Friday, 25 December 2009

Christ the Saviour is born

The reality of the Christmas celebration would have been the same, regardless of the weather. In the event, despite yet more snow on Christmas Eve, with a fair bit of effort people managed to reach St. Cuthbert's - mainly on foot...

Numbers were pretty much the same as in recent times at the 6p.m. Carol / Christingle Service - almost full, but with a well-represented choir as a real bonus. They were back for Midnight Mass. And numbers were actually up a bit this morning! But it's still freezing with Church Bank in the grip of ice and snow.

The weather was my starting point in preaching at Midnight Mass, and I felt even chillier after reading R. S Thomas's poem, Hill Christmas as part of it. But the offering of worship was warm. Thanks to all who made it possible. I haven't yet taken any pictures of the church - but it was beautifully decorated.

And my sermon is to be found here.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas approaching

I think I'm going to have to sort out what we're doing on Sunday before I think any more about Christmas. Sunday is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and we've decided to keep the Feast - but how to combine it with all the carols that people might expect?

Meanwhile, we're continuing to have the white lead-up to Christmas which Bing Crosby dreamt about. But the good news is that Church Bank has now been salted - so we're accessible with care. Flower arrangers are hard at work in church, the Brownies and Guides produced about 250 Christingles for the Christmas Eve Carol Service (service details in my previous post), the Crib is in place, orders of service are sorted out etc. etc....

So come along and join us - as well as sweets, our Christingles have sultanas... the healthier option (and why not try eating the orange?).

Monday, 21 December 2009

Lovely snow and the perils of the hill

We've celebrated the Fourth Sunday of Advent with a Nativity presentation by our Sunday School at the Sung Eucharist. All credit to them for making it to church on foot. The average gradient of Church Bank is 1 in 7 - and at its steepest is nearly 1 in 5. Only two cars made it to the church - both 4 x 4s. Yet still more than half our average numbers turned up for our main service.

And it's worth it, of course! We got our rather wonderful tree in place last week - and it's been beautifully decorated. After the Eucharist a working party got the stable for our crib scene in place too. Now we just need the decorations and good turn-outs later in the week. Brownies  & Guides are preparing to make 250 Christingles for the Christmas Eve Carol Service.

The snow is lovely - but we could do with a clear road (and more salt please, Durham County Council!).

Meanwhile the next event is carol-singing round the Tree in Shotley Bridge Village Centre - 7p.m. Monday 21st December. Later in the week in St. Cuthbert's Church, there's...

Thursday 24th December: CHRISTMAS EVE

6.00p.m. Carol Service with Christingle – a lovely service with candlelight and hand-bells.
11.30p.m. Midnight Mass of Christmas

Friday 25th December: CHRISTMAS DAY

9.30a.m. Parish Eucharist with Carols - a service for all ages.

Sunday 27th December: 1st SUNDAY OF CHRISTMAS (St. John the Evangelist)

10.00a.m. Sung Parish Eucharist

Meanwhile you might like to take a look at a new website / blog from Shotley Bridge Village Trust

And more wintry pictures from my phone are to be found here

Monday, 14 December 2009

Gaudete - Time to rejoice!

The use of liturgical rose (pink) at St. Cuthbert's sadly doesn't extend further than the colour of the third candle on our Advent wreath. But it was duly lit, and we were reminded that yesterday was Gaudete Sunday, the name coming from the Entrance Antiphon for the day: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near - and also from the Epistle of the Day, Philippians 4.4-7.

Paul Heatherington, preaching, took the Epistle as his starting point and involved us in an imaginative excursion into personal relations in the early church at Philippi. I'm glad to say that the members of the congregation who took the parts of Euodia and Syntyche get on rather better than the characters they played. Click here to find out more.

Sending me his text, Paul added pictures to the e-mail of two of his subjects, Bishop Tom Wright and St. Paul, with the cheeky note: "Separated at birth?" I suspect this has been noted before...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Advent 2 & a Victorian Christmas

We had an excellent weekend at St. Cuthbert's - and in the village of Shotley Bridge. Our Christmas Fair was brilliantly successful, and the decision to time it within the village's "Victorian Christmas Weekend" seems to have paid off to mutual benefit. I was a bit wary on purist grounds of being too Christmassy - but then again, we have been known to have our Christmas Fair even before the start of Advent.

Santa Claus apparently arrived in style - if not with reindeer and sleigh - and carriage rides continued throughout Saturday with proceeds going to charity, while Father Christmas went to his grotto in the local Dentist's surgery. I'd already expressed the opinion that this would either do wonders for the image of dentistry or put children off Santa for life - in the event getting an appointment with the bearded one was to prove almost as difficult as getting speedy attention for that painful molar, and he found himself fully booked (yes, you couldn't just turn up!) for the whole weekend. Though he did find time to come out and switch on the Christmas lights.

In the midst of it all I found time to write a homily for Sunday, which you can find here. It's about that most un-Christmassy character, John the Baptist. How is it that he manages to hog two Sundays out of Advent? Well, that's the question I started from...

After a Sunday morning in church, it was back to the village where crowds came out for carol-singing from our local schools, and a performance by our own St. Cuthbert's Handbell Ringers. Everyone seems to have had a great time - and there was lots more going on. What started as a local business initiative to stimulate trade has grown into a genuine community event.

Finally, back up the hill we transformed our Hall with its own Christmas decorations. In response to those who asked, we can't put them up in time for the Christmas Fair simply because we can't get the decorations in as well as the customers!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Last things and a new Church Year

Traditionally on the Sundays of Advent - the start of a new year for the Church - Christians were urged to meditate upon the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Three of them we prefer not to think about too much these days - and the fourth we'd rather put off as long as possible too.

During the last week the people of St. Cuthbert's have been grieved by the death of one of our retired priests, the Revd. Harry Lee. Could he be described as retiring? For me he's been a real source of encouragement during all the time I've been in this parish - the home he made with his wife Averil a source of hospitality and relaxation, a brother priest who could be acute in his criticism, wise in his observations, wide in his breadth of reading and learning, and always funny. His quick-wittedness was perhaps just too quick for many. At parties and other social occasions - given a suitable stooge or sparring partner - he could steal the show and reduce people to helpless laughter. In all things he was a deeply prayerful person, though reticent as to his spiritual depths. During the last days in which he needed hospital care, his Daily Office book was by his bedside. Looking at it back in his home I felt privileged to hold a book so well-used and well-prayed over a lifetime.

Harry came into his own talking about theatre - a "Friend" of the Theatre Royal and the Consett Empire. Shakespeare, pantomime and ballet were all part of the man. His funeral is to be on Tuesday at 9.30a.m. in St. Cuthbert's. May he rest in peace!

Meanwhile, I've not had time for recent blogging or internet updates. So just to say you can find my sermon for the Feast of Christ the King here. And to find out more of what's been going on recently - and looking forward over the next two months - our new Parish Magazine for December 2009 & January 2010 is here.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sacrifice and Salvation

Our Bishop, Tom Wright, is currently on sabbatical leave in the United States, writing "The Big Book" on Paul - something to look forward to! Meanwhile, our Reader, Paul Heatherington, took up some of his ideas on salvation (popularly described as "life after life after death") as his starting point for his sermon yesterday. And then on to an exploration of theme's in the lectionary's epistle from Hebrews. That's an ambitious task. Click here to read what Paul had to say.

