I find it difficult to believe that Sunday will be my last leading worship here at St Nicholas for three months. It is amazing how quickly this sabbatical leave has crept up on me. People have asked me what I will be doing; I generally begin by telling them the story of my last sabbatical in 2000 which was spent in Namibia, preaching and looking after the cathedral church of St George in Windhoek, I came home shattered. This time I have included far more time for retreat and prayer. Firstly on the West coast of Ireland, then in my beloved county of Northumberland, at Budle Bay and finally at the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire. I will also be spending time with ordinands preparing for ministry in the Church; it will be good to see what they are studying and what they think are the most important issues facing the Church today. So as you can see this sabbatical will be infinitely more reflective, believe me, for somebody who is used to doing, sitting and listening will be a challenge. Please pray for Nick and Suzette our Churchwardens, and for Fr Andrew who will be looking after the parish in my absence.
I do hope you will be able to attend our confirmation and First communion service on Sunday at 10.30am. It will be an opportunity to welcome and support members of our community who are taking this next step in their journey of faith and it will be an opportunity to pray for me as I leave you for three months.
Don’t forget our evening service on Sunday at 6pm. it will be an Advent Service of prayers, poetry and song. The choir will be singing the first part of Handel’s Messiah, there will be poetry from John Donne and Rowan Williams and scripture from the prophet Isaiah.
On a more secular note, fundraising for our Development aims continues with the launch of Fullers St Nicks ale on Friday 27th November at the George and Devonshire pub. The launch party begins at 7.30pm and continues until we have drunk the pub dry! Remember for every pint of St Nicks ale consumed Fullers brewery will make a donation ot our Development Fund.
Don’t forget our Christmas Auction on Friday 4 December in church at 7.30pm. There are some amazing lots including private guided tours of St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and much much more.
So if I don’t see you this next Sunday, I will see you on Sunday 6th March!
On Saturday I had my first outing of the year as Father Christmas. If I’m being honest I always enjoy doing it, although Archie and Eliza I think have started to work out the finer details. I called Archie “Albert” a couple of times to try to confuse him (as obviously his Dad would know his real name so this man in front of them must really have been Father Christmas) but I don’t think they were completely deceived! As much fun as it was, it always slightly sticks in my craw that Christmas activities always seems to start earlier and earlier. It is of course Advent Sunday this weekend, which is when our period of watching and waiting and preparing for the Good News really begins. Our joyful confirmation service and admission to Holy Communion this coming weekend with the Bishop of Islington will be a fitting way for us to move into Advent. As will hearing the Messiah in church in the evening.
If I may, I would like to suggest three ways that might make your Advent deeper, more meaningful and perhaps a little richer. Firstly Advent is a wonderful time for prayer. Why not try to find an extra five minutes at the start or end of the day to talk with God. Offer Him your hope and fears – give thanks for what is good in your life. Morning Prayer in Advent concludes with the following: “May the Lord, when he comes, find us watching and waiting” a reminder that Advent isn’t just about waiting for the birth of Christ in the stable but invites us to think about the time that Christ will finally return in Glory. There is some wonderful prose and liturgy in Advent “Drop down Ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness”. There are also the great Advent antiphons: O Sapienta (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations) and O Emmanuel (With us is God).
Secondly there are some wonderful Advent and Christmas anthems and carols. Try and listen to some on your own and see if or how the music and words move you or speak to you. Why not try and find new or different carols and see if they do anything for you? A favourite of mine is “Before the Marvel of this night” by Carl Schalk – you can listen to it by clicking here.
Thirdly try and do something, however small for someone else or a charity. Maybe give a coat to a charity shop or help out or just simply give a little more to our Foodbank box at the back of church. Advent is a good time to think of those less fortunate than ourselves- those who are struggling. And, to avoid making these acts of kindness just more of the Christmas rush, try to do them all prayerfully, calling to mind that in doing it for the least among us, you are doing it for Jesus, who was born into poverty and obscurity himself.
May you have a safe and a happy and blessed Advent.