SSCB News Blogs

In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Ita [thirst]

Ita, born around 480 in Ireland, was baptised Deirdre. She sought a life under Holy Orders gaining the name Ita which indicated the thirst she displayed throughout her life. This was her thirst for the Lord’s love, not a general thirst – although Brigid, whom we met earlier, was a noted brewer!

Ita moved to Cluain Credhail (some anecdotes tell of her being guided by lights in the hills), establishing a monastic site there. The site became known as Cill Ide (Cell or Church of Ita), eventually becoming Killeedy. Her thirst for the Lord was a simple trust – she recognised that the love of Jesus is not a ‘reward’ paid out at the end of life according to how much we love Him, but that He is alive and with us throughout. She saw that she needed Him walking alongside her and that this was as much about her awareness of Him in her life and her lifestyle.

She attracted many to her monastic life and her simple thirst, including her younger sister. She set up a school as well as the convent and monastery, and Killeedy prospered – highly regarded for learning and spiritual development. A Celtic Christian known as Brendan the Navigator (it seems he already has his ‘one word’ characteristic!) was one of many pupils under her care and once asked what she thought God most loved. She replied, “To seek faith with a pure heart, simplicity in spiritual life and to be charitable out of love.” She added that the opposite applied as well, namely not to have a hatred of others, a resentful heart or an excessive love of things.

The more she thirsted for God’s love, the more that other people were drawn to her. She became Anam Cara (soul friend) to more than one. She formed a close bond with Brendan the Navigator and throughout his adult life, and amidst his extensive wanderings, he would return to Killeedy to speak with her and pray with her. Despite her own lack of travelling, she did not just withdraw into seclusion, but was an effective manager, much involved with the people and issues of her local area.

As with all Celtic Christians, Ita appears to have had a strong, reverent and yet familiar knowledge of the Holy Trinity, loving and worshiping God the Father, Jesus the Son and also the Holy Spirit. However, her chasing of the Wild Goose does not seem to have caused the Spirit to take to the wing, for when she died in her 90s in about 570, she was still there at Killeedy. People still came just to see her, to see what was it about her, that elusive, attractive quality; that was the Holy Spirit in her.

Of course, you have to be very careful about just picking and splicing bits from Scripture to suit your narrative, but Psalm 107 is somewhat appropriate for a lady who was led to a place where she built up an establishment, attracting others through her own qualities of thirsting after the Lord:

He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107: 7–9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – MISSION

Prayer – Fellowship – People – MISSION – Discipleship – Worship & Teaching – Building

What do we do as a church that involves reaching out to the community? God stuff; fun stuff? We identified some missional themes during the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ day of prayer.

We are all called to share the Good News; to be contagious Christians, known by our love; equipped to be neighbours. So who are we and what skills and resources do we have? Who are our neighbours and what skills and resources do they need?

Three groups emerged from TKC, overlapping and interlinking:

Youth – important in our church family and in the schools around us, especially Broughton High School. Successive Youth Workers (and volunteers) have developed our offering, providing answers to the need. Our current Youth Worker’s valued relational mentoring cannot be overstated and we can look to enhance this in the next appointment. Is God calling us to a bigger mission that includes Families? Much of modern society is broken and empty – families lacking in godly example or simply too exhausted by the busyness of life and lacking in hope. Is there a calling to serve our community with a Youth Worker and a Families Worker? Is there a place for the young to be involved with the old, sharing knowledge and experience?

Older members of our church and community have long been valued and themselves provided value. Can we build on the ways we express that and provide mutual support ? One aspect which emerged from TKC was feeding the lonely. Can we grow the Lunch Club? Those who are part of it have gained the food and lost the loneliness, finding fellowship and the love of Jesus, not just hot food and calories. The restrictions have paused much of this, but it is a key area of our mission in the wider community. Can you be part of the team preparing for the end of restrictions and the re-start of food and fellowship?

Everyone in community is important. We must identify their needs, what we can provide and what God calls us to do in mission. The CAP Debt Centre was transformational, reaching others and being drawn closer as clients became debt free and, importantly, came to faith. We ended it with a sense of a season completed; of time to lay it down. What will God lead us into next? How are we equipped to answer the busyness and isolation of families in our local community providing security and direction? Can we establish a CAP Money Budgeting course? Can we produce Couples, Parenting and Family courses? Can we partner with other churches for Alpha Courses delivered partly online? When the restrictions end, can we expand our use of the technology – use it to enhance, not just maintain?

In the church refurbishment, can we develop a safe after-school drop-in centre? Can we promote courses, learning, fellowship and skills with the church as a gathering point for the wider community, with the one constant being the love of Jesus?

From TKC we emerged with prayer points such as: dream big – what can we do –  how can we deliver – what resources can we offer – how can we be active in our community?

So, go on then: start dreaming! What could you help host / do / teach for the community, reflecting the light of Jesus? What idea could we develop and roll out? Please contact the church office – office@comelybankchurch.com with your input.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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In Memory of Robert Burns

Robert Burns was a colourful and in some ways contraversial character of Scottish literature. For many he was an agnostic who had not much good to say about Christians, Christianity or church.

The truth is that he was brought up in the Christian faith, and the knowledge of the Bible. He had a very good understanding of Scripture and was readily able to quote it, or indeed misquote it. In his time the church in Scotland went through one of its turbulent disruptions. The behaviour of some on either side did not do much good for the church and the Christian faith in general. So Burns had an adamant hostility towards hypocrisy in people and the church, especially when they considered themselves holier than thou.

Whatever the case might be about Burns’ faith or the lack of it, he was an extremely gifted word-smith with a sharp observation of life and people, a quick wit and great sense of humour, and a perception for justice. So let stand here one of his poems in memory of Scotland’s national bard.

The First Six Verses Of The Ninetieth Psalm Versified (1781)

O Thou, the first, the greatest friend 
Of all the human race! 
Whose strong right hand has ever been 
Their stay and dwelling place!

Before the mountains heav’d their heads 
Beneath Thy forming hand, 
Before this ponderous globe itself 
Arose at Thy command;

That Pow’r which rais’d and still upholds 
This universal frame, 
From countless, unbeginning time 
Was ever still the same.

Those mighty periods of years 
Which seem to us so vast, 
Appear no more before Thy sight 
Than yesterday that’s past.

Thou giv’st the word: Thy creature, man, 
Is to existence brought; 
Again Thou say’st, “Ye sons of men, 
Return ye into nought!”

