Monday, 29 December 2008

Midnight Mass at St. Cuthbert's

Actually the picture was taken the Sunday after Christmas, when we celebrated Holy Innocents - hence the red burse and veil amongst all the Christmas hangings.

It's taken a while to persuade the Internet to upload my homily for Christmas but it can now be found by following the link. Basically the drama of Christmas speaks to us, and the re-telling of the story resonates with our experience. The coming of Christ in his Nativity should speak to us where we are and touch us where we need it. This could sound trite and rather simple... But what is more simple than a birth? And what is more necessary to new life?

Christ the Saviour is born

I'm posting this rather late in the day... Nevertheless, a very Happy and Blessed Christmas!

St. Cuthbert's was full for the first of our Christmas Eve services - with more standing than there were vacant nave seats. It was good to have a choir of that particular service, as well as Midnight Mass. The consensus was that the newly re-vamped Carol Service was a success. There were particular requests to have copies of a "Christmas Version of 1 Corinthians 13." It's cited as "Author Unknown," so I trust that I'm not breaking anyone's copyright...


Author unknown

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls,
but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas puddings,
preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime,
but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchen, sing carols in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity,
but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes,
attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata,
but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the children to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return,
but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Computer games will break, cashmere jumpers will wear out, golf clubs will get lost.
But giving the gift of love will endure.

After the celebrations

Christmas seems to fall into two halves at St. Cuthbert's. There's the actual celebration in church which starts at 6p.m. on Christmas Eve with a packed church for Carols, the lighting of Christingles (now less emphasised then in the past) and the Blessing of the Crib), and continues through Midnight Mass and the Eucharist for Christmas morning. But before that there are the more secular hors d'oeuvres in the Church Hall. It's always beautifully decorated. You've seen how Kaydar was able to make use of it for their Nativity presentation, and before that the Lunch Club had had its celebrations. Festivities in the Hall peak with the annual concert by Leadgate Gleemen and our own Handbell Ringers - the whole occasion by candlelight and in an aroma of mulled wine and warm mince pies. It's all been fun...

Friday, 19 December 2008

Busy but fun - and holy

I try to keep Friday as my day off - but it's been a vain attempt this month. Today has been spent largely in the company of the computer and the photocopier as I try to get on top of various service leaflets for next week. I'm having a break at present because the copier has just produced a first side run of Christmas morning's pewsheet so warped that I can't feed them back in for the second side run; I'm trying to flatten them with the aid of Young's Analytical Concordance and Pierre Chaunu on "The Reformation", two of the larger books in my library. But at last all the hymns and readings are chosen up to Holy Innocents Day, and there are piles of paper heaped on the study coffee-table waiting to be collated, folded and stapled into the newly re-vamped Christmas Eve Carol Service.

Tonight we have our annual concert by Leadgate Gleemen and St. Cuthbert's Handbell Ringers. Someone reported hearing a performance by an older group of Gleemen. When they said who one of the singers was they got the reply, "He's not one of the older ones. He's only 86!" Anyway, it's always good fun. And last year so many people kept turning up that we had to send out for more mince pies and mix extra mulled wine.

This follows on from this morning's Toddler Group Party with carols. Great fun - especially with all the sleighbells during Away in a Manger. There have been a couple of school services / concerts too. But the highlight so far is the Nativity Play put on by Kaydar, a local organisation which uses our Hall for part of its work with people with learning and other disabilities. And if there were proof that it's not just politically correct to call them "differently-abled" this was it. The Angel Gabriel was a real star (actually so was the Star - who guided angels, shepherds and "wise men" on their journey to Bethlehem). At first I was mainly concerned that the Angel didn't fall off our stage, but I need have had no fear. She had learned a full script which she not only voiced clearly for all to hear, but she signed it too ("She's deaf, you know," a member of the audience whispered to me) and issued stage directions with aplomb. Mary and Joseph knew just where they were supposed to be, and everybody played their part. The whole production was so fresh and beautifully delivered - and the audience not only clapped and cheered but was quite visbly and audibly moved. It's a pity that not more people could see it. But I'm glad I did.

As for the performance of "All I want for Christmas is you..." Mariah Carey, eat your heart out!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Isn't this your busy season?...

The widely held opinion that clergy have their "busy season" in the run-up to Christmas generally has me nodding withou much argument. At least everyone else is so busy that we don't get so troubled with the more routine matters.