The Good Samaritan had a mention - and the picture is of the depiction you'll find in St. Cuthbert's Church.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance and Humanity

My handwriting is quite atrocious. As a child I would be told off because it was so bad. The great virtue seemed to be neatness, but I scrawled. And as the years go by it's got worse.

It's funny when our organist complains that he can't read the weekly hymn list. Embarrassing when I can't read my own writing. Potentially serious when our local Registrar rang me up to say she couldn't read some of the entries I'd made on our last Marriage Return (though we laughed about it, and I've been forgiven). But I don't think there's much I can do about it now. When one of my children was diagnosed at Primary School as having dyspraxia, he was able to benefit from Handwriting Workshops and Motor Skills sessions with trained professionals. Now his writing is far better than mine. I had no such diagnosis or help - just the occasional telling-off. It didn't do me any good.

But knowing how difficult I find it is to produce a legible sentence - and how the individual characters within words seem to have a deliberately mis-shaped self-image - I can only marvel at the way "The Sun" newspaper has chosen to pillory the Prime Minister yet again. His politics may be fair game - and military strategies over Iraq and Afghanistan need considered debate. But to take up the poor handwriting of a man who also has serious problems with his eyesight and use it to heap calumny on him is both indecent and cruel.

When I mentioned this to someone, they responded, "Well, we didn't vote for him." So, does that make it OK?

Isn't the clearer evidence that this is a man who finds it difficult to express what he feels - and more difficult to form in written characters on paper - yet who nevertheless does so? That he knows something about grief, and tries decently and humanely to express his genuine feeling. He may not make the best job of it, but he tries.

One of the less savoury aspects of today's culture and society is to express how it feels in terms of "hate." It's there in vulgar petty forms such as Facebook groups like "I hate John and Edward" (two rather daft, but innocent 17 year olds on The X-Factor). Why do people need to sign up in thousands to say that they hate people they've never met, and whose only offence is against tunefulness?

Love good. Hate evil. Do justice at the gates. That's the message of the prophets which we need to hear.

Today in the midst of Remembrance commemorations, we need to remember what truly makes for humanity. We need decency - not cheapness - in our dealings with each other. Otherwise what's the point of it all?

This is what I had to say on Remembrance Sunday before the last round of press nastiness broke out.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

For all the Saints

Benedict Biscop,Ceolfrith, Sigfrid and Eosterwine are amongst the easily forgotten saints of the North East of England. But the Feast of All Saints itself is a reminder that even anonymity does not preclude holiness. We worship with the numberless hosts of heaven. And saints are formed from people like us - people from our won community.

So in preaching this morning, I hoped to point people to those signs of the Kingdom which are to be found in people and things we may take for granted. And we shouldn't understimate ourselves. Find out more by clicking here.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Church making the news...

It's been all over the blogs and the papers - but happened just as I was putting the finishing touches to the last page of our November Parish Magazine. So this is what I wrote in my "View from the Vicarage."

[The print edition is now out and being distributed. But to appreciate it in full colour, you need to click here. The picture above is to be found in the magazine - of a certain retired priest who incites ladies to wear hats in church.]

Careful what you write…

As I write these words the Church is in the news - well, not much, but in a short story that the Vatican has opened the way for Anglican clergy to transfer their allegiance more easily to Rome should they feel that way inclined. Of course it was already possible. But now there is to be a structure, and clergy and congregations who make the jump will be able to retain certain Anglican practices within defined “Ordinariates.” There’s a word new to most people - and me! There’s just this problem - most of the disaffected clergy I know of who wish to escape the prospect of women bishops are already quite happy with official Roman Catholic liturgies, and would pop over pretty quickly if it weren’t for the prospect of stricter discipline, re-selection (or not) and re-training - plus the fear that they’d encounter more guitars and rather less incense… And the pay is even worse! What they don’t want is the assurance they can carry on in an Anglican way - after all they never have wanted to do that in the past!

Actually the Church hit the news the day before this as well when Fr. Ed Tomlinson - an Anglican priest in Tunbridge Wells - found an excerpt from his “blog” plastered all over the national dailies. He wrote:

In the last few years it has become painfully obvious that many families I have conducted funerals for have absolutely no desire for any Christian content whatsoever. I have then stood at the Crem like a lemon, wondering why on earth I am present at the funeral of somebody led in by the tunes of Tina Turner, summed up in pithy platitudes of sentimental and secular poets and sent into the furnace with ‘I did it my way’ blaring out across the speakers! To be brutally honest I can think of a hundred better ways of spending my time as a priest on God’s earth. What is the point of my being present if spiritually unwanted? … Once upon a time even funerals at the Crem would have been sincerely Christian in character. But that was another England, a time when Christianity was worshipped on these shores…

I fear that he’s less than charitable, though I know what he means. But I rather welcome the desire I encounter in people who wish to say something personal to them while at the same time having a priest as officiant. Where religion seems an alien creature, the music or poetry they know might help them make a connection. Weddings in church offer more possibilities than the civil version. If people wonder about my attitude I’d say, “Try me.” Nevertheless I’d advise that the organ provides better music than a CD for getting into church whether for a wedding or a funeral - our Bill knows when to start and stop! Let’s be sanguine - and cheerful.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Overdue post...

... I mean this "post" is overdue, rather than the stuff from Royal Mail which is still coming through my letterbox - and I like the people who deliver my mail, whatever is going to happen at the end of the week. While on that subject, why is it that if I'm out and Royal Mail can't deliver an item of post, they have to take it back to the sorting office four miles away to be picked up after I've waited a further 24 hours? But if Parcel Force can't make the delivery, they can drop it in to the Post Office 150 yards away at the bottom of the road, and I can get it straight away? Maybe Royal Mail ought to sort their own management systems out rather than blaming it all on the work force....

I've not been blogging recently, largely because it's been so busy recently - but fun as well. I'll post again soon, with a link to our November Parish Magazine (just finished for the printer) - it says something of what we've been up to.

Anyway, I've at last up-loaded the two sermons most recently preached at St. Cuthbert's - both by our Readers: Paul Heatherington on the Word in Hebrews from 11th October, and Rosie Junemann on St. Luke for his Feast Day of 18th October. I see that I haven't up-loaded anything of my own for a while, but recent offerings have been "live" only - and that's how it's going to be this coming Sunday too!

Friday, 2 October 2009

How true?

I was raised in the Church of England. I can’t say I’m lapsed. You can’t really lapse if you’re an Anglican. You don’t lose your faith, you just can’t remember where you left it.

I got a bit annoyed during The News Quiz on Radio 4 the other day. It was Jeremy Hardy who said these words in the midst of an exchange in which Christianity in general and the Church of England in particular came in for some rather scathing sarcasm. “All a bit predictable,” I found myself saying aloud. “Would they say that sort of thing on the radio about..."

See where the "View from the Vicarage" goes by following this link to the newly-uploaded October issue of our Parish Magazine...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Odour of Sanctity?

The Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux falls on Thursday of this week, 1st October. Many people in this area are looking forward to a "visit of her relics" - part of a "nationwide tour" - to Newcastle-upon-Tyne beginning on the Eve of the Feast and continuing onto the Feast Day itself. A programme for the hours that the relics of the saint are with us is to be found here. During this time the relics will be at St. Andrew's, Worswick Street - just round the corner from the old Pilgrim Street Fire Station. It's not a huge church, and I'm wondering how they plan to cope with all the crowds.

