Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas - Why did God put me where I am?

A very happy and blessed Christmas from all of us at St. Cuthbert's!

My question, "Why did God put me where I am?" was provoked in part by the struggle we've been having keeping open the access to our church, set as it is in the middle of a steep hill made treacherous by the snow and icy weather. It's very beautiful as well of course.

In the event there was pretty much a full house at our Christmas Eve service of Carols, Christingles and the Blessing of the Crib. And people have been coming back for the Midnight Mass and this morning's Eucharist.

My sermon for Midnight Mass sermon is now online to be found here - and I'm posting it here as well in full.

Best wishes for every blessing of peace and joy!

Homily for Christmas Midnight Mass

Someone asked me the other day, “Who decided that it was a good idea to build St. Cuthbert’s Church in the middle of such a steep hill?” It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself quite a lot recently as we’ve struggled with ice and snow on our one in seven hill with its one in five approach at the steepest point. Perhaps St. Cuthbert’s Church is here because the man who gave the land in the middle of the nineteenth century couldn’t think of anything else to do with such an inconveniently situated site. Whatever his motives were in giving it, the fact is, however, that the people who wanted to build the church accepted the land and got on with the building. I don’t know if there is any record of early regret being expressed after a couple of hard winters, but 160 years later we are still here doing what we can as we worship in this place, as we use it as a focal point in seeking to serve this community around us and in trying to witness to our faith. And you are here tonight - I’m thankful that you are, when it’s such a struggle in such seriously bad weather to get here.

Why did God put me where I am? That’s a question we could ask ourselves at any time - whether the going is tough or easy. It’s often only when life is hard that we ask questions like this. If we did it more often - in good times as well as bad - then we’d be better placed to see how God has blessed us in so many ways. Ask the question more often and perhaps that might be for you the beginning of a process in which you can cultivate a sense of thankfulness. I wish people would do this, because the voice of complaint is so frequently louder than the spirit of thankfulness… the response to God of gratitude. Why did God put me where I am? If I ask that on a sunny day in May on one of those rare occasions when I get to sit in my garden and feel that I’m on top of things, then I might quite possibly give a different answer than on a day in December when I can’t get the car out onto the road and I spend my time cancelling events which we’ve looked forward to - and which are important especially to people who might not easily be able to get out at the best of times. Against the sense of frustration I’ve encountered so much during the last month, I have to hold up again and again the knowledge of just how much we are able to do as Christians in this place, blessed with our church and its facilities in such a beautiful location. And then I can be thankful for those who do turn out again and again to offer their support for others, who struggle to get here to maintain this place and its life, and who go out of their way to help other people when they could say that life is tough enough for themselves.

Why did God put me here? We have to ask that question on the good days, so that we don’t get the wrong answer when we ask it on a bad day. There is a school of thought that Christians in this country are becoming something of a persecuted minority. But when a British Airways employee is told that she can’t wear a cross with her uniform… or a nurse is reported for offering to pray for a patient, we have to weigh this against the reality and harshness of persecution where Christians are discriminated against day by day, where they are fearful of false accusation, where they become the victims of bloodshed and violence, sometimes imprisoned, even murdered. As we celebrate this Feast of Christmas and have only the weather to contend with, we can think of those who gather tonight in Bethlehem - and who first have to contend with a security wall and identity checks simply to get there. A little further to the east, Christians gather in real fear in Iraq where in recent weeks and months congregations have been taken hostage during worship and murdered by indiscriminate gunfire and grenade attack - and tens, probably hundreds of thousands have felt that they have no alternative but to flee their homeland to find safety elsewhere. Still further to the east in Iran, a Christian pastor has been given a death sentence for apostasy - his parents had been nominally Muslim, but he felt he had had no religion of his own until he became a Christian as an adult, and for that decision of faith he now stands condemned. And in too many other countries Christians are subject to severe restrictions - in some even forbidden to practise their faith.

Do Christians in these lands ask, Why did God put me where I am? They live with real fear and apprehension - and yet they continue to practise their faith and to celebrate it.

Why did God put me where I am? It’s a question we should ask ourselves regularly.

Last weekend I went to see the film “Of Gods and Men.” It’s the story of a community of Cistercian monks in the Atlas Mountains region of Algeria. During the 1990s they became aware of the increasing pressures of Islamist extremism. For decades they’d lived alongside the local Muslim community. But that community itself was fearful. Foreign workers were being murdered by terrorist groups. And then one night at Christmas the extremists came to them, demanding that the doctor in their community should come to treat a wounded fighter, demanding that they hand over their medicines. The monks refused. The doctor himself was too frail and the medicine they had was scarce and used in the clinic they ran for the villagers. The terrorists were persuaded to leave, but from then the pressure increased. The monks had to decide whether they should leave or at least accept protection from government security forces. But they refused the help of a government they knew to be corrupt and oppressive of the people they were seeking to serve. And while some at first wanted to flee to safety in France, gradually they had to recognise the reality for them of that question, Why did God put me where I am? It was not that they were there to make converts - whenever they worshipped it was just them, the monks alone. And they didn’t attempt to make converts. But they were there to live out a vocation. Their calling was not simply to offer medical treatment to villagers who would otherwise be without it - nor to offer some employment to local people who worked alongside them in their fields. Their calling was simply to be - to live a particular way of life as Christians in a particular place; to be a presence. Where else could they go without giving up their vocation?

The Prior of the Monastery, Dom Christian de Cherge, wrote this testament:

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?

I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

The monks asked the question, Why did God put me where I am?... where we are? and knew that his will was for them to be there, a presence which could not be denied. And in 1996 seven of the community of nine were taken hostage and then murdered. They could have fled, but they stayed - and being there they lived out their calling.

What did they achieve? Were they noticed for what they did? In fact millions now know their story and have seen the film about their lives. It’s a film that requires patience of the viewer. There’s a lot of silence and stillness. And that’s something we could all do well to seek.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of Christ in the stillness of the night in Bethlehem. The story tells us that shepherds ran from their fields to worship - and later there were strange visitors from the East. But how many people at the time noticed? The Nativity of our Lord is the birth of God’s Son into the world, but he comes secretly - not with any display. He is born in the vulnerability of weak human flesh in a backwater of the Roman Empire - to a couple who didn’t really count for much according to worldly standards. But his birth is a presence, unrecognised yet real. This child would grow into a man who would change many lives, who would bring hope in the midst of despair, healing in brokenness, and the promise of new life and salvation for all who would follow him. By this birth God enters into our human picture as profoundly as is possible.

