Vicar’s Blog

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,



St. Michael’s Vicarage

Dear People of Alnwick,

I have just officiated at the first wedding of the year at St. Michael’s.

For some unknown reason, all the weddings in 2014 are taking place in the second half of the year and so a series of meetings has taken place over recent months with the various couples who are preparing for their big event. (And, of course, what has been said in those meetings has had increased significance for me as my own wedding draws ever closer!)

As I take the couples through the wedding service and try to explain to them the symbolism and teaching which lies behind the words and actions, we come across that old fashioned concept of commitment.

Commitment doesn’t come much more seriously than when two people pledge themselves to each other exclusively for the rest of their lives in a relationship which we hope and pray will be not only lifelong but also life-giving.

Another concept which we tend to spend some time exploring in these meetings is that of the relationship growing, maturing and changing as the years go by.

Thinking on these things has helped me in recent weeks to see how we can also apply them to Christ’s relationship with each one of us – and ours with him.

“God so loved the world that he sent his Son …”

Yes, he sent his Son to the world – but the world is made up of countless individuals. Each of us has – or can have – a unique relationship with Jesus as strong and as meaningful as our earthly relationships. But that relationship, too, if it is to be truly life-giving, requires complete commitment.

It can also grow, mature and change in the same manner as that of an earthly relationship – if we allow it to do so.

My own parents had been married 59 years when my father died – and they still held hands as they walked along together. The nature of their relationship had, undoubtedly, changed over the years but, in its maturing, there was ‘quality’ which I cannot put into words.

So, as each bride and groom stand before me in the coming months (and on my own wedding day) I will remind myself of the need to be completely committed and constantly to work for growth and maturity not only in earthly relationships but also in my relationship with Christ.

Perhaps, as you walk into St. Michael’s on a Sunday morning, and see confetti lying near the doorway, you might like to offer a prayer for the adventure upon which all newly married couples embark and also consider how committed and mature your own relationship is with the One whose commitment to you (and all of us) is the perfect example of unconditional love.

With every blessing,

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,



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,


He is Risen

St. Michael’s Vicarage

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,


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


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


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,


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.

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


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.

May each new day draw you closer to Christ.

With every blessing,


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,

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.


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