Charities Shop – Distribution of Funds 2021

St Finnbarr’s Charities Shop

St Finnbarr’s Charity Shop has recently distributed £12,500 in donations to various groups and charities. As usual these are mostly local groups based in East Sutherland but this year two, Maggies and Mikeysline, which have centres in Inverness have been included. They both work with vulnerable groups throughout our area, one in cancer care and the other in mental health support.

The complete list of charities and groups supported is listed below:

  • Alzheimer Scotland (for local use),
  • Caithness and Sutherland Women’s Aid,
  • Dornoch Beach Wheelchairs,
  • Sutherland Care Forum,
  • Support in Mind Scotland (Golspie Gatehouse),
  • Mikeysline (Mental Health especially Suicide – has drop in and appointments in Inverness including evenings, also text-based support. all ages),
  • Dornoch Academy School Library,
  • Friends of Oversteps,
  • Historylinks,
  • Maggies Highlands,
  • Meadows Patient’s Comfort Fund,
  • Bradbury Centre,
  • CALA (Care and Learning Alliance – Stepping Stones, Brora),
  • Connecting Communities (Helmsdale based but serves all E. Sutherland, older people at home, community support, meal delivery),
  • CAB,
  • Lawson/Cambusavie Memorial Hospital Fund,
  • Migdale Hospital Comfort Fund.

The hard work and dedication of the volunteers means that the Charity Shop is now able to be open every day 10am-1pm. The continuing Covid restrictions mean that we are only able to have a very small number of customers in the shop at one time and we would like to say thank you to our customers who wait so patiently in a queue to come in. The Charity Shop would not be so successful without the many donations of goods to sell and the support of our customers both returning and new – thank you. We look forward to seeing you in the shop.

Sermon for Pentecost 3B – Sunday 13th June 2021

Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Mark 4:26-34

WLANL - MicheleLovesArt - Van Gogh Museum - The sower, 1888

Willie and his wife moved into a new house and to put it mildly, the garden was a terrible mess of weeds and brambles and such like, ‘cos the house hadn’t been lived in for maybe eight years, you know; there was thistles five foot high! So Willie got a book on gardening and quickly found that he had a talent for it and he created a garden that everyone for miles around wandered past, just to look over the neat hedges at the beautifully tended flower beds, lawn and shrubbery. Anyway one day the new rector came wandering past and sticks ‘his head over the hedge “Arr Willie,” he says, “Its wonderful what God can do in a garden, with a little help, isn’t it?” And Willie replies “Arr, but you should’ve seen it when ‘e did it all by hisself.

Our Gospel today contains two parables, both of which say something about gardening. In the first, the gardener sprinkles seed on the ground and then without any further need for effort leaves the rest up to God until it’s time to harvest the crop. God takes care of the germination, does the watering and supplies the necessary heat so that the leaves develop, the stems grow and the seed heads form, swell and ripen.

Anna’s response to this would be similar to that of Willie in the story with which I started – “you just try scattering the seed and doing nothing and see what happens!

In the second one, the smallest of seeds – mustard but not the plant that you used to grow along with cress on wet blotting paper in school, but black mustard which is a large annual plant which grows up to 9 feet tall. So the tiny dust-like seed grows up into very large plants that birds can nest in the shade of. Jesus frequently uses parables that concern the ordinary things of the daily lives of those to whom he’s speaking and these two are no exception. But parables aren’t simply illustrations, they contain important messages, hidden – if you like – within them.

Several times in the gospels, we hear that Jesus spoke in parables so that many of his hearers (such as the Scribes and the Pharisees) wouldn’t understand exactly what he was talking about . Which is possibly just as well since it was quite often about them and usually not too complimentary.

At the end of today’s passage we hear:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

So Jesus explained what his real message was to just his followers and so I suppose that’s what I should be doing now.

Last week we were away visiting our seven-month-old grand daughter Alanna and of course her parents, but then it was Alanna that was the star attraction because we’ve seen Andrew and Tracey before. She is growing fast and is starting to out-grow some of her clothes.

