Monday, 5 December 2011

Seasonal News from St. Cuthbert's...

... can be found in the December-January double issue of our Parish Magazine. It's now available in print - or you can find it online by clicking here. I'm copying the "View from the Vicarage" page into this post, but do have a look at the rest of it.

Our main services for the end of Advent and Christmas-tide are listed on the right-hand side of this blog - full details also in the Magazine, on our website and on the Parish Christmas Card, available both online (so you can print your own) and on heavy paper! For good measure here's the Christmas advertising poster too (in duplicate!).

Meanwhile, from the Magazine -


… started early for me this year. I try to resist singing Christmas Carols as long as possible - not because I’m a natural curmudgeon, but to save myself up for Christmas when it comes. I really do enjoy making a real start with our Christmas Eve Carol Service when we bless the crib, going on to celebrate the First Eucharist of Christmas at the Midnight Mass.

But this year the lighting of the Shotley Bridge Village Christmas Tree was accompanied by Carols. I turned up to bring the carol sheets and to shout out which we’d sing next. I needed to shout. The crowd was well into three figures - and enthusiastic. “We’ll treat this as a rehearsal,” I yelled. “Come back and sing some more nearer the time!” So I hope the outdoor singers will be back at the tree on Tuesday 20th December - and giving them old copies of a Christmas Eve Carol Service, I hope they’ll note the time and day to turn up in church in droves for the Christingle!

It was great fun. And continued throughout the “Victorian Christmas Spectacular” the next day - with many turning up to make our Christmas Fair so successful.

Now for Advent! That’s the real time of expectation - the not-just-yet of Christ’s coming… And what do we expect of him? So much about the Church seems bad news, at least when the media lays hands on it. So I’m pleased to carry the item on page 19, examining some statistics which bear on the Church’s life: finances and ordinations are holding up, which doesn’t mean we can be complacent, but which is evidence of faith in hard times.

Christ’s is a birth in hard times. And through it there comes hope for a troubled world. The candles we use in the darkness of Christmas services are a sort of symbol that glimmers of light may shine brightest.

A very joyous and holy Christmas to you all, and a blessed and peaceful New Year!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Homily for Remembrance Sunday

I'm getting ahead of myself - and have actually posted my offering for tomorrow before preaching it.

It can be accessed through the Homilies page, and directly via this link.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Commitment and Faith

Giles Fraser, former Chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral, has been much in the news recently. But for a long time he'd been booked to take part in Radio 3's "Free Thinking" Festival of Ideas at The Sage, Gateshead. He honoured the booking last Sunday and delivered an excellent lecture on the nature of commitment, taking as his starting point the differing callings of farmers and gunfighters in the film, "The Magnificent Seven." The Hall in which he spoke was packed - a rare occasion when someone can develop a cogent intellectual argument - and get listened to.

The lecture itself wasn't distracted by the events at St. Paul's, but a time for interview and audience questions gave us the opportunity to see how theory and practice relate - and the centrality of Christian faith.

The lecture was broadcast last night on Radio 3. You can listen to it on I-Player and to a podcast version - just follow this link and either play or download.

I didn't tackle "commitment" explicitly on Sunday morning - but it had its place as I tackled the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids; the homily is on this link.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Caught in a Trap?

That's how it seems for the Bishop of London, and the (former) Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral. What started as a protest against financial structures and the banking system has turned into a huge embarrassment all round. It's not as though it's getting the real aims of the camping protestors heard - the news is simply focussed on the fall-out all around them. What's the message that's going to be heard as we approach Remembrance-tide. That's what I ask in the article below from our new Parish Magazine.

You can read the whole magazine here. And there are also new links to what's been preached during the last couple of weeks on Bible Sunday by Rosie Junemann, our Reader, and for All Saints by our Vicar, Martin Jackson.

Here's this month's View from the Vicarage, as it appears in the new Magazine:


November is the month of remembering. Acts of Remembrance will take place nationwide as well as in our own church and village on Remembrance Sunday, 13th November. Armistice Day is now restored as a national occasional for silent remembering. This year it will be at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this millennium - but more than an exercise in numbers as we recall the many millions who have died as a result of war.

We can’t avoid the huge losses and wounds of war. When the people of Wootton Bassett turned out in their hundreds to stand silently as the bodies of those killed in Afghanistan were brought home, it wasn’t a repeated empty gesture - it was to say this is about us, here and now, and about what the failure of people to live in peace has brought to us. Silence is perhaps the most appropriate response.

As I write, protestors are camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, demonstrating their feelings about the financial institutions and structures of the world we live in. They may have a point - many people say - but what can they hope to achieve? Some of them go off from their tents to work in offices in the very institutions they are protesting about. We are all a part of this mess.

Some have asked if they will clear the camp away before Remembrance Day - a day when we give thanks for those who gave their lives so that people today might be free to demonstrate and protest; but if we fought for that freedom, should we deny it on the steps of that Cathedral?

Freedom and Sacrifice go together, and we do well to remember that. Sacrifices need to be made for the right cause and in the right way; freedoms need to be cherished and used appropriately. And Christians should be able to stand witness to that.

