27th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

In writing his second encyclical Pope Francis began it with words echoing those of his namesake, the saint of Assisi, who wrote the “Canticle of the Sun” a prayer-filled poem in which God is praised for His work of creation. “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), published in 2015, calls on all people to take “swift and unified global action” to preserve and care for the natural environment entrusted to them by Almighty God. Within the letter is the following prayer: “All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.” When praying these words myself the mention of journeying towards God’s infinite light never fails to conjure a sun set image.    

The ability to watch the sun setting has always been a captivating and mesmerising experience for me, and through the gift of travel I have been fortunate to experience sunsets in many places, including those where the sun disappears in an instant, natural daylight vanishing with the speed of a switch, and still others, where with very long hours of daylight, the loss of one day’s light is actually in another day. Although currently unable to travel there a favourite place to observe this natural moment of wonder and awe is Lytham. On a summer’s evening I am never alone standing and staring at one of God’s gifts to us, numbers gather and for many a phone is held in hand hoping for a shot worthy of display on the TV screen during the regional weather forecast. In the moment of sunset there is an invitation to thank the Almighty for the gift of the day, and ask a blessing on the night. Whilst a day concludes for one group of people, as John Ellerton wrote: “The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky !” The setting sun produces a reflective moment to appreciate something of the extraordinary imagery created from the diversity of colour on God’s palette used to produce the backdrop to our lives. In the busyness of the day His creative festivals of sky colouring are often wasted on us. For me watching the sun set is often the near perfect end to time away, after which begins the journey back to God’s own county, with passport at the ready for the border crossing from the red rose to the white rose county ! Without the ability to travel far the gift of an hour to exercise outdoors was taken up by numerous singletons, couples and families in the early days of Lockdown, all coming to appreciate, as some had done for a long time, what a beautiful part of the world we live in, and which is so readily accessible from our own doorsteps. 

However proud I may be of my county of birth, with its incredible natural beauty, glorious in all seasons of the year, and breathtaking in all weathers, like many I have noted of late that there is a growing boldness in the careless manner in which our natural environment is being treated. Travelling between the Spen Valley and Otley throughout the period of time which I have personally dubbed the “Big Lockdown” on roads which were bereft of their usual volume of users there was almost a novelty feature about following another car driver for any distance. On one occasion mine was the second car in a convoy of two as far as the eye could see on the M606 between Bradford and the Chain Bar roundabout. At some point on the journey I began to hear a dull thud sound against the car similar to what, had it been raining, I would have thought were heavy raindrops or even hailstones. However, without a cloud in the sky, the noise was clearly not being made by droplets from heaven. Instead, as one hit the windscreen, I was immediately able to identify the cause of the thuds: French Fries ! The offending objects were being fired from the backseat of the car in front of me, and as we moved on to the slip road, they became more numerous as their container was also ejected from the rear window. Viewing the scene through a grease spattered windscreen, I was unimpressed, and flashed my lights as a statement that such behaviour was not acceptable. The driver managed to slip through the changing traffic lights, no doubt thinking that he’d seen the last of me. Fate however brought us together again at a set of temporary lights, and as we passed the Town Hall in Cleckheaton, a canister of ice-cream was also released from the window, spilling its contents liberally, on impact, across the neighbouring pavement. At this point my own engine had converted from its normal unleaded petrol status to the fuel of frustration, bordering on anger. At a red traffic signal in the centre of Cleckheaton our cars were next to each other; the offending car making a right turn and I was going straight on. To my horror as I biblically ‘stared hard’ at the occupants of the car I was faced with three generations of litter-louts, to whom I mouthed the words “I’ve got your number!” Which was most definitely both a very random thing to say and a white lie as I hadn’t got a clue what their vehicle registration was, however, in the moment, my unleashed words let them know that their wonton wasteful attitude was wholly unacceptable. 

