Tag Archives: Faith

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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….

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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?!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Luton Town wins 5-1! All smiles @ All Saints with St. Peter, Luton ~ CMS Link Visit with goals galore!

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Collins bags a hat-trick as five star Luton destroy Plymouth” ~ “Plymouth Argyle thrashed 5-1 by rampant Luton Town after defensive shocker” ~ “Striker James Collins netted a hat-trick as Luton hammered Plymouth“…

Yes, it was all happening in Luton this past weekend, starting on Saturday afternoon as Luton Town Football Club ‘destroyed’, ‘hammered’ and ‘thrashed’ poor old Plymouth Argyle in League One, the third tier of the English Football League, by 5 goals to 1.  Five-One!  Incredible.  There were so many goals, it was impossible to get bored.  Never a dull moment in the whole match.  And as 4 of the goals came in the first half, and as we were sitting near that goal, wow, we had a great view.  It was all non-stop action.  What a game. What a day!  It all went Luton’s way.  And I was there to see it all, along with a huge crowd of 10,000+ others.  My first ever game of Professional Football too.  Yippee!  A fine start to my CMS Link Visit to All Saints with St. Peter, Luton, Beds – about 50 km NW of London in the Diocese of St. Albans.

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All Saints Church is in Bury Park, Luton, and in the same parish is Kenilworth Road, the home ground of Luton Town FC.  The vicar of All Saints, Rev. David Kesterton, is also the chaplain to Luton Town FC ~ the team is nicknamed ‘The Hatters’.  He likes to go along to all the home games, where possible, and he kindly invited me to go with him this past Saturday.  YES please!

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And so it was that I was there to witness the best result in the whole of League One this past Saturday, a huge win of 5-1.  Everyone told me afterwards that when Luton wins, the whole atmosphere of the town is changed, everyone is happy, smiling away.  It’s true, I know, I saw them all at the beetle drive on Saturday night and on Sunday at the church services at All Saints (see photo below) and then at St. Peter’s.  There was definitely a really positive feeling, having won the day before.  And not just won, it was a massive five-one!

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Yes, the Saturday night beetle drive in the All Saints church hall was great.  It was in aid of the guides, who are planning a trip to Switzerland.  Most of the girls come from the Muslim community, and it was good to take part. The food was yummy and I learned how to play a fast-paced beetle game.  It was almost as fast as Luton Town plays football!  I met Nicholas, originally from Spain, who knew everything possible about Taiwan’s history. He even came to church on the Sunday to hear my sermon.  In fact quite a few people came forward to share their knowledge about Taiwan, I was most impressed.   These are some of my good friends!

On Sunday I spoke at the 9:30 am service at All Saints.  I have been linked with this parish for years and years; my previous visit to them was in January 2015 (see that blog post here), and if you compare the then-and-now photos, you’ll see that nobody seems to have changed at all ~ still all lovely and smiling away. These were taken at the Sunday service….

I also visited St. Peter’s Church to speak at their 11:15 am service, and later to attend their Godly Play / Messy Church event in the afternoon.   I watched Jo, the curate, telling the parable of the Good Shepherd, and learned so much.  Really inspiring.

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The 2 clergy, David and Jo are amazing.  They get on really well with everyone, of whatever background, and are very committed to finding new ways to reach out to people from all communities in this very multicultural and multi-faith area of Luton.  David’s wife Susan was in non-stop action all weekend too and so hospitable, and the vicarage dog was delightful and very friendly.  I stayed at the vicarage with the family, and had a great time, learning so much about the area and all that’s going on.  I presented David and Jo with an artillery shell cross each, most appropriate as they and the church congregation seek to be peacemakers in this very diverse and challenging parish.

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And I must mention the lovely couple in the photos below, Ronald – aged 81, and Pauline – aged 74, who are getting married at All Saints this Wednesday.  Here they are ~ bless ’em, and do pray for them!

Thank you to David & Susan and family, Jo, the church leaders and congregation members, beetle-players, guides and all who made this weekend so special.  Some of these people I have known since 1989, when a group of us from Heighington, Co. Durham first visited All Saints in a north-south / rural-urban link established through the former rector of All Saints, Rev. Sam Prasadam.  I’ve been visiting ever since.  It’s wonderful to keep the CMS link going until now, and so much fun that I could also attend the Luton Town match.  Thanks be to God for a great weekend and this wonderful community of faithful Christians.

Go The Hatters!  Go Luton!  Go All Saints!  Go St. Peter’s!  Yes, it’s all go go go in Bury Park, Luton!

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!

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.

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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…

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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….

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

St. Thomas, Batley & Dewsbury Minster: CMS Link Visits @ God’s Own Country!

Yes, ‘God’s Own Country’ as they say about Yorkshire ~ and I just had a wonderful weekend visiting 2 of my very supportive CMS Link Churches in West Yorkshire.  As the locals know, you just can’t beat Yorkshire for anything!