Will I be amongst them? I've visited Lisieux myself many years ago - and the relics on view there and then were perhaps too loftily displayed. I think this is going to be a rather more intimate occasion. I'd want a visit to be more than curosity on my part - and I'd need to be asking myself just what I'm looking for? Some of my thinking is to be found in the sermon I preached in St. Cuthbert's last Sunday - click to find it. This is the way I started:

You might be puzzled by an item I’ve included in today’s pew sheet about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Why’s it there? And what on earth is it all about? In part it’s there because I had a gap to fill, and an article ready-made to fill it. In part it’s because it’s the Feast of St. Thérèse on Thursday - we’ll be observing it as we celebrate the Eucharist that morning. And in part it’s because of a rather strange happening, which you might have come across in the news. From Wednesday afternoon until Thursday morning, Newcastle is going to have a “visit of the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” It’s part of a bigger event. Some of the physical remains of the saint (I think it’s bones from her foot and leg) have been brought from Normandy, where she lived and died, and they’re being taken round the country in a glass casket. Thérèse was a Carmelite nun who died early at the age of 24. People might have said she didn’t have much of a life: a pious childhood; education that seemed appropriate to a girl of her class in late 19th Century France; and the rest of her life in a Convent which she would never leave again. But from those narrow confines she touched the hearts of people round the world...

One thing I've recognised is that I find it hard to say merely "visit of her relics...." Much truer seems to ring: "when she comes..." Superstition or presence? Mystery or a few not-so-old bones which should be given a decent burial?

Meanwhile there's a reminder to Anglicans in our region that we're already the guardians of the mortal remains of St. Cuthbert and St. Bede, buried respectively at the east and west ends of Durham Cathedral. We don't take out their bones to put them on display (though of course there are the records of various exhumations over the centuries). But their shrines are a visible reminder of the call to holiness. What do they say to us today?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Feeling your age

I'm sitting here feeling rather sorry for myself after parting company with my upper 6 left molar this afternoon. We'd been through a lot together, but our relationship had become increasingly precarious in recent times. In the end it was the man who'd done so much of the patching up for us who decided the time had come to call it a day. So having gone to his surgery prepared for root canal work and a crown, I came away with a big hole and instuctions to steer clear of hot drinks, hard and chewy food... and alcohol - fortunately only for the rest of the day.

It's part of the aging process I suppose, though perhaps the damage was done in my teenage years when my childhood dentist used to drill anything that remotely resembled decay - thank goodness that there's a more hands-off approach now.

Thinking of how my body seems to be packing-in in various ways gave me cause for reflection as I looked at last Sunday's Gospel (Mark 9.30-37): Jesus taking a child in his arms and saying, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me..." We have to be like little children to draw close to God's kingdom. I found myself comparing this with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, who seems to consider it a virtue to have "put an end to childish ways." The childish approach for him is compared to having a knowledge which is only partial. Adulthood is about finding things "complete." But isn't that where we so often get things wrong? We want to have everything wrapped up - being adult requires that we have all the answers.

Perhaps we whizz past the implications of this when reading 1 Corinthians - much more attractive to read about Faith, Hope and Love. Maybe Paul hadn't thought it out. We need to recognise that our knowledge is only partial. That's why we need to be like children.

Anyway that's what I found myself saying when I preached at our tiny 8a.m. Eucharist a few days ago. Our Reader, Rosie Junemann, got the prime-time 10a.m. slot, and you can find out what she said here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Still at work - discipleship and the Cross

There may recently have been a lack of activity on the blogging front - but life itself, not least in the parish, is being eventful. Quite a number of Baptisms over the last few weeks - two of them, Lucy Thomas and Ethan Junemann, in the context of the Parish Eucharist (though two weeks apart, not together). I've been hopeless in getting pictures from our various events, though did manage to pull out my mobile phone to click the cutting of the cake for Ethan's celebration - photographed with parents, Harry and Alpa. One of Ethan's Grandmothers is our Reader, Rosie Junemann, and you can read her most recent sermon on "Open Hearts, not closed minds" here (apologies that it's been waiting to be uploaded since the end of August).

In the parish Mothers' Union, our Lunch Club, the PCC, Sunday School and the round of regular activities have all sprung back into life. Last weekend saw us occupied with our Annual Art Exhibition - an opportunity to see the work of local artists (and buy it). Alongside that we had participants in the Northumbria Historic Churches Trust Steeplechase, invitations to a local Bible Society Coffee Morning, another Baptism, a Deanery Evensong (excellent sermon by the Dean of Durham) - and we had the formal opening of our Church Hall Car Park by long-standing member and long-serving local councillor Derek Hume. Derek pointed out that he's been in our choir for 75 years now. He didn't serve quite that long as Ward Councillor, but long enough to gain recognition through being made an Honorary Alderman of the County.

I finally got round to scripting a sermon as well (all the other recent ones were available only "live"). It's here and tackles the theme of Discipleship and the Cross - appropriate, I hope, for a Sunday which fell the day before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

And while I can't link you to the Dean's sermon for Sunday evening, I can point you to the address he gave at the SCP National Conference in the summer. Our local Chapter (Durham & Newcastle) met on Monday - as always an affirming occasion for priests, men and women, in the Catholic Tradition of the Anglican Church. I've just had a member on the phone, regretting that he missed it, and asking also why there wasn't press coverage of the National Conference. He's right that it really deserves to be better known. Take a look...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Back to work...

It's been a busy summer - quite eventful, taking into account our Diocesan Clergy Summer Gathering, the SCP National Conference, a reading week at St. Deiniol's Library, Hawarden, and a couple of weeks in France. You might be able to find some pictures of the holiday here. Since our return last week there have been two weddings, three Baptisms and a rather larger than expected congregation on Sunday morning - keep it up!

And GCSE results for my younger son this morning - with which we're very pleased...

Our Parish Magazine for September has now gone to press. I'm not sure when we'll get it back from the printer, but you can find the full-colour on-line edition here. This is the editorial / View from the Vicarage:

“La Grippe A”…

is the name being given in France to what we call “Swine Flu.” It’s a rather less emotive title - and perhaps we’d have treated the illness rather differently if it had been called something else. For the moment - with a fall in the rate of infection over the summer holiday period - swine flu has almost disappeared from news coverage. But there are fears that once children return to school it might return again in pandemic proportions. The indications are that for most people it’s a relatively mild illness. But for a small minority it can lead to complications. And the families I know who have had young children suffering from it have found the experience upsetting, even worrying. So we shouldn’t minimise the problem.

In some ways the timing of the Church’s response to the epidemic was unfortunate. Guidelines were announced just as the rate of infection came to a peak towards the end of July. Now - having followed Department of Health advice that the Chalice should not be shared at Holy Communion, and that the Peace should not be shared with a handshake - we find that almost immediately the worst of the outbreak seems to be over. Except we know that we can’t be complacent. All too easily the virus could spread again.

I’ve reflected on the Church’s position as we’ve seen fears increase and recede - and I’ve circulated a leaflet on what we are doing and why. A reminder of my conclusion: “The risk of transmitting Swine Flu is no greater in a church than in any other public place. Being conscious of those church practices which might possibly increase the risk of infection can in fact reduce that risk, since it makes us more thoughtful of others and of what we do.”