Thou layest them, with all their cares, 
In everlasting sleep; 
As with a flood Thou tak’st them off 
With overwhelming sweep.

They flourish like the morning flow’r, 
In beauty’s pride array’d; 
But long ere night cut down it lies 
All wither’d and decay’d.

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Book Review: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce W. Longenecker: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

I just finished reading this historical fiction covering the early years of Christianity. The book presents a collection of fictional correspondence between Antipas, Christ’s faithful witness and martyr in Pergamum (Revelation 2:13) and doctor Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts.

Antipas, a wealthy Roman, worshipping the Roman gods, loves intellectual pursuits and wants to make his name great. He gets interested on an intellectual level in the writings of Luke and compares Luke’s testimony of the “disturbing man” Jesus with the superiority of Roman life, as he sees it. His approach is purely academic, but reading more and more of Luke’s account (it is recommended to read Luke’s Gospel in parallel while reading this book!), and experiencing the practical life of Christians in Pergamum he begins to question his own assumptions of life and priorities.

The author is a renowned scholar of New Testament and his novel is well researched. Through the clever idea of correspondence style he offers a thought-provoking insight into pagan Roman thought, and the life of early Christians in that hostile society that misunderstood them.

The author includes both a preface and a postscript in which he carefully explains what is fiction and what is historically provable fact.

The novel is an entertaining read and a very reliable and valuable source to learn much about the social, political, intellectual world of early Christians at the end of the first century AD in Asia Minor. The book is a great supplement to anyone who wants to study and undersand the Book of Revelation, or to know more about early Christianity.

I found it very helpful and a very enjoyable easy read. I can highly recommend it.

The book is available online from known book sellers and vending sites. I would encourage you try getting it from a Christian book seller or site.

[from GV]

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‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – Day of Prayer 1/2021

We invite you to join many others of and beyond the church family of SSCB in praying for each other and for current needs and the ongoing ministry of our church.

We ask you to set apart 30 minutes of Saturday, 30th January and commit it to praying. Just book a 30 minutes slot anytime from 10:00 to 22:00 and pray.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, how long or short you have been in the church family, if you are a seasoned praying person, or you never tried it before, we’d love you to join in. There are different ways to do it. Here are a few suggestions to encourage you.

Prayer Topics

We have a number of prayer topics that will help you focus on what to pray for. These topics emerged at the last day of prayer in 2020. Choose as many topics to pray for as you want. Here is the link to the topics.

30 Minutes Prayer Time

Half an hour prayer seems a lot. In fact it isn’t. But if you never prayed for that long it is good to have a structured plan for it.

  1. Start with a short prayer, like: Lord I want to set this time apart to be in your presence, pray to you, listen to you. Focus my mind, heart and soul on Jesus, my Saviour. Guide my thoughts, give me the words to worship and praise your holy Name as I pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 
  2. Read a passage from the Bible, a Psalm, or a Gospel passage to focus your thoughts and to inspire your prayer.
  3. Offer your praise to God. Take your hymn book and choose a hymn, your favourite one. Sing it to God or read it as a prayer. Or listen to worship music.
  4. Begin to pray:
    1. Ask God to tell you which prayer topic He wants you to pray for. Spend time praying through that topic. Let God lead you as you pray. You might want to write down some of the things God tells you regarding that topic.
    2. Alternatively use the headings of the prayer topics to pray:
  • Prayer – Lord teach me to pray; pray the Lord’s Prayer;
  • Fellowship – pray for the church family, people you know, or who would normally sit close to you in church, or who were in the same breakout room at the last Zoom Service as you were, recall what you talked about and pray for them.
  • People – Pray for people that are close to you: family, friends, neighbours, those who are ill, or bereaved, front line workers, etc.
  • Mission – Pray for the ministry of SSCB, the staff at the church: Youth Worker (present and future), Operations Coordinator, cleaner, minister. Pray for the volunteers: Sunday Club, Youth Fellowship, Welcome Team, Hospitality Team, Lunch Club Team, Church Lunch Team, Praise Band, AV Team, Home Groups, Kirk Session. Pray for members of church family who serve in various organisations outside the church: Foodbank, Care Van, Bethany, EMMS, etc.
  • Discipleship – Ask the Lord to speak to you and to all of us through His Word and Holy Spirit that we may all grow together in faith, love and grace to be a mature body of Christ. Ask the Lord to show you how to share the gospel with your family, friends, neighbours, how to teach your children and grandchildren in the faith.
  • Worship & Teaching – Give thanks for God’s Word and that we can proclaim it and worship Him in freedom. Pray for faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God in our church family, in service, Sunday Club, Youth Fellowship, etc., and in the church in Scotland.
  • Buildings – Give thanks for the amazing buildings we inherited to worship and have fellowship in them. Pray for wisdom to use the premisses well for God’s glory. Pray for Vision2020 building project that it will begin soon and will be successfully accomplished. Pray for the needed funds for the project.
How to Pray?
  • Pray wherever you are, in whatever position you are most comfortable. Pray sitting or standing.
  • Go for a prayer walk!
  • Pray aloud or silently.
  • Pray alone, or with prayer friends on zoom.

The only thing we ask you to do is that you will pray for 30 minutes on 30th January.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – St Brigid [kindness]

Brigid lived from 451 to 525. It is commonly held that her mother was a Christian Pictish slave named Brocseach and her father, Dubhthach, was a Celtic chieftain in Leinster, about 60 miles due east of Dublin.. Dubthach’s wife insisted that he sell Brigid’s mother when she became pregnant and so Brigid was born into slavery. 

When she was about ten, her father bought her back and she became a household servant, where her habit of charity led her to donate his belongings to anyone who asked. It is recorded that her father was so annoyed with her that he took her to sell her to the King of Leinster. While Dubthach was talking to the king, Brigid gave away his jewelled sword to a beggar to barter it for food to feed his family. The king recognised her holiness and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.

She grew and Dubthach tried to marry her off but Brigid refused and insisted on becoming a nun. She was stubborn, and her father yielded to her decision.

We have already seen some of the best known concepts of Celtic Christianity – indeed, Ninian displayed mission as a key characteristic. Brigid did not withdraw into seclusion but sought to be with others. She it was who, referring to Anam Cara – the concept of a soul friend – said that, “Anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.” 

