Friday, September 30, 2011

Livestock mart

Friday 30th September 2011  
        There were various things that necessitated a journey to Hexham seventeen miles away.  So I took the opportunity to visit the Friday auction mart.
Farmers from all around coming to buy and sell cattle and sheep have a chance to see friends who are usually scattered in the outlying hills.  Gathered round the ring they observe how well stock have developed condition.  Today there is mostly a sense of satisfaction at a job well done after the poor harvest of a year ago followed by a desperately harsh early winter and consequent shortage of fodder.  But there was relief when the spring weather was good at lambing time and the grass has kept growing through this wet summer.  Feed prices have been high but the selling prices of the stock are up too  --  and they needed to be.  As I looked down from the gallery to take this picture, though, I noticed the high average age of the farmers.  What a wealth of experience and detailed close relationship with land and animals.  Let us hope that there will be more younger farmers coming along to inherit the wisdom.  It's not the kind of knowledge that can be learnt from books: you need someone to say "Feel this fleece; compare it with that one...look at the slope of that shoulder..."  and so on day after day until the novice begins to get a feel for the animal husbandry.  I'm not even on the bottom rung of the novice ladder.  But coming to the mart is an opportunity to pass the time of day with lots of my parishioners, enquire after their general well being and admire the fruits of their labours, to say nothing of simply enjoying the whole busy scene and eating a good locally produced lunch in the canteen whilst chatting to a friend who had just finished selling a load of sheep.  I counted afterwards that I had seen people whom I knew from eleven different farms.  I could have driven round all day trying to visit them at home and never come across any of them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Wednesday 28th September
Question:    Where do you think these cars are going?
Answer:   To St Oswald's church.  And yes, the only access is across this field.  And no, there's no electricity so there were some candles lit for the service with which we began our quarterly meeting ("Chapter") of local clergy.
     The site is called "Heavenfield" because it was here that King Oswald is thought to have raised a large cross and called his troops to pray before the battle in 633 A.D.  His victory gave him influence over Northumbria where he facilitated the re-establishment of Celtic Christianity.  It's sobering to realise that that was nearly fourteen hundred years ago.  The church building is much more recent, but the landscape far older.  Today it was rather misty after a warm day:

Too busy to blog

27th September 2011  The title says it all  --  apart from the person who met me in the road and said "Back to work".  I thought he meant himself.  Afterwards I realised he thought that since I was carrying a briefcase it meant I was going to work.  (I'd been working all day.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Upper Redesdale Show

Saturday 24th September        A good show of Blackface sheep alongside baking, photography, flower and vegetable classes, children's races..............and a chance to enjoy a fine day talking to neighbours from up and down the Rede valley.  (The dots represent all the other things that I haven't mentioned.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

School visit

Bellingham First School coming to St Cuthbert's church
There they are coming past the Town Hall, children aged four to eight, on their first visit of the new school year.  They have been learning about "our local community" and now they're coming to look at some of the significant places.  After welcoming them and pouring water from St Cuthbert's Well into the font with an explanation of baptsim, I give them the worksheet which asks "What happens at the font?"  We go on to "What happens at the altar?" and they partiularly enjoy counting the crosses in the building.  As ever, visitors show interest in things I pay no attention to:  "What's that door?"  "It leads to the vestry where I keep things."  So I invite the children to suggest colours that the priest might wear on different occasions and then show them some of the vestments.  There's a little disappointment that we don't have any pink or orange robes, but most of them were satisfied with green, purple, white/gold,red, black and "all seasons tapestry".
    The visit ends with a look at the prayer corner where anyone can come into church and place a stone on the "prayer cairn" or write a request for prayer on a "leaf" to fix on the prayer tree.

So what?

Did the account of parish visiting (for Thursday 22nd)  sound inconsequential?  Or not particularly distinctive?  In what way was it relevant to the life of a parish priest?  Wasn't that the kind of day that anyone might have?  Why include it in a "Rector's blog"?

Prayer corner in St Cuthbert's church Bellingham
The answer is that all these encounters and conversations are the matters that are in my mind when I come to pray.  These are the concerns that I offer to God in the confident conviction that the Love at the heart of the universe actually cares deeply about every single one of those people and situations.   At prayer I'm not wishing for a magic reversal of the natural laws of the universe.  I believe that God's love supports us and gives us strength to cope with what we have to go through, as well as inspiring other people to show kindness and help to us when we are in need.  Sometimes my prayers prompt me to action, as though opening up the subject in prayer also opens up my own receptiveness to the divine hints.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Parish visiting

