Yesterday, during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18th-25th January), 35 people met from across the Churches and Denominations in Sutherland and Easter Ross and one or two from as far afield as Arbroath. We met as Christians united in a common faith. We met as part of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7). We met “united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor 1).
We met because before Jesus died, he prayed to his Father:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
We met for a Service of Unity. We met to pray, to listen to Scripture and to reflect on Christian Unity.
A huge thank you to everyone who read, who provided music and who joined us in a outward and visible sign of our Unity in Christ.
Revd Harriet Johnston is serving her Title at St James the Less, Bishopbriggs; her husband, the Revd Lee Johnston, is also a Curate in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, serving at Christ Church, Lanark. Both Harriet and Lee spent short periods staying with Anna and James during their training, experiencing ministry in East Sutherland and Tain. Here Harriet describes her ordination to the priesthood in November.
“My ordination to the priesthood was memorable for all the right reasons. I was encouraged by the kind words of those who brought greetings from family, friends, and colleagues around the world.
Bishop Kevin preached a memorable sermon that he made personal to me. As you might imagine, the moment of ordination was deeply profound for me too. Only 20 people were permitted to be in the church but that made the service intimate and personal.
Due to the travel restrictions, my family watched the ordination on Zoom from their kitchen. It was good to know they were there along with many friends and members of St James’ Church.“
On behalf of the College of Bishops, the Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church writes:
To the Churches and congregations of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Many of us have watched, with growing concern, the rise in the number of those testing positive for Coronavirus. This rise has been seen right across Scotland during the past few weeks and may get higher still as the effects of the recent holidays become clearer.
Many of our churches had already decided to remain closed or to suspend face to face worship as this situation unfolded, limiting the numbers to 20 people had given an added headache to our larger churches while sustaining the weekly opening regime had become exhausting for some of our smaller congregations. The awareness of the speed of transmission in the new variant had made it quite clear that the position of Places of Worship was becoming more and more difficult to sustain, a situation made clear by the First Minister today.
The reclosing of our churches is difficult, especially for those who have had the privilege of meeting together over the past few months, yet it is now what we must do. The provision of Provincial online worship will continue and many of our churches will meet together via a variety of platforms. We must continue to pray for each other, for the communities we serve and for the authorities charged with protecting the nation.
The full implications of today’s announcement and the answers to the questions we all have will become clearer as the government documents are produced this week and meetings between us and the government take place. Information will then come from the Advisory Group.
Please continue to pray for the College of Bishops as we will continue to pray for you until with the help of science and our health service we can once again have the freedom to meet together.
Following the announcement in the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister today (4th January 2021) and pending updated guidance from the College of Bishops, our Churches will no longer be open to the public for either services of worship or private prayer. So from now on we must all pray at home.
We will be reflecting and praying about what we can offer by email, on-line and on paper over the next few days and would appreciate your prayers as we do this. The on-line Coffee Morning will still take place on Tuesday mornings on Zoom using the same details as before (if you have mislaid the joining details, email James and they will be provided by return).
Keep safe, keep well and we can all look forward to when we can gather again in the presence of God and each other for worship. In the meantime, we can all help to look after each other via the phone, email etc.
May God bless you all.
Two prayers from the Scottish Prayer Book
In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.
O ALMIGHTY and merciful God, with whom are the issues of life and death: Grant us, we beseech thee, help and deliverance in this time of grievous sickness and mortality, and sanctify to us this affliction, that in our sore distress we may turn our hearts unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
For Hospitals and Infirmaries.
ALMIGHTY God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people: Continue, we beseech thee, his gracious work among us in all hospitals and infirmaries; console and heal the sufferers; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses, wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; prosper their work, O Lord, with thy continual blessing; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
I seem to have spent hour after hour filming, writing and recording Christmas messages and sermons for so many organisations and churches. Today I am writing to you the Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness.
I am writing to you with my Christmas Greetings and with my thanks for all you have been doing in the past year. No one could have possibly anticipated the effects of Coronavirus would have upon us all and I believe we have managed to sustain and in places grow far more than I could have hoped.
