Vicar’s Blog

New Challenges

St Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter as I await the arrival of the removal men bringing Jane’s goods and chattels from Monkseaton. I hope that their arrival will be closely followed by Jane herself – so that, after nine months of marriage, we will eventually begin our life together in earnest by living in the same house!

Then, next Monday, Jane begins her new job as Developing Discipleship Officer for the Diocese.

And all of this hard on the heels of my being recently licensed (in a joyful and memorable service at St Michael’s) as Area Dean of Alnwick – with the added responsibilities which that post brings.

All these events mean that there is much change and upheaval in our lives at the moment – but also many occasions to embrace the opportunities and see new ways of being the people we have been called by God to be.

Calling – vocation – is something that each of us (not just clergy!) is given by God and, at different stages of our lives, we may be called to other – perhaps even extra – things to do in his service.

Interestingly, when Jane and I had a discussion with the Archdeacon of Northumberland a few months ago about how our future ministries might take shape, he reminded us that, at this particular juncture in our lives, we have, primarily, been called by God to be married.

So, there is much excitement – and not a little trepidation – in the Vicarage at the moment. Adjustments will need to be made as Jane and I learn to ‘be’ in new ways and as we settle in to new challenges and opportunities.

But, isn’t it the same for all of us?

Each day brings something different. Things which may be exciting, challenging – or, if we will allow it, both!

And, in all of this, we have that gentle certainty that God is always with us. Indeed, as the children sing every week at Mini Michaels:

“Oh, God is always with us.
That’s why we sing and shout!”

Or, if that sentiment is a little too ‘direct’ for you, remember the lovely words of a hymn we often sing:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not,
as thou hast been thou for ever shalt be!

May you, and all those whom you love, know God’s great faithfulness and compassion in your lives as you pursue, in his name, whatever he has called you to do.

With every blessing,


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Never-Ending Praises

St Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

One of the obligations of ordination is the daily recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer but, for me, it is not only a duty but a joy. As the months and years roll on, the psalms, which are an integral part of the daily offices, speak to me more and more.

In one sense, as the psalms are recited over and over again, they become like familiar friends but, on the other hand, they continue to speak afresh each time they are read. Psalm 113, verse 3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of the Lord” always fills me with a wonderful sense of being caught up in the constant round of worship directed to God in a never-ending hymn of praise.

The famous 17th century “Westminster Confession” stated that the chief end of man is “…to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever” – and this is the implication from this verse of Psalm 113.

Let me share two thoughts with you:

Firstly, something about the unbroken round of praise that is directed to God. The praises of God come not only from the earth but also from within heaven itself and so we can be certain that we are caught up in a ceaseless action that had no beginning and will have no end.

Although the psalm talks of the praise of God “from the rising of the sun to its setting”, this is not a reference to daylight hours only! As we know, the daylight is always present in some part of the world and so the work of prayer and praise continues even when we are safely tucked up in our beds. As John Ellerton’s well-loved evening hymn would have it:

“The sun that bids us rest is waking
our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
and hour by hour fresh lips are making
thy wondrous doings heard on high.”

And so, having made our contribution to the praise of God, we can be reassured that we are also carried along by those who are praying when we are not. And it is worthwhile being completely honest here: there are times when we all find prayer difficult – and both frequency and quality can suffer. The secret is to persevere; knowing that we continue our voices not only with our fellow-believers but also “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”.

Secondly, praise is not only about prayer. God’s name can be praised from the rising of the sun to its setting in all we do and think and say.

It is, of course, important that we offer to God all that we will do at the beginning of each day and to seek his blessing on it at the end of the day – asking forgiveness in those situations where we have done wrong – but then it is important that we get on and do it!

Being diligent and dedicated in our work, bringing some happiness into another person’s life, enjoying an afternoon’s gardening, helping to establish a contented home and family life… the list could go on: all these activities, and any others that you know would be blessed by God, are ways of contributing to the ceaseless round of praise which is due to him.

At the end of the Eucharist we often pray “send us out in the power of your Spirit, to live and work to your praise and glory”. Once we come to realise that every aspect of our lives can be seen as an instrument of praise then we can begin to assess the magnitude of the glory which we help to offer to God,

So, whatever our circumstances, whether we are full of energy and active, or have reached that stage in our lives when we have to accept that contemplation too is a gift from God, the work of prayer and praise goes on – “from the rising of the sun to its setting”.

With every blessing,


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Love Triumphs

St Michael’s Vicarage

 Dear People of Alnwick,

As a little boy I grew up with a girl called Jeanette who was only a fortnight younger than me.