Sadly as I walk along many of our streets, venture past public green spaces, peer over the wall of the Cleckheaton Presbytery into a carpark behind the property, and, perhaps worst of all, drive along major and minor roads, I learn the frightening and harsh lesson that the occupants of that car are far from being alone in their desecration of our beautiful environment. Walking past a set of temporary lights last Sunday there next to the sign asking drivers to halt was a plastic container holding the remnants of a supper of Peking Duck, attracting a variety of swooping birdlife, which would have excited Chris Packham, clearly unabashed that they were dining el fresco on one of their own. With the amount of food waste being disposed of in this way I could not help but think that in a short few weeks as the temperature rises we’ll be sharing our streets with vermin far more bold and aggressive than most birds, with the exception of coastal chip-loving seagulls. Most of us shiver when those in the know inform us that we are never more than a few meters away from a rodent. It is information that we can cope with when we cannot see them, but when they venture forth to do their own daylight supermarket sweep on our pavements and around open and shared spaces, brushing up against their two-legged neighbours, our sensitivities for dealing with this reality may need a booster dose ! 

With very obvious growing amounts of waste in our localities the pandemic gives us justifiable reason for not getting involved with the great British tidy up, due to the offending item’s lack of obvious pedigree. So the mountain of waste is left to do its own thing. The only problem is that it takes a long time for polystyrene to disintegrate, food waste to decay, even the eco-friendly face covering hasn’t yet mastered the skill of self destruction or evaporation on removal. In a world where twelve months ago most non-professionals had rarely heard the term P.P.E., it is now widely possible to safely remove offending items from our locality, as many of us don our own personal protection equipment almost by second nature. A small number of people, including our neighbours on Bath Road, are frequently seen with a grabber-tool and bin bag attempting to tackle the wasteful habits of others. To these I say “Thank you” for your often unseen and all too often unappreciated ministry within our shared environment. It is also something that I do, looking after the spaces that I am the custodian of, following the slogan of my youth: Keep Britain tidy.        

After a Friday wedding in Dewsbury some years ago I donned the persona of a male Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles’ character, for those who do not recognise the name) and swept confetti (not rice, as in the song) from the pavement outside of church. The volume of afternoon traffic on a one way road attempting to join the main dual carriage way meant that my task was not the easiest as the light weight confetti found a new energizing force in the breeze caused by the moving cars. With the task complete and personal satisfaction at a job well done, I walked up the hill with the tools of the trade – brush, dustpan and bin liner – to the church door. At this juncture an open-topped car joined the queue of traffic. Whilst a backseat passenger was snacking on a banana the rest of us had to endure a musical concert of deafening proportions. Just prior to closing the door, I took a final look at a well-swept, neat and once more litter free path only to see a discarded banana skin on the otherwise pristine tarmac ! The music was still blaring out of the slow moving car but the passenger in its rear clearly sat banana-less. Remaining on the steps, with the spirit of a leopard watching its prey from a distance, I hatched a plan. As the offending car moved towards the junction, a point of no return given the queue of cars behind him, I ventured down Cemetery Road with stealth, picked up the banana skin (germs or no germs, I was a man on a mission !), and on the point of the driver beginning to accelerate I politely said to the back seat passenger “I think you’ve dropped something !” at the same instant tossing the offending banana skin into his lap. Right or wrong, foolhardy or justified, I did feel an sense of inward satisfaction which was bolstered when several car drivers honked their horns … which I took to mean they agreed with my action !    

Whilst not encouraging anyone to follow my bold and brash action of that Friday afternoon, perhaps an appreciation for the beauty of the environment around us is a starting point for acknowledging the incredible natural playground that God has gifted us with for enjoyment, pleasure, leisure and health, be that mental or physical. At the end of His labouring to create for humankind an environment that would sustain and provide for them, our Thrice Holy One, “saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) The seemingly small acts of taking rubbish home, or placing it in a bin, being prepared to sweep a shared space, or, as a part of home-schooling, encourage a rising generation to befriend nature and grow in an understanding of the need to look after the environment, may go some way to practically responding to some of the sentiments expressed in Pope Francis’s prayer. The subtitle of “Laudato Si” is quite telling and revealing of the Holy Father’s intention by contributing to the discussion on their environment. It is simply “on care for our common home.” In other words he is offering guidance on the care, respect, dignity and appreciation that our beautiful, divinely crafted and awe inspiring world seeks and needs. Reminding us by so doing that it isn’t someone else’s world … it is ours ! Not as its owners but rather its stewards and custodians, preparing to hand it on to others.  

