Tag Archives: Faith

A New Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines ~ and we were there!

Many congratulations from St. James’ Church, Taiwan – to Bishop Dixie on his retirement, and to Bishop Rex on his installation – YES!

A group of 6 of us from St. James’ Church, Taichung, Taiwan had the honour of attending the installation service of Bishop Rex Reyes as the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines (EDCP) on Thursday March 14, 2019. Thanks be to God!

And I had the fun of taking photos from all angles and heights…

Manila this past week was definitely THE place to be! And more specifically, Cathedral Heights, Quezon City, where a huge compound owned by the Episcopal Church in the Philippines houses their provincial offices, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Trinity University of Asia, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary (SATS), and the National Cathedral.

And the place was packed with busy people as EDCP were holding their 47th diocesan annual convention in the provincial offices from March 12-14…

The convention culminated in the installation service of the new bishop, held at the diocesan ‘pro-cathedral’ at St. Stephen’s Parish, in the ‘China Town’ area of Manila – not to be confused with the National Cathedral, which is for the whole province of the Philippines. Yes, it’s kinda complicated having both provincial and diocesan buildings in the same city, especially when getting from one to another may involve long hours in traffic. This was us arriving on Wednesday evening and driving from the airport into the city…. hey, it’s all part of the experience; even traffic jams are ‘more fun in the Philippines’ as the advertising slogan goes!

For historical reasons, the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is strongest among the indigenous Igorot people in the mountainous provinces of the northern Philippines, but many have moved south, looking for land to farm and settle on, and some have settled in the EDCP area around Manila (they, together with the 2 Chinese-speaking Episcopal churches in Manila, form the backbone of the EDCP today). The partnership between St. James’ Church, Taichung and EDCP started in 1998 when Bishop Manuel Lumpias wrote from Manila to Bishop John C.T. Chien in Taiwan describing how groups of Igorot Episcopalians gather to worship under mango trees due to lack of church buildings. Mango trees are everywhere in the Philippines, big and broad and shady; great for groups to meet under them on a temporary basis, but not much good in the rain!

Bishop Chien gave that letter to Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, then rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung, and Charles was deeply moved. He remembers how St. James’ itself started through the generosity of Christ Church, Greenville in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina (USC) and the United Thank Offering (UTO) way back in the early 1970’s. As Charles said, when he read Bishop Lumpias’ letter, “In Taiwan, we had nothing and we were so poor; now we have everything, so it is time for us to help others. Just as Christ Church and the UTO gave so willingly to us in our early days, so we want to express our thanks by sharing our wealth with others.”

And so Charles sprang into action, and within a short time, St. James’ Church had raised US$ 6,000 to build a church in EDCP. Then, on finding out that the village had no water supply, they raised a further US$ 3,000 to install a permanent water supply for the whole community. That church was Christ the King, Sandeline, Nueva Ecija, consecrated on July 27, 1999. But it was only the beginning, and through succeeding EDCP bishops, Bishop Benjamin Botengan and then Bishop Dixie Taclobao, the partnership expanded from that one church to eventually become 12 churches, all built with money raised by St. James’ Church. In many cases, it was individual donors from St. James who wanted to express their gratitude to God by building a church in the Philippines, in other cases it was a collective church effort.

As time went on, so the cost of construction increased, but Charles always loves a challenge and he continued undaunted! In 2010, thinking the project was at an end with 11 churches built, a Thanksgiving Service was held at Holy Carpenter Church, Villa Labrador (church No. 8, consecrated in November 2009), and attended not only by Charles and his wife, Maryjo, but also the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily. Actually it turned out that one more church was to be built after that, St. Gregory’s, Cogeo, Metro Manila, consecrated in November 2012; one third of the money was donated by a member of St. James, Ms. Hsu Hui-Lan, in memory of her husband, whose Chinese name translates as Gregory, the rest of the money was raised by St. James’ Church. We visited St. Gregory’s Church on this trip, and were warmly welcomed by the church members…