So last Sunday, I found myself at the nine-o’clock service in a very traditional-looking parish church. Inside it was anything but. There was no altar, no font and the sanctuary was filled with keyboards, microphone stands and a drum kit. As I sat there wondering what might happen, and praying that it wouldn’t be too noisy, I was reminded of a passage from one of Annie Dillard’s books:

I have overcome a fiercely anti-Catholic upbringing in order to attend Mass simply and solely to escape Protestant guitars. Why am I here? Who gave these nice Catholics guitars? Why are they not mumbling in Latin and performing superstitious rituals? What is the Pope thinking of?

Anyway, to some extent my prayers were answered, all this stuff was for the 10:30am family friendly service.

In Churches, one often finds that there’s a considerable industry trying to makes things happen and in particular to find suitable magic to make the congregation grow in number. The Church is often obsessed by numbers in the pews, but that’s not what we are about. As Martyn Percy wrote when he was Principle of the Oxford theological college – Ripon College, Cuddesdon:

The beguiling attraction of the very first Christian heresies and heterodoxies lay in their simplicity. They presented the most attractive solution to any immediate and apparently unsolvable problems. For us as a Church today, the presenting problem appears to be declining numbers in our congregations. Ergo, an urgent emphasis on numerical church growth must be the answer. Right, surely? But wrong, actually. The first priority of the Church is to follow Jesus Christ. This may be a costly calling, involving self-denial, depletion, and death. Following Jesus may not lead us to any numerical growth. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbours as ourselves. There is no greater commandment. So the numerical growth of the Church cannot be a greater priority than the foundational mandate set before us by Jesus.

The spiritual growth that happens in people’s lives is (like the growth of the seeds in the first parable) entirely the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to plant some seeds by the things that we do and when the work of the Holy Spirit brings forth a harvest, to notice and to gather it in.

And just in case you were thinking that perhaps you were ‘mature enough’ to leave all the harvesting to ‘younger folk’ take another look at psalm 92:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.

Parables of sowers and seeds may seem a little quaint, but many artists have been captivated by the growth of seeds and plants. Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme.

He painted The Sower in the autumn of 1888. This picture is mysterious, but somehow also luminous. In it, Van Gogh uses colours that are usually meant to express emotion and passion. His sky is greenish-yellow and the field a shade of purple. The bright yellow sun above the sower’s head looks like a halo, turning the sower into a saint. It’s a painting of a quite ordinary scene, but at the same time there’s something really mysterious about it.

There is something mysterious about growth isn’t there. Do you remember at school putting a broad bean seed in a jam jar wedged in by a roll of blotting paper and after watering it and putting it in a dark cupboard, taking it out from time to time to see it produce a long feathery root and a shoot – magic?

The mysterious nature of seed growth is part of what these parables of the Kingdom of God are about. Like the Kingdom, a seed once planted is a mystery slowly being revealed. It unfolds by its own operation in the soil. Its planter may sleep and rise, but the seed’s work goes on whatever Willie or Anna do, much as our grass did whilst we were away.


Northern Pilgrims’ Way launched

Service of Dedication in St Duthac’s Collegiate Church in Tain

Today the Northern Pilgrims’ Way was launched with a dedication service in St Duthac’s Collegiate Church in Tain. Bishop Mark led the service, Jamie Campbell was at the organ and Rev Lizzie Campbell sang the hymns and an anthem and Rev James Currall read the lessons. The Lord’s Lieutenants of Ross-shire (Joanie Whiteford) and Sutherland (Monica Main) were in attendance along with a number of representatives of the Churches.

During the service, an information board was dedicated and the members of the congregations were given blessed cockle shells and candles as symbols of the pilgrimage, but in his address Bishop Mark gave strict instructions that the shells were to be given to pilgrims on the way, that those present encountered in the coming months. He also warned that launching the Way was only the beginning of something and not the end.

You can watch the service on Youtube below:

The original pilgrims were not just trying to get from A to B. The trials and tribulations of the journey were part of the experience, as was calling at recognised holy sites along the way. Modern pilgrims want to feel that they are following in the footsteps of these previous generations. So re-creating a pilgrimage route is not as simple as looking at a map and working out the shortest way from one place to another.

