Sermon for Pentecost 6A – 12th July 2020

Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In a conversation on Monday, the person that I was talking to told me about a notice that was posted by Rev Richard Baxter, minister of Duncansburgh Macintosh Parish Church in Fort William. It read:

We could now open this church building for private prayer – but we won’t.
Why not? Because if you came here to pray, we’d have to make you wash or sanitise your hands at the door; instruct you to wear a mask; ask if you had COVID symptoms, underlying health problems, or got a flu jab – and turn you away if the answer to any of those was ‘yes’; tell you which seat you could sit in; warn you not to sing; make sure you left by a different door, then clean and sanitise every surface you touched.

Alternatively you could sit in an armchair with a cup of tea; sit on the Parade watching the birds; walk along the sea front and talk to God just as easily.

You don’t need special words, a special place, special objects or special people to talk to God. He loves you and He’s listening. So just do it. This church building is still shut. The ears of Heaven are not.

The job description of prophet contains among other less than enviable tasks the ability to speak a life-giving word of hope when everything seems to point in the opposite direction. In our reading from Isaiah today, we see the prophet doing this particularly well. In a few short verses, he’s able to conjure up a world where the impossible seems possible. Over 15 chapters Isaiah has been trying to provide his fellow exiles with a much-needed perspective on their situation, exiled away from their homeland.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion … Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”.

The prophet is helping them to see their broken world with a new positivity. What a wonderful image is conjured up by:

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Many of us can relate to the idea of exile much better than we could a few short months ago. For the last three months, we’ve been exiled from our families, from our friends and from many of the activities that we ‘usually’ do and places that we ‘usually’ go to – including our Churches. Many people are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as an exile and few would disagree with the idea that we’re ‘living in a strange land’ and many are struggling with “how we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”. With the news dominated by COVID-19 it’s very easy to lose sight of the fact that many in our world have been living in exile for a lot longer than three months. So how might Isaiah’s words offer hope that there’s a bright future for us and for all those who’re experiencing exile?

Our Gospel this week is probably the best known parable of all – the Parable of the Sower. Both it and our Old Testament reading from Isaiah are about God’s word, and both use the language of ‘sower’ and ‘seed’. Both texts agree that God’s word works in subtle, unobservable ways, and ultimately produces unimaginable abundance.

In the parable of the sower, God appears as an irresponsible sower, scattering the seeds of redemption even where they don’t have a hope of sprouting. In Isaiah, God’s act of redeeming a small group of exiles will ultimately transform the entire world. Both are a cause of great rejoicing as well as humility. God’s desire to bless and re-create is mind-boggling in its immensity and power.

The main character in the parable, is of course the sower. The sower scatters his seed carelessly, recklessly, seemingly wasting much of it on ground that holds little promise of productive growth and a decent harvest. Jesus similarly invests a lot of time and effort on disciples who look just as unpromising. He wastes his time with tax collectors and sinners, with lepers, the demon-possessed, and all sorts of outcasts and ne’er-do-wells. Yet he seems to think that his reckless sowing of God’s word will produce a rich harvest.

In trying to understand the parable of the sower we need to avoid equating the various types of soil with a particular person or group, and especially to avoid equating ourselves or those around us with the ‘good soil’.

If we’re honest, we can probably find all the kinds of soil the parable in our lives and likewise in any congregation on any given day. Also, we react differently to different parts of Jesus’s teaching. Some parts seem quite attractive and take deep root in the way that we live our lives. Other parts seem attractive at first sight but are actually rather more challenging, so the enthusiasm wanes and they die off. Then there are the really challenging bits that we quietly forget about without even giving them a chance.

The proof of the pudding is, “does Jesus’s teaching cause us to talk or even shout about justice and peace or does it cause us to act?” In her book “Outraged: Why Everyone Is Shouting and No One Is Talking”, the DJ Ashley (Dotty) Charles calls on the ‘Social Media Generation’ to focus on really important issues and do something about them, rather than getting caught up in what she calls “clicktivism and a culture of re-tweeting“, as though making a virtual noise were all that’s necessary to bring about change in a world of war and injustice. We shouldn’t simply be outraged but should seek tangible change. Now that’s the difference between stony soil and good soil!