Holding you in prayerful remembrance and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas  

(In response to the number of enquiries that I continue to receive about Dad, just to say that he moved from the Leeds General Infirmary to Chapel Allerton Hospital (Leeds) at the end of January. In his new surroundings he is receiving a number of therapies – speech, occupational and physio – each day and is making progress. The care he receives continues to be excellent, and the staff on the ward are a joy to speak with on a daily basis. On his behalf, I thank all those who recall him in their prayers and thoughts. At this time a continued remembrance in prayer for all the sick, those known to us or even the stranger, together with those into whose care we entrust their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being is a source of comfort and support to so many.) 

20th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

There are some days when I awake firmly believing that I have been gifted with someone else’s fingers during the night as nothing I attempt to pick up wants to stay in my hands from the pesky five pence piece which readily slips from hand to desktop to floor, to the second or third attempt at picking up the post from behind the door, or even the inability to turn just one page of the local newspaper over at a time. Thankfully such momentary awkwardness does not usually cause much harm, merely just frustration with the ineptness of myself. On occasion though something more significant can take place, perhaps when something hits a hard surface with an amount of force that causes lasting damage, at best an almost unnoticed chip or blemish, at worst severe, lasting and very obvious scarring, rendering it incapable of fulfilling its previous use, forever bearing the mark of unintentional and accidental clumsiness. So often sadness pervades such moments as they take place during times when we have been in the process of enhancing the item through the art and craft of washing or dusting. At which point we can almost hanker after the environment in which Dicken’s character Miss Havisham lived, an image which may have prompted Quentin Crisp’s witticism: “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.” Alas, I personally couldn’t survive the prospect of the accumulation of a month’s dust let alone four years.  

Our response to such times of breakages and near or total destruction are mixed and varied. In some instances we attempt to pick up the pieces and begin our own “Repair Shop” system of restoration. Discovering in the process that we have set ourselves a difficult task, often frustrating, needing more skills than we have personally been gifted with not least an inexhaustible well of patience. And, yes, sometimes disposing of the item, in what may appear to be a thousand guilt-inspiring pieces in the dustbin is ultimately the only option, some even glad of the accident that had befallen the casualty as they were never that enamoured with it in the first place, having received a gift in someone else’s taste, or even purchased the object on a personal whim. 

Centuries ago the Japanese devised a method of repairing broken pottery known as either Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) or Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) which rapidly became an art form involving the use of powdered gold, silver or platinum being mixed with a lacquer to mend the areas of damage. From this a philosophy grew, acknowledging the fact that breakage, damage and repair are as much a part of the history of an object as its original intention, usage and times of appreciation and enjoyment. Far from being detrimental to the former near-perfect, undamaged item, flaws and imperfections became understood as tangible signs of its use and journeying. Displaying pottery – complete with their “golden repair” – offered a reminder that the items’ service had not reached an end when it could no longer be used for its original, intended purpose. In its own right, what might be seen by some merely as a repaired object, had its own story to tell those whose eyes fell on it and were prepared to enquire and listen.    

With this mindset, what began in the workshop of skilled craftspeople with imagination as a means of repairing physical damage to something that held great sentimental and emotional attachment soon took on a spiritual dimension, so much so that the owners of ceramic vessels even damaged them purposefully in order to have them repaired, the foisted marks being accentuated by the predominantly gold lacquer adhesive. Despite being a step away from the original intention, and with no pedigree or lineage, these object d’art soon became highly fashionable, not to mention expensive.  

Lent offers us the two-fold opportunity of identifying the flaws, damage and imperfections within ourselves and subsequently to begin working on a spiritual process of repair that will reduce their size and ultimate impact on our lives, the relationships that we enjoy with others and ultimately, Almighty God. We are often skilled practitioners in recognizing the chips and defects of those who populate our lives, but less good at seeing faults that lie closer to home. If unsure of what your limitations might be ask a friend … just ensure that it is someone that you are wanting to remove from your Christmas card list, as you will probably not like or welcome the honesty of their response especially if they produce a list ! The words of Jesus regarding the “speck” in the eye of another and the “plank” in our own come to mind. Perfection is something that we have been led to believe is within the grasp of all of us, and with others actually seeming to arrive and take ownership of their newly acquired status, thanks to skilled advertising a primeval hunger and thirst at the core of humanity is well and truly fed. Those who wilfully damaged their pots in order for them to have the hallmarks of an artificial journey and life of service reflect the desire that was an acknowledged facet of our first parents in Garden of Eden, whose craving and desire was to “be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). This led them to taste “of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3:3). Sadly, for them, it resulted in banishment, and the leaving gift of a set of clothes each and a lifetime of hard work.   

