Tag Archives: Co. Durham

Bumper Weekend of CMS Link Visits @ Co. Durham❤️

Yes, it was quite a weekend! Full of church visits and meeting lots of great people in Co. Durham, starting on a very autumnal murky day at St. John’s Church, Neville’s Cross, on the west side of Durham….

St. John’s, Neville’s Cross

The church is a modest building that’s currently got scaffolding in the chancel to deal with falling plaster, which kind of adds a new perspective to worship, but there’s also lots of colourful banners on the walls too. Last week, the church had a half-term holiday club on the theme of scarecrows, and several of the scarecrows and other artworks were decorating the church. It may have been a dull and miserable autumn day outside, but inside it was definitely warm and cheerful, full of light and joy!

Durham has been in News reports in the last few weeks with scenes of university students queueing overnight, desperate to get somewhere to live for September 2023 ~ it seems there’s way too many students for such a small city. Out at Neville’s Cross, there’s a big mixture of people who have made St. John’s their home – many connected with the diocese and/or university, including the theological college at Cranmer Hall. Spot at least one hospital chaplain, one ordinand, one archdeacon, one bishop’s wife, one retired vicar, one theology professor – and their families in the photos below. It’s always a challenge doing the sermon in such a place, trying hard not to feel too intimidated! 🤣🤣

The rector, Rev. Barnaby Huish is also in charge of other churches in the area and has deanery responsibilities, and he was also away this weekend for half term, so I didn’t get to see him. The services on Sunday were taken by Rev. Nicky Chater, assisted by husband Mike as lay reader. They kindly welcomed me to stay at their home for the whole weekend, along with their very lively dog and quietly assertive cat, though we missed the children, Harriet and Peter. Harriet has visited Taiwan twice, in 2014 with her father to celebrate the end of her GCSEs, and then with her mother after her A-Levels in 2016 (see that blog post here), such happy memories! Among many other things, Nicky is now diocesan chaplain to the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities – for more details, check out these articles in the Travellers Times and The Guardian ~ it’s a really amazing ministry.

Nicky and Mike Chater

There were 2 services on Sunday, at 8:45 am and 10:30 am (with a very talented music group playing for the second service, led by music director Amy) and there was also an afternoon event with Taiwan food and me sharing a PowerPoint about Taiwan. I also went to the church house group on Monday night where Jo the churchwarden led the discussion on topics related to my sermon, plus Nicky and Mike invited different church friends to meals at home. It was all wonderful ~ they are such a friendly and very lovely church! Special thanks to Adriel, from Singapore who provided a lot of challenging insights, as well as all the Taiwan / Chinese food …..

Yummy Yummy!

On Monday, I spent all day at Heighington, near Darlington, meeting up with so many friends, former colleagues and pupils. Heighington is officially my home church ~ having gone from there to Tanzania in 1990, and then on to Taiwan in 1999, all with the Church Mission Society (CMS), though this time we just arranged an informal visit, and the vicar, Rev. Lissa Scott was away on holiday. The village is very scenic, with a large village green, where they are collecting wood for bonfire night.

The day started with former head of Heighington Primary School, George Dixon, inviting me and our former colleagues round for coffee – George is nearly 89 and has the same enthusiasm for life as he always had, he’s still playing the organ and leading choirs, plus driving his caravan to the Lake District!

In the afternoon, I had arranged to go along to the Heighington Church Monday afternoon drop-in coffee hour, which attracts lots of people each week, including many who are not particularly part of the church. The curate, Rev. David Lucas was there, in charge of St. Matthew and St. Luke’s Church, Darlington, another of my link churches. There was also a 90th birthday celebration for one of the ladies, here they all are getting ready…

It was great to see so many friends, many were parents of children I taught at Heighington School – or pupils themselves, now with children in the same school. Thanks to Pat for organising it all, and inviting me to lunch, plus Gordon and Michelle, now returned from Canada, who invited me for tea. It was Halloween, and children and their parents were out on the streets tricking and treating. Ah, it was such a great day, just wish I had more time of course to talk to everyone!

