Tag Archives: Co. Durham

St. John’s, Neville’s Cross & St. Edmund’s, Bearpark: CMS Link Visit @ Durham: ‘A Perfect Little City’!

So said Bill Bryson, famous author and chancellor of Durham University – describing Durham as ‘a perfect little city’ and ‘one of the most beautiful little cities in the world’. So if Bill Bryson said it, then of course it must be true.  But hey, the people are great too – all smiling away!

This past weekend I was honoured to visit 2 churches in Durham, St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross and St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark, and give a sermon in each. These are actually in 2 different benefices, and I have been linked with both for many years.  My last visit to St. John’s was in February 2015 (see that blog post here), my last visit to Bearpark was possibly 7 years ago.  Nevertheless, a very warm welcome awaited in each place!  I stayed with Mike and Nicky, who have each visited Taiwan in the past few years with daughter Harriet, they kindly provided meals, transport, advice, fun and friendship all weekend – ah, it was great!

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First to St. Edmund’s Church, Bearpark (see above photo) – an old coal mining village just 2 miles west of Durham. The mines ran from 1872 – 1984, there’s the miners’ banner hanging in the church, along with other memorabilia, also a list of all the men and boys killed in the mine.  Very sad, such dangerous work.

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We had 16 in the congregation on Sunday.  Special thanks to Joan, Enid, Pat and Susan who run many of the church events and activities at Bearpark – all faithfully serving God and the church there.  The salt of the earth, really wonderful ladies.  But all are worried about the future of Bearpark church, with decreasing numbers, an aging congregation and few young people ~ a challenge faced by many churches in the UK.  Pray for them.

The service on Sunday at 9:00 am was led by Rev Alan Bartlett, who is on the staff of the diocese but lives in the village – here he is with Mike, who kindly took me there….

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A quick cup of coffee with the congregation and off back to Durham to St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross (just 15 minutes from the centre of Durham). The church is filled with a great mix of interesting people, many involved in the university as students or academics, plus quite a few young people and a great leadership team.  This was the church on Sunday morning, with Nicky in front!

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Our first event of the weekend was actually a ‘bring and share’ supper on Saturday night, after which I shared my Taiwan power point.  Lovely to see many friends, old and new.  Rev. Barney Huish, the vicar, was also there, he’s the very youthful-looking one in the blue stripey jumper!

On Sunday morning, I gave the sermon at the 10:30 am service, followed by coffee and a small discussion group.  Great!  Delighted to welcome Stephanie who was my colleague many years ago in Heighington School and who has also visited Taiwan in recent years.  Also met Pat, whose husband Rev. Raymond Hay served for 3 months as chaplain to the English congregation at St. James’ Church, Taichung, Taiwan in 1998, only a year before I arrived there.  It’s a small world!  Sunday’s service was led by lay reader, Mike, and vicar, Barney, and Barney was very moved to receive one of Bishop Lai’s artillery shell crosses.  He put it on display for everyone to look at, and encouraged them all to light a candle and pray for peace.

On Monday I went to the church morning prayer service, and met my former teacher, Douglas who was in fine form (on the right below, next to Nicky).  In the middle is Abby, the St. John’s children’s worker, and tomorrow, off I go with her to do a school assembly.  There’s also Peter, retired priest from Spennymoor.  Really lovely people, all of ’em!

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So many many thanks to all in Durham for your warm welcomes, I really appreciate all your support over the years!  Durham is indeed a ‘perfect little city’ partly cos of all the friendly people, but it does help that they also have an amazing cathedral ~ this is the inside of Durham Cathedral, where we attended Choral Evensong on Sunday afternoon.  Check it out ~ it’s oh so beautiful!

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I love Durham, YES!

The 5-star Holy Island of Lindisfarne ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!

Just spent an amazing – and very refreshing – six days on Holy Island, ‘The Holy Island of Lindisfarne’ no less, my first ever visit!  It’s a real 5-star place, though not in the usual sense, of course.  For many it’s a place of pilgrimage, and one that they return to year after year, for others it’s a day’s outing for half term; whatever; when the tides are right, yes, the place is humming with people. At least that’s true in spring, summer and autumn. Winter is pretty quiet, so I hear – weather, man, it’s the weather!

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First step, check the tides, and then drive on over the causeway. Holy Island is quite low-lying, so everywhere ahead is sea or sky, or mudflats. The only landmarks on the horizon are the 2 castles, the nearer and smaller one on Holy Island itself, and far in the distance on the other shore is the massive fortress of Bamburgh Castle. Holy Island weather changes all the time, and the light makes photos look really good – no filter needed! Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. Be prepared for fresh air, there’s a lot of it, all very wholesome – everyone has glowing red cheeks and goes around well wrapped up.