Listening to St. Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus this weekend we can be stunned by its brevity: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” (Mark 1:12 – 13) It recalls the experience of Jesus entering His own time of spiritual repair. He moves into the province of the wild beasts with His own human flaws, limitations, and defects, there within Him not due to any Divine clumsiness or oversight but by the intent and purpose of the yearning desire of our God to express Their love for us by sending “One like us in all things” (Hebrews 4:15) in the Word made flesh. It is the flesh of the human wrapping paper in which this ultimate gift arrives that Jesus takes into a place of temptation.  

he work of the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness and of the angels who ministered to Him is to strengthen Him for the road ahead. In that desolate workshop they used their skills, similar to those of the Japanese craftspeople when mending pottery or ceramic. Their Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) will highlight the humanity of Jesus – very much evidenced by St. Mark – allowing Him to be “moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41) for the plight of his fellow human beings so much so that He will reach out to them and perform His own art and craft of repair in their broken lives. As the stories of many of these are recorded by the evangelists so the entire story of the individual is reported. Their previously fractured, broken, seemingly disadvantaged state of being is as much a part of who they are as the restored, joined together, mended, renewed and repaired selves. 

The temptation manifested in a refusal, denial, fake modesty approach to the fact that we’ve hit a hard surface at some point on our life journey that has caused a microscopic chip or long-lasting, although all too often well hidden, impression upon us will render the Holy Spirit redundant and there will be a lot of usually busy and ministering angels twiddling their thumbs (or perhaps catching up on some long overdue harp playing !). With honesty and integrity may we each face Lent 2021 well and through it, as well as from it, grow closer to Almighty God and one another, as well as valuing the knocks and bumps of life’s journey that have, once worked upon by the Divine Craftspeople, enhanced through Their own form of “golden repair”, the person that each of us is and cherished for being.      

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

13th February 2021

Dear Parishioners, 

Without wishing to sound clichéd I begin my thoughts this week by asking the question: How long does it take a man to tidy a pantry?  The answer in my case has been four weeks. Well to be more precise four Mondays! Before minds begin to think that the pantry in question must be attached to Castle Howard or Buckingham Palace it certainly isn’t. It is under the stairs of our two-bedroomed home in Otley. The origin of tidying the smallest room in the house began as a relatively random thought oozing with good intention. Having, on the first Monday, begun to put the idea into action, by simply removing a row of condiment jars from an upper shelf, something behind the containers dislodged itself. It was the box containing the inner workings of the house alarm. The external and internal sirens rang out bringing an ever vigilant neighbour at the speed of an Olympic athlete to the door to see what had caused the commotion. Guilty as charged from the look I received, and attempting to have a socially distanced penitential conversation over and above a noise that appeared to be hailing an imminent nuclear attack, profusely apologising for bringing such uproar to suburbia, I did what I felt was appropriate, and reached for the nearest useful tool that I could lay my hands on in a vague attempt to take charge of the chaos of the moment. In this instance the tool was a pair of scissors. Armed and on a mission I cut the first wire. The racket continued. A second wire was likewise guillotined, and still the uproar went on. Never having used a code, our neighbour’s plea that I should try to remember four little digits before I continued the butchery of wires wasn’t really an option, so with a third slash, silence was eventually restored to the neighbourhood, although for several hours the piercing screech of the alarm rang in my ears. It was the eerie spectre of what felt like Original Sin. Unable to comprehend what I had done and feeling about four years of age as I tried to grasp the enormity of having to explain the scenario to Dad, I decided to postpone any further exploration of the pantry, at least for the time being. My attention for the remainder of the day was concentrated on the garden where, having new founded prowess with a sharp implement I tackled a couple of jobs Dad had mentioned to me that he’d intended doing after Christmas. My attempt at gaining some brownie points involved pruning Hydrangeas and Pampas Grass, the latter of which I discovered can bite back with its sharp stems. 