Tuesday November 1 was All Saints Day, and I was invited to speak at the evening service at another link church, St. Andrew’s Church, Tudhoe Grange, Spennymoor, where the vicar, Rev. John Livesley and his family also welcomed me for tea. But first, I visited their former vicar, Rev. Neville Baker and his wife, Jean, now living right on the sea in Whitburn, up near Sunderland – we had such a lovely lunch and walk. Neville, now 87, reminisced about taking a group from St. Andrew’s to attend my CMS commissioning service in Heighington just before I left for Tanzania in January 1990, where he met my parents – he remembers everything in so much detail!

And so to Tudhoe Grange for the All Saints Day service. St. Andrew’s Church is unique among all my link churches in that it is affiliated with ‘Forward in Faith‘ and comes under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Beverley, and it’s really interesting for me to see how the church has moved considerably – and very happily – ‘up the candle’ (as they say!) since I was first linked with them. Everyone in the church says that Fr. John is so lovely that the congregation has willingly moved with him!

In this fairly unique arrangement, the vicar is in charge of 2 churches, as is common, but the other church is quite some way over in Bowburn, just outside Durham – and in a different deanery. Very noticeably, in between the two stands a brand new and very large Amazon Distribution Centre, complete with new roundabouts and roads. A sign of the times indeed. St. Andrew’s itself is built in an area of Spennymoor that originally housed workers of the old iron works. The air is much cleaner these days, and has become quite a desirable area to retire to, cheaper than Durham but easily accessible to the city.

St. Andrew’s, Tudhoe Grange

St. Andrew’s has just completed a reordering project in the left aisle of the church, taking out the pews and using 4 of them to make a big table (with new chairs coming from the old Darlington Memorial Hospital Chapel), installing a kitchen and toilet, and making the whole place so much more accessible and welcoming. With the church hall being hired out to many different community organizations, so the church can use their own space for things like messy church and children’s holiday club activities – there’s lots of children in St. Andrew’s these days! With many churches reporting how difficult it is to resume children and youth activities since the pandemic, it’s really encouraging to see the way St. Andrew’s has grown and flourished.

The All Saints service was led by a very lively and friendly retired priest, Fr. Michael Thompson, who turned out to have once been vicar of North Hartismere area of northern Suffolk, neighbouring benefice to my link churches in South Hartismere, and where my good friend and former CMS regional manager for Asia, Adrian Watkins, is now vicar, and where I’ll be visiting in a few weeks time. We had to take this photo for mutual friends in Suffolk – Betty Wells, this is for you!

Thanks to Fr. John, Fr. Michael and everyone at St. Andrew’s for such a warm welcome! They were having a big service for All Soul’s Day yesterday too, so the numbers were expected to be much lower for All Saints, and in the event, most of those in the church building were actually part of the choir and procession ~ with incredible anthems of choral music directed by Fr. John, himself a former choirboy of Manchester Cathedral. They raised the roof with such inspiring and beautiful worship!

Despite spending 4 nights in Durham and driving around the city, and spotting the cathedral in the distance, unfortunately I didn’t have any time to visit the city centre and walk around. However, I had spent 24 hours in York on my way to Durham, visiting my very energetic and lovely friend Shelagh, formerly with CMS in many different countries in Asia, and we walked around the whole of the York City walls on a beautifully sunny Friday afternoon last week. Gotta share those photos with you all ~ thank you Shelagh!

And finally, I left Co. Durham via a visit to a RC priest friend, formerly in language school with me in Musoma, Tanzania, and now in charge of 3 churches in Stockton. There was lots to catch up on, not least news of the pandemic and how he, his church, and his diocese have been affected. So many stories. He took me for breakfast, and this was it ~ what a wonderful way to end my visit to Co. Durham, a full English breakfast! 😋😋😋

Thank you everyone in Co. Durham ~ and thanks be to God for all His blessings! ❤️