Brigid was someone for whom one word or characteristic was inadequate. She was a leader and founded the monastic community of Kildare 33 miles south west of Dublin where she was abbess. In her leadership, she displayed an organisational ability and, basically, common sense. She provided education not just for those under holy orders in Kildare, but for the ‘common worker.’ She worked energetically but took the time to be with people – she was known for her ability to console and counsel people from many walks of life.

We have already seen that Celtic women enjoyed a different status than in other cultures and were regarded as equals, not just with the right to own property after marriage, but with the opportunity to be elected leader of their tribe. This was continued into the Celtic Christian tradition, and indeed a Bishop Mel recorded an incident when a group of women were being accepted into holy orders. A fiery pillar was seen rising from Brigid’s head to the roof of the church and Mel, understanding the significance, ordained her as a Bishop. Another bishop, Maccaille of Croghan, was present and he demurred saying a woman could not be a bishop. Mel replied that neither of them had a say in the matter of anointing her a bishop for, “That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigid.”

Brigid was a complex character – leader, counsellor, charitable, educational. If, out of that, we could find one characteristic to define her; one that would tie together all the others, it would be ‘kindness.’ She showed compassion for others, was loved by others and, in fact, was straight out of Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:23)

Through her qualities, the way she led her life and in her actions, she can be a model to us today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PEOPLE

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

And so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:14)

We consider the people involved in our church, their roles and service. We can pray the people and volunteer for some of the roles.

Congregation: you, me, us; together in person and by Zoom. We need each other because we are one body. We all celebrate a new birth at SSCB; we all rejoice in a coming to faith at SSCB. Why? Because we are family. Look out for each other; look after each other.

Visitors: We are blessed by visitors via ‘digital church’ including Zoom services and website and in the church itself restrictions permitting. We don’t want to look inwards, but to extend outwards, and so we acknowledge and bless ‘them’ as part of ‘us’ for we are all God’s family.

Cleaner: One of the subtle strengths of our cleaner is, I think, that she quite enjoys being taken for granted! You see you never really notice the cleanliness of our church for one simple reason: it is never dirty for you to have a comparison. This takes professionalism and thoroughness.

Stewards: When we meet in Church we never just walk in, ignored. We have a welcome and reassurance from our stewards. Currently, they have enhanced duties recording track and trace data and ensuring physically distanced seating. Their task is always undertaken with love – love for each person who comes into church. (We can always do with more stewards…)

AV Team: We have a small crew of volunteers who set up, operate and maintain. Usually one runs the Zoom link, one runs visuals including recorded music inserts and one runs sound (an important job is muting the minister when there’s any singing!). Helping regularly makes it straightforward – can you help?

Praise Band: Now, more than ever, we need to show them we care and to pray for them. It’s difficult for us not singing in church, but the Praise Band are denied their godly musical giftings to support our sung worship. So let’s uphold them, both while they cannot play and also once we are back. Maybe you are musical and could join? (No, the minister is still not allowed to sing.)

Operations Coordinator: Our recent appointment seems an age ago because our Coordinator has not only assumed the role but is already developing and growing it. But she is the Coordinator, not the ‘person who does.’ We all have an obligation to support her in tasks and activities. She provides logistics, direction and systems, and we must provide bodies (and prayer) so that she can … well … coordinate.

Youth Worker: As we look for a new Youth Worker, it’s not just our youth who we have learned from and been inspired by our current Youth Worker. Now, instead of job advert boxes to tick, we are holding conversations to understand who our new Youth Worker might be, what their vision is and how we can encourage them. Our Youth Worker has led a team serving and upholding the youth. So please pray for our current and future Youth Worker.

The Kirk Session: The Elders on Kirk Session manage the spiritual life of the church family and the physical life of the infrastructure. One of the elders – the Teaching Elder – is better known as the Minister, and supported by your prayers we serve and lead. Prayer together is developing a close band into a tight bond. We are providing training for others to explore a calling to serve as Elder. Pray for all.

Our church is not the building – it’s the people. And together we can unite under God, working on the mission which He has for us.

Each person is important. YOU are that important person. Together we are not just people but family. Please help look after your family – office@comelybankchurch.com for more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – FELLOWSHIP

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

‘Consider yourself … at home.

Consider yourself … one of the family.’

Before even the musical ‘Oliver!’ the Bible showed that fellowship is a godly quality and a godly activity; just one of our responses to the gift of eternal life with God, won by Jesus:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Let’s be honest – some of our fellowship initiatives are hugely successful. We have regular comments on our warm welcome for visitors, many of whom have become regular, joining our church family. We are renowned for our Lunch Club – because we seek fellowship, not the renown. (And because we have a team who prepare, serve and host brilliantly). We have grown the monthly Church Family Lunch into a much anticipated, regular event – all about the fellowship. Lockdowns, physical distancing and meeting restrictions have paused events, but the bond continues because the fellowship has been established.

So how else, especially during restrictions, can we have fellowship?

This is where we get a bit Revelation-y … “Yet, I hold this against you …” Do we really look to connect with each other? Have we all tried a Home Group or a course … not just for the learning, but for the fellowship? How good are we at actually encouraging each other? One of the best ways to encourage someone is to listen to them. I am surprised, when I listen to my SSCB family, at how much we have in common. I can draw inspiration from their life story and can help them even with just a phone call. Sadly, I am also not surprised at how often I find an excuse not to engage in fellowship – I’m a busy person, you know; I don’t know X well, but they probably don’t need anything and certainly not 5 minutes chatting with me…

While we remain under restrictions, how about contacting someone in SSCB during the week – just a quick call or email to show that ‘we were asked to think of someone and contact them, and I am thinking of YOU.’

We are looking at refreshing our SSCB connections, highlighting Home Groups, where we can know each other better, understand each other more and stand closer with each other. Could you try to be connected into a Home Group; even just to say “I tried”? Could you lead a Home Group?

We do well in our Fellowship, but we can do well-er!

Fellowship is important. YOU are important. Without fellowship, we are more of a group of individuals than a family of people. Please ask (office@comelybankchurch.com) for more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Relishing Repentance

[notes from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker, on the page margin of the sermon: Ephesus – Repentance (Rev. 2:1-7)]

I love to talk about the unlimited adventure of a born again, spirit filled life of faith and freedom!  However, I am aware in my own life that I often need to repent to get to the place of freedom. Repentance. The way that we are saved, the way that we are changed, transformed into better people. Repentance. Turning around, changing my mind, changing my actions. Changing my focus. Sometimes it’s hard to bend my own will to repentance. It’s not something I can make others do. However, it is something God can lead us into.