It goes without saying that I am not the most practical of people but as I have heard many times over, usually from Dad, I inevitably know a little man who can help me. So on the second Monday given over to tidying the pantry, the small space was occupied by the near sainted, Stuart, who had been dispatched from Harford’s in Dewsbury (other alarm companies are available!) to assist this cleric in distress. With doors and windows open, Stuart worked indoors whilst I found more gardening jobs to do. Having workmen in the home during Lockdown isn’t an easy feat to juggle. Needing to go to his van for some parts, afforded me the opportunity of being hospitable offering Stuart refreshment which he eagerly accepted. I then had to ask him to remain outside until, as I played the role of the masked coffee-maker, we could swop locations, allowing me to once more return to the great outdoors. Occupied for some hours, Stuart eventually said that his task was complete. In our parting conversation he consoled me with the fact that as the alarm box was indeed held in place by the containers that I had inadvertently moved vibrations from traffic on the nearby road could have dislodged the precarious scenario at any time, going on to say that what had happened the previous week was better than getting a phone call from not too pleased neighbours at two in the morning, who would then have to endure further nocturnal disturbance until I arrived bleary eyed from Cleckheaton. After about a quarter of a century in service, Stuart also said the alarm was somewhat out of date. A comment made thankfully out of earshot of some fixtures which are approaching the completion of their sixth decade in the service of the Hird family. The consoling words and ultimate feel-good factor that was a part of the service received were clearly included in the subsequent bill that fell through the letter box, devoid as it was of mates-rates! 

A fortnight later than intended work in earnest began on the pantry. The work of the previous Monday meant that as well as the new alarm system, I would also have to explain the disappearance of a shelf to provide wall-accommodation for the box containing its internal workings in a future conversation with Dad. The condiment shelf was now gone, space reduced and that which was familiar and frequently used had to be found a new home. The lot of a tidier with good intention is not always a happy one ! In trying to find an explanation for the length of man-hours it took me to tidy the pantry all I can offer, through discovery, are its Tardis-like proportions. Tins and packets were stored deep and high, every space, nook and available inch on shelf and floor were filled, so much so that I began to wonder if my parents in earlier times had used some kind of adapted fishing net to reach items stored at its rear. Then I recalled as a small child having to step – with care – over numerous things on the pantry floor in order to retrieve an item stored deep within it. Back in the present, not unsurprisingly, knowing Dad’s good household management, when removing jars, bottles, tins and packets, I discovered just one item that was out of date, and it was respectably so, stamped with the date November 2016. Other items were lined up for washing and replacing, with perhaps just a little sorting out going on in and amongst too.  

My Mother was a gatherer, at times over and above any scale of known measurement! Not everything that she acquired was used, but at the time of purchase or other means used to obtain things (all legal I hasten to add!), something within her convinced her that there was no living without the item. It was a trait that she shared with Queen Mary, the present queen’s grandmother, who when visiting friends would often comment on an item of china displayed in their home. More than one reference to the item meant that she had her eye on it, and if she made a move to inspect it at closer quarters, perhaps even removing gloves to handle it, then the implied expectation was that the hostess or host would insist that she took it home with her! The presence of so many baking bowls, measuring jugs, and other culinary related items being lined up for a bath in the kitchen sink would have done the likes of Rosemary Shager proud. For the life of me I could never recall when the glass jelly moulds I was liberally dipping into hot water enhanced by soapy suds had ever held their intended contents, nor when juice had been extracted from any form of fruit using the plastic or glass squeezers I was drying with vigour. Regrettably Queen Mary is no longer with us, otherwise I may have been tempted to invite her to Otley for tea, displaying our vast array of pantry-housed accessories, hoping that one or more may take her eye! Although I doubt that the host of mainly English pottery-makers’ marks on the base of many of them would have carried the same clout in her eyes as Dresden, Royal Copenhagen or even Wedgewood! 