What was barely seen at the time is now known throughout the world. Tonight we bring ourselves once more to worship at the crib. We come to receive him who gives us his Body and his Blood. From apparent insignificance we learn the way of sacrifice and love - and a challenge to our calling. Why did God put me where I am?

Monday, 20 December 2010

Approaching Christmas

Ice is my major preoccupation at the moment. I spent much of this morning consulting on whether a regular Eucharist due this afternoon in sheltered accommodation should go ahead, and then ringing round people who might turn up to tell them that for the second time we've had to cancel it - just too dangerous for many who might have wanted to go.

Last Friday we lost the planned concert by the Leadgate Gleemen and our Handbell Ringers - the second year running. Last year it was deep snow that caused the problem. This year the plummetting temperature which rapidly and dramatically worsened our road conditions.

But we're not too downhearted. This evening we have carols round the Village Christmas Tree - I think we'll aim for no more than thirty minutes! And an order for 200 oranges ready for the Crib Service cum Christingle on Christmas Eve is even now being prepared... Let's hope that people are not put off, whatever the weather!

Last week we did at least manage to do a fair bit of eating. The Lunch Club had its Christmas Party in grand style last Tuesday, and some of its members were back for more as the Mothers' Union celebrated its Christmas Lunch at Derwentside College. Excellent fare at each - and I gather that some people who were at both events also managed to fit in another one or two festive meals in between.

Thanks to everyone who is helping to keep things going: some of the Lunch Club workers are pictured here; no photos yet of the church's magnificent Christmas Tree which a wonderful team managed to erect last Wednesday just before the weather had taken a further downturn. And Rosie Junemann, our Reader, preached this sermon the Sunday before last (Advent 3) managing to get Coronation Street's 50th anniversary, John the Baptist and the call of the Kingdom all into the space of 10 minutes. I preached yesterday - but no written record exists of what I said...

Now the sun is shining, the sky is clear and blue - which might give me an hour to go out before dark and another temperature drop. At least it should keep tonight's singing up to pitch.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

See amid the winter's snow...

I know it's too early for Christmas trees - but I've just got back from decorating our Hall for use by our various user-groups over the coming weeks. We have some magnificent decorations - and hoped they would have been seen to their best as the Rainbows, Brownies and Guides put on a coffee evening and entertainment tomorrow. Sadly, it's had to be postponed due to the ice and snow on Church Bank - hopefully it'll go ahead on Monday 20th December.

Only two cars with snow tyres made it down the Bank to the church and hall this morning - so thanks to everyone who walked. And we grabbed people while they were there to help with the decorating (completed in record time), a task we don't now have to do this afternoon - and even had a Finance Committee meeting (only one absentee, who lives on an even steeper hill), so we don't need to have that tomorrow!

Preaching this morning, I tried to make the connection between John the Baptist and the way we might be feeling in this wintry weather. I don't find John a particularly appealing character (too much shouting at people, poor dress sense, disgusting diet) - but probably I do him an injustice... I found myself reflecting on his formation through life in the desert and went on from there to the desert experience created over a thousand years later in the Russian taiga. To quote Carlo Caretto (via Andrew Louth's The Wilderness of God), “All the great religions were born between the desert and the steppe.” See how I developed that by clicking here - you'll probably need to tweak the sidebar to make the text appear.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Advent - already "a cold coming"

The snow is over a foot deep now - little chance of my removing the car from my drive onto my steep bank for some time. So I'm re-discovering the virtue of walking - and meeting quite a few other hardy souls as I do so. The weekly "shop" is going to have to be undertaken by bus (the joy of not having to find a place to park at the MetroCentre!) - though buses are not surprisingly a little intermittent, and schedules are ending at 7p.m. Nevertheless "Go North-East" bus company seems currently to be amongst the current heroes of the region - and quite likely has the most widely used Facebook page.

All this prompted me in thinking of what to write in the "View from the Vicarage" for our December - January Parish Magazine. It's all finished now - and I've had an offer from a 4x4 driver to get the copy to the printer and to collect the finished product. Unfortunately the printer isn't there to do the work - and I'm not surprised... However, you can read the whole magazine in full colour by clicking here and using the tools to re-size and navigate (easy but be patient). And this is what's on my page:

A Cold Coming…

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow…

The opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” come to mind as I write these words on 1st December - with heavy snow falling upon the foot or so we’ve already got. At least in Eliot’s imagination the snow was melting for the Magi. There seems little immediate prospect of that for us.

Why did the wise men from the east make that journey to Bethlehem? What had motivated them? Why did we do it? - they ask in the poem. And what did it mean?

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?...

The story of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem is both the simplest of stories and also the most demanding. We bring ourselves to worship the Child who is born in the stable and laid in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Shepherds from the fields rush to worship before him. Mysterious visitors from the East come bearing rich and strange gifts. And then they go back to their former lives - to find something has changed.

Each year we need to make that spiritual journey to Bethlehem - to recover a sense of child-like awe as we see how heaven touches earth, how God’s Son is born in the vulnerable frailty of human flesh. But then we need to ask, how has this changed me?

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation…

In the coldness of a wintry world, may we experience again the warmth of God’s love. And may we know that it makes all the difference.

Wishing you all joy and peace at this time - and throughout the New Year.

Martin Jackson

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Christmas starts here? - Advent certainly does

"Christmas starts here" was the strap-line advertising yesterday's village event in Shotley Bridge - community meets business and charity benefits. We moved our own "Christmas Fair" to fit in with the big day which began with the arrival of Father Christmas (in Victorian horse and carriage) and ended with the switching on of the village Christmas tree lights.

A sleigh with reindeer would have been a far more appropriate vehicle for Santa. We're in the grip of ice and snow - and I'd thought we would have cause to regret moving the Fair to this weekend. Getting everything running certainly took determination and hard work on the part of many - church, hall and vicarage are half-way up a one in seven hill and the one-way approach is one in five at its steepest. But it worked. It seems that people took the hint from the weather, abandoned hopes of taking their cars to the MetroCentre or Newcastle for Christmas shopping and stayed local. Fortunately it was the right sort of snow - not slushy but quite dry and with the right kind of grip underfoot - and that made it easier for people to walk up or down Church Bank and drop into the Hall.

Anyway - a great day... More snow fell overnight, and I found myself unsurprised by a congregation of zero at 8a.m. But over 40 ventured out for the 10a.m. Eucharist. A good-sized contingent should now be making our way to Durham for the Cathedral's Advent Procession - but the snow is falling again, my only way out would be dangerous if not impossible and I haven't heard from anyone that they might be going to take a chance. So, our apologies...