Just as my earthly father would encourage me to get out of bed and give me stern word when I was way out of line, God is disciplining me. Not just addressing my outward behaviour but my thoughts motivations and attitudes.

Repentance starts with God pointing out an area he wants to work in. Unlike people’s criticisms, know that conviction from Jesus is always for your good. I love the Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24. It gives an opportunity for God to shine a light on anything that he wants to change:

“Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-34; KJV)

Are you brave enough to ask God about what he is calling you to repent of?

In the Old Testament God sends prophets to proclaim his word and challenge wrong ways of living, asking people to repent. Are you giving God opportunity to speak through his Word? Are there opportunities for other Christians to challenge you? Maybe you could revisit some of the SSCB sermons and other online teaching? Maybe you could ask someone from church to ask you hard questions about your lifestyle? In the Old Testament they often repented in physical ways, not just in prayer. They tore their clothes, shaved their heads, sat in ashes. Is there a way we could physically mark our repentance? One thing I like doing is scratching my sin onto a slate before dipping the slate in the river and seeing that what was written is no longer readable. This action helps me cement my repentance and helps me see how completely Jesus has forgiven me!

Repentance can be a hard thing to do, conviction of the Holy Spirit is uncomfortable. But repentance is a good thing. I want to relish repentance more. To embrace repentance knowing that it is my loving Father working his power and goodness into my life. Every time I repent and believe, Jesus takes ground in my life. He wins more of my affection. My sinful nature loses, and God gets the Glory he deserves! Repentance is about saying YES to God, it’s worship. Repentance is not about regret and shame -I have been stuck in those feelings before- but repentance moves past these negative feelings into the victory Jesus won for us and the experience of being a new creation! 

I hope this article may encourage you to seek repentance because you know it is good for you. It is good to live in step with Jesus. Repentance keeps us firmly on the path. I leave you with a reminder from Paul that God is kind. He doesn’t condemn you, he frees you from shame by giving forgiveness without asking for anything in return.

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?…. Do you not realise that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) – [the citation is a combination of NLT and NTE translations]

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Can you learn this?

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”” (John 3:6-7)

Generations grow up with the notion “You can be whatever you want to be.” Parents tell them, teachers encourage them: “Just put your mind to it, work hard.” And at the beginning of a new year many try to be someone different, someone new. As if one could learn to be whatever they want to be. Can you learn to be a Christian?

Some learn the religious lingo and behaviour, but that’s not enough. They might be able to mix in the ‘right crowd,’ but soon it is revealed they do not have the Spirit in themselves, they got only a Christian mask. Just because I put on a football strip that says Messi on its back I will not become a famous football player, I will not have the necessary skills!

Others try with sincere resolve to be a follower of Christ. They practice self-control, they curb their instincts, passions and emotions, refine their speech, do good deeds but their true nature comes through at unexpected moments. So they find it far too hard to be a Christian and give up, or try to cover up and pretend and become hypocrites.

And there are those who were born again by the Spirit of God. They received a new character. True, the old nature is still there, but it is not the dominant one anymore. The aim is that the new character, the Christ who lives in them, will become stronger, and the old self will receive less and less space, by letting Christ, His word, His Spirit guide and refashion their minds, hearts, souls and deeds.

You can not learn this! You can only be born again for this by God’s grace. In this new year when so many try to ‘recreate’ or ‘reinvent’ themselves by New Year’s resolutions, why not allow Christ to shape you? Jesus said that we need to be born again. His word carries the Good News, it is possible to be born again! Through the living and enduring word of God we can be born again! (1 Peter 1:23)

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – St Ninian

St Ninian – missional

Ninian’s mission was to take the gospel to the southern Picts. Born c360, he began his mission in 397, based in Whithorn, at the southern point of Galloway. Basically, find Wigtown then head south, stopping before your feet get wet. Ninian was a Briton who followed Celtic Christianity and apparently studied in Rome – an attractive proposition for the Roman Christians after the Synod of Whitby and they made much of his great missional example.

Whithorn is known as the Cradle of Christianity in Scotland. Here, the oldest surviving Christian memorial in Scotland can be found – the 5th century Latinus Stone. Its Latin inscription reads “We praise you, Lord” and declares that it was erected ‘by Latinus aged 35 and his daughter aged 4.’ There are traces of the chi-rho symbol of Christ, carved in the early Constantinian style indicative of its age and its links to Rome.

Ninian wanted firm foundations and a beacon of hope for his missional calling and at Whithorn he established a church of whitewashed stone, called the Candida Casa, or ‘White House’ (hence Whit … Horn). From there, he travelled widely, sharing the good news of Jesus and converting the southern Picts.

He achieved results, but later many Picts and Celts fell back into paganism. Patrick, writing some 50 – 75 years afterwards, referred to the ‘Apostate Picts.’ (The northern Picts, whom Columba and others would convert, were not yet Christian and so could not be called ‘apostate.’) Ninian was a pioneering missional who knew the risks:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

The success of pioneering mission may be precisely that it is pioneering; it is first where before was nothing; growth comes later. But there was still encouragement even amongst those who lapsed:

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.

Though I sit in darkness
the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8)

And all the while, Ninian pursued his mission, answering his calling to walk amongst the southern Picts and work amongst them. Early maps were shown on their side, not necessarily north-south, and Ninian’s mission essentially took him across the land and up the East Coast. A missional trail can reasonably be plotted by noting the dedications to St Ninian around the country. They are found throughout the Pictish lands south of the line of the Firths of Clyde and Forth, and around Stirling, Perth, Fife, Dundee and Forfar. But there is a noticeable lack of dedications in the Highlands and Isles.

Ninian died and was buried at Whithorn which became a place of pilgrimage. Robert the Bruce, knowing he was dying, travelled there to pray and later James IV walked 8 days on pilgrimage to Ninian’s tomb.

So discern your mission, as directed by God. The success of your endeavours may be felt, in gratitude, many years later. God prepares you; then God invites you to act.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty (1680)

This hymn was written by Joachim Neander, born in 1650. The name Neander is the Greek form of the German family name Neumann, both of which mean “new man.” Joachim’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, even his great-great-grandfather were called Joachim and they all were preachers of the gospel. Impressive that may be, still as a student, Joachim was wild and rebellious. At age 20 he joined a group of students who descended on St Martin’s Church in Bremen to ridicule and mock the worshippers. However the sermon preached that day arrested him and led to his conversion, making him truly a new man! God, having a good sense of humour, sent him back to the same church as assistant minister a few years later.

