Bishop’s Update – 26th May 2020

My Dear Friends

I thought it was time to write again to you as you hear of changes to lockdown both in the country and eventually in the churches.

The first thing I want to do is to once again thank you all.

Firstly I want to thank the clergy and Lay Readers and lay ministers for the way that they have simply kept on going, there are services in nearly all congregations, live streamed, recorded, phone messaged sermons, Zoom services and because of the way the lockdown advice was given then the priests have been able to celebrate the Eucharist either in the church if it is close at hand or in their homes. This has been so important, remember we celebrate the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christs sacrifice and redemption, it isn’t about us it is about God.

Secondly I want to thank the laity for the gracious way most of you have accepted the need for these changes and the kindness you have shown to your clergy. I am also aware of rotas of food delivery, food banks, words of comfort for the bereaved, and learning of new skills that help with the life of the Church. Someone tried to tell me that the churches were shut !!! I don’t know where they were looking. Can I simply ask that if you are struggling then please get in touch and we can try and help.

Thirdly I want to thank all those who have been working as usual, those in key worker posts and essential services, I know how difficult the changes can be, Jane is teaching from home and Beth is coordinating a workforce from home, it is very different. Can I also ask you all to be kind to yourselves, take time out to relax it is important.

Now to the next period of time;

The College of Bishops has set up a working group of experts to advise us on how to open up our churches when the time is right. This group are looking at matters of distancing, hygiene, protection, numbers of volunteers required etc. The task group will produce a list that each church will need to comply with if it is to open and when you are ready to do that then you will need to show me that you have everything sorted. We will not open a church until the clergy, the staff, the congregation and any visitor is safe. I am not expecting the final document for a few weeks yet and even when it is ready, we will still need to follow the advice of the Scottish Government before we even think of beginning to think about opening. I know many of you are anxious about the church rushing forward, we won’t.

Can I please ask you to do something important for me and for you. If you have a key to your church please leave it on the hook unless you are the priest or the one designated person checking on the building. For example in Caithness, Rev Ellie can enter St Peters in Thurso, but as St Johns Wick is too far to be travelling then the Prior of the Servers Guild keeps an eye on the building there. Please try and keep to the instructions.

I will continue to produce a reflection and the occasional service etc here from Arpafeelie, keep an eye on the Primus’s Facebook page.

The intention of both the diocese and the province is to keep running the digital services that have been available throughout our lockdown, we wont suddenly stop because some are back in church. Please let me know if there is a particular service you are missing out on.
We had been expecting to be celebrating in Wick last week as the church of St John’s celebrated it’s 150th anniversary, please hold them in your prayers and we will have a do when we are able.

I haven’t forgotten that I was going to talk about the Charges of the diocese and their history etc I look forward to doing that next time.


Say Hello! and help someone feel less lonely today! 

What is it all about?

  • Highland Hello is a multi-lingual project that encourages people to recognise that simple gestures can support us to feel more connected with others during the COVID19 pandemic.
  • Originally launched in 2019 and supported by funding from the Highland Third Sector Interface the initiative has being re-launched to encourage positive connections during this challenging time.
  • The idea is to spread the word and encourage people across the Highlands to say ‘HELLO’ to one another.
  • In recent months, life has change for all of us. This project was originally launched in 2019 but we are re-launching it at a time where we believe saying hello is more important than ever and an essential way to stay connected and lessen feelings of loneliness.

What do we hope to achieve?

  • In recent months, life has changed for all of us and social distancing has meant it is now more important than ever that we find different ways to stay connected with our family, friends and communities.
  • With a view to connecting with those who may be feeling isolated and anxious, the Highland Hello project is asking people to make a small gesture of connection with three other people by saying ‘HELLO’. With staying safe in mind this could be by text, email, telephone, posting a short note or card or a simple smile or wave to someone across the street.
  • Using the power of 3. We challenge you to make contact with 3 people.  If they then make contact with 3 people and they make contact with 3 people and so on, the ‘HELLO‘ spreads out rapidly (at an ‘R’ value of 3).