And I hope that the feeling of “being deprived” because we can’t at present share the chalice may be helpful. Our Bishop has reminded us that “the fullness of the Sacrament” is to be found in Communion in one kind (i.e. as we receive only the consecrated host) - let us see it again as truly Christ’s Precious Body” (and therefore also his Blood). If we can’t shake hands at the Peace, instead we can take more notice of the people around us - the purpose of the Peace is to recognise Christ in our neighbour, not just to rush around the church. There’s a general feeling that having to think about what we are doing is no bad thing in the long-term.

Having said that, we took delivery of a case of Communion wine in the week before use of the chalice was discontinued. We look forward to opening it as soon as we can.

For the sake of posterity, here are the guidelines we're following - and the reasoning behind them.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Swine Flu and Spam

All my work on trying to produce guidelines for the Eucharist has now been superceded by the issuing of advice from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York - and firmed up in our own diocese by the Bishop of Durham. Holy Communion is to be in one kind, though the President at the Eucharist may choose to intinct the consecrated wafers before the distribution.

Lots of e-mails on the subject have been landing in my Inbox throughout the day - appropriately many of them are being marked in the subject line with the question, "Is this spam?" Almost...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Swine Flu and good practice at the Eucharist

The Church of England, our own Diocese of Durham and many other Church bodies have issued guidance on Church practice in relation to the fears over swine flu. What's missing is an indication of when the guidance might need actually to be implemented.

Faced last week with a sudden upsurge in infection in the wider community within our parish boundary, we had to do some thinking. Here's the gist of what I finally found myself sharing with the congregation and the action we took. Of course we'll need to review our practice on a regular basis:

1. Don't panic! All the evidence is that the illness is almost always mild. Even the worst case scenario figures given by the government for mortality are very low when divided by a population of 60 million - I think I hazarded a guess that this would work out at about 6 deaths for a parish of our size (actually it's nearer 10, now that I've done the sums... But let's not let that distract us).

2. Nevertheless we should be responsible. Some people may say they'd rather get flu sooner rather than later. But some of us have our holidays booked - and if everyone got flu all at once who's going to keep the country running and provide the care we all need?

3. There are some people you would definitely wish to avoid getting the illness - especially expectant mothers, mothers of very young children, the very young and elderly, and people who have complicated health conditions. We need to look out for them.

4. There are real concerns in our parish. I know several people who have swine flu in their families. It is spreading through some if not all the local schools. So proper precautions are responsible.

5. On the other hand because much of the spread in the last week or so has been through the schools, it's possible that the end of school term (for most of our children, 22nd July) will bring a fall-off in the rate of infection (but probably only temporarily).

6. How can we at St. Cuthbert's play our part when we worship together?

(a) follow the government's advice on hygiene - don't cough and sneeze over each other; use disposable tissues, and bin them carefully. If you've been infected or have been in close contact with someone who is infected, then it's responsible to stay away from people if you can. Wash your hands.

(b) most infection that's not airborne is by contagion, i.e. hand to nose / mouth. So I suggested that we should use the Peace to value one another - we don't need to shake hands. Instead, make eye-contact, smile, acknowledge one another... Having said that, some people did shake hands. But no one should feel that they have to.

(c) there is some guidance from the diocese about the chalice - one question is at what point might it have to be withdrawn? (In that case only the priest would drink from the chalice). Holy Communion in one kind is sufficient, i.e. receiving the Host. In the event we offered the chalice to all who wished to receive, but made it clear that they did not have to. We asked communicants not to intinct (not to dip the consecrated wafer into the chalice), because intinction itself is a means by which infection can be passed on (and it's bad practice!). Most people did receive from the chalice. But we noted among those who did not receive were a couple who had a family member receiving chemotherapy, and an expectant mother. I understand their concerns.

(d) people shouldn't feel that they had to shake the Vicar's hand as they left the church!

(e) alcohol hand-rub was available at the back of church (and the priest himself used it before the Offertory in addition to the usual lavabo).

In the event I think we got things about right. There is obviously widespread infection in our community, and we'll need to review how things progress, and whether the chalice should be withdrawn. One danger is that an invitation might be made to people to receive if they wish, only for the priest to find that most decline, leaving him / her with rather a lot of consecrated wine to consume. And the priest him/herself should not be obliged to consume - at the end of the Communion - what other people have declined to receive (or might have infected).

Should we publish these guidelines more widely? Are people presently staying away from church out of fear? If they knew what steps we are taking, perhaps they'd be reassured!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Saints and Prophets

After attending a Conference where a theme was the Northern Saints, I was back in my own parish - to hear a sermon from Rosie Junemann, our Reader, which took as its starting point a Pyrenean saint. Not that this saint was ever formally canonised... and there wouldn't be much hope for most of us if the formal process John Henry Newman is now having to undergo was required of us all.

So, a reminder that we are called to be a "sacred people." And Rosie pointed to the need for a prophetic stance in our own day, no less than in the time of Amos and John the Baptist.

Meanwhile, the Sunday School's project is coming along well - next week they'll be making their own presentation of the life of St. Cuthbert, and the course he plotted throughout our region after his death. It's to be acted out complete with body, two heads and coffin. Just don't get a shock if you venture into church and see what they've left on the pews at the back of the north aisle.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Society of Catholic Priests National Conference

The Durham & Newcastle Chapter of SCP hosted the Society's National Conference from Tuesday to Thursday of this week. It was one of those occasions where you can find yourself profoundly grateful for other people. Everything came together so well from venue, through speakers and worship, to the atmosphere in the bar and - most especially - the good humour of all. Even the organisers enjoyed it - and we're grateful for all the positive feedback. Thanks to everyone who made it so successful.

I hope it has a beneficial effect in the parishes and other places where members serve. The Conference theme has been "Sacred Places - Sacred People." It's not coincidental that the North-East of England's Tourist Board advertises with the slogan "Passionate Places - Passionate People." Actually how can a place be "passionate"? Much better to seek the sacred in the place - and be formed as a sacred people.

We hope that at least some texts from the speakers will soon be available. Fr. Andrew Nunn, Rector-General, has promised that his homily will soon be up on the SCP Website - in fact I've just looked and it is! We think that the opening address by Jan Sutch Pickard of the Iona Community might also become available. And it's my hope that the address by Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, will get published - possibly as part of his next book(?), if not / as well as online.

My humble offering to the Conference of a homily for a Eucharist of the Northern Saints in Bede's home church of St. Paul, Jarrow is also online. The picture below is of St. Cuthbert's Sunday School at work on the project which inspired my opening words - or at least some tidying -up after most of the children had gone. If you want to know how that relates to religious devotion at St. James's Park and the online presence of Our Lady, click here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Dealing with homicidal pews

I'm taking part in our Diocese's "Clergy Summer Gathering" at Ushaw College. The theme is "Time Matters" - and we've had some excellent sessions on the theme of time: David Wilkinson related our ways of thinking about time to science fiction, astrophysics and quantum theory, Bishop Tom has been exploring the meaning of the Sabbath, and Paul Witts has explored the concept of Nostalgia.

This last subject provoked lots of interest. Best exchange so far was an example of congregational nostalgia, implicit in an objection raised to the removal of a church pew: "Someone died in that pew." To which the parish priest had replied, "Then it had better go before it kills someone else." At which another priest leapt to her feet and shouted, "Let me have it - I can put it to good use in my parish...."

Monday, 29 June 2009

Now online - double issue Parish Magazine

The title says it all.