Thursday 22nd September   Out and about keeping in touch with people, hearing about homesick students, tenancy issues, toddler care, ill health, gardening... answering the phone about a memorial gift in a remote church, policing the road on Remembrance Sunday...dealing with post and e-mails and doorbell and domesticity.
Wednesday 21st September    A day when life felt integrated. 
     I rode to meet four friends for hound exercise on the fells.  Coming to a house, we stopped for a quick chat and learnt that a member of the family had gone into hospital.  One rider had a fall and broke her reins.  So she and I left the other three in the hills and set out for home.  On my way home, seeing the school minibus stationary with its hazard lights flashing, I stopped to ask the driver (an older woman) if she was all right.  "I was just watching hounds coming down the hill through the bracken," she said; "but thank you for stopping to ask.".  Later on I was able to call for an update on the hospital paient:.  How fortunate that I had ridden past just then and been kept up to date with the family.
     The rest of the day until the evening was largely in the study at my desk  The evening was taken up with the sixth PCC meeting of the month.  Some of the same issues as the others, namely care of ancient buildings and finance.  (I liked the report from  the treasurer with the best news who said "At the moment we're kind of in the black".)  But also some matters distinctive to this parish, such as support meetings for Carers which take place at the Fire Station.  The business of working with "partners" leads to some confusing scenarios!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sunday 18th September
                                          I paused to take a photograph of the morning mist on my way to the first church service of the day (at St Francis Byrness).  The second Parish Communion was at St John's Otterburn.  To both congregations I had to make an apology  --  or perhaps (since they didn't sem to mind) an excuse: I had attended a diocesan forum on being a "learning" church.  This had included a session on how to preach better sermons.   The result was that I hadn't had time to prepare a sermon.  (We were taught at theological collecge that to do it well, the preacher needs an hour of preparation for every minute that the sermon lasts.)
      The third service of my day was for the under-5's and this week there were five children and five adults at Bellingham.
       In between I went to Elsdon to see a presentation on the proposed wind turbines.  It's not surprising that there is local opposition to the idea when the landscape is as wild (but more picturesque) than the views above this blog.  Anything on the skyline would make a significant difference to a feeling of timeless spaciousness.

More PCC's

Wedensday 14th - Thursday 15th                The meetings got rather complicated as two Parochial Church Councils were meeting on the same evening.  I chaired the six o'clock one, leaving the Vice-Chairman of the other to start a 7.30 meeting without me.  Luckily the first (at Elsdon) finished the business in an hour and a half and I ws less than half an hour late for the second at Corsenside.  The next day the ecumenical planning meeting at Falstone was over in good time for me to get to the next PCC at Byrness.  Topics ranged from employment in forestry to visiting the sick or housebound, care of families who request christenings to the Church's financial problems.  (How can a village with a total population of 140 maintain a large 14th century listed building? The church of England is required to care for these heritage buidings without any government grant.)

School assemblies

13th - 14th September  I visited two schools  to take assembly, introducing myself to reception classes and using felt figures to illustrate my talks.  None of the six schools is a Church school which means that, by law, clergy can visit only if invited by the school.  It's good to have  friendly contact with the children, to be able to offer support and information to the staff, to provide help on National Curriculum topics relating to faith and religion, and (perhaps most important) to have an established relationship with any families who need the Church's care.  For instance, it reassures children if Granny dies and they already know the person who takes the funeral.

Bellingham Harvest Supper

Friday 16th September 2011    The Churches Together (Methodist, United Reformed and Anglican) put on a Harvest Supper in the Town Hall.  It was a new venture and serving over sixty people with a hot meal was quite a challenge.  Between the Shepherds' Pie (cooked by a local expert) and the puddings (made by various home cooks) we had entertainment provided by a wide age range of musicians and story tellers.  Ticket prices were kept low.  Through everyone's generosity, when we had covered our main costs we were able to send over £80 to Farm Crisis Network (which supports farming people in practical ways at difficult times).  It seemed a suitable way to show our appreciation for a good harvest meal by remembering the farmers who provide our food.

Monday, September 12, 2011

United though not visibly

Thursday 8th September 2011        I was in the very small congregation for the Thursday Communion service following the form of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer  --  which we old people know off by heart.  It can be a peaceful and restful half hour in which the church is quiet save for the priest reciting the profound and familiar words.  Freed from the requirement to join in vocally, we can sink down to a deeper level of silent prayer whilst the words flow along on the surface.  Those of us present are united without directly interacting with each other. [see "Thought for the..".page.]

