Thankfulness

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
August 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

I want to begin by thanking many of you for your cards, good wishes and the assurance of prayers during my recent, somewhat unexpected, bout of chickenpox. How I wish I’d experienced this illness as a child rather than at this stage in my life. To be certain, it takes much more effort (and a deal of patience) to recover for those of us who fall into the category ‘of riper years’.

Being laid low did, however, help me to realise how much of our lives we take for granted; perhaps, even, assume as our right. Chief of these must be our health.

My morning routine has always been to get out of bed, jump into the shower, get shaved and dressed and then be ready for what the day brings. Just at the moment, by the time I get to the end of those simple tasks I’m quite exhausted. I know, of course, that each day will see me getting a little stronger and that my supplies of energy will increase but I have resolved to try and be more thankful for such simple yet profound good fortune.

Thankfulness really does need to pervade every aspect of our being. We have a roof over our heads; there is food in our stomachs; we know love and companionship from family and friends; as lockdown eases, we are increasingly free to go where we want and see whom we will.

Equally, in our lives of faith, we have untold freedom to worship without hindrance: a right which is still denied to many across our world. So let’s not take that wonderful freedom for granted either. Rather, let us be thankful for all that is good and, more importantly, to actively seek out and enumerate each day the good fortune that is ours.

I worry that a perfunctory ‘nod’ to God that ‘all is well’ each day has been my attitude for far too long and am increasingly convinced that a real acceptance of his goodness and his bounty should feature much more in my prayers.

In sickness and in health we can, I am convinced, train ourselves to accentuate the positive.

With Jane, I used to visit a former parishioner of hers who, bent double with arthritis, had been bedridden for many years. In a residential home, with a brick wall for a view, that dear lady gave thanks each day for the tree behind the wall as she watched the buds appear in springtime, then the blossom and then the glorious colours of autumn.

And so I lay before you, too, the suggestion that we should actively look for reasons to be thankful and praise God for our good fortune.

With every blessing,

Paul

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment

Gateway Magazine, August 2021

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is available in hardcopy format in the church, but you are also welcome to read the magazine here as a downloadable pdf, or below:

Gateway Aug 2021 v2
Posted in Gateway | Leave a comment

A Message from Gerard

There’s only short space here to fit in a great deal of gratitude as my time at St Michael’s comes to an end. I hope that I’ll get a chance to say goodbye and thank you to many of you in person, but, if I don’t, I hope that each of you knows what a privilege it has been to know and minister among you. My primary thanks of course, go to Paul for his support as a wise and encouraging Training Incumbent. It has been an honour to work alongside him as I’ve gained experience of parish ministry in preparation for being let loose on the church on my own! Thank you also to each of you. I have learned huge amounts from sitting in living rooms and chatting over tea (and maybe a bit of cake!), from praying with you, from hearing what it means to you to follow Christ in your own way. I’ll take each of those experiences with me into the rest of my ministry.

As we, as a family, move on and settle into a new chapter in our lives, can I finish by asking for your prayers. For the children as they settle into new routines and a new school. For Karen as she sets up teaching in a new area. And for me as I begin a new ministry, particularly for wisdom in discerning what steps are needed to strengthen and encourage the team ministering there. St Michael’s will continue in my prayers, and I’m deeply grateful for yours!

My Licensing to the new parish will be on Wednesday 8th September at 7.30pm in St Aidan’s Brunton Park. Anyone who would like to come would be very welcome.

Thank you to you all, from us all, for a wonderful three years!

Gerard

Posted in Uncategorised | Leave a comment

St. Michael’s post-pandemic

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
July 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

Many of us had hoped that, by the time you were reading this, we would have been released from ‘lockdown’ and things might have been returning to normal — whatever that might mean.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that following the trauma of the last fifteen months, a new normal will need to be established in so many facets of life. The world — including our little part of it here in Alnwick — has changed and we need to reassess all sorts of ways of life that we previously took for granted.

And so I want to take the opportunity of using this letter to talk particularly about how we may best ‘be Church’ here in St. Michael’s in our new, postpandemic, life and especially with regard to Sunday worship.

Those who have been counting will know that in the last year we have seen the deaths of eleven of our most committed members: people who were in church faithfully, week by week, and whose presence and fellowship we miss greatly. This loss represents approximately 10% of our worshipping community.

And added to this, there are still those amongst our number who do not yet feel ready to return to church and who, along with a good number of others, are maintaining their connection through YouTube and Zoom.

All of this has led to much prayer and reflection — particularly on the pattern of Sunday worship now that more settled times are on the horizon.

After a fair degree of consultation and with the agreement of the Parochial Church Council we hope to begin, from July, a new pattern of worship which will be reviewed after a six month period.

Our aim has always been to offer, within the scope of our abilities, worship which caters for the broad spectrum of those who have made St. Michael’s their spiritual home. Over the years this has evolved from the days when Early Communion, Matins and Evensong were the ‘staple diet’ of Sundays to the pattern we had of four services each Sunday until we were hit by Coronavirus.

