Friday, 25 December 2015

A Homily for Christmas - the Prairie Chicken and the Eagle

A Native American warrior was rushing through the forest. He saw a fallen egg on the grass and placed it in the first nest he came across. He had placed an eagle's egg in a prairie hen's nest. One day when the hatched chickens were busy doing what a prairie-bird family does best - hopping, pecking, squawking - a magnificent eagle swooped across the sky. The young eagle was filled with a sudden, aching longing.

Immediately reprimanded by the mother hen for time-wasting and day-dreaming, the growing eagle-in-disguise dutifully continued to scratch the dry earth. But, the story goes, no matter what suspicion, ridicule or indoctrination the prairie chicken continued to endure from that day on, she could never forget that moment when her heart in hiding stirred for another life.

As we stand around the crib something stirs inside us too. We look at the baby and sense an echo of heaven in ourselves.

We look at the baby who will soon enjoy and endure the delights and dangers of being truly human, who will grow up and later suffer in a darkness from which a great light will shine.

We kneel near the baby and an awareness of our own undreamt-of destiny awakens in us. We sense a beckoning horizon as yet invisible and uncertain. We are like people trying to remember the dream from which we have just awoken.

"Peace on earth," we sing, but a strange disturbance bothers our hearts. "All is calm, all is bright," we faithfully carol, while a restlessness continues to grow within us.

It is sometimes said that Christmas is for children.  
Yes, that’s true of course.
Yet Christmas is for all people of all ages, whether of faith or not.
When we say it's for children what I think we mean is that it somehow sounds an echo from our own childhood, from a time of hope-ful innocence.
A time before we forget from where we came, before we became wise in our own eyes and considered such things childish.

Most of us are like the prairie chicken in our story.

We are haunted by the sense that we are something more yet continue to keep busy with what we do best - the human equivalent of hopping, pecking and squawking.

Christmas, at its best -
and I’m not talking about the partying or the shopping -
Christmas, at its best -
stirs a memory of a dream,
from which we woke long ago.

A dream which gave us a vision of how we might fly on eagles wings.

Our gospel reading was from St John. The symbol for St John is the eagle.

Matthew and Luke focus our eyes on the earthly Christ child in the crib. John lifts our eyes to what is going on in the heavenly sphere. Jesus inhabits both worlds. As the Orthodox Christian reminds us - Christ became human so that humanity might become divine.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

John's Message

The gospel reading for the third Sunday of Advent tells of the people flocking to John the Baptist and of how he tells them to change their lives rather than rely on their heritage.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Power connection

The sun shone brightly through the sanctuary window at St John's this morning, which was just as well. Yesterday's storm had damaged the mains connection so we had no electricity. We all huddled at the front for a shorter service. The homily just had to be about reconnecting to the source of our spiritual power through Jesus and  the gospel reading was about John the Baptist calling upon his hearers to prepare to reconnect with God by repenting of the sins which break the connection. To put it another way, in Advent we prepare to reconnect with Jesus through whom flows the loving and healing energy of God. 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Advent hope

The children of St John's Otters have helped to produce this display reminding us of Advent.

Saturday, 17 October 2015


The children and teachers  of Otterburn First School walked up to St John's church and were joined by parents to celebrate harvest thanksgiving through drama, prayers and songs. Items were donated and will be added to other produce for the church Harvest Festival on Sunday. Food items will go to The People's Kitchen in Newcastle. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Blessing of Animals

A group of parishioners and their pets assembled at St Francis Church in Byrness on the afternoon of Synday 4th October (The Feast of St Francis) for our annual service of blessing of animals. 

The stunning altar frontal for St Francis was made by local people. (We don't normally leave it out for fear the church mouse might find an alternative use for the material!)

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Redesdale Show

Managed to spend an hour at the Upper Redesdale Show in the midst of a full day. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, especially the children in the races. Couldn't stay to see the (adult?) wheelbarrow race, which was a pity. The photo is of some of the entries in the carved walking stick competition. Which would you choose for first prize?

Sunday, 6 September 2015

St Cuthbert Walk

Saturday 5th September was blessed with perfect weather for walking. Seven of us set off from St Cuthbert's Elsdon. The aim was to walk across country to St Cuthbert's Corsenside for lunch, then on to St Cuthbert's, Bellingham. I managed the seven miles to Corsenside I was certainly ready for lunch. Next year maybe the whole fifteen miles! At certain spots we stopped and Susan, the Team Rector, told a story from St Cuthbert's own travels through this part of the world. We heard how Cuthbert's needs were provided by his horse, an eagle and two sea otters. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

Elsdon Village Fete

A great at Elsdon Village Fete and the weather was good too, sunshine and no bank holiday rain. Spent much of the day working with a great team serving at the barbecue. Then found myself 'volunteered' for tug of war. A different way to spend my birthday!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Preparations for Elsdon Village Fete