CMS Link Visit @ Haughton & Hurworth, Darlington, Co. Durham ❤️


Autumn is well and truly here!  Yes!  Haughton and Hurworth village greens are lined with gorgeous trees, which at this time of year are turning the most beautiful colours of yellow, orange, red and brown.  If you’re in the area, do go by and check them out, they are stunning! I was there this past weekend visiting the churches in both villages, as part of my Darlington CMS (Church Mission Society) Link Churches Visit, and it was wonderful to see so many amazing autumn colours! 🍂🍂🍂


Haughton, or more correctly, Haughton-le-Skerne is officially a village, now part of Darlington, though still on the outskirts of the vast sprawling industrial town.  The main street and area around St. Andrew’s, Darlington’s oldest church (c.1125) still manages to retain a little of the charm of an old English village, while Hurworth, or more correctly Hurworth-on-Tees, is further away from Darlington’s urban sprawl, and has kept its village identity intact, slowly meandering itself along the northern bank of the River Tees, the border between Co. Durham and N. Yorkshire.  Whether it’s the edge of the town or the edge of the county, or even the edge of the diocese, being on the geographical ‘edge’ is part of their identity, because location is everything, whether you’re in Darlington – or Taiwan. Location affects everything ~ and going to the ‘edges’ is something I talk about in my PowerPoints and sermons, based on the CMS vision of ‘With Jesus, with each other, to the edges’. Yes!


There’s lots going on in Darlington these days, the Treasury is building new offices in town, Amazon has a big warehouse, EE employs thousands – and if you’ve seen the new film, The Lost King, based on the true story of the search for Richard III under a carpark in Leicester, the main character Philippa Langley grew up in Darlington, and went to Hummersknott School.  There are new housing estates springing up all over, 250 new houses going up in Hurworth alone, and hundreds more in the surrounding area.  The challenge is reaching out to all these new people and finding ways to welcome them into the churches. Mission and outreach is something both these churches do really well, and that includes supporting CMS ~ and me.  St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton-le-Skerne and All Saints Church, Hurworth have both been supporting me for years, decades in fact, all the way back, several-vicars-ago, to 1990. 


The Rev. Mark East, current vicar of St. Andrew’s, Haughton, kindly organized this link church visit weekend, and reached out hoping to include all my other Darlington link churches too, that is St. Michael’s Church, Heighington, St. Matthew and St. Luke’s Church, Brinkburn Road, All Saints Church, Hurworth, as well as St. Andrew’s Haughton, which includes Sadberge, another link church that was originally completely separate.  In the end, what with the pandemic, financial pressures on local churches and with Hurworth being in an interregnum, so I decided to visit Heighington informally next week, and this weekend we just focused on visiting Haughton and Hurworth. On Saturday evening, I was at Haughton, and then stayed overnight in Hurworth and spent Sunday morning at Hurworth Church followed by a shared lunch there.  We certainly packed a lot into a short time! 

Sharing everything: free apples on offer at Hurworth – yum yum!

So, first to Haughton-le-Skerne…..

On Saturday, St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton had a Taiwanese evening with lots of delicious Chinese home-cooked food. It was really special, and all prepared by a very cheerful team led by Muriel and Pam, who had been cooking all day.  Thank you, ladies!  This is Mark, Pam, Muriel and me….

They had done something similar on my last visit to Haughton in 2018 (see that post here, and for my visit in 2015, see this post here – check out the photos, nobody looks any older, of course!) We were all encouraged to wear traditional Chinese colours of red and gold, the tables were decorated in the same colours, and each person had their own chopsticks too. I shared my PowerPoint before the meal started, and then off we went.  I had many interesting conversations, and heard stories of life on the edges, from those suffering with long Covid, of broken families, of those struggling to find work, of how the youth and children’s ministry at St. Andrew’s hasn’t really got going again since the pandemic, and how they’re hoping to restart it soon, the St. Andrew’s foodbank, and the Alpha course which is bringing a steady stream of newcomers to the church. Several people there had only just been confirmed the previous week, as a result of that Alpha course, it’s clearly helping a lot of people. There were lots of interesting people to meet! I had invited Naomi, one of my former youth group members from Heighington who lives nearby, and she sat with Judith and Ken. It was Judith’s mother, Jean Robson who was the faithful leader of the Darlington CMS group for years and years, until her death in her mid-90’s a few years ago.  

