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.