November begins with another remembrance - on All Souls Day as we remember the departed who are dear to us. They are our loved ones. Love is the way we need to do our remembering; it should be the motive for sacrifice; it’s the cause for which our freedom needs to be employed.

And the end of November brings us to Advent - the time to recognise the Coming of Christ, his call to welcome him who is Love himself.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Not so much a post as two links...

... the links being the last two occasions for preaching at St. Cuthbert's (mine technically a repeat because I preached it earlier in the morning at St. John's, Castleside).

You can read both sermons from links on our dedicated Magazine & Homiles page on the Blog. Or go direct: Last Sunday Rosie Junemann asked whether leopards could change their spots in a sermon linked here. This morning I got to deal with civil authority, God and tax - the homily is here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Updated at last

Life is proving exceptionally busy at the moment - hence the lack of posts on this Blog.

This one is appearing simply to say there have been some updates on the other pages of this blog (accessed by the tabs further up the page) - including the Calendar and Magazine link. The new October issue of the Parish Magazine can be accessed directly by this link; there's lots to read! And our original parish website is also up-dated here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

9/11 - and a fresh start

Yesterday was a strange day for me: the regular pattern of services at St. Cuthbert's, but with the unavoidable recognition of the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks upon the United States; and then in the evening my licensing to an additional new ministry as Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Castleside.

You can read what I preached in the morning by clicking here. Sorry I don't have the Bishop's excellent homily to share. But the licensing went well - the only hiccough being an opportunity for a slight detour into Music Hall mode. I was grateful for all the support - and there was a marvellous spread at the Reception. Thanks to all concerned.

Service times at both churches need to change with immediate effect - check this blog page and the links to our websites.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

All you need is love...

... that's the theme running through last Sunday's sermon preached by our Reader, Rosie Junemann. I missed it, but it's well worth reading and you can find it here. Links to lots more recent homilies are bundled up together with online versions of the Parish Magazine on the dedicated page of this blog.

I took last weekend off following a reading week, but I was at home so I took the opportunity to go to Durham Cathedral. It has its own particular celebration of the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Cuthbert - which happily falls that day, 4th September. The main Feast of St. Cuthbert is 20th March. The Translation relates to the burial of his body in his present grave after the building of the Cathedral and following centuries during which the monks of his community moved from place to place following their displacement from Lindisfarne by the Viking raids and invasion. It was all very well done (pilgrimage procession to the Feretory / shrine) of course and you can probably find the Succentor's excellent sermon on the Cathedral's website. He took as his starting point the British Museum's current exhibition of relics and reliquaries, Treasures of Heaven, which I was glad to see a few weeks ago. We didn't actually venerate any relics on Sunday. But we were certainly put in mind of the call to holiness and the example of those who have gone before us.

Meanwhile... life resumes in this parish, and I'm about to take on responsibility also for the Parish of St. John, Castleside. This coming weekend will be busy: Northumbria Historic Churches Trust Steeplechase on Saturday; St. Cuthbert's Art Exhibition on Saturday and Sunday; and on Sunday services here will be for the last time at 8a.m. and 10a.m. At 6.30p.m. I'll be licensed in Castleside. Thereafter (from 18 September), St. Cuthbert's Sunday Sung Eucharist will be move to 10.30a.m. - with an 8a.m. BCP Eucharist on second Sundays of the month. Hopefully people will cope with the changes which will allow me to preside at a 9a.m. Eucharist in Castleside - though I'm already thinking about the problems that ice and snow may bring...

Join us for any of these if you can - and keep us in your prayers.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

After the Riots - Humanity and the Divine Image + Matthew 15.10-28

My summer holidays so far this year have consisted of a week staying in London. I had a great time. The weather was good, there was lots to do, we’d found somewhere both comfortable and reasonably priced to stay. And the location worked well - not in the centre of town, but next to a Docklands Light Railway station, and the bus to Trafalgar Square went from just a couple of hundred yards away.

A few years ago it was one of the poorest parts of the city - Limehouse in East London. But there is a Marina now in the Limehouse Basin, swish apartment blocks, and each night as we went back to our accommodation we’d look up and see the lights of the Canada Tower at Canary Wharf, just a mile or so away. Yet nevertheless, it’s in Tower Hamlets, which is, I think, still the poorest borough in the country. I suspect that if I’d gone onto the other side of the main street running through Limehouse, I wouldn’t have had to look too far to find all the tell-tale signs of poverty and deprivation.

