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.

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Gateway Magazine, March 2021

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

Gateway Magazine March 2021
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Lent Prayer

A Lent Prayer

Lord, it is Lent. Lent is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is Lent after a long year. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.

Lent is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

Lent is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

Lent heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray. Amen.

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Towards a Thankful Lent 2021

St. Michael’s Vicarage, Alnwick
February 2021

Dear Friends,
LENT 2021

Jennie and Iris were great friends and stalwart members of the church where I grew up and I remember them with great fondness.

Coming out of Evensong many years ago I recall a conversation that went something like this:
Iris: “Goodness, what miserable hymns we had tonight!”
Jennie: “Well, of course. It’s Lent; we’re meant to be miserable!”

It was at that point I resolved that, if ever I was to become ordained, I would ensure we avoided miserable hymns during Lent.

Despite the best attempts of many, it seems as if we have been in a permanent Lent for the last year. Undoubtedly, we have so much to be thankful for. There has been untold goodwill and concern. People have shown care and kindness for each other in a way that has been encouraging and refreshing — and now, as the vaccine is being rolled out so efficiently, there are signs of further hope which warm our hearts. For all of this: thanks be to God!

In the introduction to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist the president says: “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent”- Despite the call to repentance which we receive each Ash Wednesday (and, indeed, every time we celebrate the Eucharist) we are reminded too that it is followed by the assurance of forgiveness. Nowhere does the Church invite us to the observance of a miserable Lent. And so, this year in particular, I want to invite you to the observance of a thankful Lent.

Let us use the six weeks which lie ahead of us to be thankful and positive in our outlook and in the time we spend in prayer and reflection.

Of course, if giving up milk in your tea, or lemon in your gin and tonic, really helps you then far be it from me to dissuade you from such practices. I would, however, urge you to be especially thankful for the things and people we often take for granted, to recognise each day the love which God demonstrates in sending us his Son and, above all, to be kind to yourself.

In these restricted times we will continue each Sunday with our streamed service of Holy Communion on YouTube at 10.00am and with our Zoom coffee time afterwards.

On Ash Wednesday (17th February) there will be a streamed service of Holy Communion at 10.15am which can also be viewed at any time later in the day if the morning session is not convenient for you.

In addition we will broadcast a simple service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer each Wednesday of Lent at 10.15am and on Thursday evenings we will be able to meet via Zoom when Gerard will guide us through ‘The Character Course’ which promises to be fascinating.

Further instructions on joining in all of this can be found on our website alnwickanglican.com as detailed at the top of this letter.

Below, you will also find a selection of bible passages and prayers — some well-known, others less so — which I hope you will find helpful in the keeping of a thankful Lent.
With the assurance of my prayers and the hope that, before long, we may meet again as the gathered family of God in this place.

Paul.

You can see Towards a Thankful Lent here.

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Gateway Magazine, February 2021

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

Gateway Magazine February 2021
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Bishop Mark

St. Michael’s Vicarage,  Alnwick

February 2021

Dear People of Alnwick,

It was a delight and a privilege to have Bishop Mark, our new Bishop of Berwick, preach at our streamed service on Sunday 24th January when we celebrated the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Bishop Mark subsequently joined us for our Zoom coffee session after the service and, amongst a wide variety of topics discussed, he echoed the feelings of many of us when he pointed out how eager he was to be able to be out, meeting with people and engaging in a more natural way than through streaming and Zoom meetings.

Of course we all recognise how fortunate we are to have modern methods of being in touch and the great blessings we can derive from instant communication in a way that our forebears would have thought impossible.

We are perhaps equally aware of the way in which these technological miracles can be misused.

Who would have thought that any world leader might find themselves removed from their greatest vehicle of communication because of their inability to express themselves in a temperate manner?

So, yet again, we are reminded that things which are, on face value, such a blessing can, in the wrong hands, be spoiled and abused.

In the world of communications St. Paul was, in his time, most definitely a leader in his field.  Undoubtedly some of his pronouncements were controversial but, as Bishop Mark reminded us in his sermon, Paul listened for the word of God in his life.

The book of Proverbs (21: 23) reminds us: ‘To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble’.