  • The Highland Hello Project also invites you to make wee a film to say ‘HELLO‘ and share what has made you happy during lockdown (gardening, cooking, music etc).  Post them and tag @HighlandHello on twitter. We will be asking carers to share these films with care home residents and with those who cannot get out.  The Highland Senior Citizens Network has put together a short video in the Black Isle

Who are we?

  • Those involved in the development of this project are Tiffany from Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy Project, Holly from the Scottish Recovery Network, Rachael from Fèis Rois, Anne from Highland Senior Citizens Network, Revd James Currall and Gail, formerly of Signpost.
  • You’ll find us on Twitter @HighlandHello and check us out on Facebook at HighlandHello2020


Bells, Bells, Bells …

Churches and other buildings in Ross-shire and Sutherland ringing their bells at 11:02 on Friday 8th May 2020 on the 75th Anniversary of VE Day (St Andrew’s, Tain and St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch amongst them).

Audio only version

A Letter of Appreciation

Bishop Mark writes:

I was minded last week to make a personal call to the Lead Chaplain at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow, Canon Iain Macritchie, writes Bishop Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Canon Iain is one of the clergy in my diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and is also a good friend. I wanted to thank him and his colleagues for all the work they were doing in very difficult circumstances. I spoke to him about the churches’ response to the situation and received his letter of thanks to us, which appears below.

Please hear what is being asked of us. As Bishop Kevin said in his sermon on Sunday: “We have closed our churches out of love, not out of fear.” We need to do as we are asked, stay isolated and do our best to beat this virus.

Dear Bishop Mark

I write to express the gratitude of the Scottish Government for the exemplary lead taken by the Scottish Episcopal Church in these challenging times.

The SEC has consistently responded to the advice being given with appropriate and responsible actions and, in doing this, has set a good example for other faith and belief groups to follow.

Specifically, the SEC was one of the first faith communities to instruct the suspension of gathering together for acts of worship. We realise that this has come at no small cost to theological principles but we also see the rich discoveries of other ways of worshiping together and, in particular, we see the valuing of human life and the understanding that care previously expressed by gathering and contact must now be expressed by social distancing.

It is hard to over-estimate the ongoing risk of contagion that, for example, a simple visit to the supermarket represents. The Scottish Government advice is that we limit such contacts to the absolute minimum and the strictly necessary. In doing so, quite simply, we save lives.

With this in mind, can I encourage you, please, to use whatever influence you have as Primus, to thank in particular the clergy of the SEC at this time, for the hard sacrifices that are being made in continuing to have their church buildings closed and in desisting from gathering for worship.

Now is absolutely not the time to be easing these restrictions.

By keeping on doing what we are doing, we continue to value and preserve life and we continue to set the best of examples to our fellow faith communities in Scotland.

With warm good wishes

Rev Canon Dr Iain Macritchie
Canon for Spiritual Care and Healthcare Chaplains
Scottish Government Advisor on Spiritual Care

+Mark Writes – 23rd April 2020

My dear friends in Moray, Ross and Caithness,

It has been difficult this week to reconcile the feelings of frustration at lock down and the beauty and joy of this sunny spell of weather, though the wind can still freeze us if we get caught in it.

We now know that we have at least three more weeks of the present situation and many of us expect a longer process than that. I also suspect many are struggling with the inherent instinct of the Highlander to be welcoming and full of hospitality and the knowledge that we need visitors to stay away.

So lets just catch up with the news. It was wonderful to be able to hold a “Zoom” meeting with the Incumbents last week, to be able to see them and to talk with them worked well and I know I can only speak for myself but I can say I actually enjoyed it. We managed to get some business done and to share joys and frustrations. I am planning a meeting with all the licenced and commissioned clergy in a couple of weeks, just for a catch up. I want to commend all those in ministry, Lay and Ordained for all the work they have been doing in these peculiar times.

I have continued to hold meetings with the College of Bishops, we meet digitally every week, and I have regular conversations with representatives of the Scottish Government. I am also heavily involved with other church leaders both as a Primate in the Anglican Communion and as a leader of one of the National Churches in Scotland, my work load hasn’t got any less and

I have no travel time to prepare and unwind, different days.