I didn’t get into that part of our neighbourhood, but we did explore the next-door community of Wapping and Shadwell. In the nineteenth century it was over-populated, prone to disease and even epidemics of cholera, its workers depended on employment in the London Docks, much of it casual, so they could never be assured of regular wages. It continued to be poor throughout the 20th Century. And in the 1930s it found itself at the heart of tensions which divided many communities in many cities, but which focused here in the Battle of Cable Street when Oswald Moseley and the Black Shirts stirred up racial hatred. I’ve seen an estimate that 300,000 people turned out to resist the march along Cable Street by Moseley’s Fascists, even though 10,000 police were on duty to try to clear the way for the march. We went to see a mural painted to commemorate the opposition shown to fascism amidst the violence of the times. It took some finding... Anti-Semitism was at the heart of Fascism in the 1930s. Now the Jewish community might have gone from the area, but it’s even more racially-mixed. And - I want to say - it’s all the better for that. One of the things that surprised me in my visit to London is that people there on the whole are friendly. People on the bus in Wapping and Shadwell spoke, asked where we were going, told us where we should get off. Walking in the streets, people stopped to ask us where we were going and gave directions - some of them were probably on their way back from the mosque. When we found the mural we were looking for, it was on a building next to a park. In the park there were women, fully-veiled with face-coverings, and another woman sun-bathing in a bikini. Multi-culuralism, mixed race communities, good humour, tolerance and the sun shone. It was a wonderful week.

So I have to be glad we didn’t go a week later… This last week has seen riots in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and elsewhere that can only be described as lawless violence and inexcusable, opportunistic criminality. Whatever might have sparked them off in the first place, what kept them going was the realisation that if you create a big enough disturbance then you can have more or less free rein to do what you want and take what you want. So start a fire, attack the fire crews when they turn out to tackle it, and you tie up the police in protecting the fire-fighters while you can go and loot shops. That seems to be the basic tactic. I don’t really need to say anything about how you follow it through in robbery, violent confrontation, arson, attacks on defenceless individuals and even murder. We’ve heard the stories told so many times - and seen it all on our television screens…

Someone summed up the view of Britain (or more correctly England) which has come to prevail in the United States media: “A few weeks ago we were the land of royal weddings and Harry Potter, but now it’s all phone-hacking and riots in the street.” Perhaps that sums it up - but neither perspective tells the truth. The looting and violence have been in particular places for a limited time - and we can be thankful for a response by so many more people who have come out to do what they can to help clear up the mess. And the rosy glow of a feel-good film and a wonderful royal occasion mustn’t mask the disaffection and alienation which have gone deep in our society.

It has been said to me several times during the last week that in the past people might not have had the things they wanted or even needed, but they made do with what they had. That may be true. But I suspect that it’s also true that they didn’t have to live with so much wealth and conspicuous consumption on display but out of their reach. Not just the bankers who pay themselves what they want and then add in the bonuses as well. Not just the celebrities in their fabulous homes when they’re not on a round of exotic holidays. But the fact that prosperity these days has come to be seen as requiring economic growth - and that means more and more consumption. We might see people turning out on the street with brushes and shovels to clear up but society as a whole has become fundamentally acquisitive. The Archbishop of Canterbury has put his finger on the problem when he spoke in the House of Lords, saying that we need to educate people to be citizens, not consumers. In the past people made do when they didn’t have enough. But now it’s there for the taking. It’s in their face - the media can survive only if they advertise it; the “have”s are conspicuous in their consumption of it; and why should they have it when others are excluded from it?

Something has gone fundamentally wrong in society. I wondered if those who went on the rampage could have any sense of generosity? Does the concept of humanity mean anything to them? But then - when politicians and the media refer to a whole section of society as an “underclass” what are they saying about these people? - that they’re less than human? The ideal promoted by so many people with political power is to work for a society in which people have “opportunity” - but that suggests that while some may make the most of it other people are never going to succeed; so what should they do?

People who take to the streets to riot and loot succeed only in destroying their own communities. And that can only add to the tragedy of an already-divided society. If we’re to make anything relevant to this out of the first part of today’s Gospel, perhaps it’s these words of Jesus: it’s “what comes out… that defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” We all need to take a good look into our hearts - what do we find there? how do we let it form us as the people we are? what do our actions say about us?

And then there’s that encounter of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. It happens in the region of Tyre and Sidon - so it’s outside the area inhabited by the Jews. But the Canaanites had lived exactly where the Jews were then living - the people of Israel had entered the land of Canaan and taken it by conquest. So in a sense she’s a displaced and alienated person. And when she comes to Jesus asking for the healing of her daughter, he seems to respond in terms which make the divisions between them all the more graphic: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

What do we think of other people? What do we think of their needs and aspirations? Do we see what they lack rather than what they are? - human beings made in the image of God.

This last week has seen just too much failure in humanity. Where do we want to draw the line? - not merely in terms of acceptable behaviour but in seeing people as God sees them. Jesus may start by saying that he is sent to work only amongst his own people, the Israelites. But even then he speaks of them as a lost people. We are all lost, we all need to be found and rescued. And it’s the Canaanite woman - from an alien society - who shows what faith truly is. She looks beyond the division of Jew and Gentile and argues her case. She shows what is necessary for the healing of her daughter.

We need the healing of our broken, impoverished society. As Christians we look to God who shows how he takes humanity seriously by sending his Son into the world in human flesh. Perhaps we can take a lead by being more human where we are - and displaying something of the divine image to which we are called.

