The Bridge

Excitement was in the air. The circus was coming to town. William set off for the river on that Friday afternoon, talking excitedly to his friends. It was early May and a chilly wind, coming in off the sea, swirled around them but William did not seem to mind. It was a welcome change from the cramped conditions of Ferry Boat Row where he lived with his parents, brother and twin sisters. Unlike most of the other children who walked bare-footed, William wore a fine pair of leather shoes; his father was a cobbler in town. When they reached the river, there was already a large raucous crowd assembling along its banks, laughing and shouting, glad to escape, at the end of the day, from the humdrum of their everyday lives. William pointed to some gaps on the bridge above and quickened his pace, his friends following closely behind, to get the best vantage point of the procession which was about to begin. He peered over the parapet and could hardly believe his eyes. Appearing round the bend of the murky river, a clown, sitting in a bathtub was being towed by three geese. William jumped with glee. He had never seen such a wondrous sight. The cheering crowd behind him surged forward to get a better glimpse of the spectacle below. There was an ominous sound above them as first one chain and then a second snapped. Joy and delight turned in an instant into horror and chaos as the bridge plunged into the icy waters of the River Bure below. 79 people, mostly children, were killed in the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster on 2nd May 1845. A plaque at the side of the river commemorates the names of all those who died. My great great granduncle, William Hindle was among them. He was just ten years old.

A subsequent investigation revealed that this was very much a man-made tragedy. The bridge design, the materials and the welding techniques were all found to be at fault. Tragic though the circumstances were, good did come out of it. New measures introduced, ensured that bridges the world over would become much safer as a consequence. So where was God in all of this? Why did He allow such untold suffering to happen? In Deuteronomy 31:6 we learn that God never leaves us or forsakes us and in Psalm 46:1 we read that He is our refuge and our strength, a help in time of trouble. Psalm 23 tells us that God is our Shepherd, guiding us, providing for us and protecting us. So how do we reconcile the truth of God’s divine protection on the one hand and the fact that our fellow Christians can die in unexpected and tragic ways? When the Tower of Siloam collapsed, killing a group of people, as recounted in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus makes the point that death comes to us all and that we must lead a Kingdom-focused life while we are here on earth. Our time on earth is a merely a fleeting passage to our true reward and our eternal home in Heaven, united with Christ. We do not always understand why God does what He does; why some live and others do not, and it is not our place to question why. In 1 Peter 4:12-17, Peter tells us that we should not think it strange when we suffer tragedy and difficulty in our lives but rather it is something we should expect. The pain, suffering and tragedy that we see in the world around us is a direct result of Satan’s influence and the people of God are not immune from it. However, in Revelation 21, we have the wonderful guarantee that Jesus Christ will return, and the Kingdom of God will be established. At that time, Satan will be banished for eternity and there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears and no more death. What a glorious reassurance and encouragement for us all.  Jesus is the bridge by which we reach God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a bridge which is robust, dependable and will never fall down.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Book Review: God and the Pandemic

God and the Pandemic by Tom Wright. A Christian reflection on the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath. 

ISBN 978-0-281-08511-8, ebook ISBN 978-0-281-08512-5 RRP £7.99, ebook £3.99

I haven’t written a book review since before I left school (and that was a very long time ago) but after reading this short(ish), biblical yet very accessible and hopeful book, I thought others might be interested to learn about it. So here goes!

Tom Wright, as many will know, is a New Testament Professor at St Andrew’s and Oxford as well as an erstwhile Bishop of Durham. He has authored over 80 books, many academic but many are “for everyone” as one of his New Testament series is entitled. 

I was keen to read this as I had not found any written material that biblically addressed the pandemic that has defined, disrupted and in some cases, destroyed our lives for the past 12 months.  The book was both biblical and practical; it did not disappoint but it did challenge me to rethink some things and, more importantly, act. 

