On Ritual

In our tradition, we are very used to ritual. Our services of course contain many familiar ritual elements, but there’s considerably more to ritual than just elaborate religious ceremonies. In our lives rituals play a number of roles: rituals in the face of loss can help us with grief and dealing with the loss, rituals in our families can make us feel closer, and rituals with a partner or friend can reinforce the relationship. In short rituals can help us to express things that can’t easily be expressed in other ways and that is why we find them so useful in relation to God.

Recently it’s been brought home to just how important rituals are. For the most part the Sunday morning rituals that are a feature of our worship are very familiar, because they’re how things have been done for a long time. However that isn’t true for all rituals. For instance, the past couple of years have made a lot of what we took for granted and that was once familiar newly unfamiliar. We’ve made changes to the way that we meet in Church, how we greet each other and how we share the Eucharist. The purpose is still much the same, but the manner has changed in both small and in larger ways, the rituals subtly different. In the same way we’ve adapted the rituals to reflect changes in our congregations and the circumstances of our gatherings.

Many of us have found some of these changes unsettling and struggled a bit in the face of it.  However what’s really started me thinking more broadly about ritual, is not those ‘internal’ rituals of our weekly gatherings for prayer, praise and the breaking of bread, but the outward-facing rituals in which we help the wider community to find ways of engaging with events in the wider world. These are really important in our world right now, when we are all facing both actual and anticipated grief, joy, sadness, fear – virtually any emotion. In this rituals can help to restore our sense of control over our lives, however illusory this may be.

When we hear about war, the climate crisis, covid and almost any other change, we canexperience loss – we didn’t want it to happen, but there was nothing that we could do aboutit. That’s not a very unpleasant feeling, that sense that you’re not in charge of your life or most of what’s happening in the world around you. As Christians, it’s at times like this, when we can’t do anything ourselves that we turn to God, but what about those for whom ‘God’ has little obvious meaning?

Over the last few months, we’ve tried to offer a number of rituals to our wider communities, to help with expressing ‘difficult to express’ emotions (both negative and positive ones) in relation to climate, the war in Ukraine, world peace, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the marking of the Centenary of war memorials in our communities. We’ve marked these in planting trees, reading out names, placing small wooden crosses in flowerbeds, in singing and prayer, in music, in silence, with shells, with candles, with stones and in simply being there.

In all these circumstances people need some sort of ceremony and ritual to bring them together, so that they can share the emotions that they, and others around them, are feeling with each other. The numbers taking part in these events are frequently much higher than they are in our church services, but where’s the surprise in that?  That’s mission in action, just what Jesus urged us to do!

Ritual’s part of the rich heritage of our Church and something that we understand the importance of. People in the wider community recognise the truth of this and that’s why they ask us if we can help them to produce an appropriate response to whatever the situation is. It’s why people still come to us for funerals, weddings and the other occasional offices.  For my money it’s one of the most important parts of what we as the Church are here for – making God possible beyond our walls and in the lives of those in our communities.


Sermon for Pentecost 3C – 26th June 2022

Dornoch War Memorial

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence” 

Galatians 5:1,13

No, not the words of a right-wing politician talking about the new wave of Covid and the return of restrictions, but the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians. He then goes on to add:

but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Freedom is a word that we hear bandied about quite a lot, but there are many forms of it: freedom from the rule of unelected bureaucrats, freedom from government interference in our lives, freedom from trade barriers, freedom from red tape, freedom from exploitation. In 1941 President Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. But none of these are what Paul’s saying to the Galatians.

When Paul was in Galatia, establishing the Christian community, they heard his message and they practiced what he preached. He preached a freedom of conscience, that no one is truly free until Jesus Christ has rid them from the burden of their guilt and from having to be good enough to merit God’s favour. We are Christians, not through our own merit but through the gracious calling of God. We’re called to that freedom by God through Grace. Many outside our faith think that as Christians we’re anything but free, that we’re hidebound by rules and regulations that cramp our style and take half the pleasure out of life. (Looking out at some congregations on a Sunday morning one might be forgiven for thinking that they had a point.)

But unlike the old covenant, which required adherence to the 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice 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 should not do. However in his letter to the Galatians, Paul points out that:

 the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Galatians 5:14

However the freedom that we enjoy isn’t without any limits, and that’s where Paul’s taking issue with the people that he calls “foolish Galatians”. He says, as perhaps some politicians might have done since the recent by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you.