The towns of Batley and Dewsbury are only about a mile apart, in a very hilly area, both are old mill towns, and both have large – and growing larger – Asian Muslim populations, mostly from one area of Pakistan.  Like many areas of the country, the churches are facing huge challenges of aging congregations and declining Sunday attendances.  The Anglican churches are now mostly working in town-wide team ministries, and both have new clergy (or at least new to me!) since I was last in the area.  Special thanks to Anne, lay reader from Dewsbury Minster who kindly welcomed me to stay with her over the weekend ~ this is us with Rev. Simon Cash…..

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First stop, St. Thomas, Batley, looking lovely in the autumn sunshine!

I last visited St. Thomas in April 2015 (see that blog post here), and this past weekend I joined them and gave the sermon for their 9:30 am service, led by the vicar, Rev. Martin Naylor.  Last weekend I was in Cornwall, visiting Joy, who is originally from St. Thomas, Batley ~ I had stayed with her in her Batley home on a previous link visit many many years ago, that’s how come we are friends!  I was delighted to see Gillian, one of my most delightful supporters, and Jeremy, churchwarden and lifelong member of St. Thomas.  Here we all are with Martin…

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Myra is also a special person, she also came along to hear me speak at St.Helen’s Church, Sandal only a few weeks ago.  She’s now heard my sermon twice, that’s true dedication!  And I must mention Mary, who arrives early to set up the church, and works hard to sell poppies for British Legion – she was wearing her beautiful poppy outfit of skirt, scarf and shirt all covered in poppies!  And John Walker, warden emeritus ~ ah, so many faithful members of the church were there, even though it was half term and everyone said that many of the younger ones were away.  Then, after the service, we had continental breakfast, yummy yummy!

Later that day, I visited Dewsbury Minster for their 6:30 pm combined evening service of Holy Communion – for all the churches in the team ministry. The church is right in the middle of town and looked lovely as I passed through in the sun at midday!

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My previous visit to Dewsbury Minster was in March 2015 (see that blog post here), and since then they have said goodbye to Rev. Kevin Partington, and welcomed Rev. Simon Cash.   Simon invited me to show some photos during my sermon, and they all gathered to pray for me afterwards.  Very touched.  And we had a choir and hand-bells and Holy Communion, and lots of beautiful music.  And it was all followed by refreshments.

In between visiting these 2 churches, Anne kindly took me to lunch with some Dewsbury Minster friends, and then she took us to visit the nearby Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield.  We were welcomed by Anne’s friend, Br. Philip who took us on a tour.  This was my first ever visit.  Quite an incredible place.  This is the chapel…

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And one of the altars…

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But back to the main purpose of the weekend, and thanks to all at St. Thomas and Dewsbury Minster for your warm welcome, and all the support and prayers over the many years we’ve been linked together.  It’s really appreciated.  Wonderful place, wonderful people.  God’s Own Country indeed!

Wanderings in the Wonderful West Country!

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A week or so in the West Country in Autumn ~ and yes, it was great!

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Tiverton, Devon ~ where my good friend Elizabeth took me to see a really bleak but utterly compelling Russian movie, ‘Loveless‘ which was about as tragic as it possibly could be, followed the next day by a mission support prayer gathering, lunch and a walk around the canal, which were quite the opposite!  And in the middle of the prayer meeting, one of the parked cars even rolled itself down the slope.  What with Russian movies, prayer meetings and rolling cars, Tiverton is quite a happening place!  The people are lovely ~ these delightful people from St. George & St. Paul’s Church gather regularly to pray for mission, including CMS.  Thank you!

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Next stop: Porthleven and Helston, Cornwall ~ where the sea and sky were all blue, and where my good friend Joy was in hospital for a new hip, so I stayed with her daughter and husband in Helston Vicarage – this is St. Michael’s Church, Helston where we worshiped on Sunday, and had a very warm welcome from all in the congregation…

And I visited Porthleven, where the harbour was looking splendid….

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And the old Porthleven lifeboat house has a stunning new wall mural by ‘Sketch’ painted on the front wall in memory of the lifeboat men who served there from 1894-1929, and took part in 28 launches and 50 rescues…. though it can only be seen from the sea and from the pier.  Ah yes, wall murals have come to Porthleven!

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Also walked the coastal path up from Porthleven to Trewavas Head – where, perched precariously on the cliffs, there are the 2 engine houses of Wheal Trewavas Mine, a disused copper mine that had 4 copper lodes and 1 tin lode in operation from 1834-1846, employing about 160 men who brought up a total of approx 17,500 tons of copper ore. The shaft reaches down 600 ft and goes out under the sea. Eventually the mine was flooded and abandoned.  What a relic of time past.  An amazing part of Cornish history.

Y’know what else made me smile in Cornwall?  Firstly the cars – and guess what? They are not all silver.  In fact, hardly any seemed to be silver.  All over the UK, boring old silver is the predominant colour for cars and it just adds to the greyness, especially on a cloudy day.  But Cornwall has cars of every colour. I love it!

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And y’know what else? In the hospital where we visited my friend Joy, there are signs posted up in the ward, behind the sink taps no less, telling everyone not to feed the seagulls. Isn’t that so lovely?  You just have to smile at the thought that such a sign is necessary.  Love it!