The book describes how we can view the pandemic through the Old and New Testament and specifically focuses on Jesus’ life, teachings and resurrection. Using the thread of events in the whole of the bible he squarely rejects the notion that the pandemic is just a sign for the church to call everyone to repent or or to blindly accept that as God is in control there is nothing we can do. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus (not the current pandemic) are the call to repentance  and that is what we should always focus on. What he does argue is that the Church is called to lament, pray and serve others wherever the need is and to hold the authorities accountable for any injustice – just as Jesus did and as Christians have done throughout history, citing education, health and care for the poor as particular examples. 

There is a fascinating extract of a letter from Martin Luther about responding practically and faithfully to the plagues in his lifetime that shows “there is nothing new under the sun”. His words written in 1527 could have been spoken by a Christian in 2020!

I read this book in an afternoon but will be re-reading, highlighting, scribbling in the margins, reflecting and acting on its message for a long time to come. I hope others find it helpful and hopeful too.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Aiden [neighbourliness]

Aiden’s life journey was not just about the travelling, but how he travelled. He evangelised as he went with a message of more than just what he did and said, but of who he was in Christ. Aiden was about sharing with people: property, time and relationship with God – about being a good neighbour.

A bit of context for Aiden, who was born about AD590: the Welsh and Mercians invaded Northumbria and killed King Edwin, his household fleeing. Prince Oswald was sent to Iona for his education. Eventually he secured the throne and eagerly brought Córman as a missionary with him to Northumbria. Córman’s strict ways were rejected by the Northumbrians and he returned to Iona in despondency. At the ‘post mortem’ debate, an Irish monk called Aiden said, “Brother, it seems to me you were too severe on your ignorant healers. You should have followed the practice of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God.” Inevitably, the one who speaks out is the one who gets the job: Aiden was duly consecrated as a bishop and despatched to Northumbria. He met up with King Oswald at Bamburgh and established his missional base 6 miles north at what would become one of Britain’s most famous Christian sites: Lindisfarne.

Aiden brought with him much of what he had learned from Iona – each monk had a soul friend, they read and transcribed the Bible, spent time in contemplation and developed a centre for education. Drawing further inspiration from Columba, he encouraged praying the Psalms not just as Scripture but as personal prayers.

The Abbot and the King were close, but Aiden demonstrated another neighbourly quality: he visited Oswald when invited and ate frugally. Rarely would he arrive unless asked:

Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house—
    too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:17)

Oswald (and after his early death in battle, his successor Oswin) travelled throughout Northumbria with Aiden. These could be long journeys, for Aiden would walk everywhere (unless absolutely necessary to go by horse). He would stop and talk to all he met – if they were heathen, he would evangelise and urge them to be baptised; if they were Christian, he would encourage them in their faith. He shared his possessions with those in need, whether food, money or even his horse: material wealth was not a concern for him. Aiden quite literally talked to people where they were, just as he found them, taking an active interest in their lives and communities.

Irish origins; Scottish influence; English ministry: Aiden has been proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom (apologies to the Welsh).

Aiden also founded an abbey at Melrose. Perhaps the most famous monk to have emerged from there was Cuthbert who himself went on to become prior of Lindisfarne.

In demonstrating these neighbourly qualities, Aiden showed not only an understanding but an acting out of the answer provided by the expert of the law to Jesus:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – SUMMARY

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching –  Buildings

Seven themes for perfection and completion. Of course, we don’t all have to do all of them … the body is made up of many parts. But we all need to be doing something. How are you placed?

Prayer – this is the foundation of our approach to God. If we don’t talk to God (and listen to Him) then how can we have relationship and really know Him?

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people (1 Timothy 2:1)

Fellowship – The Old Testament almost invariably refers to a ‘fellowship offering.’ So offer your fellowship to your neighbour. Make a connection and share with each other on a godly path:

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

People – Let us enjoy our friendships and family ties with each other – pray regularly for each other and uplift each other:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Mission – Listen to God and hear what He calls us all to do. Then do it. He will equip us. Our mission field is the young, the old and everyone in between. Individual missions have endings, rest and friendships:

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. (Acts 12:25)

Discipleship – If we know Jesus and know His teaching, then it is our privilege and our duty to share that teaching and to point others to Jesus, for He said we would be His witnesses, and:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. (Matthew 21:6)

Worship & Teaching –  We were designed and created to worship God. It is worship simply to share our knowledge of God and our relationship with Him:

With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. (Psalm 109:30)

Buildings – May we be good stewards, like Onesiphorus in our actings towards others, our household and our house; this great House of Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (2 Timothy 1:16)

Together, these seven themes don’t just make up a way to live. They make up a Way of Life; a rule to set the rhythm of our seasons, so we can navigate the four corners of our life: Heart – Home – Church – World. We need to believe; we need to act. And how do we get to that perfection completion? We can ask Jesus:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Whose Footsteps?

