Cold, miserable February has never been my favourite month. But when I was a student and still discovering church, I encountered something that happens every 2nd February that changed all that.
From the Vicarage
While visiting Durham recently even I was surprised to encounter a funeral procession, apparently making its way through a shopping centre.
In fact, it was a full-size bronze sculpture of some monks carrying the body of St Cuthbert. Cuthbert led a life of prayer and simplicity on Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast. When he died in 687 his brother monks buried his body at the monastery there.
Just one thing to write about this month. We are so grateful to those who have responded to the appeal for funds towards the restoration of the lychgate at St Mary’s, Capel’s old parish church, and also to those who have made offers of practical help.
I write this not long after attending this year’s Memorial Day at Capel’s National Memorial to the Few. I remember the first one that I attended: several veterans of the Battle of Britain were present. On spotting my collar one, Tony Pickering, told me proudly that he had been churchwarden at his local parish church. He and several of his comrades have since departed this life; just one, Paul Farnes, was there this year, one of the few remaining witnesses to events that are slipping from living memory into history.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah looked forward to a time when the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. In later life my father suffered from hearing loss; and a couple of years ago I realised that it was happening to me, too.
Here’s a question: is life something just to be got through, or something to be explored?
In Richard Bach’s story Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Jonathan is always being told that seagulls only fly so that they can eat. That doesn’t suit the young gull – he loves flying for its own sake, wants to know what a seagull can really do, and so sets out on a voyage of discovery. I sometimes refer to that story at christenings, the point being that baptism is also intended to mark the beginning of a voyage of discovery that starts in this world and ends in the next.
On Sunday mornings at the church where I served as a curate a small group of familiar faces would gather in one corner, just as the service began. Mumbling their way through the hymns and hardly ever going forward for communion, or even a blessing, they knew that after the service everyone stayed on for coffee and biscuits. They always chose the nearest corner to the coffee urn, and as the last chords of the final hymn died away the biscuits would start to disappear.
From the vicarage
Easter is late this year, and as I write most of Lent stretches ahead of us. So perhaps it was contemplating the thought of no cake for the next few weeks that drew my eye to a newspaper article by the singer Charlotte Church.
In her case, it was not cake but alcohol that she had been abstaining from. Feeling the benefits of ‘Dry January’ had led her to embrace a dry February as well, resisting pressure from others to drink and feeling so much better for it.