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.