I reflected on yesterday's events when I preached this morning - with the urgency of the Christmas Fair out of the way, now we can perhaps find the space to tackle Advent! Click the link and play with the sidebar to make the text appear in the window. And you can find Rosie Junemann's sermon for Christ the King here - sorry about the delay in posting.

For more pictures from yesterday's celebrations, click here. Keep warm!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Silence and Remembrance

I've just come in  from our village Act of Remembrance - a rather chilly affair this year, but numbers hold up with Deputy Lord Lieutenant, County Councillors, Air Cadets, British Legion members and the clergy of local Churches in attendance. A number of them would have been at the civic ceremony at the Cenotaph in Consett two miles up the hill. Ours is a more intimate affair - and the best thing is the nature of the Memorial at which it takes place: a short row of houses built after the First World War. The names of those who died in battle are recorded in a panel on the wall of one of the houses, but it's the houses which themselves are the memorial.

And isn't that right? At the Eucharist this morning where we had a separate Act of Remembrance at the two memorials which commemorate the fallen of the whole parish - not just Shotley Bridge village - we ignored the Lectionary's direction that Church of England parishes should read from the prophet Malachi, instead to use RCL's reading from Isaiah. And this is why:

The prophet Isaiah in his vision of a peaceable Kingdom (Isaiah 65.17-25) writes:

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Hope is in building, says the prophet. Always we face the challenge, what is it that we wish to build?

More about this in my homily, which you can find by clicking here.

And (since I haven't blogged for so long), here at last is what Rosie Junemann, our Reader, had to say when she preached for the Feast of All Saints, two weeks ago.

The picture is of the Abbey of Monte Cassino from the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the town below.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Ahead of myself

You can read tomorrow's sermon for the Last Sunday of Trinity (which we're observing as Bible Sunday) online by clicking here and tweaking the scoll bar button. It looks blank until you do the tweaking and I just don't know why - but it's there!

The print edition of the November issue of our Parish Magazine is out ahead of time as well - and you can read it online in colour. You don't need to tweak the scroll button for this. Instead its eccentricity is to open on page 10. Use the tools to find your way around, blow it up to full page etc.

With All Souls' Day and Remembrance Sunday both playing central parts in November, I found myself writing about "Remembering."

Writing as I am on the day that the Government is announcing the extent of its Spending Review cuts, I’m glad to be able to approve at least one of its recent announcements: the appointment of Simon Schama to advise on the teaching of History in schools. And I hope the policy makers will actually listen to what he says! I’m afraid that much that is lacking in society today seems to be due to a loss of perspective - all too often decisions seem to get made on the hoof with attention only to the here and now. More generally people seem to lack a sense of what has gone before in terms of national and world history. Small wonder that people have little sense of the relevance of the events in Scripture 2000 years ago and more.

And yet I’m continually asked by people for advice on gaining access to parish records which might throw light on their family history. So can I say now that if they’re more than 30 years old in the case of St. Cuthbert’s, you almost certainly need to start at the Record Office in County Hall! - and there’s a legal requirement to deposit all parish records there if they’re over 100 years old. What those requests show is a desire to know where we come from - something of the lives of our forebears.

I’m moved when people tell me - often at a wedding or Baptism - that the name of a family member is recorded on one of the war memorials in our church (sometimes on both). I think of myself standing at the great memorial wall at Tynecot in Belgium where my great-uncle - with no recorded grave - has his name inscribed, and I placed my fingers in the engraved letters, one name among so many.

Part of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the anamnesis. We take bread and wine and remember, not as something past, over and done with - but something which is part of what we are because of what Christ has done for us. Something ever present and all the more real.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

One wedding and two sermons

The VW camper vans were back at St. Cuthbert's yesterday as we celebrated what looks like being the last wedding of the season. Congratulations to Jayne Swinburne and Stephen Colllins - and sorry about the quality of the picture, snatched on my mobile phone just before they left for their reception.

I've finally got round to committing some of my preaching to a computer file. Last week on the healing of Naaman and the Ten Lepers - click here. There's quite a difference I think between St. Luke's take on the healing of the ten, one of whom -a Samaritan - returns to give thanks and St. Mark's version in which only one is healed. Mark has healing come by the touch of Jesus, the compassion and humanity of Christ reaching across the gulf formerly imposed by notions of ritual cleanliness and defilement. Luke keeps the intial healing at a distance without even a word of healing from Jesus - much more like the healing of Naaman, whom the prophet heals without even leaving his house. The difference in Luke is in the response of gratitude - and where it comes from...

This week, me again, on the parable of the widow and the unjust judge - the whole homily is here. I found last week's recourse to court judgements in the process leading up to the sale of Liverpool Football Club quite an illuminating way in to my exploration of the story. And while the parable has a clear point to make about persistence in prayer, there are also implications concerning justice which go wider than the legal system.

For those who don't want to click through to the whole thing, here's the conclusion:

... If the parable has a single point it’s simply to say that Jesus is making a comparison between an unjust judge who finally gets worn down to do what is right, and a righteous God who is always on our side. If the poor widow finally gets her way by her pleading, then we should be ready to call on God - and keep asking because he hears our prayers. It may not always seem that way. But that is the message we can take away from the story.

But remember that parables are not there merely to be explained. They’re there for the impact they make on those who hear them. This one begs the question, where is justice to be found? What is the integrity of those who administer the Law? Are the odds stacked against the poor? Does the legal system favour those who have the money to keep going back with more and more specious arguments? How remote is the whole system from ordinary people? I wonder how the widow in the story even gets near to the judge to plead with him. She can gain access to him for the sake of telling the story - but could she do so in real life? - or would she be more like that character in another parable, the poor man, Lazarus, lying with festering wounds at the rich man’s gate and never even noticed by him?

This is not just about the legal system either. It’s about the sort of society we want to live in. Is there justice in terms of access to health and social care? - or is it a lottery depending on where you live, on being able to argue for your rights, or in having the money to buy your way in? Are our children and young people equitably served by schools and the wider education system? - why is it that certain universities seem to be largely the preserve of students from a certain sort of school, and is that right? - and are still more from poorer families going to be put off from trying to get into the system by the costs they will incur? Is it the case that everybody should expect to have to suffer through government cuts? It seems a strange sort of justice which argues that well-off people should not complain about the loss of universal Child Benefit because poor people will also have to take their share of the pain - how much can the less well-off be expected to give up?

This is not the time for politicking - but I think we have to see that the Gospel has political implications. The quest of the widow for justice in today’s parable isn’t just a fiction that doesn’t touch us. It begs the question what does justice require now? Only if we ask that question can we be serious about seeking justice from God - about expecting that he will hear our prayers… because what are we going to pray for?