Ah, it was a fantastic evening, thank you everyone!

And so to Hurworth…

All Saints, Hurworth is quite an amazing church, given the circumstances.  Many churches that endure long interregnums kind of give up, or just move into survival mode until a new vicar comes along.  But not Hurworth.  Despite (or maybe even because of?!) years of uncertainty about the future, and in a pandemic too, they seem to be thriving.  Nobody in the congregation I talked to even mentioned that they lacked a vicar, they are so used to running everything themselves.  They have a talented and committed group of lay leaders – everyone is doing something and doing it really well.  Paul, the official lay reader couldn’t be there, so John led the service, and in the afternoon, there was to be a baptism, led by Jill, in charge of baptisms. Special thanks to Julia, Hurworth’s only churchwarden, bravely taking on all that responsibility for a church where many of the congregation are at least a generation older than her.  Not many would willingly volunteer for such a post!  And she runs the zoom streaming as well, and everyone appreciates how her whole family are there each week, serving in the church.  This is Julia with some of the oldest and youngest members of All Saints Church!

Thanks also to Pat who welcomed me to stay overnight, her husband Alan was one of the Darlington CMS group for many years, he died a few months ago. He used to write regularly and let me know all the news of Hurworth, so he is much missed.  I had last stayed with them in 2002!  Photos from my previous visits include Alan (for those blog posts, see here for 2019 and here for 2015), the only people who look any different are the children who have definitely grown bigger!  This is Pat and Pat, one Pat I stayed with, and the other Pat is the wife of John who led the service, they were doing the coffee.  Everyone’s doing something!

On my previous visits, the congregation had told me all about their renewable energy project, and how they were raising funds to buy a biomass boiler, which is now all installed and up and running.  The church is really warm and welcoming as a result.  The boiler is discreetly installed round the back of the church, and is controlled from the home of one of the church members on his iPad.  It runs on wood pellets which come from forestry plantations, and I was told that it has now cut heating costs by half.   The Ukraine war has resulted in an energy crisis, and with so many churches – and families – worried about increased heating costs, this has proved to be a wonderful investment.

We had a lovely morning service led by John, with a robed choir, organ, hymns, readings, prayers, Sunday School, lunch, coffee and much more.  You might expect the congregation to be few in number, but in fact that’s not so.  The church is quite dark, with the back part under a low roof, so from the front, it seems as if there aren’t many people, but then from the back, wow, it’s surprising to see so many people.  Everyone cooperates and joins in, even if they can’t actually attend the service – so although Simon wrote the prayers, he couldn’t be there to lead them and someone else took his place. Simon’s mother was at Sedbergh a few weeks ago on my church visit there, so I had to visit him and his wife and say hello, and so we sat in his garden for a socially-distanced cup of tea. His prayers were extremely comprehensive, covering all areas of the world and all aspects of life, which is quite a challenge given the current political upheaval.  Yes, everywhere I went this past weekend the main topic of conversation has of course been the resignation of Liz Truss as British prime minister after only 45 days in No. 10.  I can hardly keep up with what’s going on, the day I returned to the UK from Taiwan, July 7 was the day Boris Johnson resigned, and now we’re about to have a change again.  Quite a few people in Darlington told me how they liked Boris, ‘because he gets things done’, while just over the border in N. Yorkshire is the Richmond constituency where Rishi Sunak is MP, and now about to become the new prime minister.  The other news of course is always the pandemic – everyone has their own personal experiences to share, and many people are very interested in Taiwan’s success in how they are managing the pandemic so far.  Anyway, back to Hurworth photos….

The journey to Darlington from the Lake District involves driving across the wet and windy Pennines on the A66, where the speed limit is 40 due to roadworks, and the best place to stop on the way is Mainsgill Farm, where there are lots of animals to say hello to.  The place was full of people, shopping and eating, it really is a popular place. Here are their cows and goats, there’s camels, donkeys and horses too, you must go and see them!