Galatians 1:6

This isn’t party politics, its far more important, you see those who are ‘confusing’ the Galatians are suggesting that so long as you keep the 613 rules and regulations and are circumcised, then you’ll be all right with God and it pretty much doesn’t matter what else you get up to, you’re free to indulge yourself. You can have your fill of: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing or whatever happens in Downing Street on a Friday evening after work. All so long as you observe all the rules as you see them!! In short freedom to get up to whatever you like – a bit like that magic pill which you take once a day and then you can eat and drink as much of whatever you like, whenever you like and not put on any weight.

But of course Christian freedom isn’t like that at all, freedom has consequences.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about grief over the last few weeks. We spend quite a bit of our lives working hard to create stability, through acquiring things, settling down, establishing relationships and a way of life, partner, home, job material comforts, money and security. We can then live in a world that’s familiar and secure. And then something happens that shatters our neat predictable world. Loss of job, failure of relationship, a life-threatening disease, death of someone very dear to us, natural disaster, war, terrorism, they can all serve to pick us up from a world we know and understand and dump us in an alien world where there’re no certainties. 

So what happens then? Quite naturally we grieve. Grief is more than sorrow or sadness. It touches the whole of us, affecting us physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The feelings, let alone the physical sensations, behaviours and spiritual responses, are many and varied. They can include: anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, freedom, relief, numbness, inadequacy, hurt and yearning. I have seen and heard quite a number of these played out in interviews and responses on radio and TV over the last two years especially. There’s no doubt that there are many who are suffering varying degrees of grief over the effects of Covid, the rise in the cost of living and all the rest.

What’s the Christian response to grief and to the dislocations that cause it?

Well in Dornoch on Friday we marked the Centenary of the War Memorial with a service of Thanksgiving, Commemoration and Rededication. Now you might feel that the Great War was a very long time ago, but I heard a lady remark that three of her father’s brothers were named on that memorial. It was lovely day, a colourful ceremony and the joy at having 100 children plant crosses – one for each of the fallen – was written on the faces of all those present.

Having railed against a whole list of the fruit of the flesh, Paul goes on to say: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The essence of fruitfulness doesn’t rest on accomplishments or achievements, but in who we really are. The first three concern our attitude to God – love, joy and peace; the last three are to do with ourselves and how we are – faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The middle three concern how we relate to those around us – patience, kindness and generosity. These three were present in profusion on Friday at the memorial.

So if people that you know are grieving over changes in their life and circumstances, remember that

There is nothing in death or life, in the world uncertain as it is, or the world as it shall be, nothing in all creation, not Boris, nor Keir, nor Ed nor even Nicola, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

with apologies to Romans 8:38-39

so we have a responsibility to walk alongside our neighbours, friends, families and all we meet with patience, kindness and generosity manifesting the Christian hope in the God who made us, the God who redeems us and the God who sustains us. As Paul says to the Corinthians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” 

2 Corinthians 1:2-4


Dornoch War Memorial Centenary

It is now over a century since the Great War, came to an end in 1918. In the period shortly after the war, war memorials were established in most communities to commemorate those who had lost their lives in the war. After the Second World War, additional names were added to those memorials and some have had names added in relation to subsequent conflicts.

Most of the memorials were built and dedicated in the period 1921-1922 although one or two were a little later (Creich – 1923 and Helmsdale – 1924). As a consequence many will be marking their centenaries over the next year or so.

On Friday 24th June, we held a service of Commemoration and Rededication at the Dornoch War Memorial at the foot of Poles Road. On top of this impressive memorial there is a magnificent sculpture of a 5th Seaforth Highlander at Beaumont Hamel in about 1916. It was produced by Alexander Carrick and shows the soldier looking south towards the battlefields. 

At the service, pipes were played, prayers were said, wreaths were laid and we had a two minute silence as we remembered the fallen. Young people planted small wooden crosses one for each of the 100 names on the memorial and the Young Curators group from History Links told a little of the story of the memorial.

This pattern is likely to be repeated across our region over the coming months:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; 
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them. 

photo by Lynne Mahoney

More pictures at the Northern Times.

St Andrew’s, Tain Open Day – 30th June

St Andrew’s Church

Open Day

Thursday 30th June

Outside the Church

As part of Tain Gala Week, St Andrew’s Church is throwing open its doors to allow you to look around, have refreshment, listen to organ music and, if you wish later on join us in prayer.