The lighting of the candle and the various prayers offered for each Sunday evening has continued to unite us across our communities and I commend that to you all.

Please keep up with the websites of the various churches in the diocese, there are many good things happening and it is good to share.

Now to some information about the diocese. I have become increasingly aware from comments coming in that this huge territory that makes up the Diocese is unknown to many of you. I may talk about Aberchirder and Tongue, or Nostie and Brora but many of you have never seen the inside of or in fact the outside of these churches and are not aware of their history or life. So I am going to take the opportunity of these letters to let you know a bit more. If, or it should be when, I get something wrong about your church, simply let me know gently and I will correct it. Next year is still planned as a year of Pilgrimage so lets try and begin a virtual pilgrimage during this lock down.

I had thought I would start in the far East but I realised we probably needed to start with some basic information about the United Diocese itself. So here is a potted history. To find out more please look for the link on the Website that leads to Very Rev Stranraer-Mull’s history of our church.

We are three historic dioceses that United in the present shape in 1864, though our history goes back much further.

The Diocese of Moray was founded in 1114 by Bishop Gregoir,

The diocese of Ross is reputed to have been established by St Boniface in 690 and then re-established in 1127 by Bishop MacBethad.

Caithness was established in 1147 by Bishop Aindreas

Until the time the diocese became United as we know now there had been 45 bishops of Moray, 41 Bishops of Ross and 39 Bishops of Caithness. I am the 9th Bishop of the United Diocese and the 53rd Bishop of Moray!! It is interesting to note that we clearly had more stability in the Episcopacy than the other Episcopally led churches of the UK, in the same period for example Durham had 73 Bishops.

The Cathedral for Moray was finally established at Elgin having been at Birnie, Kinneader and Spynie before that. The Bishop lived at Spynie Palace.

The Cathedral for Ross was Fortrose, it having moved there from Rosemarkie and the Cathedral for Caithness was Dornoch as the bishops had re-established there from Halkirk following the killing of Bishop Adam. The only intact episcopal residence is what is now the Dornoch Castle Hotel.

These dioceses played their part in Scotland’s history and remained under the authority of Rome until around 1560 when the Scottish Reformation established a new church government and the bishops who survived that became part of the Church of Scotland.

The 17th century saw Scotland involved in the dynastic tribulations of the Stuart monarchs and what became known in Scotland as the Bishops Wars as the authority of the church fluctuated between Episcopacy and Presbytery. The arrival of William and Mary saw the official end of Episcopacy in the Scottish Church.

The Episcopalians continued to elect and consecrate bishops though now we were meeting in houses and meeting rooms, not Cathedrals and large churches. The church also remained in many places, especially in our diocese, loyal to the Stuarts and this ultimately brought about many years of persecution by the British Government and at the end of that time the Scottish Episcopal Church was but a shadow of its former self. One of the consequences of that was the joining together of dioceses, especially in those areas of depopulation, hence United Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness and our slightly odd boundary, it is still the boundary as established by the medieval church.

If you have read this far then you will have to wait for the next gripping instalment. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Just to wet your appetite for what may come your way please look at the slide show Canon Michael has put up on the Isla, Spey Deveron Web site

Take care of everyone, Stay Safe


Diocesan News – April/May 2020

The April/May Diocesan Newsletter is now available.

In it, Bishop Mark writes…

Dear Friends,

I am writing this to you from my office at Arpafeelie, the place that now functions as my Provincial office as well. We are in very difficult times and I want to thank the people of this diocese for the gentle and careful way they have put the new guidelines from the Bishops in place. I am aware that some felt we were going too far but as we now know we might not yet have gone far enough.

I don’t want to simply repeat all the things about this virus that you can pick up on the news and elsewhere, I want rather to offer a little lesson from history. This little church of ours, with its distinctive story, has a past that is full of isolation and separation, people unable to worship together, unable to share in the sacrament. This history of the time when we were a persecuted church is one that many hold up as the time of growing strength and resilience, families read the offices together, prayed together and held firmly to their faith. When the days of freedom came again the church grew and developed quicker than many had ever dreamt of.