“There was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for his people.” This is the worst sort of person there could be in Jesus’ book. Because when Jesus sums up the Law he says,

The first commandment is this:
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind,
and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So fear that God who is to be loved. Show that you love your neighbours by seeking justice for them. That’s the Law - and it’s free for all.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Parish Up-dates & Events To Come

After a busy September, there's a slight lull this week before we celebrate our Harvest Festival on Sunday (3rd October), complete with Parish Lunch. At the 10a.m. Sung Eucharist you can bring Harvest Produce to support the work of the People's Kitchen in Newcastle - and money offerings will support USPG's Harvest Appeal.

And the following week (Sunday 10th October) there's a special Victorian Evensong, designed to be as authentically near to what you might have got in 1850, when St. Cuthhbert's Church was consecrated! It's an initiative by Joyful Noise, a local West Gallery group, and they are running a workshop for all who'd like to participate in the choir or as instrumentalists. Evensong will be at 6p.m. - free to all. The workshop costs £5 - from 1.30 for 2p.m. To register for the workshop, contact Win Stokes - or Chris Gardner - (you need to adjust these addresses by susbstituting @ for AT, of course, to make them work).

Full details of what we're planning for October can be found in our new issue of the Parish Magazine. Give it a click and then use the tools to navigate around - you can read it in Full Screen if it helps. Here's this month's "View from the Vicarage."

Note to self…

Rather hastily during September I found myself writing this note:

Having grown up in Hartlepool, I’m now in my 30th year of ordained ministry - all of it served in our Diocese. Living on the edge of the Diocese (Vicar of Benfieldside), I’m concerned with communication and perception; and to counter the temptation to isolationism. I’ve served as an Area Dean and for 15 years or so on the Diocesan Panel working with potential ordination candidates. I work in a tradition which is sacramental and inclusive; hopefully out-going, prayerfully-attuned and theologically-focussed. Single parent of two sons - and I enjoy walking, my mountain bike, poetry and cinema.

It’s the nearest I’ve ever got to writing an election manifesto, though technically it was a “Biographical Note” which I submitted to the Diocese. The occasion was a bye-election to represent the clergy of Durham Archdeaconry on Bishop’s Council. Having been prompted to stand, I decided that at last this was my moment - and readied myself, not exactly for battle, but knowing that there was expected to be another candidate. In the event, though I know at least one other priest was proposed, no other nomination papers were submitted. So there was no election, I was duly declared a member of the Council, and no one got to read the “Biographical Note.” Until I thought to print it here.

And why? Having thought what I could say about myself - as required - in less than 100 words, I realise I still need to live up to it. I’ve not gone on to the Council just to fill a place - and we don’t at present have a Diocesan Bishop to impress. I mean what I say about the importance of the sacramental tradition and prayer and getting things right theologically. When politicians describe something as theological they imply that it’s nit-picking small print and quite unimportant. When I say it, it means it’s about God - so at the very heart of everything.

Similarly I hope you get the drift that I think “vocation” is important - the sense of personal calling. That’s not just about testing vocations to the priesthood. It’s about encouraging people to discern just where God wants them to be - whoever they are, whatever the abilities they think they possess. And inclusiveness is important because God calls to all - each of us has a place in his divine purpose. But do we recognise it? A critical moment for me was the move from saying “someone ought to do something about this” to recognising that that “someone” was me. How about you?

Martin Jackson

Monday, 20 September 2010

Back to Blogging

I'm sorry about the lack of activity in recent weeks on this Blog. First it was a matter of a couple of weeks' holiday. Then back to a very busy September in the parish. I'm afraid I failed to get pictures for our parish's Art Exhibition, which ran alongside the Northumbria Historic Churches Trust Steeplechase - but it was very successful. I did get pictures from last weekend's wedding of Ian Gray and Julie Shotton - a wonderful occasion, though the brightness of the day wasn't helpful to photographers who prefer a bit less contrast. And the church was marvellous to behold - hours of work on the part of flower arrangers paid off supremely, though my camera battery failed just as I took my first shots in church.

Our Reader, Rosie Junemann, continues to preach thought-provoking sermons, and to get them scripted and onto a usable computer file. While I was away in August she addressed issues of how we regard Sabbath and Sunday. And yesterday she contrasted headlines from The Times with those from St. Luke's Gospel which address issues of Wealth, Poverty and Justice. Click your way through!

I've been preaching - but at present you can only catch me "live."

But here are a couple of pictures from my holiday - in a church at Riviere, by the Banks of the Vienne, just outside Chinon. From the outside it was so unassuming that we drove past it. Inside... amazing paintings and triple-tiered architecture. There are more holiday pictures here. Happy viewing - if you want!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Assent, Assumption and Incarnation

I didn't expect to be quoting the Church of England's Declaration of Assent from the Worship and Doctrine Measure when I preached for yesterday's Solemnity of (the Assumption of) the Blessed Virgin Mary - but I did, going on to ask how we are to bring "the grace and truth of Christ to this generation." Mary is a model for us in this. The part she plays is one with the Mystery of the Incarnation, God entering our world in human flesh. The whole sermon is here. Part of it is printed below...

Meanwhile here's a link to the September issue of our Parish Magazine - and another link to some items from our churchwarden (the one with the carrots in the last post), which missed the bus when we moved the magazine deadline forward. As ever the linked pages open in funny places or need you to tweak the scroll button on the sidebar to make them appear - or is it only me that has this problem?

From the homily...

How do we bring the grace and truth of Christ to the people who live around us in the here and now? How do we proclaim afresh this faith to each generation?

The answer is to take seriously the world we live in, to explore the issues which confront us day by day. But I’m afraid that here the Church often falls down on the job. The temptation is to make the Church a sort of refuge from all the problems we face, a bubble that surrounds us for an hour or so on a Sunday morning before it pops and we have to go back to things just as we left them outside. Or on the other hand we can come along to church and find that real issues of justice, peace, freedom, poverty, corruption and human well-being are ignored for a rather more small-minded concentration on the sexuality of the clergy and whether women can become bishops. Meanwhile the world looks on, wondering what we think we’re about - if it bothers to wonder at all…

What we need to remember is that Christian faith is not about insulation from all that troubles us - it’s about transformation. It doesn’t mean ignoring the world we live in. It requires that again and again we recognise just how seriously God takes this world. The fundamental difference from any other religion that Christianity proclaims is that God gets mixed up in this world. God comes to us in Jesus. The Son of God is born into this world in real human flesh. God doesn’t say he will simply save us from this world. What God does shows that he will save us in this world. It’s there in today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…

St. Paul tells us very little about the actual life of Jesus. But here in just a few words, he shows us the fundamental shift that needs to be recognised in God’s dealings with the world. At the heart of the Gospel is the Incarnation - God comes into this world the way any of us do. All that God is, we can find in Christ. But in Christ we find also humanity in its fullness. And God does this not just by his own action. He works through what is human. His Son is born into the world because of Mary. This woman, Mary, hears the message of God through the angel - and she gives her “Yes” to God. She will bear God’s Son in her womb.