What some churches will do to draw people in! This was what I discovered  the 'kitchen' at St Cuthbert's, Elsdon when I arrived to take the service. Actually there was nowhere else to store them prior to the Village Fete. Looks like it might be a good day. Why not come along. 12.00 noon to 4.00 pm Bank Holiday Monday, Elsdon Village Green. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Horsley Wedding

Congratulations to Jessica and Jeffrey on their wedding on Saturday 22nd August at Holy Trinity Church, Horsley. We wish them a happy life together.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Friday, 3 July 2015

Abba, Father

Today's meditation from the Northumbria Community:

"The cry to God as 'Father'
in the New Testament
is not a calm acknowledgement
of a universal truth about
God's abstract fatherhood,
It is the Child's cry
out of a nightmare.

It is the cry of outrage,
fear, shrinking away,
when faced with the horror
of the 'world'
- yet not simply, or exclusively
protest, but trust as well.

Abba Father
all things are possible
to Thee

(Rowan Williams)


Well, if you will go visiting up hilly stony tracks, dodging wayward sheep .....

Monday, 29 June 2015

Brave requests, considering ....

Here is a story of two different people, in very different situations, who come to Jesus as a last resort, when all else has failed.
Read Mark 5.21-43
Click here to read more

Deanery visit to Newcastle Cathedral

good number of parishioners from across Bellingham Deanery visited St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle on Sunday afternoon. We were given a tour of the cathedral, although there was not enough time to see it all. Tea and scones were served during which we were encouraged to consider St Nicholas to be 'your cathedral', and learnt about the planned developments as well as being told about how to become a 'friend' of the cathedral. Our visit concluded with choral evensong, which, to me, was the highlight of the visit. 
The picture shows detail from the East window. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Piano Recital at St Cuthbert's Elsdon

Over 70 people filled St Cuthbert's Elsdon on Saturday for a mid summer piano recital given by Richard Simmance. We were informed, entertained, moved and thrilled by his fine performance of pieces by Brahms, Debussy, Mozart, Gershwin, Ravel  and the less well known Manuel de Falla. A glass of wine, included in the ticket price, was enjoyed during the interval. The concert raised money for St Cuthbert's Church and a defibrillator for the village. 
Moments of concentration
A full Church

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (and mustard seeds)

In a previous parish I sang in the church choir. We had a very patient choir master who also directed the impressive local Choral Society - I think he saw his work with us as a charitable offering. Anyway, he informed me that I had a tenor voice. There was only one other tenor in the small choir - I followed him as I had extreme difficulty reading the tenor music line. If he was away I sang bass (with the bass voice) or just followed the melody line ......

click here to read more

Friday, 5 June 2015

Notice this

A small group of dedicated parishioners cleaned up and 're-stocked' the noticeboard at St Francis, Byrness on Friday afternoon. The church is on the Pennine Way and it's good that walkers can see that the church is loved and cared for. Unfortunately at present the church is locked but we are working on having it open as a place of physical and Spiritual rest for walkers/pilgrims.

I came across the following short article on 'mindful walking' by Simon Parke. I have made some small changes to make it more appropriate for walkers. (The original can be found at

Here is my version, which we have put on St Francis noticeboard. 

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Northumbrian Trinity

Members of the four Redesdale Churches shared in a 'Northumbrian Communion' at St Francis, Byrness on Trinity Sunday. The service was an adaptation of the liturgy of the Northumbria Community. The service was led by the Team Vicar. Lay reader Michael Nixon read and assisted at Communion, and Mari Mander led us in prayer. The were refreshments after the service. Click here the text of the sermon.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A comfort and a challenge

The Gospel reading in Sunday's service tells part of Jesus' prayer for his disciples prior to leaving them and returning to his Father in heaven. It's both comforting and challenging to know that Jesus also prays for those who would follow him today. This is one of the themes of this week's sermon which can be found by clicking here or the 'Sermon Archive' link above.
Do you believe Jesus prays for you? What difference does that make to your life?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Guard duty

Given a tour of Otterburn camp today and met some of the MOD and Landmarc  staff. No military activity at present as its lambing time but some big exercises coming soon! Saw these two on the verge just by the entrance. Old hand and apprentice. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Northumbrian Evening

Monday evening brought to a  happy conclusion the Cuddesden pilgrimage to our deanery. Everyone brought some food and the entertainment was provided by the Tarset Ceilidh band and the Adamson family clog dancers. The pilgrims said Morning Prayer at St Cuthbert's Elsdon on Tuesday before beginning their journey back to Oxfordshire.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Maundy Thursday

Gospel Reading: John 13:1-15

1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. 5 Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
6 He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."