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Being a place of pilgrimage gives it a special atmosphere, all that Celtic spirituality oozes out of the island in a way that only a few islands do. Following the daily rhythm of Celtic monastic prayer is a gentle way to spend the week recharging batteries, both physical and spiritual. There are plenty of prayer services to choose from in the different churches and retreat centres on the island. There’s also plenty of walking and exploring to be done all over the island. And on cloudy days when the tides are wrong and visitors are few, it’s the surf that comes up trumps and the young people of the district converge offshore – wetsuits and surfboards all ready for the next big wave. So there’s something for everyone; you’ll never be bored, I promise you!  Of course I took plenty of photos, but far too many to share them all here, and anyway Advent Word is coming soon, so I may use them as a series for Advent. So I’ve chosen 21 photos only, a small selection!

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A little history for you of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne…

‘A Place more venerable than all in Britain’ – Alcuin, AD 793

Before the 11th century, Holy Island was known as Lindisfarne, and its history really starts when Oswald (who had become a Christian through the monks of Iona) became King of Northumbria – and like his father before him, set up his base at Bamburgh Castle, on the Northumbrian coast about 50 miles north of Newcastle. Once established, he invited monks from Iona to come to Northumbria to share the Christian faith with the people – and establish churches. Just north of Bamburgh was the tiny island of Lindisfarne, and in 635 AD St. Aidan (his statue is the top photo with the castle in the background) and a group of Irish monks arrived from Iona and chose to establish their monastery on Lindisfarne – it was nearby so it would have the king’s protection, it had a deep harbour, and it was tidal, cut off by the tides twice a day, so giving extra security.

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Holy Island has been described as the ‘Cradle of British Christianity’, and is a place of immense historic and religious significance. It’s also the place where Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, wrote the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. It is from the monastery on Holy Island that the early missionaries, led by St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert spread the Christian faith throughout the whole of northern Britain. On the night Aidan died in 651, Cuthbert, then aged about 16, heard God’s call as he tended sheep in the hills. As a result he became a monk at Melrose, and eventually in 664, he came to Lindisfarne as Prior, and traveled extensively, teaching, preaching and baptizing. He felt called to live as a hermit, and did so on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, just off Lindisfarne (see the small island in the above photo), and then for 9 years on the Farne Islands, where many came to seek his help. In 685, he became Bishop of Lindisfarne, but died only 2 years later, in 687. Even before his death he was regarded by many as a saint, and miracles continued after his death. In 875, violent attacks by marauding Vikings forced the monks of Lindisfarne to flee for their lives, taking Cuthbert’s body (which, on opening up his coffin was discovered to be uncorrupted) with them. They found refuge in Chester-le-Street, but in 995 finally settled in Durham, where Cuthbert is buried in the cathedral – or rather the cathedral was built as a place in which to house his shrine.

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In the 1120’s, monks from Durham Cathedral re-founded a Benedictine Priory on Holy Island. St. Mary’s Church (above photo) was already there, built sometime before 1145, and is believed to be built on the site of St. Aidan’s first wooden church. With many changes through the ages, and after major renovation in 1860, it is still in use as the parish church today. The priory flourished until 1537 when it was closed down by Henry VIII. Gradually, its stone buildings fell into decay; today the ruins remain (see photo below) and are open to the public, run by English Heritage.

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Not long after the dissolution of the priory, in the 1550’s, Lindisfarne Castle (which is really only a small fort compared with mighty Bamburgh) was built to protect the harbour against invasion from Scotland, but with the union of England and Scotland in 1603 under James I, its military importance decreased, and eventually it was demilitarized in 1819. Fast forward to 1903, and Edward Hudson of Country Life magazine bought the castle and with the help of the famous architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, he converted the castle into a very stylish holiday home. A kind of bizarre mix of ancient and modern. That didn’t last too long though – it was sold, and eventually in 1944 it was given to the National Trust, who this year have just completed extensive renovations. This is the castle from the old harbour…

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Other relics of a bygone age are the lime kilns near the castle, and the quarry over on the far side of the island. Also the herring industry – many of the old herring boats have now been cut in half and turned upside down to be used as huts.  Resourceful, eh?!