Windy Monday

St Cuthbert's Well
Monday 12th September 2011    A delightful visit to St Cuthbert's Bellingham from members of St Paul's Episcopalian Church in Bellingham USA.  I enjoyed meeting them and we were amused when we realised that I had been expecting a group of Pentecostalists.  I had been a little surprised at the information that I had received on Friday.  I was told that a group of sixteen members of a Pentecostalist Church was coming to spend several days on Iona and then some time on Holy Island before making their way to Durham via Bellingham.  It didn't sound the most likely choice of route for them.  However, it is indeed quite a traditional route for an Anglican (Episcopalian) group retracing the journeys of our Northern saints  including Cuthbert.  The detour via Bellingham couldn't be resisted by travellers from our namesake town.  I was able to offer a brief introduction to the turbulent centuries of the Border Reivers which explains the almost unique stone roof of St Cuthbert's Church .  After the building had been burnt down several times, the people of Bellingham decided to rebuild in stone whilst keeping the design of the wooden roof.
         The next meeting was planning the Deanery Day at Simonburn.  The "Day" looks as though it is going to spread out from the afternoon of  Friday 21st October to the afternoon of Saturday 22nd with an optional walk and overnight stop leading to the "workshop" day.  We spent an hour studying the map rather than striding cross-country in the gale force winds.  We then drove safely to St Mungo's Simonburn and considered which parts of the village hall to use for different activities.  [See Events page for updates.]

Sunday 11th September 2011

Sunday 11th September   The second Sunday of the month has a church rota that gives us a relatively easy day.  Between us two clergy conducted three services of Holy Communion in the morning and a healing service in the evening, whilst Churchwardens led the Harvest Thanksgiving and Evensong.  This meant that the people of the benefice of North Tyne and Redesdale worshipped in six of the nine churches. 

Thursday - Saturday: rather a blur

Thursday - Saturday: rather a blur     A great deal of this and that, responding to e-mails, typing an order of service for Harvest Thanksgiving, acting on telephone calls, dealing with distribution of Harvet Supper tickets, visiting here and there and so on.  Many conversations, all of which are, as always, to be treated as confidential.  So not much in a form that's of interest to record here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PCC meetings

Tuesday and Wednesday   The last two evenings have been taken up with chairing PCC (Parochial Church Council) meetings in two different parishes.  Since Falstone with Greystead and Thorneyburn don't have a minutes secretary at the moment, I had to spend some of the afternoon cobbling together minutes from my notes of the last meeting.  The PCC seemed to find them accurate, but it's not the best way of working!  Otterburn was a different matter with a smoothly efficient secretary.  Both meetings included important discussions on our priorities in serving our communities and in enabling people to worship.  Both PCC's have financial concerns which have to be kept in perspective when other people in the world (often quite near home) are hungry or homeless.

Beginning of term

Monday and Tuesday 5th and 6th September   Oh dear, I've fallen behind in my blogging venture already  --  quite apart from not being able to edit posts in the right order.  Monday did include exercising the horse over the soggy fells and enjoying the sense that I can rely on her instict and initiative to find a route avoiding the boggy patches.  We enjoyed a sense of mutual trust as I looked in the general direction of my chosen destination and she did the steering.  I allowed her the full length of the reins so that she could inspect the ground with her nose whilst I was ready to steady myself with her mane if she decided it was saftest to jump the collapsing edges of a drainage ditch.  As ever, these rides help me to reflect on the rewarding experience of trusting in God's as we take risks in life.  A good hour.
       Not such a good idea to trust the dog.  A less good half hour.  Running up a field, he saw at a distance more than I could.  He reached the dismounted cyclist first.  He noticed the picnic tea first.  Whilst the cyclist was bandaging a bloody shin (caused by an encounter with a car and a ditch), Zeb snatched his doughnut.  Poor man.  Not a very good visit to Bellingham, but he was more worried about Zeb's digestion, fearing that the gobbled-up clingfilm might cause problems.  I apologised and invited the man to tea to compensate for his loss.  However, he declined and gave me lots of advice on feeding Zeb a remedial diet, which I did put into practice but which I won't publicise  here since it's not official veterinary advice.
        Well, that was the sum total of time off during Monday.  I did try to fit in eating a lunch of cabbage, heated up stew,  plums and a cup of coffee; but the telephone and doorbell meant that the meal which started at 12.20 didn't get finished till 2.30.  I decided to make supper a quicker meal by having baked beans and lettuce.
         Over these two days I have contacted four of the schools in my parishes so far, asking whether there were ways in which they might like me to help this term.    There has also been quite a lot to do in connection with the Harvest Supper for the whole community organised by the Roman Catholics, Methodist United Reformed Church and Anglicans together.  Various pastoral visits and enquiries on topics ranging from memorial stones to water supply.  Some of this may sound trivial but people's lives are made up of lots of small things: Christians believe that God cares about everybody to such an extent as to be willing to be involved in their lives as Jesus.
       The rhythm of my hectic days is punctuated by being in church at regular times for Morning and Evening Prayer when I ring the bell to remind people that we are praying for them in their busy lives.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Planting at Cuddy's Well