When we played together, we shared our toys and I remember, particularly, Jeanette’s toy clown whose name was ‘Kelly’. The bottom half of Kelly was like half a football and, no matter how hard or how often you knocked it over, it would always bounce back again!

In some ways, I find that quite a helpful way of considering the victory over death which Christ won for us by his resurrection; for there we see an amazing demonstration of the God who will not be kept down.

The various groups of people who had set out to destroy Jesus must have had triumphal smiles on their faces. Having witnessed Jesus being cut down from the cross, his body limp and lifeless, they then witnessed him being sealed in the tomb. Hatred, it would seem, had done its worst but, leaving nothing to chance, a guard was placed outside the tomb.

But, just like ‘Kelly’, the love of God cannot be kept down and, on the first Easter morning, they found the stone rolled away and the tomb completely empty. Christ was risen!

And so it is for us today. In the final analysis there is nothing and no-one that can frustrate the will of God. Though many will try – and sometimes seem to succeed – and, as we all know, there is more than enough evil in the world to make us think that they do succeed – ours is a God who will finally triumph.

Remember St. Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome:

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

It is that love – the love which burst forth upon the world on the first Easter morning in a new and more powerful way – that cannot be kept down.

And there is still nothing that can stand in the way of him who rose victorious from the dead. So, however things may seem, and even when faith seems to fly in the face of reason, we know that in it all we can say with St. Augustine:

“We are an Easter people and ‘ALLELUIA’ is our song!”

May you know all the blessing of Easter throughout this joyful season,


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To Love and To Forgive

St. Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

Being human, we all need a little bit of escapism.

Perhaps you play bridge or bowls; you may sing in a choir or be a member of a drama group. For those who prefer more solitary pastimes fishing and bird-watching spring to mind; if you are of a more energetic disposition a run or a regular swim might well feature in your leisure time.

Personally, I love a murder/mystery story! Whether it’s watching a DVD with Joan Hickson magnificently portraying Miss Marple in an Agatha Christie ‘whodunnit’ or reading the rather darker writings of the Swedish author Henning Mankell and the exploits of his detective, Inspector Wallander, I can quite easily step out of the real world and its pressures for an hour or so and immerse myself in the story of a skilled crime writer.

Quite by chance, whilst on holiday in Scotland last month, I bought a book entitled ‘The Last Pope’ by the Portugese writer Luis Miguel Rocha. It centres on the mysterious, sudden and untimely death of Pope John Paul I in September 1978.

It is pure escapism – but a few words attributed to the saintly John Paul I struck me forcefully and have remained with me to the extent that I wanted to share them with you.

When his (fictional?) assassin enters his room the Pope asks: ‘Do you know man’s most important qualities?’ and the assassin suggests ‘Dignity and honour.’

‘Dignity and honour are incidental’ replies John Paul I. ‘The most important qualities must be to love and to forgive.’

To love and to forgive.

Here, surely, we have the absolute kernel of what we should be striving for as individual Christians and as a Christian community.

It is often quite a challenge to love and to forgive – especially when it involves people we find it difficult to be alongside or work with – but it is what we are called to do: sometimes once, sometimes more than once.

As we continue our journey through Lent – hopefully trying in a number of different ways to grow in grace and holiness – perhaps we should all take the opportunity to dwell on those words and see where we may have to make amends or ‘up our game’ as followers of the one who loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die for our sins.

If all of us did, we may not change the whole world – but we could make a significant start on that little bit of it where the good God has placed us at present …

‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’ you taught us, Lord, to pray;
but you alone can grant us grace to live the words we say.

How can your pardon reach and bless the unforgiving heart
that broods on wrongs, and will not let old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your Cross reveals the truth we dimly knew,
how small the debts men owe to us, how great our debt to you.

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls, and bid resentment cease;
then, reconciled to God and man, our lives will spread your peace.

(R. E. Herklots 1905—87)

With every blessing,


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The Support of God

St. Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

Whilst on a recent course at Church House all the participants were all asked to write down a particularly happy moment that we could recall from our childhood.

My choice was the day I learned to ride my bicycle.

It didn’t come easily. After the stability of a “three-wheeler”, I just couldn’t seem to get my balance. For many Sunday afternoons my Dad ran alongside me with his hand on the seat to steady me but, as soon as I looked behind and saw he had let go, off I would come!

Then, a few weeks later, on another Sunday afternoon, my sister said to me: “If you’d been able to ride your bicycle you could have taken this book to my friend’s house.”