So, a very very big thank you to all of you in Haughton and Hurworth for such a warm welcome this past weekend, plus other friends who I called in and visited too.  You’re all doing such great work, running churches, reaching out to the community, supporting those facing hardship, praying for the world, concerned for our country and leaders, serving others and drawing people into the Kingdom of God.  YES!

With All the Saints at All Saints Church: CMS Link Visit @ Hurworth, Darlington, Co. Durham!


Cross the meandering River Tees from N. Yorkshire into Co. Durham at its southernmost point, before the river starts to head north again on its way to Teeside and its arrival at the North Sea, and the first village you come to is the very lovely Hurworth-on-Tees.


Yes, the great and mighty HURWORTH!


The village stretches along a road parallel to the river, and is really everything that a quaint English village can be ~ a long line of beautiful cottages and houses of all shapes and sizes, a few large manor houses and stately homes, a village green covered in daffodils each spring, a Methodist Chapel at one end of the village and All Saints Church at the other, and a few shops, schools, housing estates etc in-between.

Quaint indeed, but not without its share of tragedy in times past. On the village green is a notice saying: “In 1665 plague devastated Hurworth and the surrounding villages. 1500 plague victims were buried under this Village Green. Only 75 Hurworth residents survived the plague.” Must have been terrible.


These days though, Hurworth is a bustling place, and some of the people I know originally came to live in the village cos they were working at the nearby ICI plant on Teeside. Though ICI is no more, they’ve stayed on and now work elsewhere in the area, including Darlington, only a few miles away.  Just down river is the sprawling village of Middleton St. George, and in the last few years, the village of Hurworth has been joined with Middleton St. George, plus Girsby and Dinsdale, all under one vicar, Rev. Adrian Thorp. Helen, his wife is also ordained and for many years worked at Cranmer Hall, Durham’s theological college. He comes from Huddersfield and she from Batley – some of my favourite places where I also have great link churches! Adrian and Helen are such a lovely couple – and they invited me to stay with them this past weekend for my CMS link church visit to Hurworth.


I’ve been linked to Hurworth since I first joined CMS in 1989, a fact which dear Barbara, one of the Hurworth congregation reminded me of this past weekend, when she said how she fondly remembers being at my commissioning service all those years ago. In those days, the vicar was Rev. Roy Graham, now in his second retirement with his wife Margaret in the Yorkshire Dales, and a few weeks ago they kindly invited me there for lunch. On display in their home is a cup showing that Margaret has won first prize at the Wensleydale Show for the best Yorkshire Pudding, a great achievement! After Roy retired from Hurworth, Rev. Michelle Ferguson, my good friend from Heighington, became vicar, then Rev. Adele Martin. The diocese reorganized the parishes and amalgamated them here and there, and about 2 years ago, Adrian and Helen arrived, and clearly everyone loves them to bits!  This is Adrian and me, then Helen and Valerie…

On Saturday evening, Adrian and Helen invited a large group of Hurworth people to their home for dinner (see the top photo). There were 12 of us in total, and at least 2 more couples told me they’d been invited but had to send their apologies. It was such a fun evening, with delicious food and lots of discussions and laughs. Some of what goes on in village churches is really worthy of a book, they had me in stitches! Great to reconnect with everyone again, and such wonderful hospitality at the rectory.

On Sunday morning, I went with Helen to the 10:30am service at Hurworth while Adrian went off to the other churches. The Hurworth service was led by the Lay Reader, Paul Mallett, and I gave the sermon. Very pleasantly surprised to see my friend and former colleague, Stephanie turn up to the service too, she’d come over from Darlington, and Andrew, from the church in Heighington, he also came. Last time I visited Hurworth in April 2015 (see my blog post here for that report and all the photos), I’d heard that one of the congregation worked in Taiwan, and I was so happy to meet Adam this time, though he no longer works there. In fact the church seems completely full of interesting people, all faithful supporters of me and CMS. My photos here are mostly of those good people I’ve known for years, though of course there are others, of all ages, in the church. After the service, we had lunch, brought by everyone in the congregation. Delicious!