Informal organ music and the chance to enjoy this beautiful historic building.

Did you know there are a whole lot of mice carved into the woodwork within the church?


Sandwiches, strawberries and cream, home bakes, tea and coffee.

No charge but donations welcome


Evening prayer (shared via zoom for the wider congregation)


Holy Eucharist.

Everyone welcome.

Choir on Tour

Tarantara is a mixed choir from the English Midlands. They have been singing to great acclaim, and for countless charitable causes, for almost 20 years. Profits from concerts go to the organiser’s chosen charity, and over the years the choir has raised in excess of £100k.

The choir will be visiting the Highlands from Friday 1st July until Monday 4th July and performing as follows:

Friday 1st July: Inverness Cathedral at 8pm

Saturday 2nd July: Inverallan Church of Scotland, Grantown at 7.30pm

Sunday 3rd July: Dornoch Cathedral at 3pm.

This is the first time the choir have been in Scotland, many of the members of the choir have also never visited Scotland.

Tickets will be sold at £7.50 for adults, £5 for concessions and free for children, on the door and online via Eventbrite with 50% going to mikeysline and 50% to the church the choir are performing at.

Eventbrite links:

Friday 1st Julyhttps://www.eventbrite.com/e/346594221647 

Saturday 2nd Julyhttps://www.eventbrite.com/e/346598374067 

Sunday 3rd Julyhttps://www.eventbrite.com/e/346600209557 

To find out more about the choir visit: https://www.tarantara.org.uk 

and find a video of the choir at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM6c1uwPpuY

The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of the Thanksgiving for Holy Communion, commonly called, Corpus Christi was first celebrated in the 14th Century. It began as a local custom to celebrate the Mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and slowly spread throughout the Church, finally being added to the Kalander in the 15th Century.  In our Kalander we calebrate Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity.

William Harry Turton’s hymn “O thou who at thy Eucharist didst pray” sung to a lovely tune (Song 1) by Orlando Gibbons.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Corpus Christi (literally the Body of Christ), that people associate with this feast day, is the great processions through cities, towns and villages.  The Blessed Sacrament is held aloft by a priest, in a monstrance, as a public statement that the sacrifice of Christ was for the salvation of the whole world.

Monstrances are one of those liturgical curios that appear sometimes, but in our tradition not very regularly.

The Host (the consecrated Bread) sits in the glass plate in the centre with ‘rays of glory streaming out from it‘. A reminder of the Glory of Christ, present in the Eucharist, and the glory of the Heavenly Banquet that we join when we take Communion together.

Traditionally, at the end of the Mass on Corpus Christi the Host (the consecrated Bread) is placed in a monstrance and the congregation spend some time reflecting on this Mystery of Christ made present in the bread and wine.

The officiating Priest would then take the monstrance and carry it aloft down through the church and out into the streets – with servers throwing rose petals down in front of it to make a carpet – a bit like confetti at a wedding – with bells ringing out to tell everyone that Christ was walking among them in the Eucharist

Corpus Christi represents more than just the Church giving thanks for the way that Christ remains, with us always – even unto the ends of the Earth. It’s a celebration that we, the Church, are united in and as the Body of Christ.

Sermon for Trinity – 12th June 2022

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

In May 2009, I was summoned, one evening, to the General Synod Office in Edinburgh for what has been called ‘trial by buffet’. The format is simple. A group of candidates for ministry eat supper with four ‘selectors’ and everyone tries to be friendly and relaxed, but no-one succeeds. The selectors have the onerous job of trying to discern God’s call in the lives of the candidates and the candidates are just terrified. 

After supper, the each candidate is interviewed twice for 30 minutes at a time by two of the selectors (one lay and the other ordained) working together taking it in turns to ask questions. At the second of these interviews with just two minutes to go, one of the selectors said: “Sunday is Trinity Sunday, how would you explain the Trinity to one of your Egyptian (Muslim) friends, who would probably think that Christians worship three Gods?” My reply was along the lines of “Do you think that I can explain probably the most difficult of Christian doctrines in just two minutes.” And then having bought some time, I waffled for the remaining minute.

What did Jesus say to his disciples in today’s Gospel?

There are things that are essential to your faith, but I can’t speak about them because you wouldn’t be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.

Yes really!