Since 2012, with the official completion of the church-building project, our partnership has developed in different ways. St. James Church, Taichung welcomed Lynn Baguiwet, trusted and faithful EDCP Finance Officer for a 2-week visit in September 2013, followed by Rev. Joel del Rosario who came to St. James for 2 months in the summer of 2015. Both have become great friends of us all, and we hope for more visits from EDCP clergy and friends in the future! This is Lynn on the left, and Fr. Joel on the right with Rev. Lily L. L. Chang, current rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung…

It was Rev. Lily Chang who organized this visit to EDCP; it was actually her first visit, she became rector of St. James in 2015. Rev. Charles Chen and Maryjo came too of course, they are both so amazingly full of energy at 84 years old, and intrepid travelers still. They couldn’t wait to get to the Philippines and meet all our old friends once again! And we were accompanied by Rev. Sam C. S. Cheng and his wife, Julie, such great supporters of this whole partnership. Sam is former junior warden of St. James from way back in the late 1990’s, and so it was Charles, Maryjo, Sam and Julie who had made that first visit from St. James to EDCP to see the first church, Christ the King, Sandeline; we think that visit was in the summer of 1999. That was just after I arrived at St. James. Since that initial visit, there have been 7 visits altogether of St. James’ people to EDCP with a grand total of about 20 church members from St. James having visited one or more times. Charles has been on 6 of the visits, with a gap of one in the middle, I too have been on 6 of the visits, excluding the very first one. Thought you might like to see one of the early photos, from my first trip in 2003, when we visited one of ‘our’ churches, St. Mark’s Church, San José, Nueva Ecija – when were all a bit younger!

In 2017, when we heard that Bishop Dixie was going to retire, we had originally planned to come to the consecration of the new bishop, really as a way to say goodbye to our beloved Bishop Dixie and to thank him again for all his support in our partnership. But it wasn’t possible to come to the consecration due to timing, so we resolved to come instead to the installation. Thus it was that we arrived on Wednesday evening, March 13, after a 1¾ hour flight from Taipei. Two very helpful seminarians, Fray and Go, met us at the airport on behalf of the diocese. When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that, staying at the same hotel as us and also attending the installation service, were our old friends, Archbishop Ng Moon Hing (Bishop of West Malaysia, Archbishop of the Province of S. E. Asia and Chair of CCEA – Council of Churches of East Asia), and his wife, Siew Lan. They are just so lovely and friendly! And then Archbishop Ng went off for a conference call, and Bishop Dixie, his wife Juliet and assistant Moises all came by to say hello. By then it was quite late, after their full day of meetings, but it was so great to renew our friendships and reconnect once again!

On Thursday morning, Lily and I were up and out ready for pick-up at 6:00 am (yes, EDCP conventions start really early!) We attended the 6:30 am Memorial Service at the National Cathedral, held on the third day of the convention each year, in memory of those of EDCP who have died in the previous year.

Then breakfast with the delegates and reunions with our old friends, especially Fr. Joel!

While the delegates had their meetings, we waited for the rest of our group, and then went on a tour of the compound. First to the National Cathedral. In 2012, we had the chance to meet Bishop Manuel Lumpias, whose letter had sparked the whole partnership (he used to say that it was the best letter he ever wrote, even though he couldn’t remember anything particular about it!) Bishop Lumpias sadly died last summer and his ashes are interred in the columbarium at the National Cathedral. Lynn took us to see his memorial and Charles was delighted to discover that he and Bishop Lumpias in fact share the same birthday, 5 years apart! We had a prayer in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of Bishop Lumpias, it was very moving to remember him on this visit.

We also visited St. Andrew’s Seminary (SATS) with a warm welcome and tour of the buildings too!

And we were delighted to meet up with Bishop Benjamin Botengan, Bishop Dixie’s predecessor, and his wife, Mrs. Kate Botengan. Such a happy reunion, and a group photo – of course!