Virtually every item brought out of the pantry held a memory; from the selection of plates and saucers retrieved from successive sets of tableware we had used over the years, to the basin in which the Yorkshire Pudding was prepared as Mum’s first job on a Sunday morning, the Pyrex-ware that held vegetables on high days and festive times, the mixing bowl used on a weekly basis for the making of cakes and buns and from which, prior to its washing, I would almost beg a taste of the unbaked mixture in my pre-school days, the iconic and trusted enamel gravy jug which made an appearance in the kitchen every Sunday lunchtime, to the floral and Bumble Bee bedecked food cover that Mum had somehow managed to obtain, Queen Mary style, from the cream tea stall at a Summer Fayre in Dewsbury. Not one item seemed random, all had a history, each had a part to play in our family life, collectively and individually they were more than they seemed on opening the door and seeing them stacked together. There were also near relics of other regular visitors to our home in times past, such as the Rington’s Tea distributor and the selling abilities of the Betterware Rep, typified in the presence of a pyramid shaped humanitarian insect catcher dangling at the end of a short pole. Another must have item, which had clearly remained unused.  

A fourth Monday given over to “Operation Pantry” saw shelves being wiped down, a floor washed and the replacing of what had been disturbed. There was a lesson for the learning, as I soon discovered the interior of the Tardis appeared to have shrunk, as I replaced crockery and utensils in places from which I thought I’d removed them. Clearly a plot was afoot and they had either multiplied in protest at my handling of them or had enlarged when coming into contact with hot water. Either way a little culling took place, and those for which I really could not see future use (whilst others, i.e. Dad, may well have done) were discreetly placed into a waiting large and strong bin-liner. Eventually the task was complete, and rather like God at the end of some of the days of creation, the stories of which from Genesis formed our daily Mass readings at the beginning of the week, I “saw that it was good.” However any further similarity with the creative work of the Almighty ended there as unlike the Trinity the rest that They were able to enjoy on the seventh day failed to arrive for yours truly. Instead, my wandering eyes began to look around for further tasks needing my fettling skills. 

On closing the pantry door I didn’t notice the “cherubim and flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24) that were posted by God on humanity’s departure from the Garden of Eden, but I couldn’t help thinking how extraordinary the ordinary can be. The odd plates with their “Indian Tree” or “Willow Pattern” design that provided the tableware used at our household table rituals were not dissimilar to the precious metal church plate housed and displayed in Minsters and Cathedrals such as York or Durham. The placing of them on our trusted yellow Formica kitchen table at a given time, the saying of Grace before tucking into the delights of a menu that had a familiar weekly appearance to it, and of the use of serving dishes, napkins and decorations, marking special times, reflected a kinship to the kitchen of Martha at Bethany or the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Table fellowship is at the heart of our Christian tradition: the sanctifying of the ordinary and the gifting, in return, to the Faithful of the ultimate Extraordinary. Around tables stories were told that gave material for the authors of Sacred Scripture to use, instances and names forgotten by one but remembered by another. Across an array of dishes and foil packaging tales continue to be shared of work, rest and play. Conversations that become the very stuff of shared family memory, perhaps also forgotten until vaguely recalled at the time when a significant component of the unit is taken away leaving the remnant to give increased worth and value to that which was previously every day, mundane and routine, as the words of the poem, The Old House poignantly convey: “Lonely I wander through scenes of my childhood, They bring back to memory the happy days of yore, Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted, No light in the window, no welcome at the door.” 

None of us has to walk into the likes of St. Peter’s in Rome or even either of our own churches to sense the awe and wonder of what it is to stand on hallowed ground or to feel the sanctity of a space. The holy and sacred can be much closer than we think and found where we least expect them. Faith adds a further dimension to our surroundings as we acknowledge a Creator God who gave us a role, as steward or custodian, preparing, in our turn, to hand on to others something that – it would be good to think – is in better shape than when it was entrusted to us or at least has been well tended and cared for during our watch.  

Wherever you can identify spaces, places and most importantly people sacred to you, cherish the encounter. Sometimes there can be no going back to them, but we have the God-given capacity to carry them with us and not discard or leave them behind forever. Life’s journey presents us with many doors to open. The greatest is that of the heart of another human being. It is the Holy of Holies, the place where we are most likely to encounter something of the face of our Creator God in another human being. May our exploration of this sacred space be with an awareness that we are indeed treading on holy ground, and may the door to it always be ajar for us to enter freely…  and discover its hidden mysteries.   

United on a daily basis in thought, prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas 

P.S. I hope that for all entering their pantries this weekend it will not take four days for you to emerge from them!