Jesus doesn’t use the parable to suggest to the crowd or even the disciples that they should actually be ‘good soil’, as though any of us could make that happen. If there’s any hope it’s that the sower keeps sowing generously, extravagantly, recklessly even in the least promising of places. Jesus simply refuses to give up on his disciples, in spite of their many failings. Lets hope he won’t give up on us either, but will keep working on whatever is hardened, rocky, or thorny in us and our relationships.

As a one-time biologist and statistician, I notice that even in the ‘good soil’, the increase isn’t always the same. “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”. Quite big differences in yield. Any farmer or sower would likely be pleased with these results. But if it’s all on good soil then there must be something else that influences the harvest, in addition to the soil and the seeds.

What about the sower? Some people like my Dad and Anna have what are referred to as ‘green fingers’. They know how to nurture the soil and the seed and have never ceased to amaze me by what they have got to grow (even if I sometimes accidentality strim some of the results and end up in the dog house). And so, an equally important part in all of this is the sower.

As those entrusted with Jesus’ mission today, we might consider the implications of this parable for how we engage in mission. Too often we might be tempted to play it safe, sowing the word only where we’re confident it’ll be well received, and only where those who receive it are likely to become what is sometimes crudely referred to as ‘bums on seats’ in church. Surely that isn’t what we are called to do. Spread God’s love and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. In this time of unprecedented upheaval, we shouldn’t resist new ideas for fear they might not work, or that old excuse “we tried that before and it didn’t work” – as though mistakes or failure are to be avoided at all costs.

I am struck by the image of the sower sowing so recklessly. There’s no plan, no strategy, no technique for ensuring optimal positioning of the seeds; nothing that we could translate into a marketing type approach to Church growth. Like ‘helicopters’ from sycamore trees, the fluffy seeds from willowherb, or the seeds from dandelions, God’s word just blows wherever it will.

Whilst what Rev Richard Baxter says has much truth in it, unlike Duncansburgh Macintosh Parish Church, over the next few weeks, some of our Churches will be opening for a couple of hours a week for prayer. Later once all the planning and preparations have been completed we’ll also be able to return to having some services. It’ll not be the same as it was before (currently we can neither sing nor share refreshments and have to do all the things that Rev Richard mentions on his notice) but we have to be open to receiving God’s word wherever and however it is scattered amongst us. The message that we actually hear may be subtly different from how we’ve heard it before and that’s “how we shall sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”.

So let us “go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before us shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Amen.

Letter from Bishop Mark – 10th July 2020

Dear Friends across the Diocese

As most of you will now know, the Scottish Government has given permission for places of worship to reopen next week as long as those places can be opened safely. This will require much hard work and some difficult decisions. In some cases it will be difficult to open and some cases it might not be right to open just yet. These decisions will be made by your clergy and your vestry with support from myself as bishop.

There is no right answer to this process, each place is different and each church member will be experiencing this situation differently.

Many of your clergy have worked hard in new and unusual ways and are ready for a break, yet we need to work through this next phase.

So can I ask that you hold the diocese, the congregations and the clergy in prayer. Could you remember that rather than expecting your clergy to be there for you, we must also be there for them. Some are shielding, some are as anxious as you and that, as you know, makes us all vulnerable.

My fervent prayer is to be with you all again, but I know that wonderful moment might take longer in some places than others. We are a family of faith, let us hold each other in love.

Prayers Blessings and love

Church Opening for Prayer

From Wednesday 15th July, St Finnbarr’s in Dornoch and St Andrew’s in Tain will be open for for two hours a week for Individual Prayer.

The opening hours will be as follows:

    • St Finnbarr’s – 10:00am -12:00pm
    • St Andrew’s – 2:00pm – 4:00pm

At the moment, we are governed by a strict set of guidelines laid down by the Scottish Government and by our own Church and the Churches are open for your individual prayers and not for communal prayer.