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And so to Wiltshire, where I stayed with my CMS friend, Jane in the Wylye Valley….

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where nearby Tytherington Village claims to have the oldest church in Wiltshire, dating to the early 12th century, and it is very lovely!

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There’s alpacas too who are oh so sociable and kept me well-entertained!

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Jane kindly took me to Stourhead which is run by the National Trust ~ the gardens are spectacular and looked glorious in their autumn colours….

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Moving northwards, I left Wiltshire and headed to Gloucester, where the cathedral was looking incredible in the blue sky…

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Gloucester Cathedral, ‘formally the Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, in Gloucester, England, stands in the north of the city near the River Severn. It originated in 678 or 679 with the foundation of an abbey dedicated to Saint Peter (dissolved by Henry VIII).’

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It’s free to go in, and some of the upper galleries are also open, so you can look down on the main body of the church.  There’s lots of things to do, and as it’s half term there were lots of children busy doing things.  A great atmosphere!

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The best things to see are the GCHQ ‘Poppyfall’ all ready for Remembrance Day, as part of the World War I commemoration – on display in the Lady Chapel…

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And the beautiful stained glass windows of the St. Thomas Chapel where the windows are blue…

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There’s also some modern windows honouring Ivor Gurney…

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The cathedral is well worth visiting – my first visit ~ yippee!

It was while I was at Gloucester Cathedral that I learned the sad news of the death of my good friend, Winsome, friend, colleague and neighbour in Dodoma, Tanzania ~ she had also visited me in Taiwan and we had visited her in Sydney, Australia some years ago.  It was somehow fitting to learn this news while at the cathedral, and I lit a candle at the St. Thomas Chapel in thanksgiving for her life and friendship…

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Thank you Gloucester for a great break on a journey!

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And so onto Great Witley, Worcs, to see my good friends, Debbie and Nigel.  Some would say that Worcestershire is not really in the West Country, but hey, it’s still in the west, and, well, not that far away.  Anyway, Thursday was chilly and very grey.  So, what better than to visit the local ruined mansion, built with the profits of ironworks and coal mines, Witley Court.  It is very grey and very austere, and basically grim.  You can imagine what it must have been like, even though it’s now a massive ruin.  What money, what extravagance, what a ruin.

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‘Witley Court, a Jacobean country house extended on a number of occasions throughout its history, but which became derelict after a spectacular fire in 1937. The mansion, formerly one of the finest in the Midlands, is now in the care of English Heritage, who describe it as their number one ruin. They have restored the extensive gardens leaving the impressive skeletal ruin of the building overlooking them in a poignant and thought provoking way.’

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Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcestershire, England is a ruined Italianate mansion. Built for the Foleys in the seventeenth century on the site of a former manor house, it was enormously expanded in the early nineteenth century by the architect John Nash. Subsequently, sold to the Earls of Dudley, a second massive reconstruction by the architect Samuel Daukes took place in the mid nineteenth century, creating one of the great pleasure palaces of Victorian and Edwardian England.  The declining fortune of the Dudleys saw the sale of the court after the First World War to a Kidderminster carpet manufacturer. In 1937 a major fire caused great damage to the court, the estate was broken up and sold and the house was subsequently stripped of its fittings and furnishings. Forty years of decay followed before the house and grounds were taken into the care of The Department of the Environment in 1972. Since that point, significant restoration and stabilisation have secured the house as a spectacular ruin.’

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Having checked out the ‘number one ruin’, it was time to see the church (pictured above), attached to the house, but separate, and not affected by the 1937 fire.  It’s the local parish church and still serves the local community.  This is definitely not a ruin.  Quite the opposite. When you see this, you get a glimpse of what the house might have been like, once upon a time.  It’s the inside of the church that is so, well, incredible.

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It’s the ceiling, man, the ceiling!

‘The church, of Saint Michael and All Angels, is a brick building but like the adjoining Witley Court was faced with bath stone by the Gloucester architect Samuel Daukes in the 1850s. The interior is one of the finest Italian Baroque churches in Britain originally from Cannons House at Edgware in Middlesex and fitted to Daukes’s building by James Gibbs. It was completed in 1735.  It incorporates a richly gilded ceiling with a number of paintings by Antonio Bellucci, a funerary monument to Thomas Lord Foley and his family by John Michael Rysbrack and ten large painted glass windows by Joshua Price dated 1719-1721.’

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The last place to check out is the tea-shop ~ far more down to earth and very pleasant, full of cheerful ladies serving food and tea.

Goodbye to Great Witley, where many of the trees are covered in clumps of dark green mistletoe – ah, yes, Christmas is coming!

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And onto Kidderminster, where the brown bulrushes were in full bloom at the local nature reserve…

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The views over the whole area, almost as far as Birmingham from the Habberley Nature Trail were amazing!

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So goodbye to the West Country for the time being as I head northwards this weekend. Thanks to everyone who gave me such a warm welcome and great hospitality – including the seagulls in Cornwall.  Great weather too.  But winter is coming and this weekend may be a bit cold.  Get them Winter woolies ready!