Joachim often took long walks near his home in Hochdal, Germany. They were worship and prayer walks. He frequently composed hymns as he strolled, singing them to the Lord. He is regarded as the first Calvinist hymn writer! When he was 30 -the year he died- he wrote this hymn while battling tuberculosis:

Praise Ye the Lord, th Almighty, the King of Creation,
O my soul praise Him, for He is Your health and Salvation.

One of Joachim’s favourite walking spots was a beautiful valley a few miles from Dusseldorf. The Dussel river cut through it, and Joachim Neander was so much associtated with the place that eventually it was named after him: Neander Valley. The Old German word for “valley’ is “thal”, so in German it is called Neanderthal.

In 1856, as miners were digging for limestone in the valley, discovered a caves with human bones in them. The bones were examined by a local science teacher who speculated that they might originate form the time of the Flood.

When William King, and Irish professor of anatomy saw the bones, he claimed they were the proof of evolution’s famous”missing link”. Some more Neanderthal fossils were found and for many years they were used to ‘prove’ Darwin’s theory of evolution.

However Joachim Neander’s life is the proof that someone will not develop into a ‘new human’ by evolution, but becomes a new creation by grace! I am grateful to the Lord that by His grace I also am a Neander (new man).

“if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17; NIVUK)

So just “ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with His love He befriend you!”

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Lord, Save Us!

As we started out in this New Year we knew it is not going to be a plain sailing. We, together with the rest of the world, already were in a difficult and complex situation. Still, with hope we got into the metaphorical ‘boat’ to take us to the other side. Various vaccines were tested and rolled out, which gave us encouragement and hope that COVID will be over. But now we find ourselves in a second lockdown, and the journey through 2021 does not seem to be so certain, the other side seems to be out of sight.

Matthew 8:23-27 tells the story of a crossing over the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat. Unexpectedly a furious storm broke out and threatened their safety. The disciples, some of them fishermen, woke Jesus, saying: “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).

Our life is similar to that boat journey crossing over to the other side. We start out in a boat shaped crib and arrive in a boat shaped coffin, and on the way we are tested by numerous storms.

We must be careful and know that the elements are stronger than we are. Our knowledge, science and technology, amazing as they might be, are unable to answer all the questions, solve all the problems, or save us in every storm.

We can be saved only by a Saviour who is with us in our boat! We will still get into storms and danger but we have someone to whom we can turn: “Lord, save us!” Jesus alone has power over every kind of hostile and adverse power. He does not save us from storms, but keeps us safe in every storm, making sure we will reach the other side.

Make sure Jesus is with you in your life (‘boat’) as you sail through 2021.

In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – An Introduction

What word or godly characteristic would you use to describe yourself? Celtic Christians often summarised their saints in this way to remember the individual, learn from them and promote aspects of the Christian faith to which all should aspire. Remember, a Celtic Christian ‘saint’ was simply a wise or inspiring individual from whom all can learn, not necessarily as consecrated by Rome. 

In describing yourself in a short phrase or word, you will necessarily exclude so much of your personality. If I highlight my humour then what about my relational side? My leadership abilities? (What, unfortunately, about my selfish streak and ego? But then the object is highlighting godly characteristics, not fallen ones.) The Celtic Christians handed down stories orally, setting out the historicity as well as the spiritual side of their hagiography.

In the next few articles, we will examine the lives and characteristics of some Celtic Christian saints to see if we can still learn from and be inspired by them in how we conduct our lives today. Some may be familiar and favourite; many must sadly be excluded or only glimpsed from afar as we cover the passing years.

David (500-589) (Heart) was a teacher and preacher who founded many monasteries and churches. He did not just move on, but remained at the heart of what he did. Whilst his influence spread, he remained pretty much where he was in Menevia (now called St David’s), closely involved with his beloved St David’s Cathedral which he founded). He had a heart for others, inspiring many monks to evangelise across Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. He taught that we should all be “doing the little things in God’s presence with conscientiousness and devotion.” Little things – big heart.

David’s mother Non (born c475) (Carer) raised David at Aberaeron and then founded a convent nearby, now called Llanon (Llan is ‘church,’ so ‘church of Non’). She seems to have founded a series of churches forming a pathway to care for pilgrims journeying through Wales, Devon and Cornwall and on to Brittany, where she retired, settling at Dirinon in Finistère to be near her sister.

Adomnán (624-704) (Protector) was a relative of Columba, becoming Abbot of Iona himself in 679. He sought to protect the memory of Columba, writing ‘The Life of Saint Columba.’ He sought to protect the lives of others, writing and promoting the ‘Law of Adomnán’ (also known as the ‘Law of the Innocents’) designed to guarantee the safety of non-combatants in warfare; an early Geneva Convention. He it was who finally persuaded Iona to accept the Roman timing of Easter some years after the Whitby Synod.

St. Abigail (c6th Century) (Pastoral), also known as Deborah, was born in County Clare, Ireland. She travelled extensively, settling first in the Aran Islands then further inland before spend the rest of her life in County Cork, dedicating herself to pastoral service and Christian charitable work.

Have a heart. Care for others and protect them. Display a pastoral attitude in actions as well as words. Care for others where they are, whether you travel far or stay at home, for thus we carry Christ’s love and play our part in God’s family into which we are adopted and made whole. These characteristics are godly and relevant. They are of Celtic Christians and they are for us today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PRAYER

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

We want to encourage a commitment to prayer and provide opportunities to pray together.

As a church family, we have agreed that prayer is the foundation for our relationship with God in our individual life and church life. It is not just occasional prayer – a whispered “Lord, give me strength” or a polite “Thank you and bless you” – but being saturated in prayer. It is not just a shopping list or a thank you card, but a conversation with God.

Perhaps you are uncomfortable praying out loud. God hears your heart so we do not have to pray out loud, whether alone or with others.

There are many opportunities to pray and a church’s strength is the strength of its prayer life. There are everyday opportunities: as you go about your daily life. Consider everything you see, do or say and offer it up to God. Tell Him about it. He knows everything about us, but He chooses also to walk in our time, moment by moment. There are church family opportunities: events and fellowship. Some are well attended and others are, sadly, just a core few. 

Can you join one or more of the prayer initiatives, at least one and at least once, just to see?