However we find ourselves communicating, now and when this pandemic has come to an end, let us do so with mutual respect, with an ear to what God might be saying to us and for the building up of relations and, above all, the Kingdom of God.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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Gateway Magazine, December/January 20/21

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

GatewayDecember
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Longing for Light

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

I am writing this letter in the middle of November for an issue of ‘Gateway’ which covers the period to the end of January.

In terms of the Church’s year this will see us through Advent, Christmas and most of the season of Epiphany; times of patient expectation, of great rejoicing and of understanding how the baby born in the manger was God’s gift to the whole world.

As the weeks pass by, we know that the observation of these important days will take place – just as they always have down the ages – but just how we might be able observe them remains a mystery as we await further news on the ending of a second period of  ‘Lockdown’, what might be required in the way of ongoing restrictions and, in particular, the extent to which we may, or may, be able to gather with friends and family over Christmas and New Year.

Uncertainty is all around us – including the uncertainty of just when a safe and effective vaccine may be successfully developed and freely available.

It depends, to a large extent, on each individual’s personality as to just how much uncertainty one can deal with. For my own part, I function much better when I know what plans are and how they will be implemented; but the simple fact of the matter is that this is just not possible at the current time.

This time ‘round, Christmas and Epiphany may be times of ‘waiting’ just as much as Advent: waiting – but without the full knowledge of what might lie ahead.

The expectancy of Advent is always undergirded with the joyful anticipation of the birth of the Christ-child at Christmas and, although that everlasting joy and truth remains, it will, most likely, be the oddest of celebrations most of will have experienced.

More than ever, the opening words of the hymn we often sing in Advent reflect the mood of all of us ‘Longing for light, we wait in darkness’.

As we journey through the dark days of winter, however different our celebrations may have to be, we know in our heart of hearts that, come what may, our God will be with us. His love, demonstrated in the gift of his Son, is unwavering. Now, despite all the uncertainties, is a time to rest in that simple yet profound truth.

‘Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake,
all now mysterious shall be clear at last.’

May you know God’s abiding presence as we continue to live through the uncertainties of these days and may our longing for light be rewarded with better days ahead.

With every blessing,
Paul

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Gateway Magazine, November 2020

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

Nov 20
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Being ‘FINE’

St. Michael’s Vicarage
Alnwick

Dear People of Alnwick,

How are you?

That feels like the most appropriate thing I can ask as the clocks go back, the dark nights descend and the prospect of a difficult winter lies ahead.

But then, a slightly different question comes to mind.

How are you – really?

So many of us are able, even in the most trying of circumstances, to ‘put on a brave face’ and give people the answer we think they really want to hear:

“I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”

After more than twenty years I can still recall that, as my year group was preparing to leave theological college and begin our lives as curates, the Principal invited a well-known and very experienced clergyman to talk to us about parish life.

“Beware,” he said “when, standing in the porch saying goodbye to people as they leave church on a Sunday, someone asks: ‘And how are you?’

Your immediate response will be you say, ‘I’m fine, thank you!’ Remember – FINE stands for FRUSTRATED, INSECURE, NEUROTIC and EXHAUSTED!”

As we get used to the restrictions of life in ‘Tier Two’ mode (and with the threat of ‘Tier Three’ never far away) none of us should feel embarrassed, foolish or less than perfect if we admit to being any – or all – of those four things.

The simple truth of the matter (and you don’t really need me to remind you of this) is that this awful virus, and all its horrible consequences, has been with us now for nine months.

During that time – and to varying degrees, of course – most of us will have been challenged, inconvenienced, felt lonely and isolated, worried about family and loved ones, been ill ourselves and possibly experienced bereavement.

I have no magic answers that will take this situation away – and I know that telling you others are experiencing the same sort of thing doesn’t help your own situation.

So, please, remember what ‘FINE’ stands for. Feel free to ring the Vicarage ‘phone  number. It might be me who answers – or it might be Jane. We’re often FINE ourselves but we’re both good listeners!

Remember, too, that God is with us in every step we take. He knows our thoughts, he understands our feelings and wants to share our burdens.

Whatever the future has in store for us, God continues to hold each and every one of us in the palm of his hand – and, for that alone, we must give thanks.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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