Now I am not suggesting that this is the same situation but it might require the same resilience, saying the daily offices together at the same time from our own homes, sharing the Sunday readings, phoning and checking up on people. It might just be that we come out of this stronger in faith and stronger in fellowship, who knows, well I suspect God does.


Churches Now Closed

Following the directive from Boris Johnson this evening (23rd March) and updated guidance from the College of Bishops, our Churches will no longer be open to the public for either services or private prayer.  So from now on we must all pray at home.

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

Diocesan News – February/March 2020

The February & March Diocesan News is now available.

In it, Bishop Mark writes…

Dear Friends,

I am writing this to you from The Crask while I wait to lead worship here this afternoon. The weather is still rather driech but the inn is very cosy.

I have just completed the joyful task of hosting a meeting of the Celtic Bishops here in Inverness, we spent time in conversation and debate and I also took the opportunity to lead them on Pilgrimage through Inverness, visiting churches and stopping half way through for High Tea in the Town House. We were guests of the Council and it was wonderful to be met so warmly by the Deputy Provost and her team.

Pilgrimage is of course the theme for next years Scottish Episcopal year of Pilgrimage and I hope that all of you will at some point be able to journey with the church. I am also looking for ideas of pilgrimage within this diocese, so if you have any ideas please get in touch.

Tomorrow is Candlemas and we bring our Christmas festivities to a close, my prayers will be with you all as we begin the preparation of Lent.


Diocesan News – November/December 2019

The November/December 2019 Diocesan Newsletter is now available.

In it, Bishop Mark writes…

Dear Friends

Well what a month September was.

One Ordination to the Priesthood, three ordinations to the Diaconate and the rededication of St Columba’s Brora, we had full churches for all of these events and we met lots of people who are interested in our church and hopefully all of us can ensure that this interested can be encouraged by warm and inviting worship in our churches.

The beginning of October has also been busy, we said farewell to our Diocesan Registrar as George MacWilliam reached retirement and at the service giving thanks for his ministry among us we also welcomed the Bishop of Quebec and his team on a brief visit to catch up with us all.
This visit from overseas links was a foretaste of what will happen next summer when we welcome bishops and archbishops from across the Anglican Communion in the run up to the Lambeth Conference, I will report on this more fully soon.

I would like to ask you to remember our link dioceses in the intercessions in church. We have a long-standing link with Quebec and with the Diocese of Tuam in Ireland and they hold us in prayer weekly, we should remember to do the same.

I hope to catch up with many of you through the next few months.


+Mark Moray : Primus

Introducing a newly minted Priest

Today, St Peter and the Holy Rood in Thurso was packed with people from Caithness, from across our Diocese, from elsewhere in Scotland, from England and from even further afield.

So many people gave of themselves to make Ellie’s ordination as Priest a splendid occasion: stunning flowers, splendid music and singing, generous welcome, sumptuous food and drink, fine preaching, and efficient choreography of a large number of servers, visiting clergy, and so on. So much planning and preparation by members of the congregations, so much planning and preparation by the Bishop and his chaplain, so much planning and travelling by the people from many areas of the life of our church, our community and Ellie’s family, friends and colleagues past and present.

But what was it all about? Obviously it was a significant event in the life of these congregations, who haven’t seen an ordination in either of their buildings for quite a while. It was a significant event in the life of the diocese which has nurtured Ellie’s vocation over the past five or six years. It was a significant event for Ellie’s family who were all assembled in a way that perhaps they rarely manage. And it was a significant event for Ellie herself after a period of years of journeying. But more importantly than all of these, it was an act of praise, worship and thanksgiving to God for his goodness to us, his work amongst us and our witness of that to each other.

That was the real focus. What it was not about was any individual, no matter what their role in the proceedings or in the Church more generally being any more important than any other. Everyone who was involved in the planning, in the preparation, as a guest or with a particular role to perform in the service or the celebrations afterwards, came to that service (as to the one in Inverness Cathedral last week) as an individual – a son or daughter of God. Each with a story of their own, each with their own sorrows and pain, each with their own hopes and joys. In that we are all equal and equally valued by God as beloved children.