An oft quoted Covid prayer says: “We are not people who protect our own safety: we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.” However, as our Governments have made clear, an important part of how we protect our neighbour, is through our own behaviour. As our Bishops also pointed out in relation to closing our churches, “we do this not out of fear but out of love”.

Many of the precautions that we need to take as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, are to protect each other from Seasonal Flu, the Common Cold and other respiratory infections as well as Covid-19, all of which can have a devastating effect on the elderly, the vulnerable and those in poor health.

So out of love for others, if you do wish to spend a little time in St Finnbarr’s or St Andrew’s:

  1. Please wear your face-covering.
  2. Please make use of the hand gel.
  3. Please sit in a seat where there is a Palm Cross and a Prayer Leaflet.
  4. Please try to avoid touching anything that you don’t need to.
  5. Please take both Cross and Leaflet away with you when you leave (so that those coming after you will know to avoid the seat that you have been sitting in).
  6. Please remember that this is a time for Private Prayer and keep a respectful silence whilst in the Church.
  7. If you wish to speak with a member of the clergy, indicate this to either one or the clergy or a steward.

God of all hope we call on you today.
We pray for those who are living in fear:
Fear of illness, fear for loved ones, fear of other’s reactions to them.
May your Spirit give us a sense of calmness and peace.

We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty.
For those people who are worried about attending worship.
For those needing to make decisions in order to care for other
For those who will feel more isolated by not being able to attend.
Grant us your wisdom.

Holy God, we remember that you have promised that
Nothing will separate us from your love – demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts and minds to you.
Amen

Churches in the light of Covid, Seasonal Flu and the Common Cold

The Christian Community

God of heaven and earth,
in these times of isolation, apart from loved ones
distant from friends, away from neighbours
we thank you that there is nothing in all of creation,
that is able to separate us from your love.
And may that love which never fails continue to be shared
through the kindness of strangers looking out for each other,
for neighbours near and far all recognising our shared vulnerability, grateful for every breath, and desiring a full and healthy life for all.
Enfold all your children in your loving embrace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

A Christian Community gathering for worship, prayer and fellowship is as old as Christianity itself and something we all cherish and value. The Corona Virus pandemic has had many effects on our lives and the way we interact with each other. We’ve yet to see the full implications of the direct effects in relation to health and the indirect effects in relation to different groups in our society. One thing is certain, that how we meet and how we use our Church buildings and other places of worship needs to be carefully reviewed in order to ensure that we don’t put one another at risk.

Our Liturgies quote Matthew’s Gospel (22:37-40) in saying

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.

An oft quoted Covid prayer draws on this when it says: “We are not people who protect our own safety: we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.” However, as our Governments have made clear, an important part of how we protect our neighbour, is through our own behaviour. As our Bishops also pointed out in relation to closing our churches, “we do this not out of fear but out of love”.

Many of the precautions that we need to take as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, are ones that we should have been taking in the past to protect each other from Seasonal Flu, the Common Cold and the other respiratory infections that can have such a devastating effect on the elderly, the vulnerable and those in poor health.

What we need to keep uppermost in our minds, is that all that we do must be grounded in prayer and guided by the desire to provide spaces and communities where people can be present to God and God to them, where people feel able to pray and where we can all learn to pray that little bit better.

Our Individual Duty to our Neighbour

As part of our love of neighbour and love of God, each one of us has a duty to:

  • Stay at home if we, or any member of our household, has any symptoms of a respiratory infection – a persistent cough, an elevated temperature (and in the case of Covid-19 and a number of other viruses – a loss of sense of taste or smell). Many of us (clergy and worship leaders especially) have not been very good at doing this, persevering with “duty” when we might pose a risk to others in doing so.
  • Maintain an appropriate Physical Distance from others. Without prompting we need to be respectful of each other’s space with sensitivity and be happy to maintain a suitable distance, taking account of individuals’ needs as well as any health guidance that we’re given.
  • Follow good hygiene practices to help prevent spread of disease:
    • Wash our hands frequently and carefully with soap and water for 20 seconds. At the very least this should be done before leaving for Church (or other social gathering) and immediately on returning home and especially by those handling the Eucharistic Elements.
    • Whilst out, carry and use a hand gel with at least a 70% alcohol content for at least for 30 seconds, if we have no access to soap and water.
    • Be careful to avoid touching our eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Wherever possible stay a safe distance from people who appear to have symptoms of a respiratory illness.
    • Cover our nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when sneezing, coughing, wiping or blowing our noses. Dispose of used tissues promptly. If a tissue isn’t available, cough and sneeze into the crook of our elbow (not ideal but better than hands which immediately touch other things). Wash with soap and water or use alcohol hand gel to clean our hands at the first opportunity.
  • At times when there is significant risk of infection such as the Covid-19 Pandemic or a Seasonal Flu outbreak, where we might be unwittingly carrying infection, we should also wear a face-mask in public spaces and know how to put it on and take it off safely for maximum protection of both our neighbour and ourselves.

God give me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it be,
Trusting that You will make all things right. Amen.

Our Duty as a Church Community

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:45-47)

As Christian Churches Clergy, Vestries and people we have a responsibility to people who meet in our buildings and join us in the other places where we meet. That responsibility is a core part of our Mission and Ministry and times of crisis provide opportunities for a reconnection with our wider communities.

In our Churches we have a duty to make it as easy as possible for individuals (Church members or not) to exercise their duty to protect one another, we should:

  • Organise our activities to ensure a resilience which doesn’t place pressure on Clergy, Worship Leaders or others facilitating activities to turn up when they have symptoms of respiratory illness. How this is done will depend on Church circumstances and the activity, but the procedures should be documented, agreed and well understood.
  • Re-think and agree all aspects of maintaining distance in Church Worship and in Fellowship (especially how the Peace is shared), so that those taking part feel close to each other but also safe and comfortable.
  • Apply appropriate hygiene practices in the Eucharist and in the making and sharing of refreshments as part of our welcoming Fellowship.
  • Review the need to touch or handle objects or surfaces that have been touched or handled by others in the recent past, so as to reduce the risk of passing infection from one person to another.
  • Review how our Church premises are cleaned and kept tidy, so that all those entering and using them may do so with confidence that they can focus on Worshipping and Praying to God in the Community of Faith

Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy
in times of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us
from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

SEI July-August 2020 Newsletter

The Scottish Episcopal Institute, which is responsible for training priests, deacons and lay readers in our Church, produces a monthly newsletter.

This edition of the Newsletter is a bumper issue for two months.  It covers the SEI Lecture by Dr Cathy Ross, the Institute Council, Diocesan Advisor Training and  special edition of the SEI Journal. SEI Newsletter July-August 2020.

The SEI Journal’s Summer issue is entitled ‘Church, Ministry and Coronavirus’. It was conceived as the nation entered ‘lockdown’ and the churches with it. The impact on our lives is unprecedented. Significant theological concerns have come to the fore in the worldwide crises of the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue reflects not only on the life of the Church, but on society, community and the value of human life.

Church, Ministry and Coronavirus’ draws together contributions from a variety of disciplines to resource the people of God in their exploration of the issues and discernment of the theological truths to be applied now and in the coming years.  In the bedrock of our Christian faith is the belief that every human being is created in the image of God and that the glory of God is each one of us fully alive and flourishing in a community of persons. In a time when a cacophony of voices shout for our attention, the prophetic voice of the Church is urgently needed.

 

Sermon for Pentecost 5A

Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

Greetings to you all from Dunrobin. I hope you are all keeping well and are able to enjoy some sense of relief as we begin to emerge (or at least look forward to emerging) from lockdown!