I know that by all means possible people have received the comfort of the church, digital, hand written, telephone, weekly sermons, newsletters. I know just how hard your clergy and lay ministers have worked. There has also been a weekly or twice weekly Provincial service in which this Diocese has played its part. The Cathedral has live streamed all its worship including Morning and Evening Prayer and many of our churches have live streamed and recorded inspirational services filled with messages of hope. I know of Zoom worship at which people who have long since left the Highlands have been able to reconnect and I have experienced the joy of those who have come together for face to face worship.
It all sounds wonderful, but it comes at a cost. Your clergy need a break, many have struggled to get away at all this year and I know too well the pressure of always being at home and therefore always available. I have sadly also heard criticism that is just so unkind. If you haven’t heard from someone for a while don’t assume they are not doing their job, rather assume they are snowed under, give them a call to see how they are.
The most wonderful moments have often been from unexpected letters saying thank you and are you okay?
Therefore be kind to each other, offer to help when help is needed and don’t be too critical of people who are doing their best.
This Christmas will be very different from what we are used to, or even what we expected up until till last weekend, but it will still be Christmas. Celebrate the birthday of Jesus and offer worship and prayer wherever you find yourself. There will be Provincial services online and from the Cathedral, some will be able to meet in church while others will join through television and computer.
So please keep a faithful Christmas and a loving Christmas. Keep those around you safe and continue to work for justice and peace at home and abroad.
Above all offer thanks to God who walks with us in good times and bad and who offers us a home in his heavenly kingdom.
A supportive hand rail has now been installed at St Finnbarr’s, to help members of the congregation with the steep path up to the Church. It is particularly welcome as we move into the winter, with the increased likelihood of ice and snow.
This evening we had a splendid Carol Service on Zoom: two organists, six readers, nine carols, 28 Zoom connections and 45 people taking part (well what did you expect if an ex-statistician reports on proceedings:-).
Zoom behaved itself, broadband connections delivered the speed that they were supposed to, the readers all unmuted and muted at the right times and read clearly, the music was played beautifully and if the singing in each of the other households was anything like it was in this one, there are no words to describe it!!
Suffice to say a wonderful time a coming together as the Body of Christ was shared, praise was offered to God and everyone got thoroughly in the mood for Christmas – what more could any of us desire?
A huge thank you to Simon and Jamie, to Douglas, Rosemary, Ann, Carol, Caroline and James and to everyone who joined in the celebration – some even stayed on for a drink afterwards.
Bishop Mark, offers the following message to Church members following the announcement that new restrictions are being introduced to combat the spread of a new variation of Covid-19:
As many of you will know already, the Scottish Government’s regulations on the Covid-19 Pandemic were altered this evening [Saturday 19 December 2020]. The changes have a dramatic effect on what people can and cannot do over Christmas and in the weeks following.
The reason for these changes is the scientific advice given to the Government on the risks caused by a variation of the virus, the increased speed of infection seen and the numbers of people who were likely to meet together at Christmas.
The College of Bishops’ Advisory Group will issue an update to cover these changes but I felt it was important to say something this evening.
The changes are in line with the regulations already governing Public Worship. There was no change announced to the rules we already have as a church. The Christmas bubbles hadn’t changed the numbers who could worship in our buildings, simply who you could come to church with.
Rules on numbers, social distancing and travel to church remain the same dependent on which tier your local authority is in. On 26 December all but a few island communities will enter Tier 4 for the following three weeks. During that period the maximum number who can attend church will be 20 and congregation members will not be permitted to travel outside their own local authority area for worship.
Those are the bald facts of this announcement, and as I say any other information will come from the Advisory Group.
The reality is that across the country tonight people will be feeling empty and dejected. Hopes and dreams of meeting family over Christmas will have been dashed and in some cases there will be anger and frustration. I know how I am feeling at the thought of not seeing my own family.
I ask from the bottom of my heart, that people find it in themselves to be gentle with each other, not taking out anger on others or saying things which we will regret. We are all hurting from these restrictions on our way of life. Care and cherish each other, for we are asked to “love our neighbours as ourselves” from the depths of our hearts and with all the gifts we have been given.
Our ministry as a church is to care for all God’s people. We will do that through online worship and in some places face-to-face worship but we also need to do it by phoning the lonely, keeping in contact with the isolated, seeking to work with others for the benefit of our society and to speak of the joy and hope of Christmas, continuing to proclaim: “Unto us a Child is born.”
The Most Rev Mark Strange Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church