The Trinity is an inadequate human attempt to describe what we believe God;s like and to reflect the ways we might encounter God (or perhaps more accurately) that God might encounter us. It underlines that God should be seen not as a creature or object but as a spiritual experience whose mystery inspires awe, but who can’t be understood or explained logically. In other words it brings us face to face with the mystery of God, and helps us to recognise the God that we meet in the Bible, in history and in own lives.

Poetry and hymns often capture an idea better than anything else, so let me share with you this poem by Canadian Anglican Priest – Bill Countryman:

Going to God with the Shepherds.

If you want to go to God, go without your certainties. 

Take your graces. Leave your certainties behind.
If you go looking for a Triangle inside a Trefoil inside a Conundrum,
you’ll miss the greatest sight of all,
the Holy Trinity playing children’s games on the lawns of heaven.
If you only look for the Virgin of the Window,
you’ll walk right past Our Lady,
laughing and telling stories with a group of friends.

The disciples knew not the Lord Jesus in his resurrection flesh.
They were expecting someone else,
someone they knew for certain.
And this was like, but was it he?
They knew him only when he handed them their bread.

Go to God, then,
taking in the hand of memory the silken light of a clear dawn after wet weather
and say, with tears if need be,
You made this.
Take the name of your beloved and say,
You made him and in him you remade me.
Take the goodness of your life.
And take some moment of uncertain and life-giving hope,
ike an angel whispering or – sometimes – trumpeting in your ear.
These are your guides.

And so go with the shepherds on their angelic quest. 

Go to that hick town that David left as soon as he got the chance,
go to the stable, see what you never expected to see,
the doors to God opening in that manger against all certainty.

And then return to find anew the tracks of grace:
the beauty of men, the beauty of women, the delight of children,
the running of a swift dog, the flight of birds,
the sweetness of a pear, hands held in quiet.
If you want to go to God, leave your certainties behind.
But be sure to take your graces.

L. William Countryman

Today in Arpafeelie we have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Poppy into our community in baptism and we’ll all make promises to her. Her parents and Godparents will make their specific promises, and then as a congregation we’ll say that we welcome Poppy into our family, the Body of Christ and will share with her the gift of God’s love revealed in Christ.

In faith, we’re invited to learn the value of inter-dependence. Where I need you, and you need me and together we’re stronger. Where as a community we can support and encourage one another, sharing both our sadness and our joy – in funerals, in weddings and as today in baptism.

As Christians we’re not perfect, we’re as capable of being thoughtless, of as the next person, we’re after all works in progress, but we need to learn to make space for God to work in us.

Baptism, or christening is a starting point for this learning. It’s a way of saying, for us and on behalf of Poppy, that we’ll commit to feeding her spiritual needs and growth in faith,

And Communion, which we share, serves as a reminder and reinforcement of this commitment. We eat bread, made special because of the way Jesus taught us to share it and in doing so be aware of the love of God poured out for us. We share with one another, with the wider community of faith and with the Blessed and Holy Trinity.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 


Trees Duly Planted

This afternoon at St Columba’s, the outgoing President of East Sutherland Rotary (Linda Graham), in incoming President (Elizabeth Sweetman) and Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for Sutherland (Monica Main) planted trees for Ukraine, World Peace and Her Majesty’s Jubilee respectively.

Canon James led a short service of Dedication and Blessing, the large congregation sang out, ably competing with the traffic on the A9, passers by stopped to see what was happening and tea and many delicious cakes and biscuits were enjoyed by all.

And Piper April Sutherland demonstrated why she has been accepted to study at the Royal Conservatoire for Scotland after the holidays.

Well done to everyone – a huge thank you to all those who helped the Rotary to raise £5000 to send Shelterboxes to help the refugees from Ukraine.

God of Wonder,
as we gather together to bless the earth
and celebrate the potential of the trees before us,
we pray that they may serve as a living witness
to our commitment to heal our common home
through long-lasting, bold changes.
Grant us the courage to continue to take this stand
for the sake of the goodness of your creation,
and the inspiration and delight it provides us.
Through Christ, your Son, our Lord


Jubilee Weekend Celebrations

A lovely celebration of the life and work of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Tain Parish Church to round off the Jubilee weekend. The service was led by Canon James and both Lord Lieutenant Joanie Whiteford and MP Jamie Stone took part.

On Saturday there was a splendid street party on Cathedral Green in Dornoch.

Tea, cakes and music, all in the sunshine.