Gateway Magazine, October 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 Oct 2021
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Michael and all the Angels

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
October 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

Have you noticed how the evenings are already getting darker? We’ve not yet put the clocks back and yet dusk is with us by late afternoon.

Turning out in the dark for meetings or activities is something we have got out of the habit of doing since the first lockdown began but it is heartening to know that social activities in the evening are slowly beginning to take off once again. It’s lovely, for instance, to know that our indoor bowlers at St Michael’s are back in the Parish Hall each Tuesday evening.

Of course, for some, it’s equally good to be able to draw the curtains, put another log on the fire and enjoy the cosiness of an evening at home as the weather turns darker and colder.

In church on Sunday evenings we’ve revised our pattern of worship. We hope that, before too long, we might be able to reform our choir but, at least until then, it is quite a challenge to have a weekly sung Evensong without the lead of our choristers.

Our new pattern leaves Evensong on the first Sunday of the month but this is followed by an Iona-style service, the lovely evening office of Compline and then a Taizé-style service on the second, third and fourth Sundays of the month respectively.

So far this pattern has met with the approval of our Sunday evening congregation and, indeed, we have found that it has attracted others who might not otherwise have been evening worshippers.

Each of these lovely forms of worship have particularly engaging and memorable prayers within them. At Evensong the comforting ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord and, from Compline, ‘Visit, Lord, we pray, this place and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy. Let your holy angels dwell here to keep us in peace ‘

By the time you read this we will have celebrated once again St Michael, chief of the angels and the co-patron of our parish along with St Paul.

Perhaps we should have greater regard for the angels not only as messengers but also as protectors. I, for one, particularly bring them to mind as evening draws on. Perhaps that is from training in a theological college which sung Compline every evening — or maybe it comes from even further back

I suspect I was not the only child of earlier years who regularly sang at the end of the school day:

‘Lord, keep us safe this night, secure from all our fears.
May angels guard us while we sleep,
’til morning light appears. ‘

May you know Michael and all the angels watching over you both day and night.

With every blessing,

Paul

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The Bells at St. Michael’s

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
September 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

The front cover of this edition of our magazine shows Mark, Bishop of Berwick, at the wonderful service of blessing for our ten bells on 9th August before they were transported into the tower over the following two days and then given a ‘test run’ on the evening of 12th August.

What a joy it was to hear the bells pealing out over the town — and expertly rung by a team of ringers from all over Northumberland as well as Newcastle and South Shields.

As I write, the work of ensuring efficient sound control is taking place and within the next few days the refurbished clock face will be returned and attached to the carefully re-sited clock mechanism. Soon the scaffolding will begin to be dismantled and we will once again be able to see the sturdy tower which, if it could speak, would have such tales to tell as it has watched over Alnwick for so many centuries.

These days are, without doubt, an historical time for our church and our town as we look forward to the dedication service at 7.00pm on St, Michael’s Day, 29th September. How privileged we are to witness these happenings.

Soon this amazing set of bells will draw the faithful to worship week by week, ring out joyfully for weddings and mark significant occasions for our town and nation. For all of this, thanks be to God.

Like bells, we to can draw others to worship and show them a better way not by making a noise but by the manner of our lives and the way in which we deal with others.

By living Godly lives — not, however, being over-pious — and by doing that which is right, just and honest we can become recognised as people of faith and integrity and so draw others into our fellowship.

In a hymn which is becoming increasingly popular there is a refrain at the end of each verse:

‘All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us all strive to supplement the call of our new bells by doing what is right in God’s eyes and ensuring a welcome for all who are drawn across the threshold of St. Michael’s.

With every blessing,
Paul

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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
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