Preached on 14 August 2011 in St. Cuthbert's Church, Shotley Bridge

Thursday, 11 August 2011

One of this morning's Psalms - an appropriate meditation for our times

Psalm 15

1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? •
Who may rest upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads an uncorrupt life •
and does the thing that is right;

3 Who speaks the truth from the heart •
and bears no deceit on the tongue;

4 Who does no evil to a friend •
and pours no scorn on a neighbour;

5 In whose sight the wicked are not esteemed, •
but who honours those who fear the Lord.

6 Whoever has sworn to a neighbour •
and never goes back on that word;

7 Who does not lend money in hope of gain, •
nor takes a bribe against the innocent;

8 Whoever does these things •
shall never fall.

Lord, lead us to our heavenly home
by single steps of self-restraint
and deeds of righteousness;
through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Prayer for Peace in our Communities

As I write after nights of violence and lawlessness in London and other communities, I see that the Prime Minister has just recalled Parliament to meet on Thursday.

Our diocese has issued this item this morning, but it won't be accessible to everyone so I print it here:

It's difficult to know how to respond to the current situation in London and elsewhere with what seems like a complete breakdown in law and order. At best (if we can call it that) it appears to be young people giving vent to their feelings of anger and frustration with society as a whole. At worst, it's simply criminal behaviour on a huge scale stretching the resources of the police and emergency services almost to breaking point. For those of us who aren't experiencing the horrors of these events first hand we must pray that things won't continue to escalate and that the communities affected can get their lives back to normal. And we can pray for long-term solutions to the problems.

The following prayer which may help has been posted on the Church of England website today:

A prayer for peace in our communities

Gracious God,
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers,
now and always. Amen

Among the other prayers is a prayer for the current financial situation

Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world,
prices rise,
debts increase,
markets are in turmoil,
jobs are taken away,
and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
and fix our hearts where true joys are to be found,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can find more prayers concerning recent events by following this link.

Meanwhile, you can find links from this blog to two sermons preached by Rosie Junemann, our Reader, on the last two Sundays. Go to the Homilies and Magazines page by using the appropriate tab near the top of this page.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Here's our new Bishop of Durham...

... Justin Welby, at present Dean of Liverpool. He's to be consecrated in October and enthroned in November. The news has been out for some time, but the video has only just been released.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Our latest news

... is to be found in our new Parish Magazine. It's a double issue for July and August. The print edition is now out - and you can read it online by clicking here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Ordinary Time - for Welcome and Hospitality

Many churches might have observed today as Music Sunday. We thought about it but wondered if it was really necessary - we have music every Sunday and hopefully do it pretty well. And we work on the maxim, "He who sings prays twice."

So we simply kept the First Sunday after Trinity - and the first Sunday in liturgical green for a long, long time. It's good to be back into "Ordinary Time" as we strike out into a new rhythm of life and worship. The call to be a people of Welcome and Hospitality was the key issue which we drew from today's Gospel reading - here's the text of the sermon which I preached.

Next Sunday it'll be the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle - and a special day as we admit two of the younger members of our congregation to share in Holy Communion. We hope there'll be many to join us.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Pentecost - over all too soon?

We've just been changing the altar frontal and church hangings from yesterday's golds and whites for Trinity Sunday to the green of Ordinary Time. I'm always rather relieved to "get back into green" - perhaps it's just the need to tone down the diet after such a prolonged season of liturgical feasting.

So now for all those "Sundays after Trinity," as the Church of England's Calendar terms them. I wonder if I really prefer this designation from the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship over the Alternative Serrvice Book's "Sundays after Pentecost"? Now - although there's a build-up to Pentecost in the days after Ascension Day, it's very much a matter of "hello and goodbye" in one day to this Feast of the Holy Spirit. Overall I think I'd prefer to keep simply "Ordinary Time" or "Green Time" - and isn't green an Orthodox liturgical colour for the Holy Spirit?

Anyway, we kept Trinity Sunday yesterday - as is only right and proper - and you can find my Homily for the day by clicking here; please read it in conjunction with "St. Patrick's Breastplate," which some members of my congregation claim not to be able to sing (I was congratulated on reading verses from it, rather than make them sing it).

But over the road in the Church Hall, members of Sunday School were still intent on celebrating Pentecost - and produced the wonderful "Birthday of the Church Cake" in these pictures. All the disciples are individually named - and yes, that does include Matthias...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Things of the Spirit

We had a wonderful celebration of Pentecost at St. Cuthbert's - too late to join in now, but you can read the sermon by our Reader, Rosie Junemann, here. You can find other past sermons and Parish Magazines by clicking the appropriate tab near the top of the blog.

No pictures, I'm afraid, from the Pentecost celebration - nor from our Summer Fair... Despite cold, wind and rain our indoor version nevertheless drew the crowds and was highly successful. Sorry we couldn't seat more people for tea. A highlight was a performance from React Youth Theatre, who came over very well from a stage shared with the tombola!

And appropriately for the period around Pentecost, we joined with our parishes from our Deanery (and others) for a Confirmation at Durham Cathedral last Wednesday. Over 80 candidates in total (it was very long - yet prayerful, with incredible concentration on the part of Bishop Mark). Just one candidate from St. Cuthbert's - Rebecca Dixon, but a good crowd of supporters from the parish (and a full cathedral nave).

