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.
âSoâ, you may be asking yourself, âwhat is wrong with that?â Well, to a degree, nothing â and yet, at the same time, everything!
The end âproductâ 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 âGood Friday Peopleâ.
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 Christâs action on the first Good Friday â 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. âNo Cross, no Crownâ is one way of expressing this â but it is Christâs 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 âŠ
Â âTis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
who can explore his strange design?â
wrote Charles Wesley.
And it is that âmysteryâ 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 â but, most of all, we are EASTER PEOPLE and ALLELUIA! is our song!
With every blessing,
Christ 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.
Ash Wednesday – 5th March
10.15a.m.& 7.30pm Holy Communion & Imposition of Ashes
An opportunity for small groups to meet together in faith using the new Church of England âPilgrimâ course. There are several opportunities to meet â Mondays at 7.30pm, Tuesdays at 2.00pm, Wednesdays at 11.15am and Thursdays at 7.30pm. Do âsign upâ on the list at the back of church.
Thursday Mornings in Lent
Each Thursday morning (beginning 6th March) the Eucharist will be celebrated (according to the Book of Common Prayer) in St. Catherineâs 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
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.
Â Lent Boxes will be available in church from the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. This year we will be supporting âCMSâ (Church Mission Society) in their Christian mission of changing lives thrugh the message of the Gospel.
An Extra Act of Worship
Perhaps you could find a little extra time in addition to your Sunday worship this Lent. Why not come along to a midweek Eucharist â 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.
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”
The Churchâs Ministry of Healing
including (for those who wish)
the Laying on of Hands and Anointing
Sunday 16th March at 6.00pm
Dear People of Alnwick,
Some of us are naturally âmorning peopleâ â 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 âhelloâ 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 â 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. âThe Lord is my portion,â says my soul, âtherefore I will hope in him.â
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 (thatâs all!) when we wake to acknowledge Godâs 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 Godâs 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 Jesusâ 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,
Dear People of Alnwick,
At the end of the month â on Thursday 27th February â the ChurchÂ 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 toÂ Cambridge University in 1614, eventually becoming a Fellow of TrinityÂ 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 everyoneâs surprise, he decided to be ordained and, he was madeÂ 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 âThe Country Parsonâ on the priestly life, and his poetry,Â especially âThe Templeâ earned Herbert a leading place in English literature.
He never neglected the care of the souls of Bemerton, however, andÂ encouraged his people to pray with him daily at Morning and Evening Prayer â calling to mind the words of his hymn âSeven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise theeâ.
Tucked away in the middle of his poems is a favourite of mine entitledÂ âGratefulnessâ. Iâm aware that Iâve quoted its opening lines on a number of occasions but they never cease to resonate with me:
âThou who hast givân so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.â
In this month when the Church goes back into the green of âOrdinaryÂ 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 thanÂ 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:
âAnd remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. â (Matthew 28:20)
So, even in what many consider to be the âmiserableâ month ofÂ 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 ourÂ relationships and letâs do all we can to show our gratitude to God â and to each other.
And to put us on the right track we could all take a lead from GeorgeÂ Herbert and make those two lines from âGratefulnessâ 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.
These were the service times in Christmastime 2013
Wednesday 11th December 10:15am – Mothers’ Union Advent Service in church.Â 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 DecemberÂ Christmas Eve
4.30pm Family Carols and Christingle
11.30pm Midnight Mass
Wednesday 25th DecemberÂ Christmas Day
8.00am Holy Communion
9.30pm Christmas Eucharist
Thursday 26th DecemberÂ St Stephen
10.00am Holy Communion
Friday 27th DecemberÂ St John
9.30am Holy Communion
Saturday 28th DecemberÂ 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 JanuaryÂ The Epiphany
Communion at 8, 9.30 & 11.15am
Sung Evensong at 6.00pm
Dear People of Alnwick,
I am writing this letter only two days after the switch-on of the AlnwickÂ Christmas Lights â and I want to pay tribute to that small but dedicated bandÂ of folk who work tirelessly and manage to transform our town for the darkÂ days of December in such a spectacular way.
Many of us, I suspect, enjoy the pleasure of walking through the town,Â soaking up the special atmosphere which the lights provide and perhapsÂ observing, in passing, that they make a pretty show.
Of course, nothing really worthwhile happens without a great deal ofÂ unseen preparatory work and hidden effort (as our recent Winter MarketÂ proved!) but I wonder how many people are aware that repair, maintenanceÂ and preparation of the lights goes on weekly from the beginning of May eachÂ year to ensure that our town looks so splendid over the festive season?
The message of Advent and Christmas â from darkness to light â alsoÂ involves much preparation, and not a little hard work, if we are to enjoy theÂ full light of Christâs incarnation.
We read in the Old Testament how, downÂ the centuries, the prophetsÂ spent time preparing the people of IsraelÂ for the coming of their Messiah:Â some of those people heard and others did not â but that did not preventÂ Godâs preparatory work continuing.
When the time was right, God then sent his Son to be with us and, onceÂ again, some were ready to recognise the lightÂ and enhance their lives as aÂ result whilst others were not.
The questions I would like to pose for us to ponder as we journey throughÂ Advent and Christmas this year are these: Do we simply see the birth of ChristÂ as a âprettyâ episode in our lives, bringing in a little light at a dark time of year?Â Or, do we recognise the hard work of God behind the sending of his Son toÂ be our Saviour â and have we prepared our hearts, our minds, our lives toÂ receive him?
Some time during January our Christmas lights will be dismantled â butÂ the light of Christ will continue to shine in our lives and illuminate our way ifÂ only we give him the opportunity to do so.
May the light of Christ fill your lives and may our simple but meaningfulÂ prayer over these coming days be:
âO come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee.â
With every blessing for Christmas and all that lies ahead in 2014,