The Magazine for July & August hasn't yet got to the printer. But you can read it online by clicking here - and this way you get it in colour.

Still, I hope people will buy the hard copy...

The confirmation of faith

Here's the photo I didn't manage to take after last week's Confirmation. The Vicar of St. Cuthbert's, Benfieldside with Frank Barnes and Dorothy Dover, both newly-confirmed by the Rt. Revd. Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham.

In the Rite of Confirmation, the individual Christian affirms his or her faith, and the Bishop confirms it in prayer with Christ's people. So the individual and the corporate come together. I believe, but as part of a greater whole.

Sunday's Gospel reading took us to the example of faith we find in the woman who pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak and to find healing - and the challenge to faith we find in the death of Jairus's daughter. I preached on them, and you can find the homily here. I found it worth quoting from the challenge to faith which the late Cardinal Basil Hume found in his enounter with starvation in Ethiopia - and with one individual in particular. They're his words, reproduced in the week's issue of "The Tablet:"

“This small boy came up to me and gripped my hand. With his other hand he pointed to his mouth. That was his way of telling me he was very hungry. I said to the interpreter: ‘Tell the little boy that I’ve come here to go home and make certain that food is sent to him.’ He went on doing this, but he also got hold of my hand and rubbed it against his cheek. I couldn’t understand that, but for the whole hour I was in that camp that little boy wouldn’t let go of my hand, and from time to time rubbed it on his cheek. He was very, very hungry … I remember speaking with that boy and asking him through the interpreter: ‘Why are you looking so sad?’ and he answered very simply in his own language: ‘I am hungry.’ I could see in that face the suffering Christ, and I realised just what a terrible scourge physical hunger is. But also there was an echo from the Cross which Our Lord spoke when he said: ‘I thirst’, and how he thirsts for us and wants us… Then, when the visit was ended and I had to go elsewhere, the little boy stood – I can see him now – feet astride, his hands on his waist, and looked at me almost with reproach. I could see in his face, ‘Why are you leaving me behind?’ I felt awful because there was no way I could take that little boy and bring him back to England.

“I realised that when you’re lost and are very hungry, and you are abandoned, you have a craving for two things: for food and for drink and for love … It was the next day when I was celebrating Mass that I understood as I’ve never understood before, the secret of Holy Communion. Our Lord, realising how much we need love, how much we need to be fed by him, had this marvellous way of doing it: by giving himself to us. When I visited Ethiopia … I saw clearly how when people are abandoned and dying of hunger they crave for love and for life … I have never forgotten that incident and to this day wonder whether that child is still alive. I remember when I boarded the helicopter he stood and looked reproachfully. An abandoned, starving 10-year-old child … A little boy who taught me in a wonderful way something very important about going to Holy Communion. I have often wondered since what happened to him.”

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Alone at sea... asleep in the boat

I see that I haven't blogged for quite some time. June has found me officiating at four weddings, getting ready (myself rather than our candidates) for our Confirmation on Monday of this week, and enjoying a Summer Fair. All this at the same time as my younger son has been taking GCSE examinations - thankfully finished today, and we've just been out to celebrate.

Annoyingly I didn't have my camera to hand when group shots of the Confirmation were taken - I hope to borrow some picures soon. And the picture above is the only one I took at the Summer Fair - during a performance by the Jane Robson Theatre Group in church.

But generally we've been having a good time. The sun has been shining again, we're hoping that landscaping work around the Hall and below the Car Park will soon be complete. And thoughts are turning towards the holidays (a week in Italy booked so far).

On Sundays we're working our way through St. Mark's Gospel - this week with Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. This is what I had to say in my homily. If you don't want to click on the link here's an excerpt:

... the crucial question: to ask who Jesus is for us. To be able to recognise that he is at the centre of the storm with us. That we are not alone. But we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have times of sheer desperation. Jesus is sleeping in the stern of the boat. It’s not the first thought of the disciples that they’ve got him with them. Their first thought is that Jesus is asleep. They feel on their own, and this man is doing nothing for them. They feel on their own, even though other people must be near to hand. St. Mark tells us that as they set out across the Lake, “Other boats were with him.” But there’s no other reference to the people in these boats. When we are in the midst of the storm, perhaps we forget the peril that other people are in – “this is my disaster, and I’m going to suffer it all myself.” When we are in the midst of the storm, perhaps we forget that there are other people who might be able to help us. But the disciples are so pre-occupied with danger that they forget anything other than their own fight for survival on that one tiny boat. Nothing else and no one else matters. It’s as though nothing else in the world seems to exist.

And perhaps that’s how life is for us when we know that we are in trouble. All we can do when things are extreme is be conscious of the peril. So easily we feel that we’re on our own. We don’t care that other people may have their problems, because nothing can match mine. We don’t think that anyone else can help, because my problems are so far beyond my being able to deal with them that we don’t believe anyone can help us find a solution. And if we call on God, it might be only to find that he seems to be asleep.

It’s this story that tells us that it’s not necessarily so...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Trinity Sunday - trying to get it right

Preaching on Trinity Sunday is one of those tasks which many clergy try to avoid. How many heresies can you unintentionally commit in the space of 10 minutes or so?

But a faith which may seem difficult is something to be engaged with. "Keep it simple," is what so many people ask - and there is indeed a simplicity in Christian faith which is the simple recognition of God's love for us. But that is love revealed in Christ, and made real by the Holy Spirit. So already you're into the realms of Trinitarian doctrine.

In preaching this Trinity Sunday I didn't aim to go far into the doctrine of God's Being, nor did I want to say that faith is difficult. But I did want to say something about what it is to hold a faith which can sustain people in the complexity of their lives - that we shouldn't expect faith to be laid out for us on a plate. If life is difficult, is a simple answer going to satisfy you? Well... there are times when that can be the case (though it's often so simple and direct that it's not really welcome either). But there are times when we just have to wrestle with it. Just because faith can be difficult, it doesn't mean that it's not real.

And the reality of God can be sensed in his Glory. That's where we started in our use of Isaiah 6. And you can read what I had to say in my homily here.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pentecost - new life for the Church

Members of the congregation and visitors to St. Cuthbert's this morning found an iPod playing in the porch this morning: "Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones..." It was of course a reference to today's Old Testament reading from Ezekiel 37.

Paul Heatherington, preaching here this morning, clarified that for anyone who missed the point. And you can find his sermon here.

The main problem I find in celebrating today's Feast is that the readings in the Lectionary are so long. We needed to add an extra page to today's pewsheet to print them all out - and who has the concentration to stay with them all the way? There are shorter options for those who use the new provision in the Common Worship "Feasts" volume. But it takes considerable energy to get everything sorted out ahead of the liturgy. We've done it in previous years. But with Pentecost coinciding with the school half-term holiday (and the resultant diminished congregation), it was just too much for this year.

But next week we're hopefully going to be back to strength - with our celebration of Trinity Sunday to look forward to (and I'm preaching for that!).

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Half-Term Up-date

I often try to take at least part of the school half-term week as holiday - but decided there was little chance of making anything of it this year, our household being caught up in the midst of GCSEs. Actually I'm more anxious about them than my son, and I'm glad to say we did get a good day out (and fine weather) on Bank Holiday Monday - and good weather is promised for the end of the week, so...

Meanwhile I have produced the June issue of our Parish Magazine. The entire print run is sitting in the back of my car at the moment, since the magazine distributor upon whom I drop it was out when I called. But you can read it online (and in colour in the on-line version).