We met up with Fr. Gerry, such a delight…

And then we visited Prime Bishop Joel Pachao in his office, just above the meeting room of the EDCP convention; ‘prime bishop’ means he’s in overall charge of all 7 dioceses of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines…

After lunch, while the delegates finished up their convention meetings, we were taken to visit St. Stephen’s High School, where we enjoyed meeting the principal, Dr. Judy Tan, and her staff once again. The school is bilingual, Mandarin Chinese and English, and they persuaded me to visit 2 of the classrooms to talk to the students to try to enthuse them to keep up their Chinese – yep, wish I’d had the chance to learn it when I was their age!

And then next door to the ‘pro-cathedral’ for the installation service at 5:00 pm. Also at the service were Bishop Luke Muto and a group from the Diocese of Kyushu, Japan, companion diocese of EDCP, and other bishops of the Philippines, plus ecumenical partners, friends and family of the new bishop. It turns out that Bishop Rex has many friends in the Taiwan Presbyterian Church through his former work as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), and ongoing responsibilities at the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Taiwan Ecumenical Forum. Wonderful!

After the service, we went to another part of the school for the installation dinner – yummy yummy! We had beauitful music and dancing displays from students of St. Stephen’s High School…

On behalf of Bishop David J. H. Lai, Rev. Lily Chang presented both Bishop Dixie and Bishop Rex with artillery shell crosses

And Bishop Rex presented our group with distinctive Igorot bags from Sagada Weaving… THANK YOU! 😊😊😊

Bishop Rex also presented Bishop Dixie with a special plaque of thanksgiving ….

We met Bishop Rex’s family…

And so many friends!

On Friday, March 15, while Bishop Rex was meeting with his clergy, Bishop Dixie and Juliet kindly gave up their first official day of retirement to take us to visit 2 of ‘our’ churches. At the first one, St. Gregory’s, we were warmly welcomed with coffee and snacks. We sang in English, Tagalog and Chinese, then shared in fellowship with the church members. The plot of land is tiny, so the church has an upstairs, and it was great to see the way it is being so well used for Sunday School, and as a place where seminarians can stay when they come for the weekends.

The senior warden and one of the church members came on with us to visit the second of our churches, St. James, in rural San Isiro, about an hour away from St. Gregory’s. The road has now been paved to within a few km of the church so everyone was delighted. We passed a jeepney with people sitting on the roof, and resolved if we ever come again, then we hope Bishop Dixie’s energetic and adventurous wife, Juliet can take us for a trip on the top of a jeepney! The 15 church members had all gathered at St. James to welcome us and cook lunch, made from their own vegetables, fruits and chickens. It was really delicious! Fr. Ben, in charge of both St. Gregory’s and St. James, is currently in Jerusalem, but his wife, Liz had come especially to St. James to join us, and she had brought a Ugandan friend, Catherine who came to Manila originally to do a PhD and is now doing research. It was great to find myself speaking Swahili with her – in the unlikely setting of the middle of the Philippine countryside! We had brought a box of T-shirts from our St. James’ Language Institute, bearing the name of St. James, for the people of both churches, also boxes of pineapple cakes!

By then we were exhausted and ready to go back to Manila, but hey, there was some shopping to be done, and energy levels suddenly shot up – off to the shopping mall to buy some must-have dried mangoes!

That evening, Rev. Lily Chang (on behalf of St. James’s Church) hosted a dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and it was wonderful to be able to share our gratitude with our wonderful hosts. We welcomed Bishop Dixie and Juliet, Bishop Rex, Fr. Joel, Lynn, Fr. Lendehl (EDCP, but formerly supported by AsiaCMS, we’ve met twice at CMS conferences in Malaysia and Cambodia!), Moises (who organized all our program and answered every question we ever had!), Deacon Ritchie (our amazing driver), plus Emily and Soledad who are members of the diocesan partnership committee. We shared our vision for future partnership and had a lot of laughs and fun, then presented gifts from St. James to everyone present…

And finally a group photo, YES!