We need to recognise the part Mary plays, her response to the call of God, if we are going to be able to play our part - to make our response to the call God makes to us. She bears Christ in her womb - will we bear him in our hearts?...

There's more both before and after this section...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Travel - and where you want to be

They say that the summer is the "silly season" for newspapers and television. So also for blogs... The carrots brought along to St. Cuthbert's yesterday morning by churchwarden, Linda Short, were a major talking point. Absolutely no genetic engineering here.

It was good also to be able to welcome former Curate, Nick Watson, and his family. And Rosie Junemann our Reader preached, taking her cue from the travels of Abram / Abraham.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity was modelled on an earlier icon depicting the Hospitality of Abraham. The hospitality shown to three mysterious strangers by Abraham was the theme running through today's Old Testament Reading, the Gospel showed us the hospitality given to Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary, and the New Testament Reading from Colossians referred to Christ as the image (literally icon) of the invisible God.

So I found myself preaching what was really a meditation on the dual call to action and contemplation. Where love and charity dwell, there God is to be found. The icon itself invites the observer into an encounter with the divine - how do we respond? Click the link for what I said - if you find the document doesn't appear, tweak the side button and then play with the tools to size the page as you wish.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Good Samaritan at St. Cuthbert's

What I omitted to say in my last post and in my sermon last Sunday is that the Good Samaritan is depicted in the central window behind the High Altar in St. Cuthbert's - here it is! Above it is Christ depicted as the Good Shepherd. We'll keep that for another time...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

St. Benedict and the Good Samaritan

Rules for the Lectionary mean that today's Feast of St. Benedict has to give way to Sunday observance - not a bad thing when today's Gospel is that of the Good Samaritan.

We managed to bring both into our celebration of the liturgy. I was struck by Benedict's desire to provide a Rule for the sake of orderliness, but with the affirmation that it's a "school for beginners" rather than a straitjacket. And there's the likely problem for the Priest and Levite of the parable missing the point because of rules - and the lawyer doing what he can to fit them to his purpose. Benedict's purpose is to lead people to "eternal life" and it's St. Luke's Gospel which makes the inheritance of eternal life the point of the lawyer's approach to Jesus - unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Mark who have Jesus' questioner simply ask "which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

This is an extract from my sermon, the whole of which you can find by clicking here:

The thing to know about the Rule of St. Benedict is that it was written as a result of his desire to bring orderliness into the way his brother monks lived, at a time when so many thought they could do whatever they pleased. Benedict wanted to establish what he called “A school for the Lord’s service” - and his purpose was so that those entering into it would find their way to “blessings in eternal life.”

That’s something that we must not miss in today’s Gospel reading. Of all the Gospel writers, only St. Luke tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The story has an introduction which Matthew and Mark also record, but with a twist. In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus is asked, what is the greatest of the commandments? - and it’s Jesus who sums it up: love God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength - and your neighbour as yourself. But it’s a bit different in Luke. Luke tells us that Jesus was approached by a lawyer who wanted to know what to do in order to inherit eternal life. And Jesus simply turns the question round: what does the religious law tell you? And the lawyer gets the answer right:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

In the Prayer Book we call these words the Summary of the Law. It’s everything that’s necessary reduced to just these few words about love - do this and that’s the way to find eternal life. That’s the aim of St. Benedict when he wrote his Rule. It’s the whole point of the Scriptures - to get us into God’s kingdom, to share with him in eternal life...

In preparing to preach I noticed that the priest - the first person not to stop and help the wounded man - is very definitely going down the road, so he must be travelling away from the Temple and Jerusalem. I didn't have time to go into this. But, aware of the argument that the priest and the Levite don't stop because they fear becoming ritually unclean, I'd like at some point to explore why the Gospel seems to be so definite that they are going away from the place where they need to be "clean" - and still they don't stop...

Would we?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

“Trust, Courage - and Virtue…”

This is the title of my page in our newly-published Parish Magazine for July and August. Click here to find the whole issue in full colour. And this is what I wrote on the View from the Vicarage page:

I’m sorry that this issue of the Parish Magazine is appearing a bit later than usual - though it’s a double issue, so you’ll have plenty of time to read it!

One of the reasons I’ve been delayed is that I attended our diocese’s annual Clergy Summer Gathering over three days at the end of June and beginning of July. The theme this year was Trust and Courage in Ministry Today. There was much that was thought-provoking in the insights of the speakers, and much cause for gratitude in being able to share with fellow-priests and deacons in formal group-work, over meals and in the bar. Amongst other things we did was to engage in a Socratic dialogue to discern the meaning of good ministry and to sit down together to watch the film Doubt (my second viewing and I still don’t know what I think).

But the vital theme was how we experience and manage to convey a sense of trust in ministry. Trust is vital to the way we live. Robert Innes, former Vicar of Belmont, now at the Anglican Pro-Cathedral in Brussels, led us through the issues brilliantly with reference to issues in the medical field - how you trust your doctor after the Harold Shipman murders, how you feel about hospitals as a result of the Alder Hay and other scandals. He could have talked about the issues that bear directly upon the Church. But the fact is that trust is so central in so many parts of life: Thick Trust - which we need in family relationships which knits trust and love into personal bonds; Thin Trust - what we need in “regulated” professionals not least doctors and priests, where we rely upon their availability, confidence and relationship; Trust in Institutions - which might be Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or Parliament, and is a reminder that a priest’s or a local church’s reputation is bound up with the institution of the church.

How can we build trust? The answer is simple: by being trustworthy. But of course there’s a lot involved in doing that simple thing.

In this we were helped by sessions on Virtue Ethics - basically doing the right thing, not for what I might get out of it, but because it is right. Bishop Tom took this on by looking at the specific Christian Virtues: Patience - not to be too quick to judge, and patience needs to be filled with prayer; Charity - a habit of the heart to be cultivated, “if there’s a chance, let’s be generous!”; Chastity - not just for monks, but about real relationships in their richness where we can look beyond sexual motives; and Humility - the sober recognition of my God-given gifts, and how I can use them in service.

All too brief a summary - but lots to work on for everybody…
Martin Jackson

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Music at St. Cuthbert's

The lack of posts on this blog is not due to an absence of activity in the parish - quite the opposite! Following the Confirmation at the beginning of June we've had a Summer Fair, a Concert to aid Sunday School Funds, a Fashion Show and all the staples of parish life. And it's also been renewal time for CRB checks on parishoners who work with children and vulnerable adults - just finding the time to sit down with each individual to check that people are really the people they say they are and that they really do live in the house where we're sitting has been a great test for my diary skills (I know I've been visiting you here for the last 16 years, but can you please prove this is your house with a gas bill no more than three months old?). Thank goodness that's over for another five years!

Music Sunday, an initiative by the Royal School of Church Music, was an occasion we observed on 13th June. Click here for the sermon that Rosie Junemann, our Reader, preached that day. I'm afraid that my recent homilies haven't reached a sufficiently scripted form for up-loading. Catch me "live" or not at all at present!

And the music theme continues...

On Sunday 11th July we welcome the Sage Chamber Choir to St. Cuthbert's for a Concert in church at 7p.m.

Tickets in advance or on the door are £5.

I know there's a clash with a certain football match that evening... but you'll probably still get home in time for the extra time and penalty shootout. So do join us! - for those who don't know the North-East, the Sage is the top music venue in our region, the home of the Northern Sinfonia as well as the Chamber Choir. This is a rare opportunity to catch a top choir on one of their excursions further afield.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Confirmation at St. Cuthbert's

We were delighted to have the Rt. Revd. Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, with us yesterday evening to preside at our Confirmation. A total of 34 candidates were presented - from our Deanery and beyond. The picture shows our own parish's five newly-confirmed toegether with Bishop Mark, Rosie our Reader and the Vicar of Benfieldside.

So we started the week on a high. We hope to end it that way with St. Cuthbert's Summer Fair - 2p.m. on Saturday 12th June, in and around St. Cuthbert's Church and Hall, Church Bank, Shotley Bridge. For SatNav and Google Mappers, enter DH8 0NW...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Catching Up and Looking Ahead

It's been busy here - hence the lack of posts on this Blog, and failure to add up-dates.

Full news for the new month can be found in our June issue of the Parish Magazine which is uploaded at this link in full colour.

I realise we're a bit behind with links for recent sermons too. Click here for this one which I preached at Pentecost. And last Sunday I found myself preaching at Hexham Abbey for the 25th Anniversary of Barbara McNamara's licensing in Ministry: Parish Worker, Deaconess, Deacon and Priest - all with reference to the Holy Trinity; again just click! Rosie Junemann was preaching for Trinity Sunday at St. Cuthbert's - click here for the online copy.

Next Sunday we welcome the Bishop of Jarrow for our Confirmation, shared with the Deanery and another parish outside the Deanery too. There are 34 candidates in all - so I'm not sure how we will all get in the church once we add on their supporters and our regular congregation! Please keep in your prayers all who are to be confirmed.

Please note that the Confirmation will be our Parish Sung Eucharist for the day - there will be no 10a.m. Eucharist… This is the schedule:

Sunday 6th June at St. Cuthbert’s Church

8.00a.m. Eucharist - the only morning service today

10.00a.m. Morning Sung Eucharist is cancelled today


The Bishop of Jarrow presides and preaches

Refreshments to follow in the Hall

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Wedding season begins...

Spring is only getting a small look-in around here. Fortunately the sun came out for our first wedding of the season. So congratulations to Helen and Stuart. The camper van is not for their honeymoon as far as I'm aware. And the driver's concern for its handbrake is the reason it's parked in the church drive rather than on our rather steep Church Bank.

The Bride arrived in this splendid carriage just as a Children's Party was breaking up in the Hall across the road. So for a few moments wedding and bridesmaid dresses mingled with mermaids and pirates. Sadly I didn't get a photo of this.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Still here - still Easter!

Sorry that it's so long since this blog was up-dated. It's not for lack of things happening, but the reverse...

So some update links: Rosie Junemann, our Reader, preached on Good Shepherd Sunday, 25th April. The following Sunday (yesterday) I preached on new dimensions of faith with reference to the recent spate of 3D films and the National Gallery's Sacred Made Real Exhibition (H/T Bishop Martin Warner in the Church Times).

And the May edition of our Parish Magazine is now online - full of news... and please keep our candidates for Confirmation especially in your prayers.

As ever, a little patience is need in accessing these links. If they don't display once loaded, scroll down a little using the sidebar button. The Magazine does open up, but for some reason always on page 10!

Less tricky - but a bigger download - Rosie has written an article on Music Sunday  for Newslink, our diocesan newspaper. Find the whole issue here, and go to page 4.

Meanwhile, flowers and blossom in and near the churchyard are quite beautiful. The pictures in this posting are taken before the daffodils had come fully into bloom.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Christ is risen!

We've had a wonderful Holy Week and Easter Day at St. Cuthbert's. Thanks to so many whose hard work and skill has made it all possible. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of the church which has been beautifully decorated. This is part of the Homily - and you can find the whole thing here (if the page looks empty, scroll down and the text should appear).

... Easter faith is a faith which goes deep down. To declare ‘Christ is risen’ is not just to be bold, brash and optimistic. It is faith which wrestles with the harsh realities of life, faith which grows from the experience even of the cold touch of death. Before Easter Day, there is Good Friday. Before the Resurrection, there is the Passion and Death of Christ upon the Cross. And Easter Day itself begins only as the darkness begins to recede - at early dawn, St. Luke tells us. That’s when the women who had seen Jesus buried now return to visit his tomb. They come with spices to do for his lifeless body what they had not been able to do at his burial as the Sabbath approached. They come to find a grave which they know to have been sealed with a stone, its coldness guarding a corpse from which life has been extinguished. And they find... nothing. They find the stone rolled away from the tomb - and no body… only men who tell them, “he is not here, he has risen.”

It has to be said that this is not a clincher in terms of evidence for the Resurrection. There could be a number of reasons why the body has gone...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Approaching Holy Week - and April

The last few days have seen a lot of energy expended - much of it at the desk, but also in church as a good number of people ready the building for our celebration of Holy Week. One of the desk products is our Parish Magazine for April. It's available in print - and the online colour edition is to be found here. For those who like that sort of thing, it includes most of the reports to be given to our Annual Parochial Church Meeting. For those who don't like that sort of thing, I commend it nevertheless: printing them in the Magazine means we don't have to print them separately; and it keeps the APCM short, because we don't have to listen to them.