For all of us who work in schools, the summer holidays began earlier this week and so we now all get to enjoy time away from our physical workplace, enjoying staying in our homes, getting up that little bit later in the mornings, only seeing the children now and again, perhaps emailing a colleague occasionally for a catch up…. erm….no sorry, my apologies, that was the last term I think?!?

Seriously, I have found that ‘working from home’ has been more mentally exhausting than physically being in school. Electronic communications have been flying back and forth dozens of times each day, and various guidance documents and directives from the government and local authority have been landing in my ‘inbox’ almost by the hour as we look to preparing for a return to our school buildings in August (and we are still not quite sure how this will look)!

I have to confess that usually I am not one for reading the detail in documents – simply looking for the highlights or being prompted by others who seem to relish scrutinising every last detail. Sometimes, the readings that are set for us in the lectionary appear to miss out details in a similar way. You will notice that today’s gospel reading from Matthew 11 misses out verses 20 – 24. And I wondered why this might be? Well, here are the missing verses:

Woe on Unrepentant Towns

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (NIV)

Woe on Unrepentant Towns indeed! These are the towns where Jesus spent most of his ministry – where many of his mighty and miraculous works took place. The inhabitants know Jesus well and he knows them too. He knows their unbelief, their unwillingness to change, their refusal to yoke themselves to him and his message.

In some translations of the bible, Matthew calls this ‘Jesus reproach of the cities’. That’s a much more polite way of saying that Jesus is really ticked off and he’s telling them how it is!
Now, there are not many of us that enjoy being told off. We don’t like reproach. We don’t like it in our lives and we don’t like it in our scripture. Most of us would rather skip this part and read about the gentle Jesus who is going to encourage us and make our lives so much easier. But I think sometimes we need to hear words of reproach and so today, I’ve put them back in. They are important words – and equally as important is to understand that reproach from Jesus is not rejection. It is in fact, the other side of care and concern.

Jesus goes on to say, “ You are like a group of spoiled children – unhappy with whatever is offered to you. You want it your way or no way. John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking and you said he was crazy. I come eating and drinking and you call me a glutton and a drunkard who hangs out with the wrong kind of people”.

I wonder what Jesus would say to us today as individuals, as a church or as a nation? Are we much different from the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum? How have we responded to Christ and his gospel?

Thinking about this question raises a more fundamental question for each one of us. To whom, or what, are we yoked? To whom, or what, do we give ourselves? Who or what takes priority in our lives, steering the direction we take, influencing how we make decisions and how we relate to others?

We all harness our lives to something: another person, work, family, success, reputation, our country, our religious denomination or our political party. Sometimes our yokes are not something external but something that lies deep within us – fear, anxiety, anger, particular opinions, the losses and tragedies of our lives. Regardless of whether they are exterior or deep within us, they are relationships and attachments that we depend on for meaning and, for better or worse, they often give our lives direction. We all have them – and usually a lot more than just one.

So, what yokes do you wear? And which one takes precedence over all the others? We all know what the answer should be – Jesus. But is that really how we live? Is it reflected in what we do and how we relate to others? Apparently not for the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.

If we are going to call ourselves Christians then we must fully yoke ourselves to Christ. He must be the primary and determining yoke. We cannot simply be part of a church community, hear or read the gospel, say our prayers and then go about our business leaving all that for a Sunday. The gospel of Christ demands a response and that is why Jesus has been so harsh with his words.

The people have seen God among them. Jesus has cleansed lepers, healed the sick, calmed the sea, cast out demons, forgiven their sins, preached and taught in their cities and still they reject him.

Sometimes we too are like those little children in the marketplace – unhappy with whatever is offered to us. We want the gospel to fit our beliefs, desires and agendas rather than shaping those beliefs, desire and agendas to fit the gospel. We can either dance, celebrating and giving thanks for the coming God among us in Jesus, or we can mourn our sins, the brokenness of our lives, and the pain of the world. But we must respond. We must choose one or the other and either one is to share the yoke of Christ.

So what does this mean for us? It means that we must take discipleship seriously. Our prayer needs to become more about intimacy with God than getting what we want. It means that we should work for justice and the dignity of every human being. We should care for the poor, feed the hungry and defend the oppressed. That we should love our enemies and offer forgiveness before it is even asked for.

To be yoked to anything or anyone other than Christ will only leave us weary and burdened. Our lives become fragmented and frenzied. We end up comparing, competing and judging ourselves and each other. We act as one person in one situation and another person in a different situation and lose all internal integrity. Our reserves run dry and we become exhausted, weary and burdened.

Too often, we treat our weariness with retail therapy, addictions, a new toy, a holiday, a short nap, a day off, busyness and perfectionism, but more often than not we end up just as weary as before. The real answer to our exhaustion is the wholeheartedness only found in sharing the yoke of Christ – the heart of God and the heart of humanity beating as one.

Jesus wasn’t upset because the citizens of the cities misbehaved. His heart was breaking because they had chosen a life less than what they were created for, a life less that what God was (and still is) offering. This is why his words of reproach soon become words of invitation, love, care and concern. “Come to me all you that are weary…

We’ve all seen even the most mild-mannered of children who suddenly have a tantrum because they are over tired – they are exhausted and weary, they don’t know how to explain what’s going on and they just lose it! Jesus’ reproach and then compassion for the cities is just like how most parents react.

Taking on the yoke of Jesus means taking on his life. “Learn from me” he says, “Let your heart love like mine. Let your mind be filled with the same concerns as mine. Let your feet walk in step with mine. Let your hands touch the world like mine. Let your eyes see the Father like mine. Live and move in me – as one – and you will find rest for your soul”.

Blessings on you and those you love this week.

Fr Simon

Loneliness, Solitude, Joy and Serenity

solitude

The other day I was sorting through some booklets about a range of subjects and two particularly attracted my attention. The titles of these two were: ‘From Loneliness to Solitude’ and ‘The Gift of Joy’; seemingly quite unrelated, until I started reading them.

For the last thirteen weeks things have been rather different for all of us. We can’t meet up in the way that we could and can’t meet others in work or social activities in the usual way. I know that lots of us have found that really hard. In some sense we feel we’re no longer the people that we were. Sadly, the loneliness that’s long been a problem in our society has also increased markedly with ‘lock-down’ and ‘social distancing’.

The author of ‘From Loneliness to Solitude’, Roland Walls, was Priest-in-Charge of the Rosslyn Chapel in the 1960s and subsequently went on to found a Monastic Community in an old miners welfare hall in Roslin, just around the corner. He writes in 1976:

Loneliness is the biggest, most extensive personal problem of our cities and while ‘telly’ and radio help to keep you in touch with the world, the daily screenful of busy, exiting, active people is in such strange contrast to the armchair, the biscuit on the plate and a mug full of coffee; it makes it worse to be alone in view of so much happening.

If he were writing today, he would doubtless have included social media and all the other digital ‘communication’ tools that serve to keep our daily screens full. He goes on to say that we’re lonely because we’re made for ‘infinite possibility’ and at times we experience the painfulness of emptiness, because there’s a void ‘aching to be filled’. Whatever we may think and whatever we may try, that void can only be filled by God. It’s a God-shaped hole if you like. However the response of most of us to that void is to try to fill it up with busyness, but that doesn’t work, it just covers it up, but it’s still there just as empty as ever.

At this point, we shift our attention to ‘The Gift of Joy’. Curtis Almquist, its author, tells us that “Joy is something of a rare commodity” and the primary reason, he says, is that “Joy takes time”. He talks about an old ‘monastic insight’ that to find joy you need to do one thing at a time. When you’re walking, just walk; when looking, just look; when listening, just listen. Whatever you’re doing, having a cuppa, watering the plants, stroking the cat, just do that and savour it. Quite the reverse of busyness.

Be present in the current moment, don’t dwell on what has or has not happened in the past or worry about what’s to come, just savour the smell of the flower, or the sound the birdsong, or the taste of your lunch. Whatever happens next can wait whilst you enjoy the present moment. Joy also requires us to accept what is and not grieve for what is not. To experience joy we have to accept how little of what happens in our lives we have real control over and be comfortable with that.

