Read the September 2023 edition of the Haltwhistle Herald.
The deep dark skies of winter, the slowly lengthening days of Spring, the seasons slowly turn and very soon it will be the anniversary of my arrival in Northumberland! I’m in the middle of planning the next few months services and am conscious that these are the last months where I don’t know what happened last year. I’ve been building on the work of others as I keep asking, what did you do last year, and what do you normally do? Of course the answers to those different questions are often different because the lingering effects of Covid on our society were still with us last year – when I came, we opened up receiving Communion in bread and wine again, and having coffee mornings was still a novelty. But when it comes to what we normally do, the answers I get are sometimes a huge discussion as people remember different things from different eras of church life, sometimes going back decades, with half a hope that we might reinstate that way of life again – we nearly always remember the more glorious things when discussing hopes for the future.
I think it’s lovely when we do remember the good things of the past. Those who suffer from depression can sometimes only remember the things that went badly or the wrongs of the past, but both good and bad combine to make the patchwork of life, and to focus on whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, is surely the way to life. If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, and the peace of God will come to you much more easily in the trials of today.
I’m looking ahead to Lent and Holy Week in my planning as I write, but this year also brings a coronation and I wonder what, if anything, our towns and villages will do for that and how the church can join in. And Haltwhistle may have a carnival in the summer, and if so, I was wondering about having a church float in the procession since we’re part of the fabric of what makes this area good. Plans, plans, plans. But don’t forget to give thanks for the present moment.
I wish you all the best for 2023.
This time last year I’d been interviewed, they’d told me I’d got the job, but I couldn’t tell anyone yet because the DBS police checks were being processed. Everyone here knew there had been interviews and they were waiting for news – why weren’t they announcing who was coming?!
Meanwhile, in my old parishes there were big changes ahead which they knew nothing about! What a strange state of affairs. I could go on to think that at the birth of Jesus, some were unaware that something big was about to happen, meanwhile the Wise Men and all who were waiting for the kingdom of God were wondering why God was taking so long to reveal his plan, while the select few, Mary and Joseph, already knew the news!
Typical clergy thinking of parallels there. People who talk of God seem often to talk of parallels to explain a point, and search for illustrations and sometimes it can get a bit corny, but the problem is when talking of God, that it’s a bit hard to express the depths that are there when you walk with him.
The bible talks of the Spirit of God, like a wind, or in other places like a burning fire within, or God rescuing his people, carrying them on eagle’s wings, or in another place renewing their strength so they soar like eagles. I hope this Christmas time that you will spend a moment thinking deeply about what is going on in the story, enough to need some sort of parallel to explain to someone else what entering into the story was doing to you. When I saw who else was coming, when I entered the stable, when I saw the babe with its parents and knew him, it was as if…
I’m looking forward to Christmas and hope to see you at some of the events advertised elsewhere in these pages. I wish you all the best for the season 🎅.
A greenhouse is hardly the sort of picture you’d think topical for November, but we’ve been amazed at how many people have been noticing its progress – you wouldn’t think we live down a dead end road with nobody passing! Now you can see it is ready! Woo woo! From ordering it took three months to arrive, and then with one thing and another it’s taken me three months to put it together. But I have put it together and in time before the deadline of winter frosts and so on!
Having your life together before the final deadline is important and of course this month is a poignant time for remembering that. We have All Saints and All Souls, Remembrance, and then will finish the month with Advent Sunday, the feast day we mark/celebrate an event we don’t yet know the date of. Some people like the joke about old people reading the bible a lot – ‘swotting for their finals’. Of course, it’s not knowing the bible that is the main thing, or even the date, but knowing and walking with God, though I recommend reading the bible as well, especially the gospels.
Before the Queen’s funeral I gave all the school children in our church schools a candle, explaining that sometimes people light a candle for someone as a kind of prayer in itself. When you don’t know what to say but know you want to speak or simply be with God, sometimes it can help to light a candle – a way of saying, ‘I don’t know quite what to say to you God, but I’m thankful for life and want your peace at this moment’. As the flame flickers silently in that still space, it can be easier to receive the peace from God that he wants to give, and with that, to gain the resolve to get up and live as you knew you wanted to. May the peace of God be with you, and as the autumn chill turns winterish, may the warmth of God fill your heart with the good news of his love.
At the time of writing, we are preparing for the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth and the news is full of pageantry and eulogising. At the time of reading, I don’t know, but it may feel like all that is long gone and although we may share memories still, most of us are getting on with the new era by now. How quickly we move on, not least because there are things to do, like preparing for our Harvest Thanksgivings which if you didn’t attend, have probably happened already! Of course, the church has special days and seasons for remembering the past, and as it happens, this month we will be preparing for Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day services. Remembering the past is very important. Learning from the past, more important still. All Saints and All Souls are days we celebrate the great deeds and lives of those who have died and one of the things we learn from this is that our days also are numbered and it’s good to be prepared.
Over the last few years I’d been working with my dad to help sort out his financial affairs so that now he can’t do it any more, it isn’t too complicated for the family to deal with. We have realised that it would have been better to think before now about gifts so that they don’t become taxable! Still, he’s doing what he can and I’m glad he has such a character as to want to think about it. The modern age we live in is unusual for not really having death as an ever present reality in our homes and it means that we don’t think about it much, but it’s been a good exercise to think about practicalities while my dad is still able to talk about them. If you have never talked with your children or, if you have no children, your friends, about what you want to happen if ever you can’t manage, then doing it sooner rather than later is better!
My dad has been able to think about gift aiding his giving to his church while he still pays tax, and even about making provision for a legacy when his great day comes. He has found it a relief to be able to do something practical to begin to sort out his affairs in advance, and I am thankful to God that although we have not been able to help with the physical effects of his ageing, we have been able to give him the gift of some peace of mind all the same.
So whether your mind is full of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III, Harvest Thanksgivings, or All Saints/All Souls’ Day, nurture yourself with thankfulness for God’s provision, comfort in times of loss, and the hope for the future made known in Jesus Christ.
This month starts with a joint service of our two St. Cuthbert’s congregations meeting together in Beltingham on Sunday 4th September at 11am. With the sound and smell of the trees and surrounding countryside there it can all seem quite romantic to some, and I’ve met people in Beltingham who have travelled many miles just to see our ancient yew. It always seems very peaceful there, but the yew tree has seen both good and troubled times to be sure! The Bowes-Lyon link might be fresh in our minds but there have been some famous Ridleys and other grand folk associated with this church and I am grateful for all those who have contributed to its care over the years.
It takes a lot to care for a church and to nurture the people that worship there. Just as the changing seasons help create and maintain the huge variety in nature around us, so the timetable of significant Autumn events, Harvest, Remembrance, and Advent, nurture those who participate with thankfulness for God’s provision, comfort in times of loss, and hope for the future. I hope you will come, and that you, like the trees, will grow in the presence of God. For some that will be active growing, for others of more established faith it will be regularly showing leaves in due season.
I mentioned the smell of the trees and countryside in Beltingham and wonder what would make a church smell welcoming and people I’ve talked to about it come up with different answers – incense, musty books, flowers, coffee. We’ve got a warm welcome, waiting for you every week …. Haltwhistle 9.30am, and Henshaw and Greenhead 11am. (Except on the 4th September when it’s Beltingham!)