Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old Year's Night

31st December 2011
Mary, Jopseph, the baby Jesus and the donkey outside the church in last year's snow

Friday, December 30, 2011

I borrowed the car to keep the biscuits dry

Friday 30th December 2011
Some of the star biscuits made at Messy Church
We heard the story of the Wise Men following the star to go and find Jesus.  The children then made biscuits in the nearby hall which doesn't have an oven.  So I walked a few hundred yards to the Rectory to bake them in the kitchen.  By the time they were cooked, it was sleeting.  So I took my husband's car  --  he was walking the dog and my car had been parked at the church when I delivered equipment for Messy Church  --  and left a note "I have borrowed your car to keep the bisuits dry".  One of the more unusual messages left in the Rectory hallway.
      The details of the story which caused some surprise included the fact that St Matthews Gospel doesn't call Jesus' visitors from the east "kings" and  they don't go to the stable but to a house some time after the birth (as they had a long journey to make).  It was the shepherds on the spot (the local people  --  who were Jews like Jesus himself) who, according to St Luke, made their way to where Jesus lay in the manger.  Then the Good News spread further afield to Gentile lands and Wise Men ("Magi" says St Matthew) came from the east, bringing gifts.  We don't know how many Magi there were, but since they brought three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh), an idea developed that there were three of them.  Perhaps they were of three different races but we don't know.  Nor do we know their ages, but it's a nice custom to think of them as old, middle-aged and young.  These traditions help us to feel that we are all represented  --  and "Magi" could include female as well as male Wise People.
The story board in church
In contrast to this picture, the biscuits on the blue plate are real.  The other things that the children made included crackers (minus the bangs).  There's a symbolic, though probably not authentic, explanation that the hats inside represent the "kings' " crowns, the mottos remind us of their wisdom, and the trinkets recall the gifts that they gave to Jesus.  (We put chocolate gold coins inside.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What picture?

Thursday 29th December 2011
     How do I choose a picture for today? 
There was a wonderful moment at the end of the funeral at St Aidan's when we went out into the wet of a grey day in Thorneyburn churchyard and the sun broke through to light up the yellow flowers on the coffin.  But you don't take photographs at a burial!
      There was a convivial gathering of nearly a hundred over-60's in Bellingham enjoying a Christmas dinner complete with all the trimmings and with entertainment.  But I don't embarrass people by snapping them munching their lunch.
      There was a meeting with the person who organises readers for some of the church services.  But that's hardly a photo opportunity.               So... is the place where I pause for Evening Prayer to remember all the people and issues with which I am concerned during today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

25th December 2011
St Cuthbert's Bellingham in the quiet after Evening Prayer
In the last twenty four hours this little church has been filled to overflowing with over a hundred people at yesterday's Christingle service, seen a quite different congregation for Midnight Mass (which I didn't attend here) and a small gathering for this morning's Family Communion, whilst I have been partly here and also at  Otterburn for Midnight Mass and at Thorneyburn this morning, whilst other clergy of the Team have ranged around North Tyne and Redesdale.
       It would be interesting to add up the humdreds of worshippers who have attended church services of various kinds in the last twenty-four hours, marking the fact that there are Cbristmas celebrations only because of the Christian belief that God loves the world so much that he came in the person of Jesus to share our human life with all its joys and sorrows.
       That's worth remembering at times of loneliness and isolation, as it means that God understands what we go through.
        So don't stay stuck with a baby in the manger.  Remember that this is just the beginning of the story that helps us to make sense of life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

24th December 2011
     Now the Church gets ready for Christmas itself!
 Behind the scenes all sorts of strange things are happening.
Unloading Mary, Joseph,  Baby Jesus (in manger) and the donkey at the church

The Christingle Team have finished
You can see a little of the service by going to Neil Denham's video here:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Carol services

