friday. “No Cross, no Crown” is one way of expressing this – but it is Christ’s victory over death and the grave that marks us out as people of faith.

As Laura listens patiently to the journeys of faith of the people she is asked to see, she tells me that they so often end with Good Friday and she then has to ask where they see Easter Day in their understanding of our God who loved the world so much that he sent his Son …

 ‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
who can explore his strange design?’

wrote Charles Wesley.

And it is that ‘mystery’ on which we pin our hopes. The mystery of a heavenly Father, a God, whose BABY SON was born in a stable, whose DYING SON bled on the Cross, which enables his RISEN SON to live in our hearts through faith.

We are Christmas people, we are Good Friday people – but, most of all, we are EASTER PEOPLE and ALLELUIA! is our song!

With every blessing,

Paul.

Lent Programme 2014

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross imageChrist our Guide,
stay with us on our pilgrimage through life:
when we falter, encourage us,
when we stumble, steady us,
and when we have fallen, pick us up.
Help us to become, step by step,
more truly ourselves,
and remind us
that you have travelled this way before us.
Amen.

The season of Lent provides us with a fresh opportunity to grow in faith and commitment to our Lord. Please take advantage of that which is on offer as, together with Christians throughout the world, we take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness which is proclaimed in the gospel.

This page is also available to download: Lent leaflet (pdf) and in Word .doc format

Ash Wednesday – 5th March

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

10.15a.m.& 7.30pm Holy Communion & Imposition of Ashes

“Pilgrim”

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

An opportunity for small groups to meet together in faith using the new Church of England ‘Pilgrim’ course. There are several opportunities to meet – Mondays at 7.30pm, Tuesdays at 2.00pm, Wednesdays at 11.15am and Thursdays at 7.30pm. Do ‘sign up’ on the list at the back of church.

Thursday Mornings in Lent

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

Each Thursday morning (beginning 6th March) the Eucharist will be celebrated (according to the Book of Common Prayer) in St. Catherine’s Chapel at 7.30 a.m. Getting up early (in the dark) may seem like an inconvenience but it is good discipline and an opportunity to be with Jesus, under the form of bread and wine, in a quiet and reflective setting. A light breakfast will be available after the service.

Ecumenical Lent Lunches

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

Thursdays at 12.00 noon (from 6th March) in the Costello Centre in Bailiffgate. A short meditation followed by a simple lunch of soup, rolls and cheese. Hosted throughout Lent by each of the Christian congregations in Alnwick.

Lenten Self-Denial

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

 Lent Boxes will be available in church from the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. This year we will be supporting ‘CMS’ (Church Mission Society) in their Christian mission of changing lives thrugh the message of the Gospel.

An Extra Act of Worship

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

Perhaps you could find a little extra time in addition to your Sunday worship this Lent. Why not come along to a midweek Eucharist – or to Evensong on a Sunday night. Making that little extra effort may be just what you need to add a special dimension to your spiritual life.

Lenten Reading

Graphic stating "Lent" with a cross image

Lent is an excellent time to consider more carefully some aspect of our faith through reading a spiritual book. There will be a good selection of books in church for you to borrow.

“A Celebration of Healing and Wholeness”

Image of Christ healing a man

The Church’s Ministry of Healing

including (for those who wish)

the Laying on of Hands and Anointing

Sunday 16th March at 6.00pm

Graphic illustrating prayer, fasting and charity

This page is also available to download: Lent leaflet (pdf) and in Word .doc format

 

Welcome the Day

Dear People of Alnwick,

Some of us are naturally “morning people” – happy to get up at the crack of dawn, or even earlier: others are less so!

Some people find mornings a real problem. For every one of us who greets the morning with a joyful “hello” there are many, many more who do so with a huge groan of dismay. The pressures and responsibilities of daily life can weigh so heavily upon people that they wake with a sense of foreboding rather than anticipation of what the day may hold in store for them.

Yet we must remember that every morning is a gift from God: full of immeasurable potential and untold possibilities – but we do need eyes to see and ears to hear. The writer of the book of Lamentations puts it like this:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’
(Lamentations 3:22-24)

Or, as John Keble wrote in his lovely morning hymn:

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life, and power, and thought.

So, it would be good if, during this season of Lent, we could all make a real effort to welcome each day as a gift from God: perhaps we could all take a few seconds (that’s all!) when we wake to acknowledge God’s goodness and commit to him the day which lies ahead.

We could do a lot worse than to remind ourselves of all the possibilities each day brings: the innumerable opportunities for love, joy, fascination and fulfilment that every one opens up. And, as we consecrate each day to God’s service, it is also an opportunity to thank him for all the blessings of life.

The aim of every Christian during Lent should be to do all they can to grow in grace and holiness. As we are reminded of Jesus’ suffering, passion and death over the coming weeks, to do so with a sense of thanksgiving for each day as it comes will add a new dimension and a richer quality to our understanding.

Perhaps you may find the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester worthy of commitment to memory as you give thanks for every new day:

Praise to thee, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast won for me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. Most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

May each new day draw you closer to Christ.

With every blessing,

Paul.