Out came the bike and off I went – albeit in a rather unsteady manner! Was it because of the “challenge” – or was it because I was six months older and had grown a little nearer the pedals? Whatever the reason, I was now more confident and (at least in that department) no longer needed the steadying, reassuring hand of my Father.

But, truth to tell, we all need a little support sometimes.  Someone to hold on to us when the going gets tough, when we’re unsure of our ground, when our confidence fails and we feel ourselves slipping.

And the message from the Bible is that we have such a one in God.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’  I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”
 (Isaiah 41: 13 & 42: 6)

Across the ages God has reiterated this promise to support us along the journey of life; to stay close by our side so that, in times of crisis, we can rely upon him to keep us safe.

There were moments when I felt I’d never ride my new bicycle.  We all have moments like that.  But, just as my Dad’s steadying hand helped me gain the confidence I needed to stay on two wheels, so the knowledge of God’s constant presence can give us the confidence we need, when we need it.

And so we thank God for his constant guidance throughout our lives: for the reassurance that he is always there to encourage, strengthen and support us.

Just think for a few moments of the times you have found this to be true.  Strength in times of weakness, encouragement in times of fear, support in times of difficulty, faith in times of doubt: all supportive gifts from the One who made us and loves us.

As one modern hymn-writer has put it:

My God loves me, His love will never end.
He rests within my heart for my God loves me.
His gentle hand he stretches over me.
Though storm-clouds threaten the day he will set me free.
My God loves me, his faithful love endures.
And I will live like a child held in love secure.
 (Sandra J. Billington)

With every blessing,



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St. Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

“Patience is a virtue –possess it if you can.
It’s seldom found in women – and never in a man!”

So goes a well-known rhyme. But patience is one of the requirements of the Christian – and not least during the season of Advent, the four weeks which lead us into our celebrations of Christmas.

”Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him” says the psalmist (Psalm 37:7) and so we must try to master the art of patient waiting.

This is an entirely different form of waiting from the anxiety which comes with waiting to hear if a loved one who is travelling on a long journey has reached their destination or the worry of waiting for examination results. It is quite different too from the frustration of waiting for a delayed train to arrive or even waiting for a coat of paint to dry in order that the next one may be applied.

Waiting patiently before the Lord with a quiet excitement and expectancy brings its own special rewards – and no more so than in the days of Advent which are pregnant with anticipation.

In church, the hymns, the prayers and the readings of Advent – especially the rich and stirring prophecies of Isaiah – help us to prepare in our hearts for the most wonderful gift of all: the gift of God’s great love when he sent his own Son to earth in the form of a fragile human being.

So if, over the coming days, your patience is tried to its limits, remember that it can be restored to fullness by waiting with a different sort of patience – the patience of watching in prayer with which we may prepare ourselves to sing with renewed vigour at Christmas:

“Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.”

A few years ago Bishop Stephen Cottrell wrote a little Advent book entitled “Do nothing …Christmas is coming”. Doing nothing in the run up to the festival may be asking a little too much – but finding a few minutes each day to wait patiently, joyfully and expectantly for the coming of Jesus into our hearts and lives at Christmas will reap real rewards for us as individuals and as a community of believers.

With every blessing for an Advent of prayerful anticipation and a Christmas filled with the peace and goodwill that can only come from waiting patiently before the Lord.


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Christmas Services 2014

Click here to view Christmas services and events for 2015

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Light up a Life

HospiceCare North Northumberland logo

Tuesday, 9th December 6:30pm
Castleside House, Narrowgate

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Mothers’ Union Advent Eucharist

Mothers' Union logo

Wednesday, 10th December 10:15am at St Michael’s Church

The ladies of St Michael’s, Alnwick Mother’s Union invite you all – women and men -and in particular all the women’s groups in our town and churches to their annual Advent Eucharist.

Speaker: The Rev’d Julia Myles

As we meet to reflect on the past year and look towards the year ahead, join us to give thanks, to pray for our world and to share a cuppa and Mince Pie!

Bring a photo, an item or a description of something you are thankful for this year.

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Alnwick Christmas Market

"Alnwick marketplace - snow - night" by Andy Armstrong - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Alnwick marketplace – snow – night” by Andy Armstrong – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Saturday, 6th December at 12.15pm
Christians Together in Alnwick will be singing carols in the marketplace.