And on Saturday early morning, we found ourselves on the way to the airport, driven by Fray – and accompanied by Fr. Joel who had come to see us off. They are all so kind and wonderful! Saturday apparently is even busier on the roads than weekdays, especially it being just after pay day – but we got there so early, we missed most of it!

And so farewell to Manila – the sun was shining as we took off, and as we looked down on the land below…

In fact it was beautiful weather all the way to the southern tip of Taiwan – which you can just see in the distance below…

After that, well, the clouds rolled in, and by the time we reached Taoyuan Int’l Airport, guess what, it was back to the rain that so characterizes the north of Taiwan. The sun was definitely great while it lasted!

A very big thank you to all our good friends in the Philippines, to Bishop Dixie and Bishop Rex and all in EDCP for their warm welcome and gracious hospitality, for their vision and their willingness to participate with us in this great adventure in mission. Thank you too to Rev. Lily Chang for welcoming me to join their group, and to St. James’ Church for their support. And to Rev. Charles Chen (and as always supported by MaryJo) especially, in gratitude for his vision, courage, passion and energy which has inspired so many to give to this project and enabled our partnership to develop over the years. Most of all, we give thanks to our Almighty God for His many blessings and for his enabling. To God be the glory, Amen!

Holy Trinity, Huddersfield Celebrates 200 Years: 1819-2019 ~ and 200 years of supporting the Church Mission Society!

img_8535

Just spent the weekend at one of my favourite CMS Link Churches: Holy Trinity, Huddersfield, and this year, they celebrate their 200th anniversary, YES! Congratulations and thanks be to Almighty God!

I’ve been supported by Holy Trinity ever since I first joined CMS in 1989, and have been visiting every 3-4 years since then. My previous visit was in March 2015 (see that blog post here), and I’ve also kept in touch with several clergy and church leaders who have moved away, they’re all so wonderful! One such couple is Kevin and Sandra Partington, who were originally part of Holy Trinity Church, then he was ordained and I came across them again when Kevin became rector of Dewsbury Team Parish, one of my supporting link churches. Now they’re retired back to Huddersfield, and they came over on Saturday evening to visit, bringing 20 angels, all hand made by the team at Dewsbury Minster – I had ordered them on my visit there in October, and now they’re ready for me to take to Taiwan to give as gifts – aren’t they so lovely? (The angels that is – but so of course are Kevin and Sandra – and Tina too!)

Holy Trinity is a lively group of people, and I was delighted to go there this weekend, my last CMS Link Church visit of this home leave. The current vicar is Rev. Mike Wilkins, and he has a great leadership team, Steve – the curate, Wayne – the youth leader, Natasha – in charge of ministry among children and families, and many others including churchwardens, lay readers, pastoral workers – there’s names and photos of them all on the notice board…

img_8541

img_8543

I preached at the combined morning service at 10:00 am, followed by coffee in the church – and lots of photos!

After a delicious lunch at the vicarage, at 4:00 pm we had a confirmation service at Holy Trinity, where 7 new members of the church were confirmed…

img_8526

The confirmation service was led by Rt. Rev. Dr. Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Huddersfield, one of 5 area bishops in the new Diocese of Leeds. I presented Mike and Jonathan with artillery shell crosses from Taiwan…

Holy Trinity Church is really growing, it’s great to see lots of people sitting in the upstairs balcony – and full downstairs! Many students from the nearby University of Huddersfield have made this their spiritual home, got involved in the music and other ministries, and it’s so encouraging to see a good many young people and families.

img_8474

There’s at least 9 ‘Life Groups’ meeting during the week with a total of about 100 people. During yesterday’s service there was a report of their community review which has taken a year of knocking on the doors of the parish to find out what people need, want and would like to see their parish church doing. It’s quite a multicultural area with mixed housing, with many retired people, and also houses converted into student accommodation. Providing more activities for older people – and especially to combat loneliness – is one of the challenges for the church in the future.

img_8477

One of the newest outreach activities is the Walking for Health group, meeting every Thursday morning in the nearby Greenhead Park, followed by coffee in the church. This is also being supported by the local authority, and is part of a nationwide attempt to improve people’s physical and mental health.  Wish I could join!

img_8499

Holy Trinity has long been an outward-looking, mission-minded church, and has been associated with, and supporting the Church Mission Society ever since the very beginning. This is from the churchwarden’s blog on the church website, under ‘No. 3: Holy Trinity – a giving church’…

img_8449

“Holy Trinity is a ‘tithing’ church. This means that the church gives away 10% of its income to God’s work elsewhere. The Mission Support Team co-ordinates this giving which is shared between 6 agencies in the UK and abroad. This giving is in addition to the Parish Share, (which is our contribution to the diocese for funding the wider work of the church and paying the clergy costs) which is around £50,000 per year.

img_8456

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) has been supported by Holy Trinity since the church’s beginning. Benjamin Haigh Allen the founder of Holy Trinity, was also a founder member of the Huddersfield CMS branch in 1813, aged just 20. CMS sent Rev Henry Maddock on a preaching tour that visited Huddersfield in 1814. CMS was collecting subscriptions to educate and provide for African children recently released from slavery. The donors were entitled to name the slave child. Allen gave a £5 subscription and named a child ‘Sarah Whitacre’ after his fiancé whom he was soon to marry. Allen also appointed Maddock to be Holy Trinity’s first minister.

The campaign to abolish slavery was led by the Yorkshire MP, William Wilberforce, who visited Allen and stayed at Greenhead several times. Slavery was finally abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834. In 1899, through CMS, Holy Trinity joined the ‘Our-Own-Missionary’ scheme and £184 was given to support the work of Annie Graham in Hangchow, China where she worked until 1918.

A well-loved Holy Trinity couple, Clem and Mary Davies, upon their retirement served at the Ngora Hospital, in Uganda through CMS in 1972, returning to Huddersfield in the mid-1980s. Jillian Cossar, was Holy Trinity’s next C.M.S. link missionary she served in Kenya until September 1988. Our current CMS link is Catherine Lee who taught in schools in Mwanza and Dodoma in Tanzania. Since 1999 Catherine has been in Taiwan, at first teaching in Taichung and now supporting the church, chaplaincy and kindergarten ministry of the Diocese of Taiwan in Taipei.

img_8506

Our mission partners remind us all that we are all called to serve God in our lives – indeed our church strapline is ‘Loving God, Loving Huddersfield’ which reflects this. Our God is a generous God and as a church we have learnt time and time again that we cannot out-give Him and that we should be generous with His gifts to us for the benefit of others.”

img_8508

I’m posting this blog in Birmingham, where I’m now staying with Mike’s predecessor at Holy Trinity – the former vicar, Calvert Prentis and his wife, Sharon ~ such gracious people, and Sharon really makes me laugh.  She once came to visit me in Taiwan and it was such fun ~ just don’t mention those Taiwan cockroaches!  Ah, Holy Trinity is full of such smiling people!

img_8548

I finished my visit to Holy Trinity by attending the Little Lights Toddler Group this morning in the church – they are all so gorgeous and I had great fun playing with them all! Thanks to Mike, Steve and all the mission support team, pictured here, for their hard work over the years, and especially to Tina for her welcome to stay at her home this weekend.

img_8520

Really loved it, really appreciate it all, thank you. And wishing Holy Trinity well as they prepare for their next 200 years of ministry in the exciting Yorkshire town of Huddersfield!