  • Sunday before worship;
  • Thanksgiving and Intercession (Zoom or in Church; at the lectern or with the microphone brought to you);
  • Open Church for Quiet Reflection (Wednesdays at 1000 hrs if no Lockdown);
  • Church Monthly Prayer (first Wednesday of each month);
  • Prayer events (for example, ‘Pray Across The Pond’ with La Jolla Christian Fellowship in San Diego, praying with a sister church and its people);
  • SSCB Day of Prayer (perhaps taking a short prayer slot and feeding in what you gain from it as with the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative); and
  • Become part of the church family Prayer Team (a group of folks who commit time daily to pray for others and their prayer requests – see the Prayer Team page on this website).

And what could we pray about?

  • Pray for our Young People – our Youth Worker provides a note of prayer topics;
  • Pray for our church family – prayer points in each edition of the e-Pistle;
  • Pray for wider city, country and world events and people.

Prayer matters. You matter. Without prayer, without taking the time to talk with God, we lose so much of our fellowship with Him and our strength with each other. Please contact the Church office (office@comelybankchurch.com) for the Zoom link / more details.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Hallelujah Chorus (1741)

    “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations,

1 Chronicles 16:31

His father tried to discourage his musical interests, preferring that he enter the legal profession. But it was the organ, harpsichord, and violin that captured the heart of young George Frideric Handel. Once, accompanying his father to the court of Duke Johann Adolf, young George wandered into the chapel, found the organ, and started improvising. The startled Duke exclaimed: “Who is this remarkable child?”

This “remarkable child” soon began composing operas, first in Italy then in London. By his 20’s, he was the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. He opened the Royal Academy of Music. Londoners fought for seats at his every performance, and his fame soared around the world.

But the glory passed. Audiences dwindled. His music became outdated, and he was thought of as an old fuddy-duddy. Newer artists eclipsed the ageing composer. One project after another failed, and Handel, now bankrupt, grew depressed. The stress brought on a case of paralysis that crippled some of his fingers. “Handel’s great days are over,” wrote Frederick the Great, “his inspiration is exhausted.”

But his troubles also matured him, softened his sharp tongue, his temper mellowed, and his music became more heartfelt. One morning he received a manuscript form Charles Jennens. It was a word for word collection of various Biblical texts about Christ. The opening words from Isaiah 40 moved Handel: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…”

On the 22nd of August 1741 he shut the door of his home and started composing music for the words. Twenty-three days later The Messiah was born! “Wether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not,” Handel later said. The Messiah opened in London to enormous crowds on 23rd of March 1743, with Handel leading from his harpsichord. King George II surprised everyone leaping to his feet during the Hallelujah Chorus. The audience followed suit. Nobody knows why his majesty jumped to his feet. Some believe the king, being hard of hearing, might have thought it was the national anthem.

Whatever the case, from that day on audiences everywhere have stood in reverence during the words: “Hallelujah! For He shall reign forever and ever.”

Handel’s fame was rekindled, and even after he lost his eyesight, he continued playing the organ for performances of his oratorios until his death, 14th April 1759.

It is interesting and good to remind ourselves when Jesus will return to take his throne and “reign forever and ever” no knee will stand, whether they belong to a king or not, but every knee shall bow before the King of kings, and Lord of lords!

Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob

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When Jesus Comes to Church

‘When Jesus Comes to Church’ is the title of our new sermon series we begin in the New Year. It is based on Revelation 1-3.

Now some of you might be alarmed by this announcement. “No, not Revelation! The book is like a nightmare, it hardly makes any sense, what does it mean?” – some might say or ask.

Yet it is in Scripture. God saw it fit and important for us to include it in His Word. Yes, it contains symbolism, it is filled with terrifying present/future events, mythical type creatures, but it is filled with the Lord Himself.

Map of the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1-3) – click to enlarge
(Map taken from ‘New Bible Dictionary’ IIVP 2000)

And I believe that is the key when you read Revelation. Most people are hung up on the symbolism, the mythical creatures, and the events. So much so that they don’t see the woods for the trees and miss the central character of the book: the living and reigning Lord Jesus Christ! It is His revelation (Revelation 1:1)! It is about Him, He is present in it on every page.

The book in fact is not a nightmare vision, it is a letter from the Lord Jesus to seven churches in Asia Minor. It was meant as an encouragement to real churches who faced real issues and challenges in faith, and life. The letter is affirming that the Lord is real too in all His might, power and glory. He is alive, He reigns, He is victorious, and He is eternal. The letter is not meant to frighten them but to give them hope and confidence in Jesus. It is my prayer that you will be excited and not terrified, but encouraged and built up as we explore, study and pray through the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation together.

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Where Shall We Look in 2021?

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:4-5)

It is an interesting thing of our human psychology that whatever we look to that has an impression on us. It is a bit like with the old fashioned photo-cameras, the image that the lens is open to makes an imprint on the film. So it is with our mind, and soul. Who looks only at their problems, they will always have reason to complain and feel sorry for themselves. The one who look at their enemies will be afraid. Who look at themselves, will either become overconfident, or will lose heart.

What about those who look to the Lord? They will be radiant.

Looking to the Lord means we count with God and we count on Him. Looking at the Lord continuously we will get to know His great deeds, we learn that He does not change, He is faithful, compassionate and gracious. Looking at the Lord means we ask for help, salvation and forgiveness from Him and expect it only from Him. We accept all that He gives us, blessings and trials too. We trust in Him with all our heart.

Looking at Jesus means we know what He did for us: “He loved me and gave himself for me” said Paul (Galatians 2:20). Jesus promised “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), that means in every age, in our present time and in the years ahead!

Whoever looks to the Lord will remain in His presence, they will be in His sphere of power and love, and not under the power of fear. The ‘imprint’ of His cross is on their hearts, minds and souls! They know they are not alone, their life is before the caring eyes of Almighty God and of His Christ!

So, where or to who will you look in 2021?

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If God Should Come to Earth

Christmas Meditation Poem by one of our elders, Donald Bruce
If God should come to earth,
    how should he come?
If the divine, the transcendent would
    transcend the laws of physics he wrote,
      fuse the dimensions of body and spirit,
        pierce the canopy ‘tween earth and heaven
      and break through upon earth.
How would it be?
 
 Should we want such a coming:
    in divine power, as would create worlds out of nothing
      in majesty, beyond monarchies of man’s making
        in beauty, that turns all else dowdy
          in might, that none could withstand
    and in justice, that sears the heart of human corruption?
Aye, for there’s the rub
    For we should be judged by such a one
      and found wanting.
 Should we want such a coming,
    if he were too holy for us?