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Another Thomas - and a small room

In this morning's Gospel reading (John 14) it's the disciple Thomas who speaks out: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

If there's a temptation to associate Thomas with a tendency to doubt, then first I would want to say that the key thing about him is his honesty.

Reflecting on this and Jesus' promise that "in my Father's house there are many dwelling places / rooms" - or indeed "mansions" (AV) - I found myself talking about the priest and poet, R. S. Thomas:

... His final reputation was that of reclusiveness mixed with a tendency to venture onto the public scene with some outrageous political views. His Welsh nationalism was mixed with a keen regret that he found himself able only to write poetry in English. For all his long ministry as an Anglican priest he was not immune to uncertainty in matters of faith. But he would not hide from the contradictions he recognised in himself. Not least as a man of words, he relentlessly explored the silence he perceived: silence in which he prayed, but also silence which could denote the terrifying absence of God, silence in the refusal of answers to appear, a silence which he might long to find broken, but in which he had the courage to dwell. It would be rash to state any final conclusions as to the sort of faith with which he ended his life. But we do have some clues from his own words….

R. S. Thomas concludes what he calls his Autobiographical Essay with a picture of himself kneeling in a room furnished with chairs and books, seeing Orion and Sirius above the bay, and knowing it ‘difficult to hold the two in proportion.’ It is an image he reproduces in a poem from his last collection, ‘At the End’:

Few possessions: a chair,
a table, a bed
to say my prayers by,
and, gathered from the shore,
the bone-like, crossed sticks
proving that nature
acknowledges the Crucifixion.
All night I am at
a window not too small
to be frame to the stars
that are no further off than the city lights
I have rejected….

Thomas never comes to easy conclusions about God. He resists the temptation to domesticate a God he finds strangely revealed in the created order, a God who so often eludes him in prayer. But at the same time he finds the reality of God meeting him just where he is – living amongst the few possessions which are necessary, in a small room, with a window not too small to frame stars which seem so near. It’s a poem of maturity after a life of searching – and it points to God in utter simplicity, and says, “We meet him here. We know God because he reveals himself in those things which have become familiar to us.”

Just an excerpt of what I had to say. Click here to find the whole of it.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A great day at the Hall

... And an apology if you went looking for our new St. Cuthbert's Hall page. "Blogger" which hosts the page has had rather grievous problems over two or three days. It meant that we lost all the material uploaded to the site on Thursday.

Some of it has come back - and I've restored the Hall page and the tab by which it's accessed. So it's all there (at least as I write!) - please try again, especially if you were frustrated by a previous absence of content. Access the Hall material by using the tab which is now back near the top of this page.

Meanwhile thanks to all who worked so hard for a very successful Open Day today - not to mention our caterers and stall-holders. We had a steady stream of visitors to the Hall, wonderful food on sale as well as an abundance of plants, books and cakes. Members of Hall user groups were to hand to welcome visitors - and the general impression they gave was that they were very impressed by the new facilities.

And here's our new brochure - for any who'd like to download it.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Ready to open...

The picture is an action shot taken at our Tuesday Lunch Club earlier this week. I took it while photographing the various parts of our Hall which we'd like more people to see - and here's how...

We're holding an Open Day at St. Cuthbert's Hall this Saturday, 14th May, to show off the new and renovated facilities in the Hall extension. The builder's van was parked outside again this morning, but we're confident that all will be ship-shape and sparkling. Running alongside the Open Day we have "Coffee Plus" which is rather more than a coffee morning - lunches too + books, plants and cake stalls. Please come if you can between 10a.m. and 3p.m.

To celebrate the new opportunities and possibilities there's now a dedicated "St. Cuthbert's Hall" page on this blog - simply click on the tab at the top of this page.

While you're up there we now have another dedicated page - for our Parish Magazine and homilies / sermons preached at St. Cuthbert's... and elsewhere in the case of the last few days. The most recent entries are both offerings from the Vicar: the first is for Sunday 8th May from the Parish Eucharist; the second he delivered in his capacity as Rector of the Durham and Newcastle Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests when it met in Byker on Monday 9th May. Just click through to either of them.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Weddings, Walks & Easter continues

11a.m. last Friday found me up a hill - Catbells in the Lake District. It wasn't any lack of royal feeling on my part, but because it was the last part-day of my post-Easter break before I had to get back that afternoon for a wedding rehearsal at St. Cuthbert's. I couldn't get home in time to watch the royal wedding on the box, so much wiser, I felt, to put the brilliant weather to good use and take in a quickly ascended fell.

At the top we found people with an aerial up. At first I felt they must be tuned in to the TV coverage, but then realised it was a radio aerial - I think they were tracking ospreys. Back down the hill in Keswick the festivities were in full swing with a special street market, give-aways and giant TV screen in the High Street. A great day! - and that includes watching all the recorded coverage once we got home.

Back in the parish it was the first wedding of the season - of Carl Nevin and Emily Reed, daughter of the previous occupants of our Vicarage. Congratulations to them!