5th February 2021

Dear Parishioners,  

On Tuesday we celebrated the beautiful Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas as it is sometimes referred to, a name derived from the fact that traditionally candles for use in our churches throughout the coming year are blessed on this day, and having being hallowed the Liturgy also allows for a procession of the Faithful to take place carrying their candles. Not surprisingly this year there was no procession and no blessing of candles, at least in the public gaze. Whilst sat on the sanctuary during Mass a small object caught my eye on the carpet – a pine needle – a gentle reminder that the Season of Christmas was drawing to an end. Proving the point that despite a weekly run round with the vacuum cleaner there is always something that eludes the suction nozzle. I found it hard to suppress a smile, and thought it worthy of sharing the reason behind the smile with parishioners as Mass came to an end by mentioning the pine needle to them. At Otley on Monday I took the Star of Hope from the front window, its loss mentioned by a neighbour enquiring about Dad’s well-being, who went on to say that he and his wife had thought I’d forgotten to take it down when the Christmas tree and other obvious decorations disappeared from sight. It was an opportunity to say that Christmastide still had another twenty-four hours to run!  

Christmas was a word that I heard spoken or saw written a lot more in November and December of 2020 than I had for a number of years. I recall just a few years ago speaking to a representative of a Local Authority on the telephone who kept referring to the forthcoming mid-winter holidays, a bland phrase being used alongside others at the time, so as not to offend those who do not celebrate Christmas. Rather weary of hearing the expression during our conversation, I did invite the individual to feel free to use the word Christmas into his handset, in part because the phrase was far from tripping lightly off his tongue. However, I was told that he could not utter the “C” word as his Line-Manager, on a neighbouring desk, may have overheard him. I did rather wonder what was happening to the world that I had once been familiar with ! 

In 2020 the word Christmas was back on, seemingly, everyone’s lips. Not altogether positively nor particularly out of a spiritual connection to the events in Bethlehem two millennia ago as most were lamenting the restrictions being placed on the number of guests able to gather around their festive tables. But it was certainly good to hear a descriptive word giving the true reason for our mid-winter holiday being spoken openly and with ease. “Imagine,” as I can still hear my Irish colleague say to his congregation, “if all you had to celebrate at Christmas was the birth of Christ !” 

This week the Christian, or should that be Faith, tradition that has so shaped and formed our nation over the centuries was once more headline news. As at least two of our national newspapers carried on their front pages a plea for prayer. The intention of our pleading to Almighty God was for the well-being of the national legend and centenarian, Captain Sir Tom Moore who was battling Covid-19. I’m sure that the switchboard in heaven must have been jammed with callers asking that the Lord spare Captain Tom for just a little bit longer. However, the Lord had other plans, and, thankfully in the presence of his beloved family and, as subsequent printed pages have told us, amid laughter and tears, this wonderful old soldier answered the Divine call and followed the beat of the drum into his eternal reward. 

For ninety-nine years Captain Tom’s life unfolded around and before him, and for the majority of us, as we to him, there was no connection, no recognition, no familiarity. He lived his life, we lived ours. Then suddenly he was catapulted into our lives by a short news article about a man raising additional funds for the NHS by walking lengths of his garden in Marston Mortaine in Bedfordshire about which there was nothing outstanding except that the man was almost a hundred. A length for each year of his life sponsored by those who knew him was his intention, with the hope that a £1,000 could be raised. Suddenly this stooping figure with his walking frame and a sparkle in his eyes had captured a place in the nation’s heart, and the world. The desired £1,000 ultimately topped thirty-two million, which will no doubt be added to by those wishing to pay him a posthumous tribute. Almost straight-away we all connected with him, not least those of us who recognized a Yorkshire twang when he spoke, he was instantly recognizable, so much so that artists created numerous likenesses of him using very different materials, and his name quickly became familiar in all of our homes to such a degree that as we clapped for him on Wednesday evening I’m sure many felt as though they had lost one of their own. As indeed we had. For a brief span of time, measured in months, our lives had been enriched by images of Captain Tom’s life brought into the familiar surrounds of our own homes through the media. And now someone who had become a welcome beacon of stabilizing hope has been removed from our midst.  