The Northern Pilgrims’ Way is what is known in the trade as a braided route. In other words, it offers the pilgrim alternative tracks between the start and end points. While some routes have more history attached to them than others, all are genuine pilgrimage ways through the North of Scotland.

Map of the Northern Pilgrim’s Way

In our time, pilgrimage is being revived in many denominations. Indeed, it is a feature of most main religions and seems to answer a deep-seated need within us to re-connect with the creator of our world and to work out our own place in this creation.

Further events are planned in the coming months at Thurso and at Kirkwall where the route ends.

  • 3rd July 2021 in Old St Peter’s Kirk, Thurso at 12:30pm
  • 20th August 2021 in East Church, Kirkwall at 12:00noon
Church and State ready for Pilgrimage

Grasping and Comprehending

The Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost – we’ve travelled a long way in our journey with Christ since Palm Sunday on 28th March. Back then we were in lockdown, now the restrictions are easing and joy of joys, we were able to have our first wedding in church last week after a gap of nearly two years.

In many ways, living under restrictions is ‘easy’ You have a long list of things that you can’t do and also a list of things you must do and, as we’ve all done over the last 15 months, you learn to live your life doing what you must and trying not to do what’s not permitted. So at one level, it’s ‘easy’ but at a deeper level it’s very hard indeed. Not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do things that have been part of our lives for years and apparently small, but very significant things like being able to sit where you want in church or shake someone’s hand when you meet them.

Under the Old Covenant of Moses, the people of Israel lived under ‘The Law’. So in Exodus, we have 10 Commandments but there are 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice (or Mitzvot) contained in the Torah (mostly Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus) (248 of these are positive – things that one should do – and 365 negative – things that one shouldn’t do).

The purpose of these ‘rules’ is however to try to help people to find God through encounters with the holy. In a sense the summary of the Law, that we use at some times of year in our liturgy, is a pointer to the underlying principles, which is why Jesus came not to abolish the rules rather it refocus people on those principles.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

SEC 1982 Liturgy

Living by rules, as opposed to something closer to the essence of things, has a tendency to separate the observer of rule from the real purpose of the rule, which in itself althoughrecognisable, is much more difficult to define. The practices that Jesus was reacting against, were a set of rules which, although they may have at some time had a role in helping people to approach the holy, had long since become somewhat divorced from that purpose and an end in themselves.

As Covid restrictions are relaxed, we’ll have to make more decisions for ourselves as to what to do and what not to do, without as rigid a framework as we’ve had. That means that we’ll have to understand the purpose or ‘spirit’ of the rules we’ve been used to and the likely effect of deviating from them. To use religious language, we’ll have to ‘discern’ what we should do in order to continue to keep ourselves and others safe, rather than be told what to do. There’ll still be rules, just fewer of them and we’ll have to continue to live our lives within them. However, just because a politician says that you’re allowed to hug other people, that doesn’t mean that you must or even that most of the time you should. The careful and judicious use of new and very welcome freedoms is what discernment is about.

Perhaps the simplest definition discernment is that it’s nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, it’s the ability to judge people and situations well. In the religious context however it’s no more or less than knowing or attempting to know the mind of God.

Under the New Covenant of Jesus, it’s not the rules that are important, it’s this seeking to know the mind of God. Religious practice isn’t in itself a route to the holy, but may help to get us to a place where an encounter with the holy may happen. Not the only route and absolutely no guarantees. We use practices that have traditionally been helpful, rather than trying to conjure up encounters with the holy all on our own.

Our joint task in ministry is to walk with others as they try to encounter something that neither they or we can ever fully understand – the Mystery of God, that unseen and unknowable force at the very centre of our being. That’s always going to be a pretty tricky task, just as is trying to protect ourselves and those that we care for, from an unseen and ultimately unknowable danger!


Charities shop open more days

From Monday 31st May

the St Finnbarr’s Charities Shop

will be open

Monday to Saturday,

10am -1pm

with all the usual Covid rules still in place.

We look forward to welcoming both regular and new customers

A Prayer for Israel and Palestine

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Ephesians 2:14

O God the creator of all life

We bring before you all the people who call Israel and Palestine home.
We particularly remember those living in those parts of this land who are facing the constant fear of armed conflict.