And so to Sunday - which felt rather better than people expect of "Low Sunday." You can find Rosie's sermon by going to the "Magazine and Homilies" page on this blog - and with it I've now up-loaded her sermon for Maundy Thursday. You should be able to open new links on this page without difficulty, though if you don't have Microsoft Silverlight it's recommended that you download it if you want so see the page at its best - as I have just had to for my old desktop computer (without any problems - the link to the programme presents itself; just click to run the programme).

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Christ is Risen!

We've had an excellent Holy Week and Easter Day at St. Cuthbert's. Thanks to so many people who made it all possible, not least the folk who put in much hard work behind the scenes - and there's a lot of scene-shifting as the church itself changes its appearance and character in our journey through Holy Week.

Recently I've been finding problems with the website which hosts our Parish Magazine and Sermons. So - thanks to my older son, Adam, who  knows about these things - I'm trying a different hosting solution. I'll place links to various items on a new page of this blog which you can access further up this page. Click and you should reach the document you want. For a start here are some direct links just uploaded:

The April 2011 issue of our Parish Magazine

The May 2011 issue of our Parish Magazine (this hasn't actually reached the printer yet, but will hopefully be appearing this week; meanwhile you can view it here first)

My Homily for today - Easter Day 24 April

And may we all know the joy and peace of Easter-tide!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Front Page News

St. Cuthbert's Church made it onto the front page of the Newcastle Journal this morning - as the newspaper carried the news of Lew Parker's retirement from winding our church clock. Inside Lew got most of page 9, and his picture both on that page and on the front. He's also in the Journal's North-East  news rival, the Northern Echo. I can't tell you on which page because all the copies had been bought up in our local newsagent.

But you can read the stories on-line. The Journal story is here - and the Northern Echo's story is here. The Echo web page even carries a video of Lew winding the clock and adjusting the mechanism.

They're both genuinely good news stories. And we're very glad to have had Lew carrying out this job for so long - and his father before him! A Happy Retirement to Lew - with thanks to him and to those carrying on the good work.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Your "busy" time?

Clergy are quite accustomed to being asked during Advent, "So this is your busy time?" I'm always pleased to hear this, because generally it indicates that the questioner has quite enough on his or her plate with preparations for Christmas - and isn't going to expect too much of me.

But of course it's Lent that's the really busy time. And - notwithstanding all those Lent study groups, extra devotions and the full observance of Holy Week - what really takes up the time and generates the stress is getting ready for Mothering Sunday and the Annual Parochial Church Meeting.

Well... Mothering Sunday approaches this weekend - join us if you can as we say it with flowers, and more... And the Easter Vestry & Annual Parochial Church Meeting is the following weekend - Sunday 10th April after the Sung Eucharist. To keep things brief we aim to publish in adavance as many as possible of the Annual Meeting reports. They're in the Parish Magazines for March and April, but you can find the Reports alone here.

Meanwhile, the April issue of the Parish Magazine has now been published - and the online issue is here. But you'll have to get hold of the paper copy to get our Holy Week and Easter Card included...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Starting Lent - the Garden and the Wilderness

Brothers and sisters in Christ, since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection and prepared for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

By carefully keeping these days, Christians take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

... So we began Lent in the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday. I'm always rather glad to get into Lent. This year it's taken much longer than usual due to the lateness of Easter - though it's questionable whether for all that I'm any more prepared. But - while it's good to hit the ground running - the point of Lent is not to have everything worked out perfectly from it start; it's to let those disciplines of Lent work in us to prepare us for Holy Week and Easter.

Our Reader, Rosie Junemann, took us into the contrast between the Garden of Eden where things go wrong for Adam and Eve and the Wilderness as Jesus prepares for his public ministry - read her sermon for the First Sunday of Lent here.

I followed the Sung Eucharist with a Baptism of three children (including twins) and approaching 200 guests in church - and in my brief homily (off the cuff so not online) reflected on the imperfect-ness of our world, all too conscious of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Questions of theodicy, our fallen nature, redemption and forgiveness are all in that Old Testament reading for yesterday (Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7). I'd wondered whether I'd get away with using it in such a context, but we had a great time, a largely responsive congregation and perfectly behaved children. Which in part makes me wonder why General Synod is getting so wound up about the Common Worship Baptism Service - isn't it more a matter of how you do it rather than its content that is the issue? Elements such as the "Commission" don't work off the page - but there's permission to use your own words in order to be more direct; why not use it, rather than asking for yet another text?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Barefoot Discipleship - and Online Revisions

"Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility " is the title of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book for 2011. Here in Durham we can be justly proud that it is written by Stephen Cherry, Residentiary Canon of Durham and frequently referred to as the man with the longest job title in the Diocese: Director of Ministerial Development and Parish Support. Don't let that put you off... I got half-way through the book during a train journey - and just wish I had more time to read it at leisure. Hopefully that time will come with Lent.

Here's a link to a diocesan web-page which will tell you more - and that page gives a further link to a print-it-yourself leaflet, Pilgrim Posts - 10 Ideas for Lent, based on the book. Well-worth pondering - we'll be distributing the leaflet at St. Cuthbert's.

Meanwhile, our parish website has been up-dated, and the March issue of our Parish Magazine is now on sale in hard copy, or you can read it in full-colour here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Turning the other cheek - going that extra mile...