Cathedrals and Cars: Beating the ‘Blue Monday’ Blues @ Coventry: UK City of Culture 2021!

img_7889

The third Monday in January is known as Blue Monday – and is supposed to be the northern hemisphere’s most depressing day of the year due to ‘weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action’.  And certainly this past Monday, January 21, was very cloudy and dull.  And yes, it does feel like a long time since Christmas.  And so what better place to spend the day than in Coventry, the most central city in England, and famous for 2 things – its cathedral and its car factories.  Oh yes, and it’s also to be the next UK City of Culture in 2021!  And it also happened to be very near my old friend, Liz in Leamington Spa who had kindly invited me to stay the night on Monday night.  So – to Coventry I went, though not in one of these old Coventry-made cars. Though I wish!

img_7979

THE place in the city to start is at the old cathedral, which was destroyed in the Coventry Blitz on November 14, 1940.  The walls and the tower remain, and its definitely worth going up the tower, especially to look down on the remains of the old cathedral below…

From the Coventry Cathedral website:  “The majority of the great ruined churches and cathedrals of England are the outcome of the violence of the dissolution in 1539. The ruins of St Michael’s are the consequence of violence in our own time. On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.

img_7910

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.

img_7800

Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the Sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, the Revd Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.

img_7750

Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.

img_7735

The place we call ‘Coventry Cathedral’ is in fact two buildings that lie at the very heart of the city of Coventry. The Ruins of the ‘old Cathedral’ are the remains of a medieval parish church, consecrated to be the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Coventry in 1918. In a little over 20 years, this building would be destroyed by enemy air attack in the Second World War. Rather than sweeping away the ruins or rebuilding a replica of the former church, inspired by the message of Christ for reconciliation, the then leaders of the Cathedral Community took the courageous step to build a new Cathedral and preserve the remains of the old Cathedral as a moving reminder of the folly and waste of war. From that point, Coventry Cathedral became the inspiration for a ministry of peace and reconciliation that has reached out across the entire world.

img_7762

The ‘new’ Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers. In the ‘old Cathedral’ it is still possible to see (uniquely) at eye-level, sections of outstanding, hand painted glass by John Thornton (circa 1450). Thornton, born in Coventry, was recognised as a master glass painter of his time and went on to paint the windows of York Minster.”

img_7902

The architect, Basil Spence eventually retired to Yaxley, Suffolk and is buried in the churchyard of Thornham Parva, one of my CMS link churches – it’s more famous as being the church with the thatched roof, but does contain a small and humble grave for the man who designed this huge and glorious cathedral.

img_7827

The windows are amazing, especially the Baptistry Window…

img_8015

But there’s also plenty more to see, sculptures and art works and side chapels and all sorts of other meaningful things.  Go!

And after that, the only other place in Coventry you must see is the nearby Coventry Transport Museum, which is free too, and huge and full of old cars and bicycles, all shiny and beautiful and oozing with history.   It’s a great place to visit and oooh and aaah over all the classic cars!

So the best place to beat the Blue Monday Blues – or any Monday Blues come to that – even whether it’s a Monday or not – is Coventry.  You must go, and as it’s England’s most central city, it isn’t too far from anywhere.  Just requires a bit of time and energy.  A great place, really meaningful and with plenty to reflect upon and marvel at.  Just check it out!

img_7922

AND, take note, Coventry is to be the next UK City of Culture in 2021 ~ Congratulations Coventry ~ YES YES YES!

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

img_7197

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.

img_7266

Yes, the great and mighty HURWORTH!

img_7273

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.

img_7268

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.

img_7194

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!

Following the Star on Epiphany: CMS Link Visit @ Sedbergh, Cumbria!

And what a great weekend it’s been!

img_6620

The lovely little town of Sedbergh, book-town and home of the famous Sedbergh School, nestles at the foot of the Howgill Fells in Cumbria ~ but is also part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  A double blessing – even on a dull, cloudy day!

img_6629

The church of St. Andrew’s in Sedbergh has been supporting me ever since my parents retired to the town in 1996, and even though there’s no more resident Lee family in Sedbergh, still the church continues to support me – and they always give me a warm welcome each time. In fact, just walking around the town, and friends drive by saying hello – this is our very friendly former neighbour Jean!

img_6687

In the last few years, there’s been changes aplenty in the church scene in the town and in the local area. First, in 2014 came the amalgamation of the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon into what is now known as the Anglican Diocese of Leeds ~ and Sedbergh moved out from the Diocese of Bradford into the Diocese of Carlisle. More recently, the Sedbergh URC and Methodist Churches have kind of come together to form the ‘Cornerstone Community Church’, and together with the Anglican Churches in the area, they are now all part of the ‘Western Dales Mission Community’.

