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Vicar's Letter of the Month  - February

The Reverend Ruth Dawson writes…….

Dear all,

Spending a week in a hospital bed, and at the time of writing three weeks of being housebound and under orders to virtually ‘do nothing’ has given me much opportunity for meditation and reflection.  A recurring thought has been how do we, Christians who are called to be God’s Church, conduct ourselves in church and our daily lives.  What is our perception of God the three in one, our perception of Jesus Christ and his teaching?  

Jesus preached the message that God is love; Franciscan friar and spiritual author Richard Rhor writes “Jesus revealed God as one who eats with sinners, welcomes outsiders in, and who forgives even while being rejected, tortured and killed.  Jesus taught that God is to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination”. Jesus was a radical, and the most radical thing he did was to place unflinching and unfailing emphasis on love in his preaching, teaching and his way of life.  Love for God, for neighbour, for stranger, for outsider, for outcast and for enemy.  When we truly turn from egoism and materialism and open our lives to the boundless love of God, we participate in the life of God for ever and his love shines from us.  

We live in a chaotic world, which is constantly changing and many people challenge us as Christians, asking “where is your God in this?” especially in the face of the continuing warfare in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and of horrendous acts of terrorism and violence to name but a few situations.  Even Christians find their faith in the God of love being severely tested in this turbulent world in which we live.  But these situations are caused by the choices humankind makes; when God made us, he gave us the ability to make choices and decisions, he didn’t make us to control us like puppets.  I believe that God is there in the midst of all the bad stuff that happens;  he is there in the relief workers, the aid agencies, in those who volunteer their help in all kinds of situations, to name but a few examples.

All these things formed part of my meditation and reflection, and I kept returning to something Esther de Waal wrote: “The Lord in his love shows us the way of life”.   

We’re at the beginning of a new year, when many make resolutions. Let us as Christians, as God’s Church, renew our commitment to open our lives to God’s love and to show that love to others - even those we find it difficult to do so. Let it show in our willingness to accept change where it is necessary, let it show not only towards family and friends, but to neighbours, our church family, to acquaintances, strangers, the homeless person on the street, in every part of our lives. The impact this could have is well expressed in the saying “from small acorns, big oak trees grow”.  

I wish you all a healthy, peaceful and loving 2019 and hope to be back in harness very soon.

The Rev'd Ruth Dawson - Associate Priest, St Matthew's & St Luke's Darlington



Vicar's Letter of the Month  -  March

The Reverend Lissa Scott writes…….

Dear Friends

We are now coming into the season of Lent, following on after Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, when we traditionally ate up all the sweet, rich foods before a time of abstinence, of doing without all the self-indulgent luxurious food that we like best.

However, there is probably too much focus on the idea of “giving up” and not enough on preparing. The idea behind giving up treats in Lent is to remember how Jesus went out into the desert and fasted, not for the sake of fasting but in preparation for his ministry. By giving things up in Lent we are meant to be preparing ourselves, in the same way as Jesus did, and what we are preparing for is thinking about the events of Holy Week, about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

The reason Jesus fasted, and the reason devout Christians have fasted over the years, is to avoid any distraction that food – especially rich, luxurious food – might cause to prevent us focussing on God. What was intended was that it would be possible to give attention solely to God and be aware only of him.

We live in a world where it is rare for people to have a single focus of attention. People try to talk on their phones or text when they are walking or even driving. The television or radio are often on in the background while people are busty with other things. It is a common complaint that people are always watching television or on their mobile phones when they are eating meals with their families. In fact this is trying to do three things at once – give attention to the media, talk to the family and eat. The question is: are we then doing any of them properly?

I went on a retreat where meals and chores like cooking and gardening were always done in silence – even drinking a cup of tea or coffee was not something you could do at the same time as chat. It wasn’t about silence for the sake of it – any more than Lent is about fasting for the sake of it. The point was that each activity – talking, eating or drinking, cooking or gardening – deserved 100% attention and would be done best, and enjoyed most fully, if it was something that was given the whole of our attention and awareness.

This is a concept that increasingly spoken about in society, often referred to as mindfulness. It’s about giving our whole mind to whatever we are doing and to the moment in which we are existing. As well as trying to do several things at once, all too often we are not aware of the present moment at all, but acting on auto pilot while we go over in our minds what has happened in the past or what we think may happen in the future. What we aren’t doing is living in the now: we aren’t being mindful or, nor enjoying, nor even really experiencing the present.

So this Lent, try to think not just about giving things up, but focus instead on what you do have, what God has given to you, and what he might be asking from you.

With every good wish.

Lissa Scott