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Fishing is ongoing, mainly of lobsters (mostly exported to France!) and crabs. Over the years, the island lifeboats took part in many rescues, but there is no longer a lifeboat on Holy Island, though some of the islanders continue to also serve as coastguards. There’s a farm with lots of sheep and some cattle, but it seems that much of the island’s livelihood comes from tourism, with people like me staying for a few days, supplemented by hundreds arriving each day as soon as the tides allow. There’s lots of holiday cottages, retreat centres (I stayed at Marygate, such a great place, delicious food and really friendly people), pubs and cafes, even a post office, small school and small businesses, a shop brewing their own Lindisfarne Mead, artists and craftspeople. I saw Tesco and Argos vans making deliveries, and even a mobile library. And all this week, there’s been an ice-cream van parked on the road to the castle, and he’s done great business!

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Rev. Kate Tristram has written a very readable and comprehensive book, The Story of Holy Island, which I have worked my way through in the last few days. That, together with some guide books and displays in the priory museum and church has given me the background to Holy Island and to what I’ve written above. During this week, we have also celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and Kate was the priest who took the service. She is now in her mid-80’s but still very cheerfully serving in the church as necessary – Holy Island is in interregnum, though they have a new vicar appointed, but not arriving until January. Her chasuble is stunning. She kindly modeled it for these photos, and told me it was one of four made by a group based at the Durham Cathedral, for the Holy Island church. Wonderful! 

Finally I must just tell you about the amazing sculpture in the church on Holy Island, called ‘The Journey’ by Fenwick Lawson, of the 6 monks carrying Cuthbert’s body. Really moving. The photos turn out better at night. He takes the theme of refugees, and mentions ‘The Burghers of Calais’ in his explanation of the sculpture. Most relevant and very timely, seeing as only 3 weeks ago I was in Saffron Walden admiring the sculpture there which is also on the same theme (see that blog post here). The sculptor writes, ‘The Lindisfarne community, with the uncorrupted body of Cuthbert, their saint, founded Durham as refugees. With this significance in mind, and some nerve, considering ‘The Burghers of Calais’ by Auguste Rodin, I saw this epic journey as a great theme for a sculpture: a journey of faith, a journey of hope, and a journey of love for fellow man; a brotherhood forged by the necessity of co-operative effort.’

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So just a taste of Holy Island to encourage you to go and see it all for yourselves, it’s definitely definitely worth it!

Very finally, St. Aidan’s Prayer for Holy Island and his monastic community, to get you in the mood for visiting Holy Island…

‘Lord, this bare island, make it thy place of peace. Here be the peace of men who do thy will. Here be the peace of brothers serving men. Here be the peace of holy rules, obeying. Here be the peace of praise by dark and day. Be this thy island, thy holy island. Lord, I thy servant Aidan, speak this prayer. Be it thy care.’

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This is the causeway, looking back at Holy Island as I left this morning…. sad to say goodbye, it was such a great week!

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PS – Just to put this in a world context: AD 635, the year that St Aidan arrived and established the monastery on Holy Island was also the year that Alopen, a Syriac monk from the Nestorian Church (Church of the East) arrived in China to start his missionary work – he is the first recorded Christian missionary to reach China. Ah yes, it was all happening in 635 AD!

And a Very Warm Welcome to Northern England!

You just can’t beat the north of England for mountains and moorland.   All of the high roads can be spectacular – well, either spectacularly bleak in the middle of a snowstorm or spectacularly beautiful on a sunny day.  This weekend was mainly good weather, just check out these views. The photo above was as I came past the Howgill Fells this afternoon ~ just a hint of a rainbow over Sedbergh in the distance!

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First the Lake District ~ oh so beautiful, especially last Friday, looking down over Elterwater…

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The place for lunch in Elterwater is the Brittania Inn, highly recommended. The best local dish in this part of the world is Cumberland Sausage and gravy – really good!

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The Langdales Pikes were also very clear – this view is from Great Langdale

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And the highlight of Friday evening was the Jesus Church, Troutbeck annual Harvest Supper, held at the Village Institute, and as always well-supported, this year by about 70 people. My first visit. The event is famous locally for the delicious food, and people look forward to it all year!  General advice is not to eat lunch, and there were 14 different puddings on offer. The money raised went to the Bishop of Carlisle’s Harvest Appeal, supporting farming projects in Malawi and South Africa.  Check out this spread….!

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Yesterday, Saturday and off I went over the hills heading eastwards on the A66, via Sedbergh on the open roads, to Co. Durham….

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With lots of stops to see the views…

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And to see the classic cars parked at the Fat Lamb Inn….

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And so I arrived an hour or so later in Spennymoor, Co. Durham for a visit to St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange, one of my CMS Link Churches.  My last visit there was in January 2015, recorded here.