Such irrefutable evidences as these
    would beguile
        but not convert.
Unless we were willing to do more 
    than merely spectate,
      if God should appear.

It would be better if God came quietly
    like one of us, 
    as one of us.
In a place so obscure, mere onlookers wouldn’t notice
    where only those prepared to be changed would see.
 
God would send a one-night-only gala concert of angels
    to folk so low in status they would receive it, simply
      and, for joy, run out and share such good news!
God would move seekers of truth from afar, so dedicated
    they would travel to earth’s ends,
      to give treasures to a baby in a feeding trough.
 
God seeks not unmoved observation
    but commitment.
The jeweler who would sell all for that One jewel,
The searcher who finds treasure in a field and for joy sells all to buy it.
The devout girl who would risk all, in trusting obedience to God
 
 Such rash faith
    that would travel across aeons of space and time
      to save humanity from its petty illusion of mastery,
    not in pomp and power
      but in the helplessness of a baby
         and the cross of a dying saviour.
 Such rash faith calls from each, who would be changed, 
    the rashness to believe:
      This is the Saviour. 
      This is God come to earth.
 

 by Donald Bruce
 24-26 December 2020

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Thy Kingdom Come

A while ago we held a day of prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Members of the SSCB Church Family booked a slot, prayed at home and fed forwards (by email, phone and Zoom) what they had heard, sensed or simply become aware of. Some themes emerged and the Kirk Session spent time praying, discussing and taking action.

We want to come to you for accountability, support and wisdom. We want you to take action, as you discern God’s calling on you.

The seven headings are the general groupings we identified from that day. This was exciting because seven is a Biblical number often referring to completion and perfection. (So clearly if we can just do these seven things, our lives will be complete and we will be perfect!) For example, on the seventh day, God rested. Later, Jesus would speak seven times from the Cross as He came to the completion of His earthly rescue mission.

It was also exciting because these seven themes reflected what the Kirk Session had, separately, begun to sense during a time of prayer and seeking God’s vision.

So we are calling on everyone in the Church Family to help.

We want all of SSCB (people and buildings) to be saturated in prayer, and that means asking you to pray. We will look at Prayer as one of the groupings later in this series, but we need you to pray, seeking God’s wisdom that we are not acting out our own plans, but are discerning God’s plans for us.

We want to be active in mission, and that may mean laying down other things first. We have already seen that the season of a CAP Debt Centre here has drawn to a close, but how else can we show God’s love to others? How can we take our hope in Jesus out of the building and into the community?

This is refreshing and uplifting, not least the sense of togetherness we felt on that day of prayer and the “Lavender” series of E-pistle articles which came out of it. This is also challenging because although we keep hold of our faith, we can easily leave our deeds until the next Sunday. Maybe you, too, will look at the topics and see a large neon sign saying, “This includes YOU!” Happily, Scripture encourages and does not accuse:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

So, please, be enthused. And be prepared. We will walk through these topics and invite each other to lift them up – to lift each other up – as God calls us.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Opening Times and Christmas Services

Join us for prayer or worship during Christmas. Our church will be open at the following times:

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January 2021

Fellowship Thursday on Zoom

January 28 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Being in isolation in lockdown can be wearisome. We will meet for fellowship on Zoom for sharing and encouragement. You can be in your pyjamas, wear your most comfortable slippers and enjoy a cuppa with a biscuit, or two. You will receive an email invitation on Thursday to join in. If your are not sure how to join Zoom, just email us at office@comelybankchurch.com and we will send you the information.

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Thy Kingdom Come Day of Prayer 1/2021

January 30 @ 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

SSCB is having another day of prayer on the Theme of, “Thy Kingdom Come” on Saturday 30th January in half hour slots from 10:00-22:00, with the last slot at 21:30. If you would like to take part, please email office@comelybankchurch.com and the invitation will be sent to you.  The suggested Prayer Topics emerged during the last ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ Day of Prayer in 2020. They are mostly concerned with the church family’s life, ministry and mission. They promote not only…

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When Jesus Comes to Church: 5. Thyatira – Serving [Communion Zoom Service]

January 31 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Our worship is shared on Zoom. You are welcome to join us. Please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com if you wish to join us for worship. Service Type: Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) Sermon Series: When Jesus Comes to Church Sermon Title: 5. Thyatira - Serving Scripture: Revelation 2:18-29 Preacher: George Vidits

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February 2021

Monthly Prayer Meeting by Zoom

February 3 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Join us on Zoom for prayer and fellowship. It is praying people that the church and God need, not new methods, techniques, or equipment. Zoom is great but if you are not there praying we zoom in vain. "Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men (and women, young and old) is greater still." (E. M. Bounds)

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When Jesus Comes to Church: 6 Sardis – Witnessing [Sunday Zoom Worship]

February 7 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Our worship is shared on Zoom. You are welcome to join us. Please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com if you wish to join us for worship. Sermon Series: When Jesus Comes to Church Sermon Title: 6. Sardis – Witnessing Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6 Preacher: George Vidits

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When Jesus Comes to Church: 7 Philadelphia – Confessing [Sunday Zoom Worship]

February 14 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Our worship is shared on Zoom. You are welcome to join us. Please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com if you wish to join us for worship. Sermon Series: When Jesus Comes to Church Sermon Title: 7. Philadelphia – Confessing Scripture: Revelation 3:7-13 Preacher: George Vidits

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When Jesus Comes to Church: 8 Laodicea – Expectant [Sunday Zoom Worship]

February 21 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

Our worship is shared on Zoom. You are welcome to join us. Please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com if you wish to join us for worship. Sermon Series: When Jesus Comes to Church Sermon Title: 8. Laodicea – Expectant Scripture: Revelation 3:14-21 Preacher: George Vidits

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Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

We are being helped by the Celtic Christians of old this Advent – looking at Christmas for what it really is: Jesus on this earth and what that means not just for mankind but for all creation. The source is the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael, a collection of prayers and poems (and songs) from the Celtic Christian oral tradition that were finally collated, written up and published in the nineteenth century.

The title is ‘Christmas Carol’ … but I have no idea of the tune! Still, this surely announces the celebrations of the birth of our Lord.

HAIL King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He, the King of whom we sing,
        All hail! let there be joy!

This night is the eve of the great Nativity,
Born is the Son of Mary the Virgin,
The soles of His feet have reached the earth,
The Son of glory down from on high,
Heaven and earth glowed to Him,
        All hail! let there be joy!