Yesterday we celebrated the 3rd Sunday before Lent. Because of the way the Church's Calendar is worked out it was the first time we've done so in "Year A" since the present Lectionary came out in 1998. Hope I got that right! - my point is that more often than not, we miss a critical piece of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount as to how people should relate to one another. The Gospel reading was Matthew 5.38-48. It's required reading if we're to do anything about making relationships healthy. Why do we read it so seldom?

I wonder if as a society we've become over-influenced by soap opera, where the story-line is driven by the deliberate creation of misunderstanding. People don't hear what other people are saying - and they don't hang around to listen again or work out what was really intended. Are we any better? The whole of my homily is to be found by clicking here. And this is an excerpt:

... I suspect that many people think I’m supposed to go around “liking” everyone. The Vicar should go about with a smile on his face, spreading goodwill, never taking offence, being agreeable to all. When adverts appear in the Church Times from parishes seeking a new priest, quite commonly they say that he or she should have a good sense of humour. What they rarely say is “should have a good sense of humour, because you’re going to need it!” Maybe they could say “should have a back like the proverbial duck, so that the water and any other mess that occasionally comes your way can readily flow off it.” But actually that’s not what you need - because that would suggest that you’re rather impervious, hardened-up or deaf to what people say. And priests need to be vulnerable - so they can be easily wounded.

If that’s true of clergy, it’s true of lay people too - ordinary Christians trying to get on with lives of loving service. And that’s what today’s Gospel reading is about…

It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount, and in the section we read today you may hear an echo of the Beatitudes with which Jesus begins this so-called sermon:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now Jesus turns his attention to the person who lashes out at you - “strikes you on the right cheek.” It needn’t be physical hurt that’s inflicted - what people say can be even worse. And what do you do about people who always seem to be wanting from you - and never giving - whether it’s wanting something that’s rightfully yours, dragging you along to do something you just don’t feel up to, or borrowing yet again when they could easily go out and buy whatever it is they need for themselves.

Does it ring a bell for you?

When we can’t think of an answer to give, then we can start to feel guilty - and it’s all quite irrational! When we feel that I’ve really done my best and people can’t see it, then we feel hurt. When we feel we’ve just got nothing more to give, then we rightly wonder when someone’s going to give something to me…

What we find in today’s Gospel reading is that those feelings about which we may feel so guilty are nothing new. A first step in facing up to them is simply to admit how I feel.

I’m glad to say that I find myself in a community where there’s lots of support and friendship. We should really value what we have here in this church, this parish, these villages in which we live. Love is the calling of the Christian - that’s what we need, and that’s what we need to share. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The words are in today’s Old Testament reading - on the lips of Moses as the Israelites wandered all that time in the desert, 3,000 years and more ago. “Love your neighbour…” becomes the second great command of Jesus. But remember to love your neighbour as yourself. We need a sense of self-worth if we’re to do the loving properly. We need to be free of hurt, pain and guilt. But because we’re human there are those times when people cause us hurt - and times when we wound other people too. Admit how we feel, and we’ll get a better sense of our own need, our own worth, and how we can respond.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Love your enemies.” That’s tough, but I wonder if the first step is when we have to recognise who we are setting up to be our enemy? When we pray for those we dislike, there are different things to be doing. We have to ask if there is anyone in the first place that we really do dislike; then to ask why; then to explore whether that’s a real cause for feeling that way. Then as we pray we recognise their humanity - and our own. How does our humanity relate to what the Bible tells us about our being made in the image and likeness of God?...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Holy Island... and National Marriage Week

After a rather over-busy few weeks, I knew I needed a Quiet Day. Having nothing booked formally, I drove up to Lindisfarne - re-named by Benedictine monks from Durham as "Holy Island" though of course the original monastic foundation goes back to its establishment by St. Aidan in the seventh century.

Because the causeway to the island is tidal, there's a discipline required in working out when to go there - consult the Tide Tables! A further discipline of patience was required on the last leg of the journey when I found myself in a long queue of traffic held up by work on the East Coast mainline level crossing at Beal, just before reaching the causeway. Several drivers turned their cars round and drove off - I wonder what else they thought they would do when they must have travelled some distance to get that far?

Once I was on the island, the clouds broke up, the sun came out and the weather turned quite mild. There's something special about the quality of the air and light on Holy Island. And while there were other cars in the car park there were few people about to disturb the stillness.

I wonder how many visitors make it beyond the confines of the village - or at best the Castle? A few venture to St. Cuthbert's Island, crunching over the mussels and slipping on the seaweed. But very few go more than half a mile from the centre of the village over muddy tracks or along the coastal path to explore the dunes and discover vast expanses of sandy beach, rocky bays, cliffs and the lough with its hide. It's sometimes possible to walk more than halfway round the island without meeting anyone - and in between the dunes there are areas where even the sound of the sea is blocked out.

I'm not all that keen on the "Celtic Christianity industry" - but come to Lindisfarne and you can understand how the monks who established themselves there found a sort of "desert" in which their lives of prayer could flourish. And it's all just off the A1, which I could have got back to very quickly at the end of the day - if Balfour Beatty hadn't still been continuing their work on the level crossing.