The fundamental of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s entry into our lives was something that in the halcyon days of what we now call normal times would have been dismissed by the majority of those who saw him as simply an old man doing some exercise to keep himself going. With some even daring to suggest that it would have been easier for him to write a cheque for a thousand pounds than to get out of the comfort of an armchair to walk up and down his garden. There will have been days when he probably thought the same, yet he kept going on, day in and day out. And it was this, simply putting one foot in front of another that intrigued us and touched something at the core of a shared humanity. We were a people who had become disjointed, fractured, and were afraid of a new threat, a pandemic that brought our established way of life to a shuddering halt. Each of his steps, slow and determined, symbolised the nation’s move from one day of Lockdown into the next. In an unassuming, quiet, dogged and modest manner he gave us an extraordinary example.    

As has been said of him many times over he was a man of a disappearing generation shaped and crafted by routine and discipline which fed a quiet determination to keep on going for as long as he could, physically, mentally and emotionally. As part of what is often called the Forgotten Army of the Second World War, fighting far away from home in a very different climate to the one familiar to him, he did battle with tropical diseases as well as a heavily armed, motivated and determined enemy, who from the outset seemed to be heading for victory. Captain Tom and his comrades knew what an up-hill slog was, daily losses amongst the ranks of the familiar faces, defeat and retreat. Yet eventually that which seemed unconquerable was finally beaten and halted in its tracks. A high price was paid by the likes of Captain Tom, but a remnant had survived and he amongst them was able to taste victory and success. 

Privately, not as a young man had Captain Tom entered into a second marriage with Pamela, gifting him with his daughters, Lucy and Hannah, vowing to love and to cherish in sickness and in health. Health brought him shared happy times beneath the blue skies of the Costa del Sol, whilst sickness saw him making a daily pilgrimage to his beloved wife’s care home. Each and every day he visited. No money was being raised by this daily commitment. Instead it was a tangible expression of a love pledged in different times, observed by family, friends, the community of which his wife was a part, and the random stranger who could have set their watch by the time of his arrival at the home’s door each day. These are two small insights acknowledging that there was a lot more to Captain Tom’s long life than what will be recalled by many. A reminder that today’s older folks were all youngsters just a short while ago !   

St. Paul writing to the infant Christian community in Rome spoke about the “life of each of us having its influence on others.” It is something worth recalling on a daily basis, offering us all, as it does, a gentle reminder that we are connected to one another through our capacity to make a positive difference to the life of someone known, or even unknown, to us. Whilst remembrance is a tremendous gift, its real worth is when we allow it to provide us with a currency that we can spend on our own life journey, acceptable in the lives of others and with the ability to enhance a shared pathway. Whilst we speak of Captain Tom and others, such as the Queen, as being part of a disappearing grouping of people, formed and crafted by a time long past, there is a need to focus on the present, and what our generation of which current day centenarians and the newest of arrivals amongst our global human family are all an integral part can continue to offer to one another, and leave as a worthy legacy to those who will come after us. 

What we recognize as great qualities in others are potentially within ourselves too seeking an environment and constituents allowing them to be brought to birth and drawn out so that they too can bear light in their own time and place. Despite his great age, Captain Tom continued to look beyond himself or even his own lifespan, investing in charitable activities that would assist the bereaved and lonely in the present, seek to educate and encourage greater equality amongst a rising generation for the betterment of an unknown future, and beyond our shorelines to offer those with far less on their table, economically speaking and in so many other ways, a share in what we have, not least in the field of medicine and basic healthcare. 

In a week when we have drawn a veil over the final vestige of Christmas, and a bright light reflecting some of the finest elements of our humanity has been dimmed I am reminded that as long as Christianity has been on our shores its fundamental hope in the face of adversity has been tangible. An ancient prayer from the Celtic communities of Faith reflects this:  

“Bless me with Thy presence when I shall make an end of living. 

Help me in the darkness to find the ford.   

And in my going comfort me with Thy promise that 

Where Thou art, there shall Thy servant be.” 

So, here’s to Captain Sir Tom Moore, hopefully walking alongside the Lord, and as a legacy to us all, a reminder of his own lasting belief and hope that “Tomorrow will be a good day!”  

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection. 

As ever, Fr. Nicholas