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Carols at Denwick

A Christmas wreath, with text saying "Christmas Carols"

Sunday, 14th December, 4pm at Denwick Chapel

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 St Michael’s C of E First School Candle-Lit Carols

St Michael's First School LogoWednesday, 17th December at 3.30pm in church

Mayor’s Carol Service

Image of musical notes made from Christmas decorations

Wednesday, 17th December at 7pm in church

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Mini Michaels Christmas Party

The words 'Christmas Party'

18th December 9.15am in the Parish Hall

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Candlelight Carol Service

A Christmas tree made from musical notes

Sunday, 21st December at 6pm in church

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Christmas Eve

Christingle and Crib Service

Representation of the nativity scene

Wednesday, 24th December at 4.30pm in church

Midnight Mass

A blue background with a white Christmas tree and the words "Midnight Mass at St Michaels"

Wednesday, 24th December at 11.30pm in church

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Christmas Day Services

The words 'Merry Christmas'

8am Holy Communion
9.30am Parish Christmas Eucharist

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St Stephen’s Day

"Koelner Dom - Bayernfenster 02" by Raimond Spekking - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Koelner Dom – Bayernfenster 02” by Raimond Spekking – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 26th December
10am Holy Communion in church

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St John’s Day

"Melesse (35) Église Vitrail 15" by GO69 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Melesse (35) Église Vitrail 15” by GO69 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 27th December
10am Holy Communion in church

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Holy Innocents

Woodcut depicting the slaughter of the innocents

Sunday, 28th December
8am and 9.30am Holy Communion
11.15am Late Morning Worship
6pm Evensong

Christmas Afternoon Tea

Clipart of a teapot, cup and piece of cake

28th December 4pm in the Parish Hall

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Representation of the gifts of the magi

Sunday, 4th January
8am Holy Communion
9.30am First Sunday Eucharist
6pm Evensong

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Giving Thanks

St Michael’s Vicarage

Dear people of Alnwick,

I felt I must use this space to say a massive ‘thank you’ on behalf of Jane and myself following our wedding in St. Nicholas’ Cathedral on 6th September.

It was an incredible feeling (and very humbling) to be supported by so many people – apparently in excess of 600 – and even more incredible to realise that either Jane or I (or both of us) knew everyone who was there!

We felt massively privileged that, in one of his final public appearances before his retirement, our beloved Bishop Martin (who had ordained both of us as Deacon and Priest) conducted the wedding ceremony and presided at the Eucharist. And it was lovely to be able to greet so many of you as refreshments were being served in the cathedral after the service.

And, as if that was not sufficient, we’re only just recovering from the magnificent ‘Wedding Afternoon Tea’ in a packed Parish Hall which welcomed us back home! To say that the tea was ‘sumptuous’ is an understatement and the generosity of your gift was quite simply overwhelming. So, thank you all for such a huge measure of love and support.

On both occasions the love and support was so tangible that we felt as if we could reach out and touch it.

Two thoughts strike me.

Firstly, as Julia wrote in last month’s ‘Gateway’ it was about the amazing and unconditional generosity and grace of God that Bishop Martin chose to speak in his final address to the Diocese. The human love about which I have just written – however wonderful – is but a mere shadow of the love of God which waits to permeate our very being and our world – if only we will allow it.

Secondly, any ‘great’ thing is simply the collection of many small – even, at times, seemingly insignificant – things.

The vast congregation in the cathedral on 6th September was, of course, a collection of individuals. The beautiful display of food at the afternoon tea in the Parish Hall was made up of many individual contributions. And so, too, the tangible evidence of God’s love in our world today – that amazing and unconditional generosity and grace – is the product of countless individual acts of loving, giving, sacrificing and sharing; of supporting, encouraging and gentle witnessing. All combine to produce an effect far greater than the sum of the individual acts themselves and, in so doing, is an incredible force for good.

So, as Bishop Martin’s loving care of this diocese draws to a close and as Jane and I begin our married life together, we give thanks for the little things in life: individual acts of caring, of concern, of Christian love which, in combination, have made – and will continue to make – our world a better place; a place that reflects God’ unconditional generosity and grace.

With every blessing,

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Farewell to Bishop Martin

From the Curate

The Vicar has been a little pre-occupied last month…with his honeymoon! The Curate has sneaked into his slot to tell you about the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gracious Love of God with Farewell to Bishop Martin, on Sunday 21st September 2014.

The service opened with one of Bishop Martin’s (and our Vicar’s) favourite hymns, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’, sung by a packed Cathedral. We also sang one of my favourites, ‘O Thou who camest from above’. The choir anthems sounded truly heavenly and I am pretty sure I heard a bit of Rutter that I last heard only two weeks ago in the Cathedral at the Vicar’s wedding. It was a joy to see Mr and Mrs Scott in attendance at their first diocesan event as a married couple! These things alone would have made it special for me but, as Bishop Martin has been my only Bishop, he sponsored my training and I was in the last cohort to be priested by him, it was a very moving occasion for me personally.