Friday 23rd December 2011
Crib and star welcome us to St Aidan's Thorneyburn

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas preparations

Thursday 22nd December 2011

Spent some time creating this flier
There's no point in putting on events if nobody knows about them!
    Otherwise,  after Morning Prayer and Holy Communion there were visits to the working parties in  the churches  at Bellingham and Thorneyburn, which gave me a  chance to admire the decorations and talk over various things with a number of people.  Collected 70 oranges for making Christingles for St Cuthbert's,  finished typing and printing orders of service for St Aidan's Carol Service tomorrow evening, delivered copies of them along with poems and Bible  passages to the readers in outlying places and did other behind-the-scenes things.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday 20th December 2011
         It was a day of numerous telephone calls and people at the door, including the undertaker which led to my  visitng the family concerned to arange a funeral.
Unseasonable picture of my route
It was a good thing that I knew where I was going because it wouldn't otherwise have been easy to find my way over the ice in the dark.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Monday 19th December 2011
       It's all preparations this week.
The nativity scene will look like this
Meanwhile, during Advent the figures of Mary and Joseph (and the donkey) are being passed from house to house to stay overnight with different familiies who have a chance to talk about what Christmas means.  The figures were brought to us at the Rectory at 9 o'clock last night on day 18 of their journey, and I took them to a young family late this afternoon before I went to Evening Prayer.  (It's an adaptation of the Mexican custom of "Posada".)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Worshipping through the day

Sunday 18th December 2011

Morning light....
....on the way to Byrness

Midday at Otterburn
Afternoon at  Bellingham for the under 5's (unphotographed) and...St Cuthbert's as it would have looked at Christmas hundreds of years ago....

Elsdon carols by candlelight

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snowy Saturday

Saturday 17th December 2011
This time last year, but not very different
Saturday is typically taken up with organising things and preparing for Sunday services, including driving to the Methodist United Reformed Church to collect the fair trade items for sale.  (They did the stall last week; it's our turn this week and on to the Roman Catholic church for next week.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday 16th December 2011
The latest snow melts to produce a seasonal star pattern!
Bellingham First School walked through today's snow to St Cuthbert's church for their end of term carol service.  No sooner had they left than a consort of viols arrived to rehease before performing for a short while in the evening at the end of a few days' stay at the YHA bunkhouse for some intensive music making.
     Viol music is not one of the regular uses for the church.  However, there has been quite varied activity this week: following Sunday's worship, there was the Middle School's carols on Monday, a funeral on Tuesday, Holy Communion on Thursday and now the First School and the viol consort on Friday.
       Those are just the scheduled events.  There are people in and out every day of the year, visiting, looking around, praying, resting, sheltering, cleaning, thinking things over and so on.  Several hundred people are recorded as attending this week's services, but all those others come quietly and may leave again unnoticed (except by God).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Time for a picture of the dog

Thursday 15th December 2011
Zebedee ignores me
This is only fair, since I spend a lot of time ignoring Zeb.  The day was taken up with various meetings and two sessions of Bible study led by the Reader, the first of the Advent series that I have been free to attend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas comes to Kielder

Wednesday 14th December 2011
Santa Claus visits Kielder First School
Kielder School entertained various local friends and neighbours to an excellent Christmas lunch produced by the school cook and served at table by the children.  Whilst I was talking to the lady on my right, I heard in my left ear "Excuse me, Madam, would you like trifle or Christmas pudding with [...hesitant pause to remember his lines} vanilla sauce?".  (The waiter was a big boy aged about seven.)
    The children performed their play to us, partly traditional, partly choral speaking narrative and partly improvised scenes from the nativity, which enabled even a four-year-old to have a speaking part (mainly "Yes" repeated whenever anyone addressed her).  They sang and played recorders, ukuleles and bells.
     Our final treat was coffee or tea and mincepies.  The children's was a visit from Santa Claus.  It's odd that some people try to tell children that there was no such person, when the name is simply the short (Germanic)form of Saint Nicholas (like Sinta Klaas in Dutch). Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in the early fourth century who, legend has it, rescued three girls from poverty by putting three bags of gold through their window at night.  (This is the origin of the old pawnbroker's sign of three golden balls.)

Coming soon

The next Messy Church will be on Friday 30th December.  Contact the Rectory for details.
Collage made at Messy Church celebrating earth, air and water

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wild weather

Tuesday 13th December 2011
       I made the effort to exercise the horse  (in strong gusting winds and sleet showers) between coming out of Morning Prayer in church and going to a school Christmas event.  The children of five schools in the local partnership came to sing carols together and the schools each performed two numbers from their Christmas productions.  I gave them a quick introduction and prayer with the lighting of three candles on the Advent wreath and ended proceedings with a blessing.  A very good occasion.
       They spent the rest of the day sharing various activities, whilst I left to conduct a funeral.  After the service in church, the wind was so strong at the graveside that I could feel it swirling my cloak around me and pushing me forward.  Never before have I had to step back deliberately during the prayer of committal so as to avoid being blown forward down onto the coffin.  The mourners made a rapid retreat to the Cheviot Hotel for a funeral tea which was extremely welcome.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent

11th December 2011

I couldn't take photographs of today's services Parish Communion at Elsdon, Carols for Advent to Christmas at Horsley and Evensong at Thorneyburn) even though I would have loved a picture of the children gatherd on the chancel step singing "Away in a manger".  So here's the Thorneyburn Advent Ring on its local tree-trunk stand  --  with eveidence of the draught in St Aidan's!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Saturday 10th December 2011
Advent ring with three red candles lit for the third Sunday of Advent
Preparations for all tomorrow's services took up much of the day after exercising the horse.