Because Holy Week falls across the boundary of March and April, we don't have the full details in the April Magazine (but they're  all in the March issue). So here's the Holy Week menu at St. Cuthbert's:

Sunday 28th March: Palm Sunday
 8.00a.m. Eucharist (BCP)
10.00a.m. Procession of Palms & Sung Parish Eucharist
 6.00p.m. Evening Prayer

Monday 29th March: Monday in Holy Week

 2.00p.m. Eucharist - at Derwentdale Court
 7.30p.m. Ecumenical Service with Churches Together
- in St. Cuthbert’s Church

Tuesday 30th March: Tuesday in Holy Week
7.00p.m. Eucharist & Prayers with Anointing for Healing

Wednesday 31st March: Wednesday in Holy Week
10.00a.m. Eucharist & Stations of the Cross

Thursday 1st April: Maundy Thursday
7.30p.m. Sung Eucharist of the Last Supper
followed by a Watch of the Passion

Friday 2nd April: Good Friday
10.00a.m. Before the Cross: All-Age Service
2.00p.m. Liturgy of the Day & Holy Communion

Sunday 4th April: Easter Day
8.00a.m. Eucharist (BCP)
10.00a.m. Sung Parish Eucharist with Easter Ceremonies

May the love of Christ, crucified & risen,
fill your life with his joy this Holy Week & Easter-tide

Monday, 22 March 2010

Passiontide begins...

... Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, never has anything to say. You might wonder about that. I would say, look at how important he is in his silence. Loved by his sisters - and he really needs their love. Silent in the grave - and from the grave Jesus calls him to life. Sitting with Jesus at table - Lazarus stands for all people who are there simply to be served, honoured or cared for in their need. Lazarus is the silent companion of Jesus - so perhaps he stands for us, when we are lost for words.

There is though, something more...

From my homily for Passion Sunday - find it all here.

And there's a reminder that this week sees the 30th anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a man who should still inspire us.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Run of White Feasts

Today is actually the Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. But at St. Cuthbert's we've been celebrating St. Joseph instead. I know it's his Feast Day tomorrow, 19th March, but we're using Friday evening instead for our own Patronal Celebration, keeping the Eve of St. Cuthbert's Day. So there's a plug for our Patronal Festival - join us, if you can, for a Sung Eucharist at 7p.m. There are more celebrations to follow. If you can't be there, remember us in your prayers.

The Diocese begins its celebrations the same evening in Durham Cathedral, but for the Feast Day itself moves north for a Pilgrimage to Holy Island off the Northumberland Coast. Pilgrims are to gather at 10a.m. - and there'll be a Eucharist in the Priory ruins. If the weather is inclement, it'll be in the Parish Church next door. After lunch everyone is to move off to Durham and there's an invitation  to walk back across the sands on the Pilgrim's Route (hoping the motorised will pick them up on the mainland). It may seem strange to have the pilgrims walk the return route rather than the approach - but there is the question of tides (and just how early they would want to start!). Anyway it's part of the pilgrimage, because the idea then is to go on to Durham for Choral Evensong - I've said I'll join in at least for that part.

And yesterday of course was St. Patrick's Day. I found myself back in my last parish, presiding and preaching at St. Patrick's, High Spen on the 120th anniversary of the church's consecration. St. Patrick's has the distinction amongst Durham churches of having been consecrated by a Bishop of Newcastle. Bishop Lightfoot had died leaving an episcopal interregnum at the time he should have made his way to St. Pat's. But Bishop Westcott turned up the following year to check that all was well.

The people were certainly in good spirits - with visitors too. But they are themselves in  the midst of an interregnum (the third since I left). Pray for them, and for a speedy and good appointment. This is what I had to say in my homily.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Fables, figs, parables and politics

The title of this post is inspired by the content of the sermon preached by our Reader, Rosie Junemann, yesterday - click here to find, then twiddle the tools to look at it.

This morning in the parish feels like a bit of a lull before it gets very busy... Probably as in most Anglican churches in this country, the emphasis here on the Fourth Sunday of Lent gets placed firmly on Mothering Sunday. So there needs to be thought as to what approach can be taken this year - and prayer that we will get children and mothers/ parents in church on Sunday. Then a certain wistfulness that we've disrupted the flow of Lent.

Or have we? This year the Churches of Orthodoxy and of the Western Rite will celebrate Easter at the same time. So it's worth checking the Orthodox Calendar as we progress through Lent. And you find that the Third Sunday of Lent is observed by the Orthodox as "The Sunday of the Cross." Rather earlier than we begin even the traditional observance of Passiontide, but at least a Lenten theme. But what about keeping the First Sunday of Lent as "The Triumph of Orthodoxy," commemorating the end of the Iconoclast struggle in the ninth century? Or celebrating St. Gregory Palamas on the Second Sunday and St. John Climacus (see above for his Heavenly Ladder) on the Fourth?

In the end, Lent is what we make it. It's certainly not to make us miserable. So let's celebrate Mothering Sunday (10a.m. at St. Cuthbert's - All Age Eucharist with presentations of flowers etc...), but let's not be twee.

And the following week... St. Patrick's Day back in my last parish, St. Cuthbert's Day here and in the Cathedral. Roll on Passion Sunday!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Foxes, hens and the divine motherhood found in Christ (via Anselm)

Living in an area with quite a bit of wildlife, today's Gospel reading about the fox and the hen always rings a bell for me. And I love the way the imagery of the hen's care for her chicks is drawn out in St. Anselm's Canticle, " A Song of Christ's Goodness," not least because the modern form it has in Common Worship - Daily Prayer was composed by my Litugy Lecturer and College Tutor, Michael Vasey. You can read what I had to say when preaching by clicking here. This is a taster (from the middle of the homily):

.... “How often I have desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” says Jesus. We find these words in St. Matthew’s Gospel too – but in a different context. It’s Luke – in today’s Gospel reading – who makes the connection between Jesus, acting like a hen, and Herod, the fox. It’s the hen who has most to lose when the fox is on the prowl. But this one is not fearful – this one wants to gather the brood of chicks beneath her wings… and this is an image of warmth and safety.

There’s a marvellous drawing out of this image in some words of St. Anselm of Canterbury which were translated into a modern canticle by the man who taught me liturgy, Michael Vasey – they’re words now used in daily prayer by those who use the books “Celebrating Common Prayer “ and “Common Worship”. With the title, “A Song of Christ’s Goodness,” it has the refrain:

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

And it looks to a divine motherhood in Christ:

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you,
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Could there be a better image for describing the costliness of a mother’s love, the warmth and tenderness which at the same time require sorrow and sacrifice? And isn’t this also a call to see the feminine side of God, whom so easily we depict as a divine male autocrat upon his throne?

