Fernhurst, Lynchmere and Camelsdale Churches
A note from the Vicarage...
The signs were all there.
Everything had slowed down. Some apps wouldn’t work at all. I kept getting
messages that certain functions were ‘no longer supported.’ And there were
Yes; I had to face the inevitable. The time had come for my old computer to
be ‘upgraded’, in the language of the technology corporations of this world.
Which really means replacing it with a new one.
It’s been said that changing your computer is like moving house. And it’s true.
You accumulate hundreds – thousands – of documents, pictures, emails, links
to websites, saved passwords, music and video files, and all the rest. Your
computer gets extremely full of stuff. And you have to decide what you want
to move to your new computer ‘house’ (which is quite a major operation) and
what you should really get rid of.
Mmm. That’s the difficult bit.
None of this stuff is real in a physical sense, of course. It all exists only as
tiny electrical charges in a memory chip or on a hard drive. But, at the same
time, it is very real. Accumulated memories. Significant documents.
Priceless photographs. Things that are very much part of your identity. Just
what might you lose if you let some of it go? Will something Awful and
The computer itself doesn’t help in this situation, of course. Computers are
very happy for you to put things in the Recycle Bin or Trash. But when it
comes to emptying these ‘bins’ they get quite concerned. Shocked, even.
“Are you sure?” they ask us, apprehensively. “This action cannot be
undone,” they tell us, ominously. “You don’t really know what you’re doing, do
you?” they imply, smugly.
But it’s decision time. You know that that old computer just has to go. So you
have to decide what is important, current, relevant and must be kept; and
what is outdated, trivial and no longer needed or necessary.
And press ‘delete.’
It’s a good analogy for life, especially as we move from the old year to the
new. We can store lots of stuff in our heads and hearts, some of which just
weighs us down, and which we need to let go of in order to move on. We
need to create ‘space’ for both the enriching memories of the past and the
new experiences of the present and future.
And at times we also need an upgrade for our souls and spirits – which are in
fact infinitely upgradeable, and for which support is always available, as the
story of Christmas reminds us. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year,
With every blessing,
I had to visit my dentist some time ago. You’ll notice ‘had to.’ It’s not
something that we tend to do if we don’t have to, is it? Anyway, I had a
broken tooth. So off I had to go.
And something amusing happened when I got there. As soon as I entered the
waiting room, steeling myself for the ordeal ahead, a man sitting there raised
his voice and spoke to everyone present.
“I hope he hasn’t come to give me the last rites!”
Everyone laughed. And I quickly replied, “Well, I will if you want. I’m always
happy to help!” Everyone laughed again. The receptionist said, “I bet that’s
the first time that that’s happened to you in a dentist’s.” She was right. It was.
It happened, of course, because I was still in clerical garb. I was ‘in uniform,’
so to speak. I was recognisable as a priest. And what do priests do? Well,
give the last rites, apparently. I found myself wondering what that chap might
have said if someone in another kind of uniform were to turn up. A firefighter?
A paramedic? A police officer? Probably some witty remarks about his
mouth being on fire, or his needing the kiss of life, or that the police had come
to arrest the dentist for incisor trading (sorry). But, faced by a real live priest,
he joked about… dying.
Reflecting on it, as I sat waiting for my own appointment with dentistry, I found
myself feeling a bit miffed. The vast majority of any priest’s work is to do with
the living. Why should someone’s first thought when I enter the room be to
connect me with dying?
But then, one of the privileges of my vocation is that I get to spend time with
people at significant moments in their lives. I get to accompany people
through rites of passage – births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages,
anniversaries; all kinds of celebrations and good times. And through very
difficult times – illness, suffering, breakdown; crises of all kinds. And yes,
through dying, death and bereavement. All because, fundamentally, a priest
deals with life – life that is in every case priceless, and life that continues, I
believe, beyond the door that we call death.
What are commonly known as the last rites (properly called the
‘commendation at the time of death’) include the words ‘Go forth on your
journey from this world, O Christian soul…’ It’s been my privilege to have said
those words with people facing their own final door on quite a number of
occasions. On further reflection, I decided that I didn’t mind at all being seen
as someone who could be a companion on that particular journey. The One
behind the door is the embodiment of love, and offers a place where there is
no more pain, distress, or loss.
The last I saw of the witty bloke was when he went through the surgery door
to meet his, er, fate, with his dentist. I do hope that he found it a fulfilling
experience. I didn’t get asked for my professional help, anyway…
With every blessing,
I’ve met many, many interesting characters in my time. I’ve been thinking about one
of them recently. I’ll call him Dave. It’s not his real name.
I got to know Dave in my late teens. He used to go, as I did back then, to a weekly
folk club in a northern town near where I used to live. He was a nice guy; just a bit
‘different.’ Every week he used to perform a traditional song. And every week –
without fail – he used to forget the words about halfway through. He also played the
guitar. In his own, er, unique way.
Now, before the club got started every week, those of us who were instrumentalists
would arrive early and have a bit of a ‘session.’ You know, that impromptu thing
where Irish and Scottish jigs and reels are played and people generally have a good
time. Dave, as you might suspect, generally played along. This caused the rest of us
a few problems. His sense of rhythm left something to be desired. And his choice of
chords was interesting, to say the least. One particular occasion sticks in my
memory. We were playing a rollicking tune, and we all became aware that the
chords emanating from Dave’s guitar were cutting right across the feel of it. In
exasperation, a friend of mine, also a fiddle player, turned round and yelled at him,
“It’s in A minor!” Dave’s reply will forever be imprinted in my mind. He shouted back
over the music,
‘Not necessarily’?! Well, that’s certainly an alternative view of music and what it
means for musicians to play together. You see, a tune’s either in A minor or it isn’t.
There's no debate about it. True, different chords can be used to create interesting
effects and arrangements. But the whole point of a session is that everyone works
together to make a great sound with whatever tunes happen to come out
spontaneously. You have to listen constantly to the others and to whoever happens
to be taking the lead at the time so that your own playing can add to the sound and
the feel of the music. Not take away from it. But Dave’s approach wasn’t quite like
It was important for Dave that he was there, and could join in. He felt a sense of
belonging. However, we – the rest of us there – couldn’t help feeling a sense of
frustration. But the story begs the much wider question: just how do you deal with
someone who has an alternative way of looking at things? As many do, you could
take the easy way out, and write them off as a crackpot. Perhaps you might try to
avoid them. Or you could engage in dialogue, and try to find some common ground
together. I think you know which of the options I prefer.
With every blessing,
I like the story of a family who took a holiday near the sea. One day they went
on a boat trip around the coast and nearby islands. They were having a really
good time. Their 8 year old son was standing on the seat at the side of the
boat, enthralled and excited by the sensation of surging along so close to the
waves. The sea became rather rough, however, and, realizing the danger of
him being thrown out, the parents told their son to sit down. ‘No,’ he replied,
‘I’m fine.’ His parents insisted. ‘Sit down now, please. It’s too rough.’ ‘No!’
he said, stubbornly. ‘I’ll be OK!’ A large wave splashed against the side of the
boat, and the vessel heeled over suddenly before righting itself. ‘Sit down at
once!’ his father said, pulling him down onto his seat. The boy stuck his
bottom lip out, folded his arms dramatically, and announced petulantly, ‘I may
be sitting down on the outside, but on the inside I’m still standing up!’
It reminds me of one the stories told about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German
pastor and theologian (and friend of Bishop George Bell of Chichester) who
opposed the Nazi regime and was executed by them in 1945. One day he
and a friend were sitting in a café when the German national anthem was
played over the Tannoy. It was expected that everyone should stand as a
sign of respect for the Führer. Bonhoeffer stood up, much to the dismay of
his friend. But Bonhoeffer insisted that his friend stand also. When the music
finished, and they took their seats again, his friend asked why. Bonhoeffer
simply said, ‘There’s a time to stand, and a time to sit. This time it wasn’t
worth dying for.’ He was standing up on the outside, but on the inside he was
still sitting down.
But only on this occasion – because he had a greater fight in mind. He went
on to ‘stand on the edge’ in all sorts of ways, swimming against a massive
tide, speaking out for the truth; not for the thrill of it, but because it was the
right thing to do.
Sometimes we, too, need to stand on the edge, even though the ride may be
choppy, even though voices may be raised against us – because it’s the right
thing to do. Truth and justice, and the rights of others, demand no less.
And now for something completely different. I’m delighted to announce that
from this month of September I’ll be holding a monthly ‘Vicar’s Surgery’ at
the Fernhurst Hub. Do drop in if you’d like to discuss something, for advice,
or just for a chat. I’ll be there on the first Thursday of each month, from
10:30am until around 12:00, starting on 7th September. I’m very grateful to the
Hub for giving me space for this initiative.
Another ‘heads up’ – on Sunday 1st October at 10:00am we’ll be having a
special Pet Service at St Peter’s Lynchmere, for pets and companion
animals. All animals (we’ve had ponies before now!) are welcome at this
friendly service of blessing and prayer.
With every blessing,
When I was a young musician, it was often challenging to make ends meet.
Joke – what’s the difference between a musician and a large pizza? You can
feed a family of four with a large pizza….
So, I worked for a time in a garage, helping to fix cars . And there were often
interesting encounters with the cars and their owners.
One day a car pulled in with a noisy engine problem. As I opened the bonnet,
I became aware that the car was warm. Very warm indeed. It had obviously
been driven a considerable distance before arriving at the garage. So, in the
interests of making conversation, I joked to the owner. “So, where have you
just come from? Scarborough?”
The look on the owner’s face was priceless. “How on earth did you know?”
he said. “Is, er, is there some sand under the bonnet?”
Yes, that’s right. Unbelievably, he had actually driven from Scarborough.
Clearly, I didn’t have a clue about where he’d come from. Scarborough was
simply the first place that came into my head. And no, there wasn’t any sand
under the bonnet. But, at this precise point in the conversation, I had a
choice. I could have adopted the old ‘lofty mystical mechanic whose vast skill
and experience enables him to unfold mechanical mysteries that mere mortals
can only gasp at’ stance. Or I could be honest and admit that it was simply a
shot in the dark.
No choice at all, of course. I told him the truth, and we had a good laugh
But, actually, we all face with this kind of choice from time to time. During a
conversation, we might take a shot in the dark which turns out to be on target,
and then have to decide whether or not we’re going to act as though we really
do know what we’re talking about. And, perhaps, act as though we’re slightly
superior. Which, er, we’re not.
A Shot in the Dark. That’s the title of a great film in the ‘Pink Panther’ series
starring the hugely gifted Peter Sellars as Inspector Clouseau, the bumbling
French detective who occasionally quite by chance stumbled on the truth, but
believed himself to be a genius because of it.
Clouseau was, of course, an idiot. And, thankfully, purely fictitious.
With every blessing,