I know I've got lots of form-filling to do during the next few days, and would rather put it off - so instead of motivating exam revision elsewhere in the Vicarage I really need to motivate myself. At least there's a wedding for the next-door parish to look forward to - and I gather someone else is filling in the Registers...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Anniversary of something we take for granted

I was grateful to our Reader, Rosie Junemann, who pointed out to me that women were admitted to the office of Reader in the Church of England only as recently as 1969 - and last weekend was the actual anniversary of the event. So Rosie got to preach - read her sermon here as she seeks to do the occasion justice, while also taking in lectionary readings about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch and the Vine of which we are the branches.

I say "as recently as 1969" - and then have to recognise that I'm showing my age. 1969 is now as far off today as 1929 was in 1969. And in 1929 my parents were still in nappies. Everything before the late 1950s seems to me a very long time ago. Maybe it was the coincidence of my birth and the dawning of the age of Rock and Roll that's led to my notion of what is "modern." Though of course what is "modern" now dates rapidly - and all the rounds of liturgical revision we've been through in the Church of England show that once "radically-new" liturgies rapidly tire.

I thought of this yesterday at our Archdeaconry Visitation, when our Wardens, Linda and Carol were sworn in. Our Archdeacon first gave a presentation on the up-dated Durham Diocesan Website - very adept too in his use of PowerPoint! Visitation articles which had enquired after parish's use of the Internet had revealed a definite divide between those who used the Web all the time, and those who had no access even to a computer. And there I was thinking that Facebook was out of date except for the over-50s. Archdeacon Ian then went on to give his Charge (and used as its basis the story of the Ethiopian eunuch - aargh!!! twice in two days!). Anyway it was a brave attempt to move people on, and unusually for a Visitation, people seemed to come away stimulated and enthused. Between sending in our own responses to the layout of the diocesan website and the meeting, I've found that already some changes have been made which correspond with comments we'd made. There's responsiveness (if it was a response to us).

But I'm not the best person to comment on state of the art technology. Our Parish Website looks in some respects distinctly old and creaky (one of the reasons why we now use the Blog and links on the right to archived material). Nevertheless it does the business. Even as I've been typing this post up, I've been rung up by The Times, asking me if there are any couples preparing for marriage we'd like to feature on their Register page. I thought you had to live in Knightsbridge for that - and said I wasn't sure we'd fit their socio-economic profile. Ah, but we're trying to widen our reach, was the response. So, I'm thinking about it... "How did you find my contact details?" I asked. "Through your website," was the reply. So... some old things do work.

And if you wonder about the picture at the top of this post, it was taken at the re-launch event of our Drama Group, One in Seven," (named after the average gradient of Church Bank). It was a loving re-visiting (and re-writing) of old radio shows like Round the Horne - barely remembering some from my childhood, I was struck by how much tongue in cheek and innuendo there was... really quite modern!

Our organist, Bill, brought things to a finale with a rendering of old theme tunes. Here he is just before discovering that we really should have had the piano tuned.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The end of April...

I really do breathe a sigh of relief when I get to the end of April. Easter is wonderful - and I had the best part of a week's break following Easter Day. But then it's straight back to work - and that entailed getting ready for our parish's Annual Parochial Church Meeting with all the preparation and paperwork involved, and then the follow-up which requires various returns to the diocese, not least the "Visitation Articles." This year's articles want to know how our parishes are being affected by the Recession, what we've done in the way of Stewardship, and what we think of the new Diocesan Website. All complicated by the fact that the Articles have to be completed by the churchwardens who have served in 2008-2009.

Linda - who is continuing in office for 2009-10 - escaped the paper-filling by taking off to Barcelona, though at the cost of signing a blank form which I've since filled in with Liz, our retiring Warden. I'm glad to say it's in the post. And now we welcome a new Warden, Carol. I made the mistake of telling Carol that she'd find it much easier than being PCC Secretary, a post she held till a couple of years ago - mistake because our present PCC Secretary, Jill, was standing behind me at the time. But all is well, and we had our first PCC Meeting of the new year last night - all posts filled and a new agenda underway. To keep us on the mark, Jill is bringing ever-larger alarm clocks to the meeting - I had to ask her to put yesterday's clock on the floor for the benefit of the other members, since I found myself unable to see over it.

You can catch up on what we've been up to - and plan - in the May issue of the Parish Magazine. Click here - or if you're near to hand, please buy a copy!

No new homilies / sermons to link to. With the APCM following last Sunday's Eucharist it seemed best to be brief, to the point and unscripted. And the previous Sunday found Fr. Harry Lee, one of our more senior clergy, in possession of the pulpit - he needs to be experienced live.

Meanwhile we've had a return of spring warmth today - it seems for one day only. Last Saturday - for the first time this year - I summoned up the energy to get on my bike and ride up the Waskerley Way over the moors to Parkhead Station which, pre-Beeching cuts, had been the highest railway station in England. It was a beautiful day, and the calmest I've ever known it - though a cold wind in our faces sprang up for the return home. En route, we stopped off at Waskerley. Less than 50 years ago the village had a population of 75. Now there are only two inhabited houses. The Methodist Chapel is long closed, but it was good to find the Anglican Church open and well-maintained, though rarely used as part of a group of six or seven parishes. BCP and Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised in the pews. I guess the colours of the hangings are unvarying - in contrast to St. Cuthbert's in its Easter glory above.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter 2009

Actually I'm posting this on Easter Eve - a beautiful day with spring warmth as well as sunshine. Daffodils are bearing up well, and all around there's the pale green of new leaves opening on the trees.

Hopefully much the same for everyone! And Easter should be much the same for everyone in terms of its reality... Huh - is that all? What I mean is that it's the reality which needs to be affirmed. But how do people perceive that reality? Or experience it in the midst of whatever is going on in their lives?

That's what I'm trying to explore in my homily for our Easter Eucharist.

Incidentally parish material such as the homilies gets stored off-site with a host whose advertising is sometimes bizarre. Apologies for anyone who gets troubled by this, but it's a useful means of up-loading our stuff. An odd thing about the site is the counter which tells you how much each item has been viewed - it's not entirely consistent... so in the space of a few minutes recently it was telling me that one of my homilies had not been viewed at all, and then that it had been viewed seven times. The one before had been looked at 41 times. But the "wonder" homily appears to have been read 449 times! And I think this figure is probably right... Why? - it seems to attract viewers you need to choose the right "tags" - and in this instance I'd added the labels, "prayer" and "miracle." So now I know what people are looking for!

But for Easter it's "Resurrection," "Faith," "Experience."

Christ is risen! Happy Easter!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Passion Sunday

The picture shows our high altar in Lenten array - purple is conspicuous by its absence during Lent in St. Cuthbert's.

Passion Sunday found numbers still healthy, even after last week's Mothering Sunday turnout - and with the competing attractions of Shotley Bridge's continuing "Open Weekend" (plenty of time for both). And at least five very young children (two under a month old) in church - one dramatically let out a great wail during the Gospel, just at the point where "a voice came from heaven" (John 12.28).

It was an alternative text, and I was tempted to chuck the text of my homily away and make something else up. But I didn't - and you can find it here.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Open Village Day - and a challenge to Lent?

