St Aidan’s Lectures 2023

In 2012 St Aidan’s Church in Clarkston (Glasgow) hosted the first in what has become an annual series of public lectures on a subject relevant to our faith but also of potential interest to a wider public. The 2023 St Aidan’s Lectures will be delivered by the Rev. Dr James Currall (who you may have heard of). The topic will be The Environmental Crisis and the Church. The Lectures will be delivered on Monday evenings, 17 and 24 April, 1 and 8 May, beginning at 7.30pm and for the first time will be delivered both at St Aidan’s and on Zoom.

The questions to be addressed in the four lectures are:

  • How did we get here?
  • Where are we now?
  • Not Zero?
  • Where do we go from here?

The importance of the environment (and caring for it) is becoming more and more central to the life of many people, not only but especially for the younger generation who often look at the Church and think it has nothing to say with regard to the issues that concern them. This clearly has implications for the credibility of our mission in the world. It is, furthermore, an area in which people of all faiths and none have started working together for the future of humanity and the world.

The St Aidan’s Lectures in 2023 will explore some of the past, present and future of the Church’s relationship to these issues and why it has often been viewed as trailing behind the secular world.

Lecture 1 – How did we get here?

The Western Church has only relatively recently woken up to the reality of Climate Change and the Environment Damage that human beings have wrought in our world. So why has the Church been so blind (or at least agnostic) to what for many in the secular world has been glaring obvious for three-quarters of a century?

Redemption in the writings of Augustine and Anselm is primarily Ethical. Humanity has been viewed as distinct from the natural world and Christianity and Salvation largely concerned with Personal and Social existence. The Western tradition has relatively little to say about the destiny of the universe, though there are a few honourable exceptions, such as St Francis of Assisi. 

The Eastern Church, on the other hand has had a different relationship with the natural world. It has seen Redemption as concerned also with the Physical or Natural world. In both Greek and Syrian writing humanity is at the heart of the natural world. Patristic writing sees Salvation more holistically as Personal and Cosmic, Social and Universal. Perhaps we have much to learn from this more holistic approach to faith and worship.

The first lecture will explore this historical background to help us to answer the question: “How did we get here”.

Lecture 2: Where are we now?

In 1999, the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) urged churches to adopt a “Time for Creation” stretching from 1st September to the feast of St Francis on 4th October. and this was endorsed by the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania, in 2007, which recommended that the period ‘be dedicated to prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change.’ The following year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) invited churches to observe “Time for Creation” through prayer and action.

From that time on, Christians worldwide have progressively embraced the season as part of their annual calendar. Since 2008 Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) has compiled a programme of resources to encourage and assist churches to observe Creation Time. In summer 2020, just in time for COP26 in Glasgow, the Scottish Episcopal Church joined this movement, introducing Liturgical material for this Season.

This second lecture will explore where the Church is at the present time in relation to the Environmental Crisis and the extent to which the approaches of Christian Churches differ from or reflect those of other commercial and community organisations.

Lecture 3 – Not Zero?

At it’s 2020 General Synod in December, the Scottish Episcopal Church started talking about environmental issues and committed to working towards Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030. A Church in Society Technical Committee then produced guidance for Synod in 2021 to set the direction for practical action and established a committee to take this work forward.

Many organisations and indeed governments have set targets for Net Zero, but does this represent an appropriate and sufficient response to the urgency of the issue? When we start to look for solutions to environmental issues, it is very easy to adopt too narrow a focus and attempt to reduce the environmental impact of one isolated factor, and in the process increase the impact of another.

This third lecture will explore this question and we may well find ourselves outside a Church door in Wittenberg in the company of Martin Luther. That may of course raise the question as to whether or not the Church needs a New Reformation in relation to Environmental Justice.

Lecture 4 – Where do we go from here?

Responding to the climate crisis and the injustice inherent in both its causes and effects, it is much easier to make on one or two minor lifestyle changes, and thereby feel better about it all, than to engage with the real problem. The former is simply a mechanism to ‘greenwash’ our consciences, likely to have little or no effect and may actually do a great deal of harm. What is actually needed is repentance, a turning away from excessive consumption and back to God. Rowan Williams put it very simply when he wrote:

we need to regain a sense that our relationship to the earth is about ‘communion not consumption’”.

Christians have a responsibility not only to take action to contribute less to the problem, but to be prophetic voices in the world. In the words of Walter Brueggemann they have a threefold prophetic task:

The prophetic tasks of the Church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.

What is needed is nothing short of salvation, and not just a narrow salvation of self, but a salvation of humanity and the whole of God’s Creation.

This is the subject of our final lecture.

Engaging with Christ’s Passion

Festividad de San José – Triana

As many of you know, Anna and I have just returned from a break in Andalusia in southern Spain. We arrived in Triana, a small village in the hills, on the day that they were celebrating the Festividad de San José (the festival of St Joseph) sensibly transferred to Saturday so that everyone could enjoy a good party then a four hour procession and then another party (all this of course after starting with a Festal Mass at 12 noon).

According to those in the know, there are such events regularly in towns and villages around the region mark particular saints’ days but of course everywhere has a full programme of events to mark Semana Santa (Holy Week). In Velez-Malaga (the nearest large town to where we were) the celebration of Semana Santa is recognised as one of the most impressive in the whole of Spain.

Along with everything you would expect of a fiesta (including amazing food and drink), there are processions, much like the one we witnessed in Triana, which become ever more grand throughout the week – starting on Palm Sunday and culminating with the Resurrection procession on Easter Day. The processions are accompanied by bands with crowds carrying candles. There are also huge floats (tronos) weighing up to 5,000kg, carried by large numbers of people, that depict scenes from the events in the week leading to Christ’s death and Resurrection.

Good Friday trono – Malaga

From time to time the crowd are become silence and the procession pauses while a saeta is sung. A saeta is an acoustic religious song (often in Flamenco style) sung from a balcony accompanied by wonderful guitar playing. After the saeta, the band start up again and theprocession moves forward. These processions seem to be able to blend celebration with sombre reflection and at the same time are also incredibly beautiful and moving.

This year along with other local churches we are once again holding a Walk of Witness from Kincardine Church in Ardgay to Creich Church in Bonar Bridge. There will be no huge tronos (just a rough wooden cross carried by one person), nor a band (just the voices of the pilgrims), but just like the people of Velez we will be marking the events of Christ’s last week, in Scripture, in prayer and in song (though maybe not in a flamenco style), as we pause from time to time along the road. When we arrive at Creich Church we will also be ‘partying’ with hot cross buns and coffee!! You are all of course welcome to join us and to bring your friends (we start at Kincardine Church in Ardgay at 10:15am).

Walk of Witness – Ardgay/Bonar

It is interesting to experience and reflect on how different cultures mark the milestones of our faith. We all start with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week we engage with a number of important events as we reflect on our faith and on the life of Christ, before finally emerging blinking into the light of Easter. Although the Resurrection is a fundamental part of our Christian belief, there can be no Resurrection without all that precedes it, including of course the brutal execution. Conversely without the Resurrection, Jesus was just a good man who was unjustly put to death in a brutal, inhumane and horrendous manner – something that sadly happens daily around the world.

I would therefore encourage you all to engage with some of the events and services during Holy Week – Stations of the Cross in Dornoch on Monday or Tain on Wednesday, our service in Dornoch on Maundy Thursday with its reliving of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, sharing the last supper with them and then retiring to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and our moving reading of the Passion from John’s Gospel in our service of Tenebrae or Walk of Witness on Good Friday all tell the story of what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter Day and help us to really understand what our faith is about.


procession costumes – Velez-Malaga

Walk of Witness on Good Friday (7th April)

The walk will consist of Eight stops, with a variable amount of walking between them. There is room for at least a few cars at each stops and so it will be possible for those who cannot or do not wish to walk the whole route to participate by adjusting the amount of walking required to suit their needs.

The walk will start in the car park adjacent to Kincardine Church in Ardgay and will end at Creich Church in Bonar Bridge, where there will be Hot Cross buns and tea/coffee available. The walk itself will commence at 10:15am and we should arrive at Creich Church by about 11:50am.

At each stop, there will be a Reading from Scripture, a short Reflection and a Prayer As we leave heading towards the next stop, we’ll sing a hymn. We will carry a large rough wooden cross throughout the walk.

The stops are as follows (time are rather approximate):

  • Kincardine Church car park (@10:15)
  • Ardgay Hall car park (@10:35)
  • Drover’s stone near Ardgay Station (@10:45)
  • ‘Stonehenge’ just the Ardgay side of the Bridge(@11:10)
  • Garden adjacent to the Caley Cafe(@11:20)
  • Car Park behind the Bonar Health Centre(@11:30)
  • Grassy area just beyond the Bradbury Centre(@11:40)
  • Creich Church car park(@11:50)

Services for Holy Week and Easter

Palm Sunday
2nd April
4 pm
Liturgies of the Palms and Passion
Liturgies of the Palms and Passion
Liturgies of the Palms and Passion
Liturgies of the Palms and Passion
Holy Monday
3rd April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer & Reflection (SPB)
Stations of the Cross
Holy Tuesday
4th April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer & Reflection (SPB)
Evening Prayer and Benediction
Holy Wednesday
5th April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer (SPB)
Eucharist & Reflection
Stations of the Cross
Maundy Thursday
6th April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer (SPB)
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
followed by the Watch in the Garden
Good Friday
7th April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer (SPB)
Walk of Witness
Good Friday Reflections
RS Communion + Tenebrae
Holy Saturday
8th April
Zoom + Tain
Morning Prayer (SPB)
Easter Vigil & First Mass of Easter
Easter Day
9th April
8:30 am
4 pm
Easter Eucharist
Easter Eucharist
Easter Eucharist
Easter Eucharist

For the Zoom details if you wish to attend weekday Morning Prayer online, contact Canon James

Joy as Rector Instituted in Forres

Yesterday evening, Hamilton Inbadas was instituted as Rector of St John’s Forres in a wonderful display of the gift that is Anglican Liturgy.

The Church was packed with guests, members of the congregation, an all-age choir, visiting clergy from the SEC and clergy of other denominations in Forres.

Bishop Mark said in his address that at times during Covid, he had wondered if our churches would ever be full again – well he got his answer in St John’s last night.

The hospitality was generous and heartfelt and to top it all, there was a full supper served afterwards. Worship, fellowship, celebration, the whole package.

God was there! As we God’s people
Met to offer praise and prayer,
And we found in fuller measure
What it is in Christ we share.
There, as in the world around us,
All our varied skills and arts
Saw the coming of the Spirit
Into open minds and hearts.

The Ruined Chapel

By the shore, a plot of ground
Clips a ruined chapel round,
Buttressed with a grassy mound;
    Where Day and Night and Day go by
And bring no touch of human sound.

Washing of the lonely seas,
Shaking of the guardian trees,
Piping of the salted breeze;
    Day and Night and Day go by
To the endless tune of these.

Or when, as winds and waters keep
A hush more dead than any sleep,
Still morns to stiller evenings creep,
    And Day and Night and Day go by;
Here the silence is most deep.

The empty ruins, lapsed again
Into Nature’s wide domain,
Sow themselves with seed and grain
    As Day and Night and Day go by;
And hoard June’s sun and April’s rain.

Here fresh funeral tears were shed;
Now the graves are also dead;
And suckers from the ash-tree spread,
    While Day and Night and Day go by;
And stars move calmly overhead.

William Allingham 1824-1889

Sermon for Lent 2A – 5th March 2023

Fritz von Uhde, Christus_und_Nikodemus via Wikimedia Commons

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

I guess that we heard quite a lot about the immune system (the body’s defence mechanism against disease) over the last few years of Covid. When it starts in a developing baby, it’s more or less a blank sheet, with littlecapacity to defend the body. The new immune system you see hasn’t seen any of the diseases that we’ve all been exposed to in the past and it has to learn from scratch.  The result can be that babies and small children get every cough and snuffle that’s going while their immune system learns by being exposed to them – that’s certainly the case with our grandchildren.

John the Evangelist is a master of dramatic setting, of symbolism and of imagery. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Jewish leader, arrives to see Jesus at night. Night, traditionally a time of ignorance, temptation, fear and unbelief. He comes in secret. Night’s also the time of day when faithful Jews studied and debated the Torah. 

Perhaps he comes to do precisely that and to learn more about this young radical who’s causing such a stir. He probably doesn’t want his colleagues to know about this curiosity. He calls Jesus Rabbi or teacher. Is he calling him that because he wants to become a disciple or is he saying it with heavy irony – a member of the Jewish elite addressing an uneducated Galilean peasant?

The discussion doesn’t go very well for Nicodemus. He gets off on the wrong foot because he talks about the outward and visible signs, the observable miracles that Jesus has performed. Jesus’ response perhaps seems to be a bit of a non sequitur:

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

John 3:3

What a strange response. It’s difficult to understand Nicodemus’s reaction to this response without a brief examination of the word that is translated ‘from above’. The Greek word anothen can mean ‘from above’, but it can also mean ‘again or anew’. The NRSV translation that we heard this morning uses the former and puts the latter in a small footnote. Other translations do it the other way round, but in order to understand what’s going on, we really need to hear both.

So perhaps John’s playing on a deliberate pun in Greek to make a point. Nicodemus’s arrival at night is perhaps a hint not at unbelief, but at the wrong sort of belief, of a spiritual misunderstanding, which is played out in his misinterpretation of Jesus’s response to his mention of signs. He comes with a set of convictions about what is real and what is possible and they’re his stumbling block. 

John Calvin wrote that the mind of Nicodemus was

filled with many thorns, choked by many noxious herbs…

John Calvin “Commentary on the Gospel According to John”

How could he possibly see clearly through the thicket? Jesus is rebuking him for concentrating on the wrong thing, what he sees, not what’s in the heart. If you like, the inward and invisible grace, behind the signs.

Things don’t improve as the conversation goes on. What is it that Jesus is saying to Nicodemus in these exchanges and how does his understanding change from exchange to exchange?

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

John 3:3

To see the Kingdom of God requires enlightenment, a changing of mind, not being impressed by mere signs and miracles, but seeing in a spiritual way.

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

John 3:5

To enter the Kingdom of God requires the world to be experienced in a new way, to encounter God through Jesus, a spiritual encounter.

Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

John 3:11

What he’s telling Nicodemus is that entering into the spiritual life requires a re-evaluation of everything he’s previously taken for granted.

Jesus is speaking about a spiritual rebirth, about dying to the old worldly self and entering into a spiritual life, about turning away from status in society, from possessions, from heritage and all those things that tie us to an constructed identity, based on what we have, what we do, what we know and what people say about us. It’s not about visible signs or miracles or any of the worldly stuff, but seeing things as they really are, no rose-tinted specs.

This is the Jesus who says

I have comes not to bring peace, but a sword”.

Matthew 10:34

At first it seems deeply shocking to hear Jesus, the Prince of Peace, appearing to promote violence and conflict. Yet when we read the Gospels, we have to admit that wherever he goes, he brings to the surface people’s deepest fears and insecurities. Jesus threatens cosy illusions and attachments. This spiritual rebirth is about taking a path which isn’t easy or comforting, the narrow way that’s discordant with what’s gone before. It involves death to the old self and the worldly life, quite literally a turning or renewing of ones mind, which is what repentance means. It involves spiritual renewal or rebirth.

During the conversation, Nicodemus moves from a total failure to understand what Jesus means, to the beginning of understanding but then finding the implications of spiritual rebirth rather uncomfortable to contemplate. Other Gospel figures hear similar messages about giving up status and certainty and trusting in a relationship with God. We see a variety of reactions. Take Zacchaeus the tax collector, he seems ready to give up his old life and follow the way that Jesus suggests. Or at the other extreme, the rich young man who is told to give everything to the poor and walks away disappointed, as he just can’t bring himself to do it. Nicodemus finds it difficult, but as we see from his later appearances in the Gospel narrative, he gets there in the end.

We’re now in the season of Lent, the period of the year when we focus on amendment of life, on spiritual rebirth, perhaps even on pressing the reset button on the value we place on status, possessions, how we see ourselves and what we think is important in our lives and relationships. It’s a time when we could take the opportunity to learn again from scratch, discarding old values and habits, and being born again with a new immune system like that of a baby: 

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality that can be seen only when we let go of our certainties and open ourselves to something new. It can’t be detected with the naked eye, or experienced through abstract notions of heavenly bliss. The Kingdom of God is now, not confined to tomorrow or the world beyond. Being born again (or from above), means that inherited or acquired status or knowledge aren’t what’s important, in fact they can get in the way. Seeing God at work requires a spiritual awareness, spiritual imagination and a large dose of humility.


Lovely Gathering

A lovely gathering in St Columba’s this afternoon for the World Day of Prayer, in a service prepared by the Christian Women of Taiwan. Lovely words, lovely singing, lovely accompaniment and of course lovely refreshments and fellowship afterwards. Thanks everyone, we were all so blessed.

And of course Alistair is still camping outside to raise money for Syria/Turkey, so do drop by like Jennifer (below) did and he might even make you a cup of coffee and something to eat (you never know:-)

World Day of Prayer – tomorrow 3rd March 2023

Original Artwork by Hui-Wen

May God give us the wisdom and courage to tell the stories of faith that transform lives. 


BroraSt Columba’s Episcopal Church, Victoria Road, Brora2:00pm
DornochOversteps Care Home, Earls Cross Road, Dornoch

West Church Hall, Sutherland Road, Dornoch

Tain AreaKilmuir & Logie Easter Church Of Scotland, on the B817 at Kilmuir3:00pm
LairgLairg Church of Scotland, Church Hill, Lairg7:00pm

All are Welcome at any of these services

For once you were darkness,
but now in the Lord you are light.
Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light
is found in all that is good and right and true.

Ephesians 5:8-9