Thank you to Adrian and Helen and everyone at All Saints Church, Hurworth for such a great welcome, and your faithful support over the years. One member of the choir was celebrating her birthday on Sunday and we sang to her. Later she introduced herself and her husband and told me their surname was ‘Saint’. I gather it’s a French name, and their ancestors probably came over with William the Conqueror.  Of course they’re not the only real saints at All Saints, but hey, yes, there really are Saints at All Saints Church, Hurworth.  Saints and saints ~ and I love ‘em all to bits!

Really Rockin’ it @ St. Andrew’s, Haughton, Darlington, Co. Durham!


It’s true. Yes, some of the congregation told me that St. Andrew’s really rocks!


St. Andrew’s is Darlington’s oldest church, built around 1125, and is now linked up with Sadberge, another of my link churches. My previous visit to them was in February 2015 (see that blog post here). The vicar, Rev. Mark East has a really good lay leadership team, all busy doing things. So versatile and adaptable; everyone seems multi-talented! Stoker is a retired priest based at St. Andrew’s, and formerly the diocesan IT adviser – in so many churches it’s the younger people in charge of all things technical, but not here, at St. Andrew’s it seems that everyone, young and old, is really high-tech!


Sometimes the church also helps with training for theological students from Cranmer Hall, Durham. A few years ago, one such student was Jonathan Gillespie, now curate of Windermere in the Lake District – it was he who took my father’s funeral service last year, and did such a great job. Everyone loves him to bits! Sadly, St. Andrew’s has recently lost Jacki, their much-loved pianist and keyboard player, so the music group was supplemented by Mark on his guitar and John on his clarinet, plus others singing their hearts out. Rockin’ it, they certainly were!


St. Andrew’s is a busy bustling church, and this past weekend was a bumper weekend extraordinaire! A first for me ever was a Taiwanese evening on Saturday night where the congregation cooked their own Chinese food. Yes, really good REAL Chinese food. Cooked by the congregation. Not bought, but cooked. And it was great! We had all sorts of delicious dishes, and everyone enjoyed it all. They were encouraged to wear red and gold, and I got to share my power-point of Taiwan. Such a fun evening. I was delighted to welcome along Naomi, who was one of my former youth group in Heighington many years ago, and came dressed in her Chinese outfit – turned out she knew several others in the church too. Thanks to Muriel and Pam for all their hard work planning everything and making it all happen, it was amazing. Something to remember for decades to come!

I also met my good friends, Sue and Paul plus plenty more lovely church members who welcomed my so warmly. Helen and John welcomed me to stay in their home, and it was so good. Helen is a very creative and talented textile artist, and kindly gave me one of her stunning pictures to take to Taiwan – it’s inspired by the rain and mud of the Lake District!  Come to Taiwan if you want to see it on display!


On Sunday I gave my sermon at both morning services, 8:45 and 10:45 am; and then in the afternoon at 3:00 pm there was Tea and Praise with a Taiwan theme, held at the local home for the elderly, with a delicious tea afterwards. There were 4 of us with the name Catherine at that service lol! Helen and John hosted a dinner in the evening too. Soooo much delicious food, I won’t need to eat for another week. Food at St. Andrew’s means fellowship, friendship and fun, and there was certainly plenty of each.


A big big thank you to Mark and all at St. Andrew’s Church for all your support over the years, your prayers, letters, messages of encouragement, financial support for CMS, your warm welcome – and all that yummy food! Rockin’ it indeed.  Thanks be to God!

St. Michael’s, Heighington and St. Matthew & St. Luke’s, Darlington, Co. Durham @ Home Church Visit!


Heighington, ah, Heighington! Just spent the weekend in my home church of St. Michael’s, Heighington, near Darlington, Co. Durham. Ah, what memories 😊 what friends 😊 what experiences! 😊 Here I was, from 1985-89, living here, working here and worshiping here.  All in Heighington.  And in the course of those 4 years I got to know quite a few people.  Children galore in fact, from teaching reception class at Heighington Primary School.  And teachers too.  The above top photo is of some of my former colleagues at the school, with former headteacher, Mr. George Dixon (third left), taken when he hosted us all to a coffee morning on Friday when I had just arrived.  And he also came to hear me speak at the service on Sunday.  Thanks, George ~ here he is (below right) with 2 other young, handsome, bearded men – and me – on arrival at the church for the service!