St. Cuthbert's is in the village of Shotley Bridge -in North West Durham (and with a bit over the river in Northumberland too). Many people might pass through, but parking is difficult and the residents tend to shop elsewhere. So all credit to the businesses of the village which came up with the idea of having an "Open Weekend" for the village. Today and tomorrow is a day when they're hoping people will make a special effort to see what they're up to.

The weather wasn't at all auspicious at the start of the day, and it's still pretty grey, cold and windy. But the people are turning out. Lots of the businesses are new and located in tiny shop fronts - and they crammed. Over the years there have been lots of empty properties - but now they're all taken - the latest one opening this morning.

In fact the latest opening is of a Bridal Wear shop - that makes two seeking to corner the market only about 100 yards apart. I fear that we haven't much business to put their way this year - but who knows? Perhaps we'll get a name, and hopefully people will travel.

Another recent opening is of a "Patisserie." It's also in fact a "Chocolaterie" - and people who have read the book or seen the film Chocolat will know the stir such an opening during Lent caused in a fictional village in France. No such problems here it seems - and my younger son made a reasonably significant cash outlay for what he wanted.

So good luck to the business community here - spearheading the fight against the recession. The local churches didn't get asked if they'd like to join in. So I've been going round pointing out that we too will be open tomorrow - and every Sunday.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Parish up-dates

I'm glad to say that we have managed to get a fair bit of preparation done for the coming weeks. Notices for our Holy Week and Easter services are starting to go up. Reports for our Annual Parochial Church Meeting have on the whole been submitted in advance and printed in the April issue of the Parish Magazine - so that should allow us a shorter meeting, and save on the duplication of the reports themselves. Just click the links if you like to see what we're up to.

"Your busy time"... and thoughts about Mothering Sunday

"This is your busy time" is the refrain which clergy hear as they get ready for Christmas. Actually last year it really was. But never so busy as Lent - and especially Passion-tide and the run-up to Easter.

We're having a good Lent in the parish. Mothering Sunday is always a bit of a blip as our main Eucharist turns "all-age," and we work out the logistics of daffodil distribution and the safe presentation of the Brownie flag. The biggest blip is in deciding whether to stick with the readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent - or to use some provision for Mothering Sunday. The danger of keeping Lent 4 is that the lectionary provision will probably jar with people looking for a way to think about their mums. The problem with the Mothering Sunday readings is that they break up the attention you're trying to give to Lent.

This year we kept the readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent - and made a point that they probably weren't what most people would be expecting. And then we explored themes of motherhood - from our own understanding of the relationship between mother and child, through the relationship of Jesus and his Mother, and a bit about the Church as Mother. We had an excellent turn-out in the congregation, with a responsive cohort of young people for the dialogue which largely replaced the Homily. Perhaps we should have recorded it for the sake of some of the answers given to a questionnaire we used (e.g. "What is something your mother always says to you?" Answers: "No." "Shut up." "Stop it" - and downhill from there) - but on second thoughts...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

3rd Sunday of Lent - the Cleansing of the Temple

At our PCC Meeting last night, we had some correspondence inviting us to share in some evangelistic initiative or other (I forget which!) - and claiming that enthusiasm for it is "sweeping the churches" of our nation. Positive outcome for us is that we have now fixed a date for spring-cleaning St. Cuthbert's... come along on the morning of Saturday 4th April (there might be bacon sandwiches as an incentive).

Paul Heatherington, our Reader, on Sunday asked us to consider "What are churches for?" as he looked at Jesus' action in driving out the money-changers from the Temple. Meanwhile, we are preparing for our Patronal Festival - with St. Cuthbert's Day on Friday and a Sung Eucharist at 7p.m. And we're approaching the 160th anniversary of the laying of our Foundation Stone. Hopefully the question as to what this building is doing here will be a provocation to consider again what Christian witness in this - and the wider - community really means.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

2nd Sunday of Lent - Take up the Cross

Our Reader, Rosie Junemann, preached this morning on the text, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Click here to read what she had to say - and discover what her seven-week old grandson puts on his postcards and what primary school age children can tell you about St. Philomena.

There's also a reminder that Archbishop Rowan Williams has released his reflections on Lent in a YouTube video. It's worth taking a look, though I could do without the background music!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

1st Sunday of Lent - Seeking Silence

A good turn out at St. Cuthbert's for the First Sunday of Lent. The Children's Corner was full - and there was a sense of anticipation that we might end the Eucharist still more full, since one mother-to-be is now two days overdue.

My homily largely dealt with the issue of silence - one of the world's neglected qualities / virtues. Remarkably the youngest of children became quite quiet as I preached, though part of my point was that silence is more than simply "Peace and quiet."

As it happens I'm reading Sara Maitland's recently published, A Book of Silence - and very much enjoying it. She writes:

We all imagine that we want peace and quiet, that we value privacy and that the solitary and silent person is somehow more ‘authentic’ than the same person in a social crowd, but we seldom seek opportunities to enjoy it. We romanticise silence on the one hand and on the other feel that it is terrifying, dangerous to our mental health, a threat to our liberties and something to be avoided at all costs...

I’m sure she’s right that the quest for silence requires real commitment, and we shouldn’t under-estimate the demands that silence can make upon us. Before I undertook an eight-day Individually Guided Retreat, I was required to fill in a questionnaire - and there was a warning that people who had no previous experience of at least a few days of silence should not sign up. It’s when you find yourself on your own and in silence that you find not merely the opportunity for peaceful reflection, but also all the disturbing voices speaking which otherwise you can ignore amid the frantic hurly-burly of life the way we normally live it. Those things that wake us up in the early hours and won’t let us get back to sleep. The things that we try to put off, shirk and shake off… they all crowd in on us.

That found its way into my homily. As did the suggestion by Fr. Gerard Hughes – author of God of Surprises - that,

It is a very useful exercise to take a piece of paper, divide it into two columns, one headed 'Events which bring me to life', and the other 'Events which deaden me', then scribble down whatever comes to mind. Keep the list, and add to it whenever another item occurs to you. If you persist, the list will lengthen, and you may discover that you give more time and attention to the things which deaden you than to those which enliven you.

We need to look into our hearts and ask, do we find a spirit which deadens or a spirit which enlivens? Do we just try to get by, holding on to what we have got, but seeing it inevitably decay? Or do we take risks in living and loving so that we might grow?

Click here for more. Have a Happy and a Holy Lent.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday - Lent begins

I'm always come to the beginning of Lent with a certain sort of relief - time for the annual clean-up. The church is now ready in Lent array - and children from a local school will be the first to see its new bareness when they visit in a few minutes' time. For myself I feel in need of the annual overhaul for body, mind and soul.

Our March issue of the Parish Magazine has just gone off to be printed. Click here to read the online edition.

This is the Vicar's letter from the front end of the maagazine, but there's a lot more worth reading inside...

Cracked Cisterns?

No, it’s not another fabric problem with crumbling loos and bathroom fittings… The reference is actually to words from the Prophet Jeremiah:

My people have committed two sins:
they have rejected me,
a source of living water,
and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns,
cracked cisterns which hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2.13)

It’s a two-fold reproach. First, that God’s people have lost sight of God himself: he’d led them from slavery in Egypt into a promised land, but they’ve forgotten that he is the source of their guidance - they just don’t pay attention to him any more. And secondly, having made themselves self-reliant, they’ve found their own resources to be an empty hope. It must be from Jeremiah that we get the phrase, “It just doesn’t hold water.” That’s what the Israelites find when they surrender the worship of God and a proper sense of their calling for false idols, materialism and neglect of the poor. And that’s what we find in our society today.