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I was very warmly welcomed by the vicar, Rev. John Livesley, and all his lovely family. Such gracious hospitality, and so much delicious food, it felt like I did nothing much else but eat, eat, eat, eat all weekend!  I’ve been supported by this church for many years and nobody ever seems to get any older. Photos galore of lots of smiling people!  Specially delighted to see Rita and Cliff, former churchwardens…

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And the current churchwardens – with Shirley, the Mother’s Union leader…

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Those giving out the books were also smiling of course…

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I gave the sermon and also spoke to the children in the Sunday club that followed the service. Loved it all!

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At the coffee hour they kindly presented me with a cheque for CMS, money raised at their brunch a few weeks ago. Thank you John and all at St. Andrew’s!

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Ah, yes, thanks be to God for safe travels, great views, wonderful churches and warm welcomes!

CMS Link Visit to Hurworth, Co. Durham

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Right on the north bank of the River Tees, on the border between Co. Durham and N. Yorkshire, sits the rather lovely village of Hurworth-on-Tees ~ stretching out along a long winding road that seems to go on forever!  Charming cottages lie on one side of the road, great big imposing houses line the other side, with the village green covered in daffodils, and the churchyard full of yellow primroses.  It’s beautiful!

At one end of the village green is Hurworth Methodist Church @ Clervaux Café, THE place to have coffee and cake during the week, including Saturdays…. lovely atmosphere and a great vision.  At the other end of the village green is All Saints Church, Hurworth ~ and they have a great website, do check it out!  They’ve been supporting CMS and me for many years, ever since the days when Rev. Roy Graham was vicar, and continued under Rev. Michelle Ferguson. who was from Heighington, and a good friend – like everyone in Hurworth!

So I’ve been in Hurworth visiting the church this weekend, though sadly never got a chance to meet the present vicar Rev. Adele Martin as she’d had to rush away to take care of her father at the other end of the country, but it was good to meet her husband, John – Adele arrived in Hurworth just after my last visit 4 years ago.  Instead, Lay Reader Paul Mallett led the service ~ he’s so lovely, so calm and laid-back ~ and he and the choir were all there in splendid blue, singing their hearts out at the front.

One member of the Hurworth congregation even works in Taipei, in fact he’s there now ~ ah, it’s a small world!  Another comes from Sedbergh, so I know his family there.  Many in the congregation keep in regular touch, so of course have become very good friends over the years.

So, morning service yesterday, then coffee and a faith lunch, and finally my power point of Taiwan, and all over by 12:30pm – I’ve never spoken so fast ha ha!

Many thanks to Jill and Bill for a wonderful stay and delicious meals galore with Hurworth friends on the 2 evenings, and to all the congregation for prayer and support over the years. Thanks to everyone for a great welcome ~ and special thanks to the Sunday School for gathering together for a unique photo of us all!

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And y’know, this is my last CMS Link Church Visit for this UK Home Leave ~ Taiwan is calling ~ getting ready for departure!

CMS Link Visit to St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton-le-Skerne, Darlington

The oldest church in Darlington, Co. Durham, so the sign says outside St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton-le-Skerne, c.1125 ~ that’s pretty old!  But of course in those days, Haughton-le-Skerne was not part of Darlington, but a separate village to the N.E. of the town.  Darlington kind of burst onto the world stage with the arrival of the railways in the 19th century, and it’s been a big bustling industrial place ever since.

St. Andrew’s Church is at the heart of a huge parish, covering Haughton, Whinfield, Red Hall and Springfield.  Definitely a happening place ~ and a VERY happening church, praise God!  I’ve been supported by St. Andrew’s since about 1990, that’s 4 vicars ago ~ delighted to meet Rev. Mark East who arrived here just over 2 years ago, he takes care of St. Andrews’ Church, Haughton, and now also St. Andrew’s Church, Sadberge, where I was on Tuesday lunchtime for their Eat ‘N Meet.

I’ve been very honoured this week to take 3 school assemblies in the parish at Red Hall Primary School, Whinfield Primary School, and Springfield Primary School in the Education Village. Delightful children and teachers everywhere, all so interested in everything about Taiwan!

Saturday morning ~ and a fun time speaking and sharing with all the men at the St. Andrew’s MenMeet ~ 30-40 of them come every time, and the atmosphere is so relaxed and so friendly.  So many VERY handsome men all gathered in one room for an amazing breakfast, and talk about Taiwan!  A wonderful outreach of the church into the community.

And then to Sunday, yesterday, 2 services in the morning with me doing the sermon, and then in the afternoon the monthly ‘Tea and Praise’ at Oban Court with all the seniors who live there plus friends from church. They watched my powerpoint about Taiwan as part of the service, we had wonderful prayers led by Lay Reader Pauline ~  and all followed by sandwiches and cakes and of course, tea!

