On Sunday (31st May), which is the Feast of Pentecost, Revd Nicholas Court (above left) who has served the North-West corner of the Diocese (with congregations in Ullapool, Achiltibuie, Lochinver, Kinlochbervie and Tongue) for the last 11 years, retires. I’m sure that you would all join with me in wishing Nicholas and Gilly a long and happy retirement, even though until the end of lock-down Nicholas will still be helping to provide pastoral care in these areas. However from Monday (1st June), the congregation of St Mary-by the-Cross, Tongue will join our family of congregations in East Sutherland and Tain.
For the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar with the Episcopal arrangements ‘up north’, I have assembled a little history and description, with the help of a number of people, as will become become obvious.
Anna and I have been regular visitors to Tongue for the last 30 or more years, since her parents Alan and Irene bought a house beyond Melness. There was no Episcopal worship for some while and so they (and Anna, the boys and I when we were visiting) made the 120 mile round trip down to the monthly service in Kinlochbervie. The Services there were at first in the Fishermen’s Mission, then the Old School Restaurant and finally in the Community Centre. Over the years, KLB was served by Revd Chris Dormer, who travelled from Ullapool, then Revd Cliff Piper, who travelled from Tain and then Revd Mel Langille, who travelled from Golspie.
From June 2003, Services started at the Fir Chlis, House of Prayer and Retreat, run by Kathleen Pannell, who had found a ‘half built property just outside Tongue village’ overlooking Ben Loyal, a year earlier. Kathleen takes up the story.
“We moved in on 24th March 2003 and on June 22nd Fr John Stevenson from St. Peter and the Holy Rood, Thurso celebrated the first Service of Holy Communion with about 20 communicants. I opened Fir Chlis up as a Retreat House, inviting people to ‘Come away to a deserted place, and rest a while’. Fr John continued to come once a month to celebrate Mass and when I was blessed with hosting a priest on retreat, we would be blessed with regular, sometimes daily, Mass.
Fr Len Black took over from Fr. John at some point when the Episcopal church was trying to find its way in a changing world, but the congregation was truly set on a firm footing when I met Fr Nicholas in April 2010. The congregation of St. Mary by the Cross was officially constituted on 5th April 2012 by Bishop Mark and numbers attending have grown significantly since. During 2017/2018 we counted up that more than 75 folk had attended the monthly services here at one time or another, many travelling miles to attend, and folk from several different denominations too. It’s been such a joy to host these services month on month, to witness people growing in their love of the Lord through His gifts of Bread and Wine.”
St Mary’s now enters a new phase of its life, at a time when although the future looks very uncertain for us all, it is more important than every that we trust in our faithful and loving God. As St Paul wrote to the Romans:
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” and:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
On behalf of all of us in East Sutherland and Tain, may I extend a warm welcome from our family in Tain, Dornoch, Lairg, Brora and all the places in between, to ‘our friends at the very top’ in Tongue.