The recent “Atheist Bus Slogan” campaign has paid for buses to be emblazoned with the rather half-hearted half-thought: “There’s probably no God - so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” But will people stop worrying? Why shouldn’t you believe in God, and enjoy your life. And is enjoyment (hedonism) all there is to life? It’s not just the Recession that’s making people doubt this. In her chart-topping song, The Fear, Lily Allen sings:

I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and I want a **** load of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them

It’s sad - and the chorus admits as much:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how we’re meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the Fear

So, is reality to be found just in what you can see, touch, get and grab? Let’s welcome Lent as the opportunity to attune ourselves once more to the true source of reality - God as we find him in Jesus Christ.

Martin Jackson

Monday, 23 February 2009

Sunday next before Lent - Transfiguration and daily life

I've managed to take a few days off during the school half-term holiday. Because we stayed at home in the Vicarage, there was always the issue: "Do I answer the phone?" Thankfully "Caller Display" and an answering machine meant there wasn't too much "work" to deal with.

But there's still the question of how to use the time profitably - and make it feel that it has been "time off." So we did make the effort to get out of the house. There was still ice on the ponds at Wallington Hall, and most of the gardens at Belsay were closed as the snows melted with all the attendant issues of flooding and water-logging. But we really felt the weather was on our side when we drove across the Pennines to the Lake District. With continuing Achilles Tendon problems, the most I felt I could tackle was an ascent of Catbells. As ever, it was worth it. Just a few hundred feet up and the perspective changes dramatically.

I finished off the week in the garden, not doing anything creative but clearing away the clutter of last year's growth. The wonderful thing about getting rid of the dead grass, moss and sad-looking greenery was to uncover the tiny plants pushing their way through so soon after the ice and snow have receded. The snowdrops are out already, and the first shoots of crocuses and daffodils too. I suspect that if I hadn't cleared the general mess away, many of those plants would have grown up, flowered and died without me noticing.

So there's a parable for this time of year. Get up and away to put yourself in the place of transfiguring glory. Get to grips with the messiness of life and clear away what you can, so that you can find those shoots of new life.

Having said that, you might be glad to know that I didn't preach at our main Eucharist yesterday. But our Reader, Rosie Junemann did, and you can find what she had to say about Transfiguration by following this link.

And let's all cheer up - it'll soon be Lent!

Monday, 16 February 2009

2nd Sunday before Lent

At last the snow is melting - practically gone as I type rather late into the night, though this morning there was still a fair bit of ice on the church drive.

Topically for the bicentenary of his birth, Charles Darwin received a positive mention in Paul Heatherington's sermon. It ranged through Genesis 1, John 1, how to survive a fall in the mountains with the aid of a cigarette lighter and the history of the hymn, "How great thou art" - and Paul finished off with a rendering of the final verse of the hymn from the pulpit. You can't hear him sing it - but you can read what he had to say.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

3rd Sunday before Lent

Actually there's still a day to go, but I'm getting ahead of myself and posting tomorrow's homily - which I'm due to preach - now.

I should be out doing something more constructive but it's still very cold, and there's been more snow this morning. So instead it looks like an afternoon with the start of the Six Nations. England and Italy should be kicking off in approximately one minute - so I'm off!

Meanwhile, after the snow, the sunshine and blue sky are back. For those who wonder, there's no problem in navigating Church Bank, though the car park may still be snowed over. And the picture is the view from a parishioner's house - taken yesterday. Click on the picture to appreciate the beauty of the setting.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Using Ordinary Time

What I meant to say in the post which I've just blogged is that I really look forward to the period between Candlemas and Lent as an opportunity to get established in a regular rhythm - the first real opportunity to do so during the year. I've written about the opportunities of Ordinary Time - or Green Time as it's known in France - in this month's Parish Magazine. Actually that link wasn't working a moment ago, but it has been, so please try again!

But meanwhile everything is rather white - the snow has set in. With a bit of unanticipated free time at hand I've just discovered the "Bus Slogan Generator." Anyone can have a go - I've found you can simply save the image you create to your own desktop - and do what you want with your picture. Perhaps people could bring their creations to St. Cuthbert's and we'll organise a mini exhibition.

It's snowing...

Actually it seems to be snowing everywhere except Exeter - where the Met Office has its headquarters.

A couple of us have been into St. Cuthbert's earlier today for Morning Prayer - and to change hangings and altar frontal from those used throughout the Epiphany season. We kept Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation yesterday, mixing the liturgical provision for the Feast with the Baptism of Amelia May Jude - a joyous and well-attended occasion. There were some snow flurries in Consett - where the reception was held - a a biting cold wind, but we can be glad we didn't get today's weather yesterday.

Our Mothers' Union has cancelled its AGM - which had been scheduled for this afternoon. I'd be tempted to sit tight for the rest of the day. But rather ironically I have an appointment with a physiotherapist at our Health Centre to treat my injured Achilles Tendon - and it looks like I'll have to walk (uphill, one mile)...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New online - the February Parish Magazine

I've just completed the setting up of our latest issue of St. Cuthbert's Parish Magazine. It still has to be taken to our printer - but you can see what's in it by accessing the online edition here.

We hope, nevertheless, that you'll still buy one / subscribe if you're within easy reach of a hard copy (when it appears).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

The Hall's Car Park proved a great success with church-goers this morning - only one car parked outside the official parking bays!

In church Rosie Junemann preached on the subject of today's Feast - the Conversion of St. Paul. You can find the sermon here.

There's an interesting discussion of how the Conversion is depicted in the art of Caravaggio by Martin Warner in the Church Times. I'm including both the pictures to which he refers.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

After the mud

I'm sorry if I seem to have become a bit fixated with work going on around our Hall to provide a new car park. It's not been a matter of re-surfacing, because there hasn't really ever been a proper surface as far as I can see... more a case of mud mixed with spare tarmac from any local project which the contractor has kindly rolled into said mud.

Now that's all gone - and we have a shiny new surface (just wait till you get some frost on that, said one of our neighbours). It's even marked out with proper bays - eager anticipation of whether anyone will use them! How long will it be before advice is given that we could have got another two or three spaces in there?

But it's a brilliant piece of engineering. And we've at last been able to erect railings round the window well which were commissioned 10 years ago when we put the extension on the Hall. They look a bit battered, but that's because it's nine years since they were painted, and they've been stolen from our craftsman at least once during the time he's held them in storage. So thanks to him - Tad Jurowski.

For getting this latest project complete thanks to our local Derwentside District Councillors who found the funding, and to Trevor Watson and the Engineers' Department who have see it through. And I've enjoyed the huge machines we've had on site...

We look at the landscaping next (depending on how much is left in the Budget)....

And for our next project... we've almost finalised the plans to complete the Hall basement renovation and the new extension meeting room. We just need the money.

For people who think this is taking a long time, we only started in 1881 - and there was a pause in building work between 1898 and 1999. Compare this with the building of the Cathedral in Milan - begun in 1386, completed 1965. This latter information comes courtesy of "The Tablet" which this week carries an interesting article on the "artist-in-residence" scheme in our own Durham Cathedral, itself built in a mere 40 years... Actually there has been the odd bit added since, but the fact is we can never think we're finished and stick our feet up. Everything is a work in progress - or should be.