It may seem a world away from the Old Testament story of God’s covenant with Abraham. But there is a connection. If our Gospel reading shows us something of the Motherhood of God in Christ, then the story of Abram tells us of the yearning of a father who is without children...

As ever, after clicking on the homily link and waiting for it to load, you'll probably need to use the scroll button to make the text appear. The same is true for Paul Heatherington's sermon for last week, the 1st Sunday of Lent.

But I had success first time in getting into our newly uploaded Parish Magazine for March, online here. You can read it in all its colourful glory online. And we hope the hard copy will be out in a day or two.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Retreat - and ready for Lent

It's probably a good sign that I'm not blogging much! Last week I was in Walsingham for a Priest's Pilgrimage Retreat. I gather there's a Wi-Fi connection in the Norton Cafe Bar - but nowhere else, and my laptop remained zipped up in my bag throughout my stay. What a wonderful experience that was - and the Retreat!

A letter from the Shrine Administrator, Bishop Lindsay Urwin, before the Retreat began said that 65 priests had signed up - but in the event there were rather more. All men, I'm afraid + one woman Permanent Deacon. But happily it was a non-contentious experience. The only reference to events that week in Synod was when we happened to see the TV news one night. And no one seemed bothered to discuss these issues which can be so wearing.

The Retreat itself was invigorating. I stayed awake during the addresses - an achievement for me and a tribute to Bishop Lindsay and Brother Paschal SSF. I found myself reflecting on them and on the larger experience when I preached on Sunday on St. Luke's approach to the Transfiguration. While Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus takes the disciples up the Mount of the Transfiguration as a "place apart," it's only Luke who is explicit that the intention is to pray. And only Luke tells how hard it was for the disciples to stay awake. "They were heavy with sleep but managed to stay awake," Bishop Tom Wright translates it. You can read what I had to say by clicking here. To make the text appear you've got to move the scroll button - I don't know why, but it makes it work!

And you can find what our Reader, Rosie Junemann said the previous week as she looked at the meaning of faith when things go wrong - with special reference to the Haiti earthquake.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A late post for Candlemas

I still have a memory which must go back to the time after the birth of my brother. I would have been six - nearly 48 years ago. It’s the memory of sitting in a pew at the back of our local church, the one my parents still attend, while my Mother went to the front of the church and the Vicar said prayers with her. I don’t think anyone else was there. My Father was probably back home with the baby. I didn’t really know what was going on - but I suppose it was that service which the Prayer Book quaintly calls, “The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called The Churching of Women.” It’s a service I’ve never used. It is a thanksgiving service - appropriate after a child is born. But the way it was used made it more of a service of purification. This was something that had to be done - and done to a woman. I have had the experience of a new mother ringing from hospital to say that she needed to be “churched” before her own mother would let her back in the house - I’m glad to say that it was a long time ago. But it begs the question about expectation, superstition, getting thanksgiving right, and what faith is truly about...

Well that's the second paragraph of the sermon I preached last Sunday as we celebrated Candlemas. You can read the whole thing here. Sorry it's appearing rather late. With the end of the "Christmas cycle" I'm rather relieved to have a couple of Sundays of Ordinary / Green Time, but we're already gearing up for Lent.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Hearing the Word - Seeing Jesus

I was struck by the image of the young boy, Kiki, rescued from the earthquake ruins of Haiti, pulled up with arms outstretched - in the midst of so much suffering a moment of joy. It had an effect on our Reader, Paul Heatherington, who referred to the incident in last Sunday's Sermon, which you can find here.

Meanwhile, the February issue of our Parish Magazine has been published. Income from the hard copies keeps it viable. But you can find the free full colour edition here.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Haiti, holiness and miracle

I wanted to avoid attempts at "explanation" when I preached in St. Cuthbert's yesterday. What can you say in the face of natural disaster and human suffering on such a scale? You can link to the sermon itself here. The text isn't immediately displaying for me, so if you have a problem give the page a few moments and then scroll down. For a preview, this is how I started:

When you live in a Vicarage, one of life’s pleasures is in encounters with the unexpected caller at the door. There have been a few this week, so if you’re one of them, count yourself in! Highlight of the week was on Friday afternoon when I opened the door to find a man standing there with a slightly confused expression: “Hallo,” he said. “Is this the Holy Cottage?” I think he’d seen the plate on the wall saying “Vicarage.” So I was sorry to disappoint him: “Well, you might think this is the nearest thing to a holy house on Church Bank, but actually I think you want Holly Cottage - and that’s on the other side of the road.”

In the midst of my sense of lassitude and gloom about the weather, that delivery man with a package for a neighbour brightened my day and cheered me up. He made me laugh, but he also made me think… Either the address label was mis-spelled or he’d mis-read it. He came looking for a place he’d thought was called “Holy…” - and he’d found me!

It’s humbling for a priest to be alongside a person when he or she is looking for something which can be described as holy… numinous… beyond our understanding of the mundane. One of the complaints of evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is that religious faith doesn’t make rational sense. Faith makes claims which can’t be verified, which go beyond what reason can ascertain. And much of what they say is true. You can’t reduce faith to a matter for argument and proof. It’s when people have a sense of the holy - when they’re reaching out for something that they can’t express in words, but know in their heart to be real - that they are moving beyond rationalism. Religious faith doesn’t need to be irrational - I hope it isn’t! What faith points to is a desire for what is true. And truth as it touches us most deeply has its source in God, and reveals to us what is truly holy.

We find that truth and holiness revealed in the encounters between Jesus and so many other people recorded in the Gospels. I read one of them in the Gospel which was set for the Eucharist on Thursday of last week, St. Mark’s account of a man described as a “leper” who comes to Jesus and pleads with him on his knees: “If you want to,” he said, “you can cure me.” “Of course I want to!” Jesus replies. Jesus stretches out his hand, touches the man, the leprosy leaves him and he is immediately cured. There’s no “how” or “why” here. Just need on the part of the sick man - and the clear statement on the part of Jesus that healing is central to his calling and purpose. “Of course I want to cure you,” says Jesus - and he does.

But even as we read that story of the healing of a sick man in his need, we can find ourselves asking the question, if Jesus can heal that leper why are there so many other sick people in the world? Why doesn’t he heal them? Why are so many people suffering now after the earthquake in Haiti? Why have so many tens of thousands of people been killed there, why do so many more lie sick and untreated in the hospitals, or dying in the streets? What sort of a world has God made in which there is so much potential for suffering?...

read on...

To donate - the Disasters Emergency Committee is coordinating a relief appeal by major charities including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Save the Children.