The rain started on Saturday during the last hour of the walk and increased whilst we were at St Cuthbert's Well, planting teasels, lemon balm and foxgloves as appropriate for a saint who had a great affinity with wildlife.  We also planted "Jacob's Ladder" [Polemonium Caeruleum] which is named after Jacob's dream of angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth which prompted him to exclaim "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!".  By Cuddy's Well it will be a symbolic reminder of Cuthbert's vision in the hills.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

St Cuthbert's Festival day 3

Sunday 4th September St Cuthbert's Day    The account of the St Cuthbert's Trail walk on day 2 didn't get posted that evening because I was fully occupied finalising preparations for three services on Sunday.  We celebrated St Cuthbert's Day at two of our three churches of which he is patron, Bellingham and Corsenside.  (Elsdon will have Harvest Festival next week.)  In the afternoon we launched a new organisation, "The Friends of St Cuthbert's Bellingham" to help with the care of the grade 1 listed twelfth century building; and we finished the festival weekend with Choral Evensong in Bellingham, the visiting choir (Antiphon) being satisfactorily outnumbered by the congregationn.

St Cuthberts

St Cuthbert's Festival

We were lucky that the weather yesterday wasn't too hot for walking. The rain held off all morning and we had the barbecue at St Cuthbert's Corsenside in the dry, though the breeze which had refreshed the walkers was less popular with the barbecuers.  After we had been revived by lunch provided by non-walkers, we gathered inside the thousand-year-old St Cuthbert's to remember more stories of our patron saint, to add our stones to the prayer cairn at the foot of the cross and to bring to this church without elecricity or water some spring water from St Cuthbert's Well ("Cuddy's Well" in Bellingham).  Three of the humans and two of the dogs continued with the second leg of the trail, striding onwards to Bellingham with five more people joining us.  After good views of the Rede valley from the crag  (where we recalled the story of St Cuthbert's vision whilst he was watching over the sheep in the Border hills), we dropped down to the disused railway line for some level but soggy walking.

Old North Tyne Railway Line

The final leg of St Cuthbert's Trail

Saturday, September 3, 2011

St Cuthbert's Trail

  A dozen of us had breakfast at St Cuthbert's Elsdon and set out to walk cross country to St Cuthbert's Corsenside.  We stopped at a  remote stone house to hear a story of St Cuthbert.  He had been travelling  on a day which he and his fellow monks were supposed to keep as a day of fasting.  He declined some food offered to him by a stranger so as to remain faithful to his vow.  But by the time night fell and the fast was over, he found himself in a remote and uninhabited place.  He stopped  at a old shepherd's hut where his horse, starting to eat the thatch,  pulled out some fresh bread hidden in the straw.  So Cuthbert was rewarded for  his faithful self-discipline.  This picture shows our stopping place a couple of years ago when it was a ruin and seemed a suitable place to tell this story.   But now it has been rebuilt and is extremely tidy.  Somebody commented that instead of telling the story again, perhaps we should reflect on rebuilding our lives!

St Cuthbert's Trail

Saturday 3rd September          It was a long way.  I won't walk sixteen miles in wellies again.  Even the dog paused to look round and ask "Do I really have to keep going?"  (The dog had earlier been a topic of conversation: see the "Thought for the day" page.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

St Cuthbert's Festival

Friday 2nd September     Our first attempt at a three-day St Cuthbert's Festival started with a good and varied concert of light music by Hexham Brass.  There's no reason why everything should be variations on Choral Evensong and held in church.  To be fair, the first event that we started two years ago was walking the potential "St Cuthbert's Trail" cross country from one St Cuthbert's church to another.  The second half of that route was rather too rugged for most people as it involved knee-high heather off any public right of way.  Last year we altered that leg of the trail which was much easier but meant retracing our steps on one section.  Let's see how it goes tomorrow.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday 1st September

Thursday 1st September     A busy day   --    a bad thing because clergy can't measure their usefulness by counting the tasks they have carrried out.                  Had an appointment to take Holy Communion to somebody at home   --   a good thing because that's what I'm here for, to care in all kinds of ways for any people who live in my parishes as well as supporting them in their spiritual lives and trying to help them to develop their relationship with God in whatever way is right for them.  The return journey meant a drive of 38 miles to Kielder village, through the largest man-made forest in western Europe and past the largest man-made lake in this country.  (See the picture above)  All a good opportunity to appreciate the beautiful surroundings and to reflect on the blessings of life.  The rest of the day: hectic!  Many last-minute arrangements for the St Cuthbert's Festival weekend. (See Events page)