Alone and together

Each week, a member of our church community gives us something of their thoughts, prayers, reflections and insights into the love of God. It is through learning to share our faith with each other that we grow in confidence to share our faith with others. This week Ali Baxter is sharing a reflection on being alone, being together, and the importance of prayer. This is something the Northumbria Community have come to embody in their distributed monastic community…

… Ali Baxter writes

I am a friend of the Northumbria Community. This is a Celtic Monastic community spread far and wide across the world. The ‘Mother House’ is based at Nether Springs, Felton near Alnwick. The roots of their prayers and liturgies are rooted in the history and spiritual heritage of Celtic Northumbria.

Some of the wording in this reflection is from a talk given by Catherine Askew, one of the Northumbria Community leaders. When I heard it, I felt led to share it with you all. It is pertinent for the times we are living through. I hope and pray you will be encouraged.

Being ‘Alone and Together’ can be true at the same time. Each of us must take our faith journey alone, as there is no substitute for leaning our head on the breast of Christ and listening to the heartbeat of God. There is no abdicating our own responsibility for our own life and no shortcuts for the work, struggle, and intimacy of our heart before God. Yet whilst on the journey we are together, others are headed in the same direction and come alongside to offer encouragement. Sometimes this encouragement is direct and verbal, sometimes it is through friendship, sometimes it comes through prayer support and sometimes it is knowing someone else is on a similar path through the wilderness of inner exile. Knowing we are connected to others on the journey fosters courage.

St Bartholomew’s Church Building in winter

It makes a difference knowing others are praying at the same time. The Northumbria Community encourages a daily pattern of prayer four times a day, though not compulsory: morning, midday, evening, and compline. These are at set times throughout the day with set prayers plus a choice of meditation, bible readings and reflections on the Word. They can be found in Celtic Daily Prayer books 1 and 2 and, also on the internet. When praying, those belonging to the Northumbria Community know they are not alone but with others praying the same words at the same time.

St James Church Building in winter

The Church of England Daily Service of Prayers serve a similar purpose and are a simplified version of the Daily Office which is available in books, online and via the Daily Prayer Apps. Graeme Holdsworth, our Vicar, says the Daily Office Morning Prayer at 9.30am every morning. On Mondays he prays in Marsden village centre. On his rest day (Tuesday) he prays alone. On Wednesdays he prays in St James and on Thursdays he prays in St Bartholomew’s. On Fridays he prays beside the canal in Slaithwaite. On Saturdays and Sundays he prays at home before the day begins. Why don’t you join him in person out and about, at church, or say your prayers in your own home at the same time?

Graeme prays in various locations around Marsden and Slaithwaite

If these types of daily prayers do not suit you then I urge you to find something that does. There are lots of daily prayer guidebooks and online resources available. At various points in our lives, we may feel the need to use something different.

Christians can become used to letting the person up front, e.g., the Vicar, do their faith for them! As Christians we should all take responsibility for our own faith journeys as no one else can do this journey for us. Part of the pattern of daily prayer(s) and reflection is to allow ourselves space and time to be with God. He is always with us and so always in our presence, though in the busyness of our daily lives we may forget that he is there.

The Northumbria Community has two ‘rules of life’, these are:

  • Vulnerability – intentional and deliberate
  • Availability – to God, others, and myself

By spending time in prayer and importantly ensuring we leave space to be still and quiet we allow ourselves to become vulnerable and available. Questions that members of the Northumbria Community are encouraged to ask themselves are:

  • Who is it that you seek?
  • How then shall we live?
  • How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Again, in our daily prayer times we can seek to answer these questions through our readings, prayers and by listening to God. We can grow stronger in our faith and knowledge of the Bible and therefore more able to prayer for others and share God’s love.

We in the Colne Valley, in our Benefice, currently worship together through HomeChurch. When restrictions allow, many will go back to worshipping as church communities in our parish buildings, in our villages, but HomeChurch will continue (as long as it is needed as a worshipping space and community in its own right). During this pandemic we have often (especially during lockdowns), had to worship alone in our own spaces – usually our homes – though some may have chosen to worship outside. Even though we worshipped alone, we were still together worshipping the one God with our Vicar Graeme supporting us through the website and via paper copies of the service. We have found a new way to worship together in these strange times. Through HomeChurch we have made new friends, some who are unable to attend their regular church, and some who have found a new community with us. Our Benefice is gradually becoming more united: one holy catholic and apostolic church… bringing us closer together. Amen!

When you no longer know how to be,
May the Father take you on your deeper journey.
When you no longer know what to do,
May the Spirit reveal to you your fitting task.
When all feels lost or foreign,
May you know your home in Christ.
On the way that is before you,
May you have companions on the journey.
May you find Christ in the stranger,
And may you know the love and blessings of God.

A prayer of blessing, based on the words of Saint Brendan
Ali Baxter
Ali Baxter

Reflection by Ali Baxter, Jan 2021