12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anothers feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Meditation: Does your love waver when you encounter bitter disappointments and injury from others? As Jesus' hour of humiliation draws near he reveals to his disciples the supreme humility which shaped the love he had for them. He stoops to perform a menial task reserved for servants - the washing of smelly, dirty feet. In stooping to serve his disciples Jesus knew he would be betrayed by one of them and that the rest would abandon him through disloyalty. Such knowledge could have easily led to bitterness or hatred. Jesus met the injury of betrayal and disloyalty with the greatest humility and supreme love.
Jesus loved his disciples to the very end, even when they failed him and forsook him. The Lord loves each of us unconditionally. His love has power to set us free to serve others with Christ-like compassion and humility. Does the love of Christ rule in your heart, thoughts, intentions and actions?
Saint Augustine of Hippo in his sermon for this day, wrote:
"He had the power of laying down his life; we by contrast cannot choose the length of our lives, and we die even if it is against our will. He, by dying, destroyed death in himself; we are freed from death only in his death. His body did not see corruption; our body will see corruption and only then be clothed through him in incorruption at the end of the world. He needed no help from us in saving us; without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot have life.
Finally, even if brothers die for brothers, yet no martyr by shedding his blood brings forgiveness for the sins of his brothers, as Christ brought forgiveness to us. In this he gave us, not an example to imitate but a reason for rejoicing. Inasmuch, then, as they shed their blood for their brothers, the martyrs provided "the same kind of meal" as they had received at the Lord's table. Let us then love one another as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us."
"Lord Jesus, your love conquers all and never fails. Help me to love others freely, with heart-felt compassion , kindness and goodness. Where there is injury, may I sow peace rather than strife."

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Tuesday of Holy Week

Gospel Reading: John 13:21-33,36-38

21 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; 24 so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks." 25 So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast"; or, that he should give something to the poor.30 So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.' 36 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward." 37 Peter said to him, "Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." 38 Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.

Meditation: Jesus' disciples were put to the test as Jesus prepared to make the final and ultimate sacrifice of his own life for their sake and for all the world. What was different between Peter and Judas? Judas deliberately betrayed his Master while Peter, in a moment of weakness, denied him with an oath and a curse. Judas' act was cold and calculated. Peter, however, never meant to do what he did. He acted impulsively, out of weakness and cowardice. Jesus knew both the strength of Peter's loyalty and the weakness of his resolution. He had a habit of speaking with his heart without thinking through the implications of what he was saying.

The treachery of Judas, however, is seen at its worst when Jesus makes his appeal by showing special affection to him at his last supper. John says that Satan entered into Judas when he rejected Jesus and left to pursue his evil course. Satan can twist love and turn it into hate. He can turn holiness into pride, discipline into cruelty, affection into complacency. We must be on our guard lest Satan turn us from the love of God and the path which God has chosen for us.

The Holy Spirit will give us grace and strength in our time of testing. If we submit to Jesus we will walk in the light of his truth and love. If we turn our backs on him we will stumble and fall in the ways of sin and darkness. Are you ready to follow Jesus in his way of the cross?

"Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; an unconquered heart which no tribulation can wear out; an upright heart which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord."  (Prayer of Thomas Aquinas)

text from

Monday, 30 March 2015

Holy Week Compline

Several of us gathered at St Francis Byrness to say Compline (Night Prayer)  for Monday of Holy Week. A beautiful and peaceful monastic service to bring the day to its completion. Tomorrow (Tuesday) evening we shall be at Holy Trinity, Horsley, and on Wednesday at St Cuthbert's Elsdon. Maundy Thursday has Holy Communion at St John's Otterburn. The idea is that we have a 'Holy Week' pilgrimage, visiting each of the churches in the valley, and ensuring prayer is said in each.

Monday of Holy Week

Gospel Reading: John 12:1-11

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled  with the fragrance of the ointment. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. 8 The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." 9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was  there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. 12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.

Meditation: Do you know the love that knows no bounds? As Jesus dines with his beloved friends, Mary does something which only love can do. She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. Her love was not calculated but extravagant. Mary's action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her love for Jesus and her gratitude for God’s mercy. She did something, however, a Jewish woman would never do in public. She loosed her hair and anointed Jesus with her tears. It was customary for a woman on her wedding day to bound her hair. For a married woman to loosen her hair in public was a sign of grave immodesty. Mary was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus. She took no thought for what others would think, but what would please her Lord. In humility she stooped to anoint Jesus' feet and to dry them with her hair. How do you anoint the Lord's feet and show him your love and gratitude?
The gospel records that the whole house was filled with the perfume of the ointment. What Mary had done brought sweetness not only in the physical sense, but the spiritual sense as well. Her lovely deed shows the extravagance of love - a love that we cannot outmatch. The Lord Jesus showed us the extravagance of his love in giving the best he had by pouring out his own blood for our sake and by anointing us with his Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul says that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). Do you allow the love of Christ to rule in all your thoughts and intentions, and in all your words and deeds?
Why was Judas critical of Mary's lovely deed? Judas viewed her act as extravagant wastefulness because of greed. A person views things according to what it inside the heart and soul. Judas was an embittered man and had a warped sense of what was precious and valuable, especially to God. Jesus had put Judas in charge of their common purse, no doubt because he was gifted in financial matters. The greatest temptation we can face will often come in the area of our greatest strength or gifting. Judas used money entrusted to him for wrong and hurtful purposes. He allowed greed and personal gain to corrupt his heart and to warp his view of things. He was critical towards Mary because he imputed unworthy motives. Do you examine your heart correctly when you impute wrong or unworthy motives towards others?
"Give us, Lord, a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you. Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation, dullness in prayer. Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, your tender compassion towards me. The things we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labor for: through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (Prayer of Sir Thomas More, 16th century)
(text from

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Sunday signpost #1: Seeing is believing?

Seeing is believing. Or so we say. But how often are we so busy going about our business that we look but do not see? There's a story in John's Gospel of some people who wanted to 'see' Jesus. ( read the whole story in John 12.20-33). They were interested in more than how he looked, what clothes he wore, what his accent was. When they met him he told them who he was and what he was here for and that if the really wanted to know him they needed to follow him. It's a message for us too. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

Spring cleaning - a thought for Lent

Is it time yet for a Spring Clean?
What about those places where you never go?
The attic, the shed, the garage, that particular cupboard?
The church is thinking this week about the story of Jesus 'cleansing the temple' You can read the story here
Not unnaturally this caused great upset.
What about your own spiritual lives?
Is a 'clear out' needed? 
What do you need to find space for and what is no longer necessary?

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Team time

The Team clergy and lay readers spent much of last Friday together at MinsterAcres reflecting and sharing our thoughts about how we can work together in new ways. As the 'new boy!' I found it tremendously helpful, encouraging, hopeful and supportive. Have a look at what Susan, our Team Rector writes.  (Click here)
Snowdrops at MinsterAcres

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Things ancient and modern

This morning I spent some time in St John's Otterburn with Howard Smith, bell advisor for the dioceses of Newcastle and Durham who came to mend the bell rope, which I embarrassingly broke on the third ring at my licensing service. The rope apparently had been rubbing against some stone work and finally, with an obvious sense of occasion, it gave up! 
I found out how to ring the bell properly (it is a chiming or drop hammer) and also that it was cast by Henry Watson of High Bridge Street Newcastle in 1856. 

It's working properly now and I hope I can be trusted with it again. 
All done - bell rope repaired
To Elsdon this afternoon for PCC meeting. By coincidence the new new lights in St Cuthbert's were completed during the meeting. There will be prayers and an act of dedication during Mattins on Sunday 22nd March

The wrought iron lighting chandeliers were designed by churchwarden Keith Maddison in the form of St Cuthbert's Cross.  They were made by blacksmith Peter Robinson of Siddington Smithy of Cheshire and erected by Burncliffe Electricals of Hexham. The lights can be switched on and dimmed by remote control. An imaginative and beautiful fusion of 'ancient and modern'.

I will add a picture of one of the chandelier crosses as soon as possible.
This picture was taken  as the scaffolding was moved to the final position.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A start ....

It's been a while since I wrote anything on my blog. Things have been very busy and exciting lately. Settling into and warming up the vicarage has taken up much of our time. Eventually the day of the licensing arrived and we had a wonderful service with many members of the Team Parish Churches in attendance, a number of local clergy and with quite a few from my previous churches in Ellon and Cruden Bay. Bishop Frank gave a sermon focussing on the grace of God, something we all need! Unfortunately, but hopefully not prophetically, I managed to break the bell rope after the third pull! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the delicious reception in the memorial hall afterwards. Getting into a routine now and it's good to be back at 'work'. First Sunday today, with two services; Holy Communion at Horsley and Mattins at Elsdon. At both I was made very welcome. Today's sermon is here if you want to read it. Or click on the link 'Sermon Archive' at the top of the page. 

The photograph is a snap of a moment at the back of church.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

All safely moved in to the vicarage. Now seeking order amidst the chaos and trying to find things! Feeding the two young cats that keep turning up at our front door.  Slowly getting there. Grateful for soup brought round on Wednesday, and delicious fruit cake and flowers. Off to Rothbury tomorrow for communion - general view is that I don't go to the Redesdale Churches until I am licensed....