Later Morning Worship at 11.15am has become increasingly challenging to sustain each week as people have died, become infirm or moved away. Of course, over the years, it has been of special significance to considerable numbers of folk who have felt particularly valued, nurtured and able to give of themselves because of the informal nature of a smaller gathering.

It is important that we give thanks for the real blessings that many have received from that worship (not least, in recent years, the leadership of Sue Allen) as we launch out in faith into a new way of being.

Details of our new pattern of worship are given on the front inside cover and, as we try to pick up the pieces of our new normal, I would ask that you keep all of this in your prayers.

With every blessing,

Paul

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment

Happy Place

Jane,  July 2021

When lockdown first started last March, it was suggested by a friend that one way to cope was to think of your ‘Happy Place’. After a while, I realised that my ‘Happy Place’ is my greenhouse. I can spend hours there, planting, watering, pottering and simply noting what is growing.

One thing I do like to grow is tomatoes. I start in January on all the bedroom windowsills and by March they are ready for the greenhouse. I watch them daily as they grow and begin to flower, then joy of joys, the first fruit appears. I am beyond excitement. Every time I come home I dash straight to the greenhouse, how much has it grown, does it need water, is it changing colour? There’s not much I don’t notice about that first tomato.

Then over the next few days, a few more tomatoes appear, then a few more and soon, there are more tomatoes than I know what to do with. I don’t really notice them and I’m certainly not beyond excitement any more. They don’t seem so special any more, in fact, if I’m honest, I take them for granted.

I’m afraid to say I often do that. What was at first something to be cherished and nurtured is just taken for granted, it’s just another tomato plant.

But that’s not how it is with God. Each one of us is cherished and cared for individually, just like that first little tomato in my greenhouse. Each one of us is as important to Him as the next. He will never take us for granted, He will always care for each and every one of us.

In these coming days as we hopefully come out of the awful days of Covid 19, as life gets back to normal, take some time to look, notice the wonders that are all around you and remember that you are one of them!

With love and prayers,
Jane Scott

Posted in blog | Leave a comment

“My Chains fell off, ….”

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
June 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this letter the Prime Minister has just officially informed the nation that we can proceed to the next stage on the roadmap to recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic – freeing us up to begin to put back together the pieces of our lives. This is thanks, in no small measure, to the amazing rollout of the vaccination programme and, before we do anything else, we should give profound thanks for our National Health Service – still the envy of the world.

However slowly we begin our individual routes back to a less restrictive way of being there is so much to be thankful for. We are being freed up to socialise in a limited way once again, to hug – and be hugged, perhaps even to stay with friends and family if they don’t live too far away.

I am reminded of the line in the hymn “my chains fell off, my heart was free …”

And, at the rate time seems to be flying by, it won’t be too long until the next date in June and further restrictions are lifted. Further chains can fall off and, hopefully, much anxiety can be cast aside.

Being freed up to be who we are is critical to our general wellbeing – and the world is beginning to realise this. We now have Mental Health Awareness Week – a concept that was simply unheard of just a short while ago. Increasingly, people in the public eye (those who seem to have ‘everything’) are prepared to share with others that their seemingly enviable lives have often been fraught with problems and difficulties. These brave souls have released themselves from the veneer of perfection and admitted that they are scarred and vulnerable.

In his book ‘Simply Free’ Fr. Gerald O’Mahony says: “I’m free to grow because I am free to be less than perfect”.

As we make our way into our new unrestricted, post-pandemic life and allow our chains to fall off let’s not try too hard to strive for perfection. Rather, let us aim to grow – in contentment, in faith, in hope and in love.

None of these areas of growth require perfection – simply a willingness to allow God to work in us and for us to strive to be the best we can.

In the book of the prophet Micah (Chapter 6, verse 8) we read: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If we can do this and, at the same time, acknowledge that we are less than perfect we may know a freedom equal – or greater – than the falling off of chains.

     With every blessing,

Paul

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment

Gateway Magazine, June 2021

Gateway, the St Michael’s parish magazine, is available in hardcopy format, but you are also welcome to read the magazine here, via a downloadable pdf, or the embedded viewer below:

Gateway June 2021
Posted in Gateway | Leave a comment

Journey Out of Lockdown

St Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
May 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As we continue to journey along our roadmap out of lockdown it had been really good to see so many people returning to church. Last Sunday, at the 10.00am service, there were sixty-nine people in the building (all well socially-distanced) and a further fifty-four ‘hits’ on our YouTube channel. Several of the ‘hits’ were from homes where more than one person was watching.

The decision about whether to come back to church or to worship from home is, of course, entirely individual and we recognise fully the fact that some are either unable to come or simply not yet ready to return. As the second vaccines are administered and time goes by we hope that more will feel able to return but, in the meantime, we should be very grateful for the technology (and the very talented operators of the equipment) which allows us to be the body of Christ in this place — whether physically or virtually.

Whether presiding or preaching, I really do feel that those who are watching from a distance are very much part of the worshipping community and my hope is that they, too, feel ‘in touch’ with what is going on.