Such a wonderfully supportive church and community, so welcoming and so grateful for my visit.  Thank you Karen and Ben for welcoming me to stay at your home, and to St. Andrew’s Church in Haughton and Sadberge for all your support and care over the years!

IMG_1930And this photo is of a wall sculpture belonging to Mark, the vicar ~ really kind of sums up what St. Andrew’s is all about ~ YES YES YES!

CMS Link Visit to Sadberge Eat ‘N Meet!

Ah, now that’s just my cuppa tea ~ Eat ‘N Meet at Sadberge Village Hall, each first Tuesday of the month, and a great outreach of Sadberge Church!

Sadberge apparently means ‘flat-topped hill’ but I always think it should be renamed, and the ‘sad’ become ‘happy’, thus Happyberge, to reflect the lovely atmosphere in the village! There’s flowers in tubs hanging from all the railings on the streets, pots of flowers around the trees, a village garden in action, and just a general feeling of being a village well-cared-for and well-loved.  Great place!

Sadberge is on the A66 just east of Darlington, and the church has been supporting me for years and years, starting under Rev. Robert Cooper ~ and it was during his time that the Eat ‘N Meet started too – and still going strong. These days the church comes under another of my supporting link churches, St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton-le-Skerne, and so here I am for the rest of this week, with my visit launched today at Sadberge Eat ‘N Meet ~ eating and meeting, and sharing about life in Taiwan.  Met Mark, the vicar, for the first time too, he’s arrived since I was last here a few years ago…..

The Village Hall was bustling with life as always, playgroup, post office, Pilates classes, coffee shop and Eat ‘N Meet all on today, and the view is just amazing, all over the surrounding area! A great group gathered and enjoyed yummy food, tea and fellowship….

Thanks to all in Happy Sadberge for your support over the years, and for turning out today with platefuls of food, asking lots of questions and sharing in great discussions ~ a fun time!

CMS Link Visit to St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange, Spennymoor

My first CMS Link Visit of the new year, and off I went on a wild and windy Saturday morning over the A66 to Co. Durham, yippee!

St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange has been supporting me for many many years, starting when their former vicar, Neville was in action there ~ he’s now retired with his wife to Whitburn, on the coast just north of Sunderland.  So first stop was to see them to say hello and have the most delicious lunch ~ oh yes and a paddle in the freezing cold North Sea – with the dog!

My departure from Whitburn coincided with the end of the home game at Sunderland Football Club, so the traffic was incredible!  What should have taken 45 minutes to get to Spennymoor took a whole extra hour on the Sunderland Ring Road ~ ah how I love traffic jams.  And ring roads. NOT!

And so to St. Andrew’s Church, and my lovely hosts, Rita and Cliff who were so welcoming!  As were the whole church, such wonderful people. These days, St. Andrew’s Church is affiliated with ‘Forward in Faith‘ and comes under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Beverley.  In recent years, they’ve joined with Christ the King Church in Bowburn, just outside Durham, under vicar Fr. John Livesley.

So yesterday, Sunday, was the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, and first off to St. Andrew’s Church for the 9:00am service ~ I filled the sermon slot with a 10-minute talk, all followed by coffee in the church hall.  Oh yes, and photos with the congregation ~ John is such a delightful vicar and everyone’s so friendly!

And then off give the same talk at Christ the King Church in Bowburn for their morning service at 11:00am.  Also lovely people!

And back to St. Andrew’s Church for their Epiphany-tide lunch, followed by my power point talk about life in Taiwan….

This morning, Monday ~ and a free morning to wander round and discover the delights of Spennymoor ~ originally a bleak moorland, it became a hub of industry at the end of the 1800’s with all the mines and factories.  St. Andrew’s Church just celebrated its 130th anniversary ~ it was built right next to the Tudhoe Ironworks and just up the road from Tudhoe Colliery.  Now all the mines and ironworks are long gone and housing covers the whole area…. but they have a beautiful new leisure centre, historic town hall and a lovely park, with musical pipes for visitors to hit and play music ~ I loved it!

This afternoon, gave a short talk to the St. Andrew’s Church Mothers Union group, and then off back to Sedbergh, across the A66 ~ bit windy, but sunny YEAH!

A big THANK YOU to all at St. Andrew’s for their support over the years, to Fr John and all the congregation, and to Rita and Cliff for their hospitality ~ amazing!

(And in case you’re wondering what the chalk writing is on the photo next to St. Andrew’s Church, it’s an Epiphany blessing for the home, which Fr. John introduced this year, and everyone loves it!  Check it out here…)