We ask your forgiveness for the anger, hatred and violence that all of us have the potential to carry within us.

We beseech you to soften hearts and open minds so that the sanctity of life is always protected, the right to freedom of worship upheld and the security of a safe home defended.

We pray that justice will flow like rivers. That human dignity will be respected and, that each of us may strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you our God.


Rice Update

The Rice is all sold!  

Thank you to everyone who purchased some.  Thank you also to those who donated their change, the total of which amounted to £50, which has been donated to Grace’s Briquette Project , a project working with the Malawian women and supported by Just Trading Scotland (JTS) through whom we get our rice.

Grace Mwanguti is a Kilombero rice farmer in the Karonga District of Northern Malawi. She has a vision for starting a business to turn the waste product from rice milling into a useful fuel for cooking. This is not a new idea in itself, but Grace would love to bring this business idea to the rural communities where the women themselves will manage the business as well as use the fuel to cook for their families. The availability of this fuel will help ease the lives of women rice farmers who for generations have had the back-breaking job of collecting firewood in the hills. It will also help to stop the denudation of the hill slopes, itself a serious environmental and climate emergency issue, which the government made illegal in 2020. The project will give the women training in management and computing skills, and more confidence in their abilities in a society where women do not traditionally have equality with men.

Grace’s Briquette Project

Below is a bit of information about JTS from whom we purchased the rice, but if you follow the JTS link you can read as much or as little about JTS as you wish.

The Rice Challenge supports their work with rice farmers in northern Malawi.  Our sale of 90kg raised the equivalent amount of what it costs to send a child to secondary school in Malawi for a year. More generally the work with rice farmers has improved the fertility of their seed and thus yields, and improved their access to ploughs and ox carts, which help them market the rice locally.

Based in Paisley in the West of Scotland, JTS is a not for profit fair trade organisation set up to facilitate the import and distribution of fairly traded products to the UK. Their aim is to empower and educate producers and consumers, through the fair purchasing and sale of delicious food products from the developing world.

They try to provide sustainable incomes and wellbeing for small holder farmers, producers and their families.

Perishable Food for the Food Bank

The Foodbank at CCAST are in particular need of the following items, as they seek to give their clients some fresh food:

  • Butter,
  • Cooked Ham,
  • Cheese,
  • Chocolate Spread,
  • Bread,
  • Cheese slices,
  • Tea,
  • Coffee,
  • Sugar,
  • Tins of Creamed Rice

(We can store the perishable items brought to St Andrew’s on Sundays in the fridge and then deliver them to CCAST each Tuesday

Ascension Day Service

The Ascension by Tissot

Today (13th May) is the Feast of the Ascension. We will celebrate this Feast with a Service in St Andrew’s, Tain at 7pm. All are very welcome as we mark this final event in Jesus’ life with His Disciples.

N.B. there will be no Wednesday midweek service in St Andrew’s this week.

Our Brothers and Sisters in India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, South India

Dear Friends

A number of you have asked about charity support for India.

Rev Dr Hamilton Inbadas has written this piece for your information 

Situation in India

As you are aware the situation in India continues to be worrying. When you hear journalists say that the real number of infections and deaths are far higher than shown, that is not an exaggeration. The past few weeks have been difficult for us too. Almost daily we kept hearing about hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths of people we have studied/worked with and those whom we know.

Our parents on both sides managed to get the second doses of the Oxford vaccines just before our villages hit an acute shortage of vaccines. That is a relief. The number of infection seems to be stabilizing. But as we well know even if this signals the turn of the tide, there is still a lot to deal with for the next few months, at least. Please continue to pray.

Several of you have asked if there is a charity I could recommend for making a donation. The Christian Medical College in Vellore, South India is a teaching hospital that provides excellent care for anyone regardless of religion or caste. CMC also has clinics in rural areas where otherwise there would be no access to medical care. Grace and I had the privilege of working as palliative care chaplains there for several years.

If you wish to make a donation, please follow this link. Donations are received through Friends of Vellore UK, which makes transferring funds easier: