Grasping and Comprehending

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

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

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

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

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

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

The second is this:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

SEC 1982 Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings
James

The Resurrection Life?

Anna and I are very excited, because we now have a definite plan to travel south in June to meet our granddaughter Alanna for the first time. We have been able to start making travel plans because of the gradual relaxation of the rules on travelling and visiting, as a result of the relative success of the lockdown and the vaccine rollout.

Over the last year the majority of the population have had to make considerable sacrifices to protect each other from what has turned out to be a very infectious virus. We are now moving into a more settled phase, as the restrictions are relaxed, but we all need to stay vigilant. The need to avoid complacency is underlined for us in the news reports, as we see how easily Covid can pop up again in areas of our country and in countries around the word.

Simon and I are very grateful to all of you for the support that you have given us in very challenging times, when many of out familiar patterns of church activity have had to be modified or curtailed. We have gradually been restoring patterns of worship, but we have still a little way to go and things will never return to exactly how they were before. Over the next few months we will be taking stock and looking at how under the new circumstances that we and our communities find ourselves in, we can be faithful witnesses to the God who made us and who cares for us. This will include renewing our commitment to the folk on the North Coast by finding a suitable venue for our monthly gatherings.

For some of you new opportunities have opened up with on-line services and we will continue to develop these as they have enable people who are unable to get to services in church or other venue because of health issues or travelling distance to worship with us. You will all have received an email with details of our Zoom Morning and Evening Prayer services. 

Even if you don’t join these services in person, you can join them in spirit. Morning and Evening Prayer are said daily in some form by clergy and many lay people around the world, so however you engage with them, you are joining “such a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). To make it easier for you, a list of the Psalms and Readings for these services is attached to this newsletter and you will find a similar list in each month’s edition.

We have had some success with online social activities, the longest-running of these being the Tuesday Coffee Mornings at 10:30am (now preceded by Morning Prayer at 10am). On those Tuesdays where other business prevents me from joining in, I do miss the lively chat and camaraderie that is always evident. We have also had successful on-line Advent and Lent Study Groups and this way of doing things can bring together people who would not ordinarily want to travel long distances on cold winter night, though I am sure that we have all missed activities where we can be physically in the same room together – it just isn’t the same on-line.

We’re now of course in the Season of Easter, when as Christians we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. What we all need in the coming weeks is resurrection in our lives as we take steps in the direction of a life beyond lockdowns and restrictions on mixing and movement. For the disciples of Jesus, Resurrection didn’t mean returning to life as it had been, but to a new life of hope, in which all sorts of new possibilities opened up, possibilities that they could never have imagined. 

For all of us, the old life that we lived can never return. The experience of the last year has changed all of us and so much else beside. However as we start to forge a future for ourselves, the wonderful thing is – who knows what might happen? Maybe, just maybe, the world might be a better place for everyone.

Blessings
James

Looking forward together in Christ

On 11th March it was the 10th anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami which caused much devastation in small fishing communities up and down Japan’s Pacific coast. By the time I visited some of these communities in November 2011, quite a bit of progress had been made in rebuilding facilities and infrastructure, though there was still much to do in restoring people’s homes and livelihoods.

Given the scale of the damage and disruption to people’s lives, I wondered how hope had emerged from all the chaos and despair. In discussion with several Japanese people, what emerged was that a crucial factor was the timing. The Tsunami hit just before the arrival of the ‘sakura-zensen” the ‘cherry blossom front’.

In Japan the arrival of the cherry blossom (sakura) is greeted with great reverence, with people camping out for several days so as to be in the best place when it happens. There are parties (hanami parties) with groups of family or friends picnicking under trees laden with blossom. There’s a virtual wave as the sakura-zensen which sweeps north from the southern island of Kyushu in early March up through the main archipelago to Hokkaido in the north by some time in May. Daily reports of the location of the sakura-zensen are broadcast on the news, so that people can track it’s progress and be ready for it when it arrives.

The meaning and significance of cherry blossom in Japan runs deep, making the country’s national flower a cultural icon revered not just for its beauty, but for its enduring symbolism. Cherry blossom symbolises for them, life, death and renewal, and the delicate balance between the fragility and impermanence of our existence and new life and hope. Sakura are have been revered for many centuries in Japanese folk religions, as a symbol of rebirth, believed to represent the mountain deities that transformed into the gods of rice paddies and guaranteed the year’s harvest.

Sakura have therefore always signalled the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. So with the blooming in 2011 coming shortly after the tsunami, it engendered this spirit of optimism and renewal bringing with it new hope and new dreams. When cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the future is bursting with possibilities. When the Japanese gather under the cherry blossom trees each year, they’re also commemorating the loss of loved ones and reflecting on their own lives with a sense of wonder whilst also laying aside the disappointments of the past to focus on a promising new start.

Given all that has happened over the last year, as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, let us likewise look forward with hope and optimism, laying aside our own disappointments and looking forward to all the new possibilities together in Christ.

Blessings
James

… But joy comes with the morning

I expect that many of you, like me, have been feeling a profound sense of loss in relation to the many people, activities and freedoms that you have lost over the past year.

One day, when I was working at the University of Glasgow, I emerged from the building where I worked into the sunshine and encountered a colleague taking a break. As I greeted him there was something in the way he responded that indicated that a simple exchange of ‘good morning’ wasn’t enough. He then poured out a list of dreadful things that had happened in his family, ending by saying “I just want to yell at God”. “Well why don’t you?” I replied, to which he said “Is that allowed?”.

The answer is: “Of course its allowed, the people of the Hebrew Bible were doing it all the time”. You should have seen the look of relief on his face.

It’s now Lent and our Lent Study this year is ‘Lament and the Psalms’. Lament is a process for addressing what my colleague was feeling and also how I’ve been feeling, however it’s not just another way of being miserable. Lament has a discernable form and purpose, seen very clearly in the 40 or so Psalms of lament.

Firstly, the psalmist cries out to God in anguish, pain or despair, often unable to articulate exactly what’s wrong. A good example is verse 1 of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the Cross – “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”. The psalmist just wants to be heard and helped.

Secondly, he lists one or more complaints, often pulling no punches and accompanied by a list of reasons why the complaints should be heard and responded to.

There follows a recollection of past times when God has come to the rescue and perhaps the realisation and trust that He might again this time. Finally the psalmist remembers the good times when they felt better about the world and this usually blossoms into thanksgiving and praise.

So lament is a process, which may take place over a period of hours, days, weeks or months, by which overwhelming sadness, grief and pain gradually transform into memory of and thanksgiving for the many good things experienced and received. Lament in the lands of the Bible isn’t primarily an individual process and is often communal. Some people may be sharing in the loss or anguish or grief directly, but there will be others lamenting with them to support them in the process. Of course we see this at work in many communities in the mourning that takes place when one of our own has been taken from us.

Lament can be a powerful process to help with any sense of loss, so give it a go, you’ll probably feel better for it. As Psalm 30 says: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Whilst I’ve been writing this, the sun has come out, it’s started to feel quite warm and I’m beginning to remember the good times and trust God that they’ll return in some form.

Blessings
James

Grief and Courage

I have been reading an important and fascinating book about the effects of human activity on the planet that we share. This book isn’t a long list of statistics and dire warnings; it contains no graphs or tables or maps. This is a book of stories, from individuals across the word; thirty-five stories in fact. They are stories told by Christians who have experienced some of the direct and indirect effects of man’s activities on their neighbourhoods, their environment and their way of life.

Words for a Dying World” is, as it’s byline says, a collection of “Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church”. You can probably see why I find this book fascinating, but why do I think it’s important? The reason is, because these stories are told not as complaint, not to attribute blame and not as answers to specific problems, but as lament. In his story about his Grandma’s oil well, Kyle Lambelet writes:

Lament is one of Scripture’s primary modes of prayer. The psalms are full of them. God laments over creation before the flood; Rachel weeps over her children; Jeremiah cries out in exile; Job denounces God’s abusive sovereignty. Laments are prayers at the end of human agency. They confront the reality of our situation in recognition that things are not as they should be.

My Grandma’s Oil WellKyle Lambelet (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Lament is an important part of grieving and something which our current Western culture struggles with. Lament is a way of dealing with grief and, as Kyle says, was an important part of the culture of the peoples of the Old Testament. Lament names the grief, shares the grief in community, talks about that which is lost and acknowledges the loss. But as Hannah Malcolm the editor of this book says:

We grieve the death of particular things, whether creatures or places, and, until we understand this, our relationship between others and ourselves, we will continue to flounder in slogans and simplifications. If grief is an expression of love, our grief takes on the shape of the places and creatures to whom we intimately belong.

Introduction: The End of the World?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

In the last year we have all experienced the loss of people, things, activities and important aspects of our lives, as a result of the global pandemic that is Covid-19. It is important for all of us to find the time and the place to name those losses in the company of others, and since each of us experiences an individual set of losses, and the same loss affects each of us in different ways, it’s important that we have the opportunity to share our stories and our sadness. But lament isn’t simply a maudlin introspection on what is no more, but it also allows us to work through our grief at the loss and see hope beyond it.

Our new Eucharistic Prayer for Lament affirms this in the following petition:

Glory and thanksgiving be to you,
most loving Father,
for you have redeemed us through your Son.

By his life and sacrificial death,
he conquered the powers of darkness,
transforming our lament
and freeing us to praise you.

SEC Eucharistic Prayer for Lament

We learn from the psalms, that biblical lament comes in many forms. Some is directed toward an enemy; some toward God; some is individual and isolated; some is communal and comprehensive. Lament is a response to the full range of problems in the human condition. The psalms specifically name: isolation, shame, despair, danger, physical impairment, and death as cause for lament.

Lament may be a helpful way to reflected on any loss, and there are both personal and community aspects to that. With this in mind, our Lent Study this year will explore Lament, both in general and in particular and use the Psalms as an import source of helpful material.

I leave the final word to Hannah, as she writes in the conclusion:

If we cannot bring ourselves to be truthful about our broken histories, or the current trauma we face and perpetuate, we cannot begin to heal. Survival, compassion, honesty. These are all good reasons to grieve. But the conviction that Christ’s resurrection marked the death of death also contains the hope that our works of love in the present are not consigned to destruction. They participate in a transformed future.”

Conclusion: World without End?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Blessings
James

O Come O Come Emmanuel

A week or so ago, I was chatting with someone with whom I reflect on ministry from time to time. We were discussing the challenges that we’re likely to face this Christmas. After a pause he asked me “OK so if you strip everything back, what really needs to be done at Christmas?

I thought about it for a moment or two and said “Announce the Incarnation!” “Well”, he said, “What you need to do is to think about how you and your congregations can do that to the best of your abilities.

So I thought, how do we usually do that? We prepare to do it throughout Advent as we remember successively week by week The Patriarchs (and Matriarchs), The Prophets, John the Baptist and The Virgin Mary as we light our Advent Candles. We hold Advent study groups so that we can think more deeply about some particular aspect of our faith. We have a collection for the Food Bank.

As we get to the end of Advent, we decorate our Church buildings with flowers, greenery, Christmas tree etc. and then set up our cribs. We sing advent hymns and Christmas Carols and we have Carol Services and join in services held jointly with the other denominations. Then on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we have joyous celebrations of the Incarnation itself and usually welcome a fair number of visitors to our services.

We do all these things and we celebrate in our homes with food and other good things.

The question is, “how many of those things can we do this year?” The answer my sisters and brothers is “most of them”. The principle exception is the singing, but as those of you have been able to celebrate the Eucharist with us over the past four months know, we’ve replaced hymns by humns and our organists have been wonderful in keeping the familiar tunes flowing whilst we humn along. We’ll of course also not be able to meet up with so many people but we can phone them.

This year as any other year, we can share the Good News of Christ coming into our world as a tiny defenceless baby to be Emmanuel – God with us.

This year we face many challenges but it is worth reflecting, as the Christmas story unfolds, on the enormous challenges that Mary and Joseph and their baby faced that first Christmas. And as we do so, let us offer up our prayers for all new parents and their babies, may God be with them all, every step of the way.

Incarnational Blessings
James

We Rejoice that they have lived

The weather has definitely announced the start of Autumn in the last week or so, and we are now entering the last few weeks of the Church year, with the Season of Remembrance. There are three key days in this season, each one quite special but with a different focus.

On All Saints’ day this Sunday (1st November) we remember all those Christian people who have gone before us and shaped our understanding of what it means to live a Christian life and our approach to faith, worship and prayer. As part of that we should remember all those who have influenced our own journeys’ of faith, those who have guided and taught us, those who have nurtured us and those who have encouraged us when we were struggling with grief, doubt and disappointment. Our Services in St Finnbarr’s, St Andrew’s and St Columba’s will focus on the Saints this Sunday and we will have the opportunity to hum some well known tunes and we celebrate the Saints.

Grant us your light, O Lord,
so that the darkness of our hearts may wholly pass away,
and we may come at last to the light of Christ.
For Christ is the morning star,
who when the night of this world is passed,
brings to His saints the promised light of life,
and opens to them everlasting day. Amen.

On All Souls’ day, this Monday (2nd November) we remember those that we love but see no more, our parents and grand-parents, siblings and other family members, our friends and all those that we have held dear. As we remember, we give thanks for all that they have meant to us and for the specific ways that they have touched our lives and our lives have been formed and enriched by them. Traditionally a list of those that we love but see no more is read at a special Requiem on All Souls day and Simon and I will be reading lists of names at services in Tain and Brora on Monday. We have lists from previous years for all the Churches in the DLBTT group, but in you wish to add any additional names please let me know as soon as possible.

God our redeemer,
you know the secrets of our hearts.
You bear our pain and our anger.
You bear our tears and our loneliness.
You bear the questions that have no answers.
Comfort us and come close to us
whether or not we call you by name.
And in the darkest places give us hope and love. Amen.

On Remembrance Day (11th November) and/or Remembrance Sunday (this year on 8th November) we remember and give thanks for the lives of those who have died in the service of their country and all those who have served their county and suffered life-changing effects as a result. Usually, there are well attended Services at War Memorials up and down the country, but this year such gatherings will not be taking place in that form, but we can still mark this day. We will hold Acts of Remembrance in St Finnbarr’s, St Andrew’s and St Columba’s as part of our usual Sunday Services. Perhaps we should also light candles in our windows as we reflect on all that war means and why we need to work to reduce conflict so that war will not claim the lives of so many in future.

Almighty God,
from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed:
kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all, the true love of peace
and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel for the nations of the earth
that in tranquillity your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Blessings
James

Cycles of Life

photo by JRP

Le Quattro Volte” is an idiosyncratic film by Michelangelo Frammartino. It lasts for an hour and a half, following cycles of life in the hills of Calabria. In four chapters the film successively chronicles a year in the life of an old man, a young goat, a tree and a batch of charcoal. There’s no dialogue, you do hear murmurs of human speech, but they’re unintelligible and there are no subtitles. There’s also the barking of a dog, the bleating of goats and clanging of their bells and the wind sighing in the branches of the gigantic pine that’s felled for a village celebration.

Perhaps watching such a film doesn’t sound like a particularly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes, but when I saw it in 2011, I found it captivating. In the same way I found watching a small cluster of fly agarics (Amanita muscaria) last week. They emerged, looking for all the world like iconic toadstools in a Walt Disney cartoon, but by the following day they looked more like plates, then like shallow bowls, after which they fell over and started to disintegrate.

They say that the one certainty in life is change and, as in both the film and the toadstools, change often occurs in cycles. The cycles may be over years, months, weeks or days, but there’s an inevitability to them, whatever the cycle length. Most of us find change unsettling, even when it is part of what one might call gentle cycles, as illustrated in my examples.

However over the last seven months we have had a great deal of a much more disruptive change thrust upon us. One of the more difficult aspects of change is the grief that we feel for what has been taken away. We recognise grief when someone that we love dies or suffers from a life-changing accident or disease. We may also recognise grief when we lose something that has been a familiar part of our life, or that hold precious memories for us. But we may also grieve for our way of life, the things that we are used to doing, the people that we are used to meeting or gathering with.

Grieving isn’t a well defined process with clearly delineated stages as is often written about in self-help books. Grief is individual and if there are stages, one may bounce backwards and forwards dealing with denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression before accommodating and accepting a ‘new normal’.

Over the past few months, I have found the cycles of nature very helpful in adapting to the changes that have happened and that may be what appealed to me about “Le Quattro Volte”. I have also found the psalms to be of great comfort, because the psalmist frequently found change and the circumstances in which he found himself troubling and God was always there at his side to comfort him.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

Blessings
James

Rewilding the Church

I have been sent a book for review entitled “Rewilding the Church”. In it Steve Aisthorpe sees the Church as having slipped out of kilter with its head – Jesus. He uses the metaphor of the rewilding used to restore a balance between nature and its environment, to suggest the corrective that we need to get back on track. He writes: “The New Testament’s vision of Church is not a herd of people with common beliefs or shared behaviours. Rather, it is a community centred on Jesus [which] draws them together in a shared quest of Christward transformation.

The last six months have had a profound effect on all our lives. Gone are a lot of the certainties that we’ve come to rely on. One of those certainties was that there would be services of worship, according to a regular pattern, in eight locations around Sutherland and Tain.

For much of that time, there’ve been no services and, even though there has been a resumption in Dornoch and Tain and also three church buildings open for Individual Prayer, there are a number of places where we can’t yet meet and people who for many reasons can’t be present even though they would like to be.

We’ve all spent much of more time on our own with God these last few months and the gatherings online, the broadcast services and now the hygienic, distanced and masked services aren’t the same as the familiar experiences we were used to and it can all seem very strange indeed.

Increasingly in our society, there are people who used to go to church who now describe themselves as Christians who do not go to church. What does our experience of the last six months say about such a position? Have we not all been Christians who do not go to church? Overwhelmingly the people that I talk to in our congregations speak about missing the fellowship of worshipping and praying together. They’ve come to realise just how important community is in being followers of Jesus. We seem to be very keen to get back to meeting up for prayer and praise, rather than only engaging with God on our own. Far from being the end of the Church, lockdown seems to have made us all appreciate the time that we spend together as the Body of Christ, the Community of Faith.

The balance between being with God on our own and being together with God is described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, always the one to express things neatly in just a few words: “Let him [or her] who cannot be alone beware of community … Let him [or her] who is not in community beware of being alone.

Steve Aisthorpe concludes that “Rewilding the Church is not about implementing our best ideas with unusual passion; it requires stopping or slowing down, a conscious setting aside of preconceptions and a determination to discern what God is doing and our role in that.” Now is probably an ideal time to do just that.

Blessings
James

Community in the Body of Christ

Churches across the land are struggling with the question: “should we open or should we not?” One line of argument is: “You don’t need special words, a special place, special objects or special people to talk to God. God loves you and is listening. So just do it. The church buildings may be shut, but the ears of Heaven aren’t.” All of that is of course true, however, the spirituality that we’ve inherited in the Episcopal Tradition isn’t simply about an individual, personal, relationship with God. Our tradition is centred around a Community relationship with God and with each other, culminating in our sharing in the Eucharist together; entering into the Community of the Trinity which lies at the very heart of our faith.

Much of St Paul’s writing is to and about Community. For Paul Salvation is the work of God that brings people into a right relationship with both God and with one another. In brief, we’re being saved from the broken relationships with God and each other that can and do unleash the forces of sin and death in the world.

At times, Christians have sometimes reduced Paul’s message of salvation to something like: “Believe in Jesus, have a personal relationship with Him and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” This is true, as far as it goes, but … in his letters, Paul never stops talking about relationships among people and between people and the rest of God’s creation, as he wrote in his letter to the Colossians:

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” Col 3:13-15

Paul emphasises the multiplicity of gifts in the Body of Christ, the Community of Faith, and that one part of a body can’t operate alone but all parts need to work harmoniously together, no part being superior to any other.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. … For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor 12

A couple of weeks back, St Finnbarr’s and St Andrew’s started opening for what the Scottish Government calls ‘Individual Prayer’, however our opening shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of ‘privatised prayer’. In order to be able to open, the members of those two Communities have had to work hard together to put in place plans and prepare the buildings, so that those using them can do so safely. People from within and beyond our Church Communities have appreciated our hospitality in opening them and several people have felt able to take their first steps outside their homes in four months, into the sanctuary of well prepared spaces, where prayer has been offered by the Community for well over a century.

In the coming weeks, some of our congregations will be able to meet again for services of worship and for that we should give thanks, but there’s still much to do to create the environment needed. So as we look towards opening buildings for worship, we do so as a Community working together. The challenge is, as it was in opening for Individual Prayer, to provide a prayerful, safe environment. Unless we can achieve that we’ll remain closed. Finding God in Prayer and Worship is surely more likely at home, than in an environment that looks like a combination of a crime scene, a shop and a hospital.

What we need to keep uppermost in our minds, is that all that we do should 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 and where people feel able to pray and worship together. In this, we all have our part to play.

Blessings
James