The esteem in which both Bishop Martin and Marlene are held became clear when gifts and speeches were given from various parts of the Diocese. They included a book of memories, a Newcastle United signed and framed shirt, a miner’s lamp from Ellington, which the Bishop had requested himself and a letter from Bishop Methle of Botswana. Following his ‘Thank You’, in which he paid tribute to the clergy of this Diocese, our Lord Bishop of 17 years (the 11th and longest serving Bishop of Newcastle) received a standing ovation, just as he had at the clergy conference earlier in the year. I saw the tears of many which were also a tribute to this Christ-like man who lived out, (and probably invented) the Diocese’s strap-line of being ‘generous, engaged and open’. As he gave a final blessing from the High Altar, I thought how well the words reflected himself.

“Go forth into the world in peace.
be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good:
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; honour everyone;
love and serve the Lord…”

The Bishop was noticeably moved at times, and none more so than when he spoke about the ‘amazing, unconditional generosity and grace of God’ which precedes and leads us to repentance. ‘The church is a school for sinners not a museum for saints’, he announced in his farewell sermon. He described how he was brought up, as many of us were, to expect to have to earn God’s acceptance. ‘We turn it upside-down because it makes no worldly sense… We are prepared for a God who drives a hard bargain, not one who gives a day’s wages for an hour’s work.’ He spoke of the danger of a Christianity that defines itself by a set of rules to keep people out. Like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God’s arms ‘…are always outstretched, waiting for us to come home’. It is not that God doesn’t care about wrong-doing, but he knows that only his love can change it. ‘God’s love enables us to be transformed…Our motivation for discipleship is not fear but love’. God’s grace and ‘sheer generosity’ means that ‘we have no choice but to respond in kind’. This means therefore that ‘no-one in our parishes can be beyond our concern’. Reminding us that the Good News must be good news and not simply good advice, he encouraged us to ‘proclaim that Good News magnificently for God’. He closed with the words of Archbishop Anthony Bloom, ‘Go now, on all ways and on all roads, …go with joy… because God is joy, he is life, he is intensity.’

I know that Paul, our Vicar, holds Bishop Martin in the highest esteem and it will be a difficult task for him and the rest of the Vacancy in See Committee to find his successor. It will probably be 2016 before that is announced and so we are especially grateful for Assistant Bishop Frank. We pray for him and our Archdeacons as they oversee and guide our diocese in the meantime.

As for me, I am glad that my family and I are now full-time residents of this lovely town and I look forward to bumping into you on the streets… Though hopefully not literally as I am still learning to ride my bike around town!

Julia Myles


From left: the Bishop of Newcastle, Martin Wharton; Mrs Marlene Wharton; the Rev’d Jane Wood & the Rev’d Paul Scott

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Prince of Peace

Dear People of Alnwick,

On Wednesday 20th August about thirty members of our congregation gathered in St. Paul’s Chapel to pray for peace in Israel and Gaza. This small venture was planned at very short notice and I had at least fifteen apologies from others who would have been there but for other commitments.

In the days that followed I had many comments about how people had valued the opportunity to do something positive and how powerful and meaningful that simple act of worship had proved to be.

At the same time, an appeal was made in church over two Sundays to make a financial contribution to the terrible situation there and in excess of £320.00 was collected – with £150.00 of that sum Gift Aided.

This prayer and financial support was all concentrated on the part of the world where Our Lord walked as the Prince of Peace. How his heart must ache as he sees this continued barbarity and unrest!

He must look down with despair, too, on Iraq, Syria, Southern Sudan, Nigeria, Afganistan and so many other places where innocent people find themselves caught up in situations which are none of their making, and at the mercy of people who have no respect for human life or dignity if it gets in the way of their cause.

Our efforts here in Alnwick may seem insignificant – but they are not. Indeed, if more people turned to God in earnest prayer and gave financial support in the way that we have done in St. Michael’s, there is no telling how effective that message might be.

During that service of prayer for peace, the following words of the South African theologian, the Rev’d Allan Boesak were used:

It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost.

This is true: for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not die but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever;

This is true: for to us a child is born, to us a son is given in whom authority will rest and whose name will be Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that rule the world;

This is true: to me is given all authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always to the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything;

This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and this history;

This is true: the hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and truth.

Can I suggest that we all consider these inspirational words calmly and carefully as such awful unrest continues and use them as a basis for our ongoing prayer for peace throughout the world.

With every blessing,


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