On the first Sunday of each month, including this past weekend, there is a combined service at 10:30 am, alternatively meeting in the Cornerstone Church (which is actually the old Methodist Church) and St. Andrew’s. Today, January 6, celebrating Epiphany, the service was held at Cornerstone, led by the lovely vicar, Rev. Andy McMullon – I preached the sermon and also presented Andy with an artillery shell cross from Taiwan.  The Church of England theme of ‘Following the Star’ this Christmas / Epiphany fitted in really well with my sermon on transformation!

img_6777

img_6780

Running at the same time, and also once a month, is a café-church service at the Sedbergh People’s Hall, attracting those who prefer a more informal style of worship, including young families and teenagers.  This has been going for over 15 years, and originally grew out of a children’s holiday club, an outreach of what was the Sedbergh Methodist Church, now Cornerstone.  So immediately after I’d finished the sermon at Cornerstone, off I went to the People’s Hall for their service, arriving just in time to give the sermon.  What a great welcome they gave me!

img_6786

And then in the afternoon, at 2:30 pm we had an informal power point talk in St. Andrew’s Church…

img_6812

Since my previous CMS Link Church visit to Sedbergh in November 2014 (see that blog post here), the URC Church has sadly closed its church building in Sedbergh, but in the past, under their previous minister, Rev. Carole Marsden, there were close links with the Taiwan Presbyterian Church – part of a link with Cumbria URC.  At least one young person from Sedbergh has been on the youth exchange trip to Taiwan. Then in 2008 just before the last Lambeth Conference, our Anglican bishop of Taiwan, Bishop David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily, accompanied by Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his wife, Maryjo spent several days visiting Sedbergh, and loved it ~ in fact, Charles described Sedbergh as ‘Paradise’ after his visit – though presumably the weather was kind to them, cos Sedbergh can be the windiest, coldest and bleakest place on earth at times!

Sedbergh’s Howgill Fells tower over the town; Wainwright described them as a ‘herd of sleeping elephants’ – this is them from the top looking down…

img_6638

Yesterday, Saturday, I arrived in Sedbergh in the morning with the intention of going up the Howgills ~ and fortunately the weather was kind, although on the ridge at the Calf, the biting wind forced me down a bit, and so I descended by Cautley Spout, quite a beautiful waterfall. Met plenty of sheep too….

img_6657

img_6618

I stayed in Sedbergh with Margaret and Andy, and it was wonderful. Thank you! And I saw many of my old friends, none of whom seemed any older (I’ve just checked the photos on my blog post from November 2014, and it’s true!)  Especially pleased to meet long-time CMS mission supporter, Mary Gladstone, who celebrates her 93rd birthday on January 7 – she’s on the left in the photo below, taken with Christine.  Congratulations Mary!

img_6809

So Happy Epiphany to you all, and special thanks to all in Sedbergh for your warm welcome and ongoing support ~ and to all the sleeping elephants for their charm and splendid views. Ah yes, I love Sedbergh and the Howgill Fells ❤️❤️❤️!

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

IMG_6011

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

IMG_5999

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!

IMG_6019

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!

IMG_6029

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!

IMG_6027

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.

IMG_6040

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!

IMG_5394

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!

IMG_5411

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!

IMG_5317

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….

IMG_5318

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?!

IMG_5313

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!

IMG_5446

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!

IMG_5420

IMG_5421

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!

IMG_5366

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!

IMG_5448