A Grateful Heart

Dear People of Alnwick,

At the end of the month — on Thursday 27th February — the Church remembers and gives thanks for the life of George Herbert, priest and poet, who died on that day in 1633.
Born in 1593 into an aristocratic family, the young George went to Cambridge University in 1614, eventually becoming a Fellow of Trinity College. At the age of 25, he became Public Orator in the University and then a Member of Parliament, apparently destined for a life at court.

To everyone’s surprise, he decided to be ordained and, he was made deacon in 1626. He married in 1629, was priested in 1630 and given the care of souls of the parish of Bemerton, near Salisbury, where he spent the rest of his short life. He wrote prolifically, his hymns still being popular throughout the English-speaking world. (Amongst the best known are: King of glory, King of peace; Let all the world in every comer sing and Teach me, my God and King.)

His treatise “The Country Parson” on the priestly life, and his poetry, especially “The Temple” earned Herbert a leading place in English literature.

He never neglected the care of the souls of Bemerton, however, and encouraged his people to pray with him daily at Morning and Evening Prayer — calling to mind the words of his hymn “Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee”.

Tucked away in the middle of his poems is a favourite of mine entitled “Gratefulness”. I’m aware that I’ve quoted its opening lines on a number of occasions but they never cease to resonate with me:

“Thou who hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.”

In this month when the Church goes back into the green of “Ordinary Time” for a few weeks before Ash Wednesday and Lent, let me encourage you to concentrate on all we have to be grateful for.

We all have a roof over our heads, warmth, clothing and more than enough to eat. Most of us have a very precious gift in our family and friends and, even if our health is not as good as it might be, we have doctors, hospitals and a National Health Service that is still the envy of the world.

And, as if to crown all this, we have a faith in, and a companionship with, Jesus Christ who gave us a blessed promise in his parting words:

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ” (Matthew 28:20)

So, even in what many consider to be the “miserable” month of February, let us all take the opportunity to look positively at our lives, to value even the little things that increase the quality of our being and our relationships and let’s do all we can to show our gratitude to God — and to each other.

And to put us on the right track we could all take a lead from George Herbert and make those two lines from “Gratefulness” into a daily prayer.

With every blessing, as always,
Paul.

P.S. May I also take the opportunity to say a particular thank you to all
who have expressed joy and sent good wishes to Jane and myself following the announcement of our engagement to be married. The warmth of your response and the encouragement you have given us means a great deal to us both.

 

Christmas Service Times 2013

These were the service times in Christmastime 2013

Wednesday 11th December 10:15am – Mothers’ Union Advent Service in church. All welcome.

Sunday 15th December 4.00pm – Carols at Denwick.

Tuesday 17th December 3.30pm – St Michael’s C of E 1st School Candlelight Christmas

Wednesday 18th December 7.00pm – Mayor’s Carol Service

Sunday 22nd December 6.00pm – Candlelight Carol Service

Tuesday 24th December Christmas Eve
4.30pm Family Carols and Christingle
11.30pm Midnight Mass

Wednesday 25th December Christmas Day
8.00am Holy Communion
9.30pm Christmas Eucharist

Thursday 26th December St Stephen
10.00am Holy Communion

Friday 27th December St John
9.30am Holy Communion

Saturday 28th December The Holy Innocents
9.30am Holy Communion

Sunday 29th December – normal Sunday services:
8.00am Holy Communion
9.30am Parish Eucharist
11.15am Late Morning Worship
6.00pm Sung Evensong

Wednesday 1st January 10.15am Holy Communion

Sunday 5th January The Epiphany
Communion at 8, 9.30 & 11.15am
Sung Evensong at 6.00pm

Christmas Lights

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter only two days after the switch-on of the Alnwick Christmas Lights – and I want to pay tribute to that small but dedicated band of folk who work tirelessly and manage to transform our town for the dark days of December in such a spectacular way.

Many of us, I suspect, enjoy the pleasure of walking through the town, soaking up the special atmosphere which the lights provide and perhaps observing, in passing, that they make a pretty show.

Of course, nothing really worthwhile happens without a great deal of unseen preparatory work and hidden effort (as our recent Winter Market proved!) but I wonder how many people are aware that repair, maintenance and preparation of the lights goes on weekly from the beginning of May each year to ensure that our town looks so splendid over the festive season?

The message of Advent and Christmas – from darkness to light – also involves much preparation, and not a little hard work, if we are to enjoy the full light of Christ’s incarnation.

We read in the Old Testament how, down the centuries, the prophets spent time preparing the people of Israel for the coming of their Messiah: some of those people heard and others did not – but that did not prevent God’s preparatory work continuing.

When the time was right, God then sent his Son to be with us and, once again, some were ready to recognise the light and enhance their lives as a result whilst others were not.

The questions I would like to pose for us to ponder as we journey through Advent and Christmas this year are these: Do we simply see the birth of Christ as a ‘pretty’ episode in our lives, bringing in a little light at a dark time of year? Or, do we recognise the hard work of God behind the sending of his Son to be our Saviour – and have we prepared our hearts, our minds, our lives to receive him?

Some time during January our Christmas lights will be dismantled – but the light of Christ will continue to shine in our lives and illuminate our way if only we give him the opportunity to do so.

May the light of Christ fill your lives and may our simple but meaningful prayer over these coming days be:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee.”

With every blessing for Christmas and all that lies ahead in 2014,

Paul.

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