But that's not proving true this year. There seems to be no let-up from the routine, extra non-seasonal work has come along and preparations for Christmas are still hardly begun. The church's tree is at least ordered (and arrives on Thursday) but I hadn't got round to finding one for the Vicarage - any time I've had a free moment it's either been raining, sub-zero or dark, not ideal conditions for open-air tree choosing. So I've finally caved in and bought an artificial one. Decorated by my younger son, it looks pretty good, but I think it's the last of its type in stock at the Consett branch of Argos (I'm afraid the others didn't look up to much - and ours is no longer in stock online).

So this evening has been a breather between the general busy-ness and the pre-Christmas rush. Kaydar which uses our church hall in its work with people with learning disabilities is putting on its Nativity Play tomorrow, Thursday finds us in a local residential home for a Carol Service, on Friday morning the Toddler Group has its party, and later in the day it's our mega-concert with the Leadgate Gleemen and St. Cuthbert's Handbell Ringers. Sometime I might think about what we are going to be doing in church, apart from cleaning it on Saturday morning! Our seasonal big clean holds out the inducement of bacon sandwiches made by one of our Readers, Paul Heatherington.

That's not all he does - he's a very busy person, and you can find the sermon Paul preached last Sunday online. I always think that two weeks of John the Baptist is a bit much in Advent, so I'm glad that I got the first of them - while Paul has carried on from my points about the perils of punctuation to bring the insights of a lawyer and to bid us again hear the Baptist's call.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Preparing the Way

We've had a cold start to December. Heavy snow on Thursday, though fortunately one of our churchwardens had gritted the road surface on our 1 in 5 hill. So I lost one visit to a residential home through failure to extract the car, but then the snow began to melt and everything else has carried on as usual. Thankfully a funeral cortege and mourners were able to reach us on Friday morning - vying for parking space with the Toddler Group in the Hall. And on Saturday we had an almost totally clear road for our (pre-) Christmas Fair - which was very successful both in terms of attendance and money made! Thanks to all who worked so hard and supported it.

And so to church this morning - I'm glad that numbers are recovering a bit after the weather worries of the last two weekends. I like Advent, though sometimes people worry about pre-emting Christmas a bit too much. This year, though, people's preparations for Christmas seem rather muted - a point I made in my homily this morning. Click here to find it. With all the talk of "Economic Downturn" (was it the government or the BBC who invented that term? - they've certainly got a logo for it on the News), I could do with a bit of glitz. I'm on the lookout for over-the-top Christmas decorations.

Anway, the homily marries questions about the punctuation of Isaiah and Mark in relation to John the Baptist's injunction to "Prepare the Way of the Lord" with reflections on the lives of Nicholas Ferrar and Thomas Merton. Both of them (400 years apart) were members of the college where I was an undergraduate - Clare College, Cambridge. Ferrar's commemoration in the Church of England's Calendar was last Thursday, 4th December. And next Wednesday sees the 40th anniversary of the death of Merton on 10th December 1968. Both continue to have much to teach us. The picture at the top of this post is of Little Gidding where Ferrar established his community - about which T S Eliot wrote in his Four Quartets. I try not to quote Eliot too much, but I've given in this time! Below the portrayal of Ferrar in Clare College Chapel.

And if all that's too serious there's some reference to Frankie goes to Hollywood. Here's to more "50 greatest Christmas hits" compilations which gave me the idea...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Into December

Quite a late night blog... I've been trying to find out whether any decision has been taken as to whether my younger son's school will be closed (in advance of anticipated heavy snowfall). There's nothing on the County Council or local BBC websites, so it looks as though we will just have to get up early and listen to local radio...

Meanwhile I can report that our new Parish Magazine (double issue for December and January) is now out. Our printer has got new machines - and the improvement shows on the hard copy. Of course you can also take a look online by clicking the link. But you only get the parish Christmas card if you buy a copy! - or at least find yourself in a place where we're giving them away. I've just printed and folded 300 cards, but the yellow ink has now run out, so there won't be any more till I get back to the shops...

Also up in the air of virtual reality you can find our Reader, Rosie Junemann's sermon for Advent Sunday. With our Christmas Fair this Saturday (11a.m. till 2p.m. for those who can make it - with Santa, Consett Brass, lunches, seasonal stalls and all the rest), we are moving on. The Hall's Christmas Decorations go up on Sunday afternoon... in time for the Lunch Club's "do" next Tuesday + Kaydar's Nativity Play, the Leadgate Gleemen / St. Cuthbert's Handbell Ringers' Concert and more. Read all about them in the magazine.

But we try to do something about Advent - Christmas is not entirely pre-empted. I've done my own bit by failing to buy any Christmas Cards so far (though I've ordered Nativity stamps at the local post office) - and I've only bought one Christmas present as yet... Then again, I haven't actually got anything sorted out for this Sunday's services. Perhaps if I get snowed in tomorrow it will help me get on...