Over recent weeks we have been reminded by other contributors that we owe much to those who have gone before – the early missionaries in Scotland that Tim has been describing and those folks who were part of our fellowship here at SSCB whom Joan remembered recently. Through them we can trace our history back to a cross and a resurrection in Jerusalem. 

Sue and I have recently been reading through Isaiah’s prophecy, full of familiar words of encouragement and prophetic vision of a new order and rest for God’s people. But if you read the whole book it is set against a much darker background – a people who had lost their way. A stark reminder that God’s ways are not our ways. It is too easy to compromise our trust in God when the world shouts alternatives.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

If we are to follow the footsteps of those who have gone before we must learn from them. We must be distinct, discerning and deliberate in our interactions with this world. But we must also expect God to act to establish his kingdom and to keep his people in ways which we don’t imagine – Assyria conquered and Persia restored the people of God.  They were heathens! Kentigern was born to a single mum, those we remember from our own past have surprising legacies.

So, what do we need to change this week so we follow God’s way, not our own? Remember the church in Laodicea (listen carefully on Sunday!)!  The saints of old we noted earlier were not lukewarm! Are we taken in by the false prophets of consumerism, or are we prepared to be different, to stand against those who look first to ‘modern thinking’ and to heathen allies in seeking to take forward God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

[from John Baggaley]

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Coming Soon: ‘The Road to Jerusalem’

Lent has just begun. Traditionally this is a spiritual journey to Easter, filled with penitence, sacrifice (giving up something for Lent), Bible study and prayer. But all sacrifice and penitence and Bible study and prayer are in vain if your Lent is not filled with the Lord Jesus Christ!

Following Jesus is never easy! The Lord Himself told us that whoever wants to go after Him, must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23-26). This means that our Christian life in this world is a constant journey to the place of crucifixion! It is a journey to ‘Jerusalem’! A pilgrim’s progress.

This Lent on Sundays we are going to accompany our Saviour on His journey to Jerusalem. My hope and prayer is that the services will inspire and motivate you to examine your walk with Jesus and you will ask for His cleansing and empowering Spirit to strengthen you in denying yourself and picking up your cross daily as you follow Him – a Lent and a journey well spent!

The sermons are:

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Columba [relational]

Columba was born in Ireland around AD521 and in his early forties he founded the monastery at Iona, and became its first abbot. He died there in AD597, the year that Augustine arrived in England bringing the way of the Church of Rome. We know much of Columba from the ‘Life of Columba’ written by his cousin Adomnán, a later abbot at Iona. Writings such as the Annals of Ulster and the Amra Choluimb Chille corroborate or add to Adomnán’s ‘Life’.

Columba was implicated in the battle of Cúl Drebene against the High King and further pressure for having made an unauthorised copy of Finian’s manuscript Scripture forced him to flee. As we saw, he came to Arran but, Ireland still in sight, continued on – most likely to visit his kinsman, Connall, King of Dalriada, who granted Columba the island of Iona in May AD563.

Columba had arrived with 12 other monks, and he led them in maintaining and extending two specific sacraments: Baptism whereby they welcomed new converts into the family of God and Holy Communion or Eucharist (from the Greek for thanksgiving) which continued that family link, that fellowship.

The Iona monastery grew and soon Britons, English, Celts, Irish and even a Pict were under holy orders there. They appear to have loved and respected him, and their number included a wider circle who had not taken holy orders but nevertheless chose the austere life, providing craftsmanship and labour in return for learning and fellowship. Columba travelled – we have seen reports of him at Inchcolm Island (the ‘Iona of the East’), and he twice visited Inverness. He is recorded as having met Kentigern at Kilmacolm (it means ‘church of my Columba’) another base for his missional work. 