So now, here I am once again, back in Heighington. My last visit here was exactly 4 years ago (see that blog post here) and I know that, cos it was the Christmas Fair then, and it was the Christmas Fair again this time.  So a big welcome to Heighington!


It’s a really beautiful village at its heart, with a huge village green surrounded by quaint cottages and pubs, all set in the beautiful countryside NW of Darlington, Co. Durham….


And also a big welcome to St. Matthew & St. Luke’s Church, Darlington, also one of my link churches (originally totally separate, but now under the same vicar as Heighington), and I also visited them on the same weekend four years ago (see that blog post here).  On Sunday, we had a lovely cafe church communion service, where I spoke about Taiwan, and I mentioned my visit a few weeks ago to see their former vicar, Rev. Richard Rice-Oxley and his wife, Sylvia, now retired to deepest Lincolnshire.  Friendly people, moving service, lovely church!

So. We. Had. A. Great. Weekend!  Really enjoyed a visit with another former colleague, John and his wife to the Bay Horse in Heighington for lunch, where we were served by Kelly, former pupil of Heighington Primary School, who both John and I had taught.  Isn’t she lovely?!


Delighted to meet up with another 2 of my former pupils, smiling sisters, Helen and Claire ~ I taught them when they were 4-5.  Now, well, we’re all just a bit older!


I also took an assembly in Heighington Primary School, one for the children, and one for the parents and children of the school choir.  Thanks to Lissa, the vicar, and the school for organizing that.  The children’s choir also sang at the Christmas Fair on Saturday.  The fair was such fun ~ met lots of friends, families of my former pupils and well, overall lots of great people. And we had face painting – yes!

And then there was the Sunday service at Heighington.  Full of more friends, and led by the 2 very welcoming clergy, Lissa and Ruth.  Thanks to everyone for listening to my non-stop very fast sermon.  Almost ran out of voice by the end of the weekend!



Anne and Neville kindly welcomed me to their home for a very relaxed stay, lots of good food and endless cups of tea, ah they are so lovely!  This is me and Anne, and of course Santa!


Ah yes, a big thank you to all in Heighington and Darlington for your warm welcome and for all your support over the many years!  Much appreciated.  And thanks be to Almighty God for his many blessings!


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!


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.


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….


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!


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!


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!


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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…


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?!


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!


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.’


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.’


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


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!

Updated on December 13, 2018:  Last Saturday, December 8, en route from East Lothian to Darlington on a very windy but sunny day, and with a few hours to spare, I called in at Bamburgh.


First stop was St. Aidan’s Church, which contains the shrine to St. Aidan.  In the ‘icon’ on the left, St. Aidan is shown with King Oswald.  See how the stained glass window on the opposite wall is reflected on the stone pillar next to the shrine ~ gorgeous!

The reredos shows the early northern saints, including St. Cuthbert on the far left holding the head of King Oswald – after Oswald was killed in battle, his head was apparently returned to Lindisfarne and buried there.

Then to Bamburgh Castle, former home of King Oswald. It is truly massive, completely dominating the town, and overlooking the sea from the other side…


The present castle is largely Norman, and it’s a classic castle, complete with keep, dungeon and armoury.  Today it is owned by the Armstrong family, who open it to the public and also let out some of the stately apartments, including the one on the top floor of the keep.  Just imagine living there!  It’s really great to walk around and appreciate something of the early history.

Bamburgh is also famous for being the birthplace of Grace Darling, and overlooks the Farne Islands, where she rescued so many people from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838.  Inner Farne was where Cuthbert lived as a hermit for 9 years.  Now currently home to thousands of beautiful seabirds.  You can just see it in the distance….


Ah yes, Holy Island – and Bamburgh – stunning.  Do go if you get the chance!

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!


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


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!


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


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….!


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


With lots of stops to see the views…


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


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.


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…


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


Those giving out the books were also smiling of course…


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


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!


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

CMS Link Visit to Hurworth, Co. Durham


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!