Friday, December 9, 2011

School trip to Byrness

Friday 9th December 2011
       On my way to Byrness, I took the opportunity to visit parishioners who live rather off the beaten track.

At Byrness we met Otterburn First School children off the bus

and walked to St Francis' Church
where they admired the altar frontal made in the village by local people.

St Francis (in his brown monk's habit standing under the tree in the embroidered altar frontal) is famous for
treating all living crreatures as his brothers and sisters, even on one occasion preaching to the birds  --  as you can see in this scene.

    The children prepared bird food (fat balls and peanuts) in church

before going outside to hang them on the Christmas tree.

A quiz and treasure hunt inside the church (which included spotting features of the stained glass memorial window to workers who died constructing Catcleugh Reservoir) was followed by tea in the village hall.

Off to tea

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wind and rain

Thursday 8th December 2011

Not everyone got to the Team Council in the evening since the wind was threatening to bring trees down in sheltered places and blow vehicles off the road where it was more exposed.  However, those of us who were present managed to have some useful discussion about shared issues of communication, welcome and exchange of information. 
   The afternoon had been taken up with  a funeral visit, some planning of the Middle School service to be held in church and the drawing up of the final order of service for Horsley's carols on Sunday:  much to-ing and fro-ing of e-mails.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday 7th December 2011
Between dealing with some e-mails and phone calls and finishing my tax return, I managed to take the horse out for some good exercise on a cold bright day.

I kept trying to finalise an order of service for Carols at Horsley this coming Sunday, but broke off to start arranging a funeral and prepare for the evening's meeting of Bellingham PCC.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Income Tax return!

Tuesday 6th December 2011
  I had to give up quite a lot of the day to filling in my Income Tax return   --  which shouldn't really be difficult since I receive a clergy "stipend" at a standard rate: living in a tied house (the Rectory or for vicars a Vicarage) and having an income that doesn't vary however much we do or experience, we are free to give our lives to our parishioners  --  except on the day that's taken up with collating figures about mileage, expenses and upkeep of the house (i.e. today).  But I did actually go to Greenhaugh First School to take assembly and to West Woodburn First School for their Christmas play, enjoying the drive over snow-covered fells.  In the evening a couple came for the fourth session of marriage preparation .                                                                                                                 


Monday, December 5, 2011

Late for school

Monday 5th December 2011
Snowclouds gathering over Kielder ahead
On my way to take 9 o'clock assembly this morning at Kielder First School, I was delayed by an extremely cautious driver doing 25 miles an hour.  I would have driven at 40 in these conditions, but couldn't risk overtaking.  On a journey of nearly twenty miles that makes quite a difference to the time of arrival.  (Since I couldn't overtake, I stopped to take this picture.)  I was nearly ten minutes late but received a friendly welcome as always.
       The children opened windows on my Advent Calendar which told them the story of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.  I then lit two candles on the Advent Ring, praying that the flames might remind us of God's love and peace.
        By the time I set out back down the valley, the sun was coming out.

I visited a Churchwarden with whom I discussed a forthcoming Carol Service, plumbing problems in one of the few churches which has a water supply, fund-raising and other matters.  At the Rectory a family came to prepare for the baptism of two children.  The evening was devoted to finalising the description of these parishes with the Archdeacon so that we can move towards appointing a new Team Vicar to join us in North Tyne and Redesdale.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday 4th December 2011
    We had the baptism of the younger daughter of a local farmer and his wife  --  here in the font at St Cuthbert's Bellingham, using water from "Cuddy's Well" which has never dried up since St Cuthbert blessed the spring 1400 years ago.
A flower arrangement by the font as a reminder of baptism using the Trinitarian formula
"in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit",
the three ways in which we are aware of God's love:
 in the natural world, in the life of Jesus and through other people.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chapter united

Friday 2nd December 2011
    Did I forget to blog yesterday?  I came back not long before 10.00 p.m. from the Deanery Synod and settled down to pass on some of the information to the relevant people.
This evening has been Deanery Chapter (the meeting of the local clergy) which begins with a Communion service followed by supper.  Today our conversation continued in front of the log fire.