Work was hard, both the austere lifestyle and the volume of tasks, from farming and herding to building as well as the important pursuits of praying, Bible study and copying Scripture for circulation. Columba was with them all, going round each one, interacting with them as they worked, seeing and helping them where they were and receiving and counselling visitors to the island.

He was also devoted to study of the Psalms, and spent long hours contemplating and transcribing, then discussing with the other monks.

As we have seen, Iona was a centre-point of the Kingdom of Dalriada, a Thin Place and a seat of learning and theological study. Astride all was the character of Columba, tying the strands together, reaching out to others; much loved. He forged links and kept them: Pictish kings and common folk came to Jesus through Columba’s friendship. A colossus in life, he led by serving God; relating to people.

As his life drew to an end, he had a foretelling of when he would die, and spent his last day transcribing from the Psalms which he so loved. Presently he wrote out:

“But those who seek the LORD lack no good thing,” (Psalm 34:10)

There he ceased, declaring that it would be left, fittingly, to his successor as the leader on Iona to pick up again at:

“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11)

He went into the monastery itself, lay at the altar and there he died as Adomnán wrote, “with a countenance full of wonderful joy and gladness.”

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – BUILDINGS

Prayer – Fellowship – People – Mission – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – BUILDINGS

Our buildings serve a number of purposes. The Church of Scotland requires that we provide a home for the minister and his wife, much though we try to persuade them of the biblical examples of Jacob and his stone pillow; David and his dark cave. Our church provides a focal point (alongside computer screens) to worship God together. It provides a signpost for the wider community – church is not God, but if someone comes in, we can make the introductions! Our church has been highlighted by Edinburgh Presbytery as a flagship building, given its location on an access route into the city.

Our church building in particular (but also the manse) is a link to those who have gone before. This building was their vision. They built and stewarded it and it is now ours to use and steward. Therefore we must do so in context and empathy for that early vision; but not being bound and limited by it.

We know that church is the people not the building, but with regard to the building, what does it represent – what should it signify?

We want it to be seen as place of Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm. Do you remember the “Lavender” articles in earlier editions of the E-pistle? They came out of this TKC prayer initiative, and we looked long and hard at what a church – building and people – might be if we follow those themes. Pause and consider anew each of them – does our church represent them to you?

We want our church to be a welcoming place where people encounter Jesus. Do you feel welcomed? Do you encounter Jesus here? When people do so, then they will feel both free and drawn to express themselves in worship.

What needs to change? We need to be adaptable – in empathy with the early vision. Some changes have been made over the years and some significant updating and refurbishment is in process now. Please pray and be on the journey as this unfolds. Some changes will be immediate and dramatic (new toilets at last!) whilst others will be more subtle and nuanced. But it should simply reflect and enable our worship of God: Jesus was dramatic, subtle and nuanced, all with the purpose of pointing us to God the Father.

We need more funds to complete the 20/20 Vision Refurbishment. The response has been so generous and positive to date, and further funds will speed the refurbishment to completion, enabling us to do all that we dream and hand on a relevant building. Our building will be more flexible and incorporate more technology – this will make it attractive as a community hub and perhaps an after-school drop-in centre – a safe place to be and to meet Jesus.

We could just sell the building, rent a hall at Broughton HS and disperse the money – not an entirely facetious remark – but we believe we have heard through prayer that we are to build this house of prayer into many things: Hope, Peace, Devotion, Silence, Serenity, Grace and Calm.

That requires support from all: finance, love, care, prayers and attention. Please spare some of that for the buildings and contact: office@comelybankchurch.com.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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What Happened on the Day of Prayer?

Twenty-nine people from SSCB spent time with the Lord in prayer in simple ½ hour sessions. Our foundation arose from the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative, but our focus was on listening to what God was laying on our hearts and then interceding. May we all be blessed by what is shared, and inspired to pray onwards and take action.