There are more pictures of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne here. The shutter button on my ageing mobile phone isn't working too well - so sometimes it didn't work quite when intended!

And on Sunday I tackled the hard sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel reading from Matthew 5 - with particular reference to his words concerning marriage and divorce - click here! The day ended with my being interviewed for Metro Radio in connection with National Marriage Week. The idea was that it would go out in snippets at various times today - if you hear any of it, let me know!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Big Society - and on being salt...

I'm not sure when we last had a "5th Sunday before Lent" - never in my record of Year A lectionary cycles... and that's a shame because it means that we're only rarely going to have last Sunday's lections as set reading.

Any one of the readings for the day (Isaiah 58.1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2.1-12; Matthew 5.13-20) offered a wealth of opportunity for reflection. Not least the call to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." And before that to hear Isaiah's words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

In my reflections at the 8a.m. Eucharist I couldn't help but make the connection to present-day calls to work for a Big Society, but also to wonder just how many of us are willing to look beyond our own selfish pre-occupations. Getting home I found Alain de Botton giving his Point of View on Radio 4 - and from his secular standpoint admitting that individualism and libertarianism have brought society to a point where there is little to underpin any sense of cohesion; something which can be learned from a religious tradition lost to most. And then our Reader, Rosie Junemann, preached on the Gospel and the Big Society at our Sung Eucharist - find her sermon here.

How do people grasp such a concept as a Big Society if they haven't a common vocabulary / understanding / faith / moral imperative? And how does the Government think it is going to work? Obviously the hope is that it will make good for those gaps where previously there was provision  by government spending. But might not the cuts simply make people more desperate and self-focussed, even selfish? And when charities find their funding cut, and churches and community groups find grants for their work dried up, who will organise people into action for the greater good?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Candlemas - and the beginning of February...

I've been "up the road " in Consett, celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple at Christ Church. I think it was the first experience of the Feast for most of the (midweek) congregation - at least with full use of candles, procession and responsories. Hopefully a good time for all!

At St. Cuthbert's we kept the Feast on Sunday. You can find my homily for the Feast by clicking here.

And since I've been remiss about posting recently, here is my previous offering of a homily for Epiphany 2 back on 16th January.

We're hoping that the recent improvement in the weather is here to stay. A new discussion group met yesterday - back again next Tuesday. It's only a short burst, cut off by a Deanery Synod meeting the following week... But we'll be back in full flow with Lent meetings in March.

To find out what is going on this month, have a look at our new Parish Magazine, which you can find by clicking here.

Monday, 10 January 2011

From Rome to (more) ice and snow

I took my post-Christmas break last week - and maximised my time by flying off to Rome after the Sunday Eucharist on 2nd January, returning on Saturday. I dressed a little too lightly on a couple of days, but as the week went by things warmed up.

In the parish we kept the Feast of the Epiphany before I left - on Sunday 2nd January as the Lectionary permits. But it was great to find Christmas and the lead-up to Epiphany on its proper feast day of 6th January in full flow in Rome. Lights abounded in the streets - and a profusion of Crib Scenes. Notably a depiction in lights on the roundabout of the Piazza Venezia in front of the Victor Emmanuel Monument (and reindeer on the other side!), life-size and huge at St Peter's Basilica, and a walk-in stable amongst a collection of crib scenes in the cloister of the Church of San Lorenzo fuori le Muro. The Sant'Egidio Community had its own particular take on the Nativity at the entrance to Santa Maria in Trastevere. And perhaps most moving is Il Presepe dei Netturbini, "The Sanitation Workers' Manger Scene," between the San Pietro Station and St. Peter's Square. This scene has developed over the years as the Street Cleaners add to it. The figures are tiny, the stable scene just one small part of a huge project, and around the stable people get on with the humblest of tasks. As in many of the other crib scenes, the stable is not centrally placed. This is something that needs to be looked for. But it's saying that God is here, even if apparently hidden or not obvious - and he honours the lowliest and humblest.

As for the Feast of the Epiphany, it's a public holiday in Rome. The place was heaving, especially in and around the Piazza Navona, which was in fairground mode. And the Via del Corso was packed with thronging crowds - it took at least three times as long as I'd estimated to walk along it (the few motorists who ventured onto the street couldn't move) as we went to Mass at Santa Maria del Popolo. There was a choir of choirs, a marvellous sound with a fantastic acoustic for a short Mozart Mass (strangely the Agnus Dei was said, not sung), and although there were about 700 in church with about half receiving Communion, the whole thing was over in 50 minutes - though the choir then moved into the nave for a performance of sacred music.

I came back to ice and snow - and Church Bank was officially closed at the weekend with a barrier to prevent traffic entering. Our numbers were well down on normal, but a surprising number made the effort to get down to us in the almost the most treacherous conditions I've known. Lots of falls - and I'm afraid one fractured wrist.

No more snow pictures. But you can find lots more pictures from Rome here.

And here's a link to a sermon by our Reader, Rosie Junemann, for yesterday's Feast of the Baptism of Christ.