That lack of control is glaringly apparent to anyone who had any plans prior to March this year. As one version of the Serenity Prayer goes:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it be,
Trusting that You will make all things right. Amen.

Blessings
James

Caption Competition Winner

Captions entered for this competition were:

  1. ‘Eye, nose, cheeky cheeky chin, cheeky cheeky chin, eye, nose!’
  2. ‘It’s great to have collared two nice men trained to amuse me!’
  3. ‘Two trained to keep me on the right lines!’
  4. ‘Am I too young to start the discernment process?’
  5. ‘Carry on ‘training’!’
  6. ‘Since those two are Gordon and James, can I be Thomas? Pleeeese!’
  7. ‘Station-ary Vocational Train-ing!’

AND THE WINNER IS…….

Number 6

‘Since those two are Gordon and James, can I be Thomas? Pleeeese!’

Well done to Beatrice Somers – a fitting tribute to the Rev Wilbert Vere Awdry – original author of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories.

 

A New but also Old Pilgrimage Route

Origins

The Caithness Book Club boasts all of six regular members at its monthly meetings in St Anne’s church hall, Thurso. One of its books was ‘Together in Christ: Following the Northern Saints‘ by John Woodside. From this developed ‘The Northern Saints Trails’, listing 33 names and 32 sites linked to these names. The sites were organised into six circular routes, four starting in Thurso and two in Wick. For more information, see the web site at: www.wickstferguschurch.org.uk/page16 .

The Pilgrimage Trails Project

While doing the research for the Saints Trails, the group realised that there was enough historical evidence to re-create the medieval pilgrimage route linking the shrines of St Duthac in Tain and St Magnus in Kirkwall. So a second project was born. Much of the background work has been done and we are now planning some public events in the hope that this will encourage more people to come forward with offers of practical help and local folklore about the sites along the route.

Pilgrimage Events

We are launching this stage of the project with a ‘Pilgrimage Event’ in Tain on 29th May 2021. There will be an ecumenical service in St Duthac’s chapel followed by refreshments and information on the Northern Pilgrims’ Way.  This event will be jointly led by that the event will be led by our own Bishop Mark Strange and the RC Bishop of Aberdeen Bishop Hugh Gilbert.

Similar events will take place in Old St Peter’s Kirk, Thurso on 3rd July 2021 and in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall on 20th August 2021.

There will be more information in due course.

The Symbolism of our logo

  • The central cross is from the St Andrew’s cross on the Scottish flag.
  • The two lines represent the two saints – Duthac and Magnus
  • The pointed curves are copied from the Ulbster Stone, a Celtic carved stone originally at the site of an early chapel dedicated to St Martin at Ulbster, on our Braid Three and the John o’ Groat’s Trail. The site is now marked by a mausoleum.

Letter from Bishop Mark – 20th June 2020

Dear Friends across the Diocese.

I hope you are all continuing to remain safe and to support each other at this time. I have delayed sending out this letter until we had heard when Phase 2 of the Scottish Governments would begin and what changes may have been made during our continuing conversations with them.

The material you may have seen last week about Churches reopening for Individual prayer, was written with some knowledge of what was going to be announced but even this morning some slight changes in the official communication have required an update from us. I know for some this is annoying and confusing but please remember this is an ever changing process.

I met with the Incumbents of the Diocese this week and they have spoken with me about the possibility of opening for private prayer and the difficulties that creates, can I please remind you all that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

A number of churches in the Diocese have already indicated that it would not be possible for them to open at present, not least the issue of a one way system. I thank them for the obviously difficult decision and I and the Dean will await questions and paperwork from others.

I have continued to be uplifted by the contribution so many people are making to the ongoing life of our congregations and communities, worship in so many formats, telephone calls, letters, Zoom meetings. I have enjoyed popping in and out of services as I have enjoyed creating worship for the Province and on my own pages – and before you ask, I have destroyed all the outtakes!!