Prayer: We came to the Lord in prayer, contemplating, singing and listening. We heard God – sometimes a gentle whisper and sometimes just realising that we ‘know it in our know-er.’ The Lord gives us hope for the future. He is in control and will never leave us. Amidst all the fear, anxiety and worry about the future that is going on around us, there is a rock, a solid foundation, a calmness, a peace, a Hope: a Saviour.

Fellowship: We are blessed by fellowship with each other; with so many people, past and present, shining examples of witness to God’s love and instruction. We are enhanced by the lessons learned from others, through their deep faith and quiet wisdom. In fellowship we care for each other and the community we serve. In fellowship we contact members of the Church Family through telephone, post or just a knock on the door (subject to COVID-19 restrictions), with ongoing prayer and E-pistle Newsletter delivery. Nobody is forgotten; everybody is included.

People: Remember those who find their way to our ‘Church on the Corner’. Pray for the seekers and for those who found Open Church and returned to join with us on a Sunday, finding a welcome. Pray for those who paused with us while passing through on their way to other countries. Can you identify and reach out to people in the Church Family and our wider community? We need more people to join home groups, to expand Wednesday morning prayer time and perhaps more of us could help with the initiatives such as Foodbank, Fair Trade and Street Pastors.

Mission: At SSCB we are called to be a light in the darkness; a safe space for those who need it. God is strong enough to overcome our failings and our doubts. We are not strong enough alone but if God is with us, we can achieve whatever he desires for us. Remain humble and focused on the Lord. Be Christ centred. What would Jesus do is both a personal prayer and a church one; a question to the fore of our thoughts, prayers, and actions. Take a step back and think how Jesus would handle a situation. If God is calling us to reach out to our community and those with young families as well as working with youth and older people, then how can we do this?

Discipleship: We want to build more one-to-one connection in the church. Can we aim at specific outreach focused at tackling loneliness? In particular, perhaps we can look at some kind of friendship group for men in the church. And we must remember single people. We can expand on the ‘drop-in’ and existing friendship elements in the church but can also try new things – maybe a men’s community/activity group or groups at weekends, reaching those who work full-time. We want to build friendship ties and godly ways in the Church Family and wider community, at a deeper one-to-one level. 

Worship & Teaching: There is an absolute need for continued Biblical teaching and our own vital response to this. We seek a practical application to the teaching; it is not just a set of theoretical principles. We must encourage each other to respond; it is not just a series of nice stories on a Sunday morning. We must seek greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible not because we have to but because we choose to. The Word of God fulfils us, helps us align with God’s will and is an outworking of our love for Him.

Buildings: Can we expand Open Church on Wednesday mornings to become a drop-in for coffee, like our Saturday Café? How can we become more visible in our community, perhaps distributing information throughout the local area with details of church events and other activities at the church (Dean patchwork, badminton, Guides, Scouts, Rock Solid etc.)? Some prayed at home, others went on prayer walks during their sessions – from cold and rain to sudden sunshine and birdsong. Look after our buildings, yes, but remember always we have the voice of God within us because He dwells within us. We are never alone.

We are a small church but what we do, individually and collectively, in serving God in the community is heroic and seen in heaven. What would Jesus do … what will you do?

[from Timothy Pitt]

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A Thought for Valentine’s Day

The young engaged couple, Adam and Eve, visited their old minister to discuss their wedding service. He looked at them lovingly for a long time, then he said:

“My son, do you want to be happy?”

“Yes, of course I do! Very much so!”

“What about you, my daughter? Do you want to be happy too?”

“Certainly, I do!”

“In that case, do not get married…” said the old pastor.

They were shocked as they looked at him. Then the old pastor continued:

“Only if both of you want to make each other happy! Only that way will you be happy. For there are no marriages that are always happy. But marriages in which they seek each other’s happiness do exist – and those are the happiest marriages. I pray and wish for you to have such a marriage. A married life in which – to give you an example – husband and wife are competing who should have the first reconciling word and not the last stabbing reposte.”

[from Hungarian, after Rev. Endre Gyökössy] 

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