Technical expertise in the parish also allows us to have our monthly ‘Sunday Plus’ services on a Sunday afternoon as well as our weekly Zoom coffee sessions, Thursday evening service of Compline and a book Group! We were also able to take part in a most inspiring Lent Course via Zoom.

So, even those of us (including me, the chief of Luddites) who are uncertain — or even dismissive — of technology have benefited from changes in church life which have allowed us to stay in touch.

For many, one of the most difficult aspects of the current regulations has been our inability to take part in congregational singing. We remain grateful that we can reflect quietly on the words of hymns as the organ is played but we all recognise, I think, that it’s not quite the same as offering the praise of our lips as our voices blend together. This, of course, is where those who ‘worship from afar’ have the advantage: they can sing as lustily (and as out of tune) as they wish!

My point in writing all of this is:

  • To give thanks for what we have;
  • To help us realise we can still be the body of Christ;
  • To accept that our pattern of worship might never be quite what it was;
  • To recognise that this might be a way of prompting us to think afresh what it is that honours God most.

However you feel happiest at the moment, please never lose sight that God receives our worship and hears our prayers.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship our spirit finds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers; our fears, our hopes, our aims are one— our comforts and our cares.

With every blessing,

Paul

We have been saddened by the loss of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

God of our lives,

we give thanks for the life of Prince Philip,

for his love of our country,

and for his devotion to duty.

We entrust him now to your love and mercy,

through our Redeemer Jesus Christ

Amen.

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment

Recovery

St Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
April 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

As I write this we are preparing, as a church, to take part in the National Day of Reflection marking a full year since our country first went into lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

What a year it has been. We have, of necessity, learned a new way to be and to do. Our lives have been restricted in ways that, even for those who can recall wartime, we could never have imagined. We have been separated from family and friends; we have been unable to mark occasions of celebration and sadness as we would have wanted; travel has been more of less impossible and, in the media in the last few days, we have heard that many people are declaring that they fear they have lost the art of socialising.

Our ‘normal’ church life has been completely disrupted but, at the same time, we have learned new ways to worship and to show Christian friendship and love in this place. Thanks to the technical skills of a very few talented people we have managed to stream worship into your homes, to hold regular ‘Zoom’ coffee times and enjoy a fascinating Lent course almost as if we were in the same room.

In addition I have been greatly heartened at the way in which people have cared for each other through regular telephone contact or socially distanced visits.

And in our town generally I have felt an air of caring and recognition in the way people have watched out for one another.

Perhaps most of all we should be thankful for the way in which the vaccine process has been rolled out. Many of us are now receiving their second dose and the courtesy and efficiency with which this has been carried out is a cause for much gratitude.

So, as we follow the roadmap to recovery with important landmark dates in place between now and June we give thanks and pray that mutual respect and common sense will continue to prevail as we are give a fresh chance to consider a way forward in a changed world.

Easter, of course, gives us a roadmap to recovery too. Recovery from the darkness of Good Friday to the glory and celebration of Easter Day and Jesus risen from the dead.

In the sadness and the rejoicing of those three days (and all that it means for our future) we see love. We see God’s love demonstrated to us to in the way we have seen people cope with the difficult circumstances of the last year – not least in the way in which we have helped one another simply get through the difficult days.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous song from ‘Aspects of Love’ springs to mind: ‘Love, love changes everything.’ Indeed it does!

In a new publication from the Iona Community are the following words:

Everything dies.
Life dies.
Death dies.
Everything is done.

Except love.

Only love is not done.
Only love will not die.
Everything is finished except love.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

At some point everything will be done.
Except love.
Love is never done.

With every blessing for Easter and as you journey on.

Paul

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment

Nurturing the Seeds

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
March 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

In early January Jane began her gardening year by planting tomato seeds.

This year we will have red, yellow and black – yes, black – tomatoes.

The seeds were carefully nurtured in the warmth of the house but now, with plants some three to four inches high, they are lovingly transported to the greenhouse each morning and then returned to the house overnight.

Whilst Jane simply loves the whole process of propagation and nurture I’m afraid my real interest is in consuming the end product. At the height of the season I’d be very happy to have home-grown tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper!

Perhaps it is because of ‘lockdown’ but I do find that I’ve taken more interest in watching the seedlings grow this year. Indeed, I was fascinated, when the tiny plants were mainly on the kitchen windowsill, to watch them grow and, more especially, to see how they needed to be turned each day as the leaves reoriented themselves to the direction of sun, growing taller and stronger as a result.

And then, at our streamed Eucharist for Candlemas, Gerard introduced me to a hymn I’d not come across before. I’ve found myself returning to the words regularly and they have become a source of encouragement and hope:

        In a world where people walk in darkness,
        let us turn our faces to the light, to the light of God
        revealed in Jesus, to the daystar scattering our night.

        For the light is stronger than the darkness and the day
        will overcome the night, though the shadows linger all
        around us, let us turn our faces to the light.

Paul.

Posted in Letters | Leave a comment