Last week we celebrated a number of Feast days, we kept St Columba on the 9th June and it was good to have representatives from our three St Columba’s (Nairn, Grantown on Spey and Brora) joining me on the Provincial service on Sunday. On Thursday we celebrated both Corpus Christi and St Barnabas. St Michael and All Angels in Inverness celebrated Corpus Christi and I had the privilege of preaching by video at the Evening Mass. The Ministry of the Word service for St Barnabas was led by the Ministry team in Caithness with some lovely photographs of the area in the background. Can I thank all involved in these services, which are all available on Facebook and Websites.

Our Church also remembered the two John Skinners on 12th June. John Skinner, Priest and his son John Skinner the Bishop. John snr was Rector of Longside in the Diocese of Aberdeen for 65 years, he was both a notable historian and poet. During the penal laws he was imprisoned for 6 months for conducting worship, his son shared his imprisonment. That son became incumbent of Longacre Chapel in Aberdeen and he also became Bishop and Primus . It was +Skinner who presided at the consecration of Samuel Seabury as first Bishop of USA (in the Longacre Chapel) an event that paved the way for the Anglican Communion. +Skinner also worked tirelessly for the repeal of the Penal Laws which was achieved in 1792.
Saints this week and next

This week we remembered Bernard Mizeki who is remembered as the Apostle of the MaShona of Zimbabwe. Bernard was and evangelist and a translator who was murdered and became renowned as a martyr and recalled as a witness to the Gospel of Christ.
Saturday 13th is the day we remember St Fillan who was a solitary at Pitenweem before becoming the abbot, he later resigned and went to live in Glendochart. His relics were revered in Scotland and played an important part in Scottish history.

Next week is busy;

  • On Monday we remember St Alban, the first Martyr of Britain
  • On Wednesday we celebrate the birth of John The Baptist, this is also the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn!!
  • On 25th June we remember another of the Celtic Saints, Saint Moluag of Lismore. St Moluag has local connections. He came from Ireland around the time St Columba arrived and based himself on the Isle of Lismore, his Church becoming the Cathedral for the Bishop of the Isles. He is reputed to have travelled to the Black Isle where he set up a centre of Mission at Rosemarkie. Legend says he died there in 592.
  • Robert Leighton is remembered on the 26th. One time Bishop of Dunblane and Archbishop of Glasgow. He spent his ministry attempting to heal the schism in the Scottish church and to work with the Presbyterian grouping in the Church. When this failed he resigned and retired to England. He died in 1684 before the Church of Scotland finally ceased to be Episcopalian.
  • The final saint of the week is our own Bishop Alexander Jolly, born in Stonehaven, educated in Aberdeen, ordained in Peterhead, served in Turiff and then moved to Fraserburgh were he spent the rest of his life. He was Consecrated Bishop in 1796 and became Bishop of Moray in 1798. Fraserburgh became a part of the Diocese of Moray until he died in 1838. Many of his letters etc are held in the Diocesan Archive. He was noted as helping to guide the church through the years following the repeal of the Penal laws, he was also the last bishop to wear a powdered wig. I became Primus on Alexander Jolly’s day, a fact I cherish.

Thoughts from the Bishop

In two weeks’ time I will hand the responsibility of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway to Bishop Kevin, I was looking back in my diary at the time I have spent with Glasgow but I also looked at my time with the other dioceses in the past few years.

I became Interim in Glasgow in Oct 2018, about 5 weeks after completing my work with the Preparatory Committee of Brechin which has flowed into my time with the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney which started in Sept 2016. Nearly four years, I am so looking forward to being in the diocese without having to keep rushing off. I will be running the Electoral process in Argyll and The Isles but not looking after the diocese.

So I have kept as many Sundays free as I can from whenever we can meet in Church until the end of 2021, so look out, when we are our of lockdown, I will be round.

Blessings and many thanks for all you are doing.