The peace of earth to Him, the joy of heaven to Him,
Behold His feet have reached the world;
The homage of a King be His, the welcome of a Lamb be His,
King all victorious, Lamb all glorious,
Earth and ocean illumed to Him,
        All hail! let there be joy!

The mountains glowed to Him, the plains glowed to Him,
The voice of the waves with the song of the strand,
Announcing to us that Christ is born,
Son of the King of kings from the land of salvation;
Shone the sun on the mountains high to Him,
All hail! let there be joy!

Shone to Him the earth and sphere together,
God the Lord has opened a Door;
Son of Mary Virgin, hasten Thou to help me,
Thou Christ of hope, Thou Door of joy,
Golden Sun of hill and mountain,
        All hail! let there be joy!

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Advent Reflection 3

Well, the waiting is almost over! Christmas is almost here, and COVID vaccines have been developed, approved and vaccinations have begun. There hasn’t been such a wide scale expectation, and desperate waiting in the time of advent before as it has been now! I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the whole world is waiting and hoping!

Most people, regardless of their faith or lack of it, nationality or political allegiance, were and are waiting for the COVID vaccine to bring the redemption from the dreaded Coronavirus and all its curses. Others, the followers of Jesus Christ are waiting for the return of their Saviour too!

We don’t know yet how effective the vaccine(s) are, how long they will lend us immunity. Quite possibly we will need to get them repeatedly, perhaps yearly, as it is the case with the flu-jab.

At the same time we know that all who met and accepted the Saviour Jesus Christ into their lives were forgiven and made anew by His Spirit. They have been saved for ever! Jesus promised us:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)

The Apostle Paul assures us that nothing can separate those who are in Christ from the love of God, neither death, nor life, neither the present nor the future, nothing in all creation (Romans 8:38-39). If you have welcomed Christ in your life you will not need to look for a new saviour again next year or the year after to make you ’immune,’ to be saved again! His salvation and grace do not expire! Jesus saved you once and for all when He died for your sins on the cross. When you accept His sacrifice you have entered into a new, and eternal life through Christ.

In advent we await His return, His kingdom in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain or covid, neither will be need for any vaccines, for the old order of things has passed away! (see Revelations 21:4)

The hope of His kingdom makes our waiting in advent joyful and blessed! Enjoy a happy Christmas!

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Carol of the Week: Angels, from the Realms of Glory (1816)

John Montgomery was the only Moravian pastor in Scotland. (The Moravian Church was one of the earliest Protestant Churches originating from Moravia, today’s Czech Republic). Together with his wife they had a heart for foreign mission. They felt God was calling them to Barbados. Tearfully they left their son, James, aged six, at a Moravian settlement near Ballymena, County Antrim before sailing off. James never saw them again, they perished in Barbados.

Left with nothing, James was enrolled in a school in England. When he didn’t do well academically he was sent by the school authorities to a baker for apprenticeship. But baking wasn’t for James! He ran away and spent his teenage years drifting from pillar to post, writing poetry and trying his hand at various things. He eventually settled in Sheffield.

In his early twenties, James began working for the local newspaper, the Sheffield Register. Finally he found his place! He loved writing. It was a politically active newspaper, and when its owner had suddenly fled England to avoid prosecution, James purchased the paper and renamed it the Sheffield Iris. His editorials also proved to be unpopular with the local officials. On two separate occasions he was thrown into prison. But he emerged from jail a celebrity, and used his newly acquired fame to promote his favourite issues.

Chief among them was the Gospel of Jesus Christ! He was devoted to Christ and loved the Scriptures. He championed the cause of foreign missions and of the Bible Society. He became a respected leader in the city, and his writings were eagerly read. Early on Christmas Eve in 1816 he opened his Bible to Luke 2, and was deeply impressed by verses 13 and 14:

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’”

He took his pen and started writing, and by the end of the day his new Christmas poem was being read in the pages of his newspaper. It was later set to music and was first sung on Christmas Day in 1821 in a Moravian church in England: “Angels, from the Realms of Glory.” And we still sing it toady. His parents would have been proud.

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Contemplation

Celtic Christians, particularly in holy orders, spent time in contemplation. We are all called to this:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

How does one ‘contemplate the Lord’s glory’? If the Celtic Christians were any model, it is not just quietly reading the Bible.

Although debated, it seems people in those days rarely read silently. In his book ‘Confessions’ (written AD 397 – 400), St Augustine noted:

“But when Ambrose used to read, his eyes were drawn through the pages, while his heart searched for its meaning; however, his voice and tongue were quiet. Often when we were present – for anyone could approach him and it was not his habit that visitors be announced to him – we saw him reading in this fashion, silently and never otherwise.”

Perhaps Augustine was annoyed with Ambrose for continuing to read (as we might be today when talking to someone who continues texting), but it seems that reading silently was remarkable to him. Of course, there were earlier instances, but clearly as exceptions: Plutarch recorded the confusion of the watching soldiers when Alexander the Great (in the 4th century BC) silently read a letter from his mother.

Most people were illiterate and those who could read would do so aloud. Individual words were neither separated nor punctuated, but instead itallrantogetherasone making it much more difficult to read silently. It seems only in the tenth century that silent reading became standard.

So reading, especially in community, was likely to be amidst a constant buzz of noise. There could be enforced quiet times, such as during meals when one monk would read Scripture as the others ate and … contemplated.

With the monks and nuns generally literate, but without photocopiers or printing presses, to them fell the holy task of copying Scripture and creating new Bibles. Here was time for contemplation. Every activity could be an act of worship and transcribing would be dwelt on, not just finished quickly. They created gloriously intricate and colourful Bibles – intended for reading and studying, not for display cases.

Our Celtic Christian monk or nun might find somewhere secluded to read a segment of copied text or to consider some memorised Scripture. Either way, they would study, pray and just ‘think’ about what it said.

Some sought extreme contemplative solitude. St Cuthbert would stand in the sea for hours in prayer (not a requirement!). How then should you contemplate? 

We do not need silence or anything else; just to give ourselves up to God, finding a regularity and rhythm as the Celtic Christians did from following divine example: Luke noted Jesus going to the Mount of Olives to pray “as usual.” (Luke 22:39)

You might consider a favourite verse or one that presents itself to you. Not just emptying your mind of distraction, you might positively invite the Holy Spirit to fill you. It’s not the technique that matters, it’s choosing God. A good friend of mine wrote a book called Praying for your Elephant: List your prayer requests and then, and this is the cunning part, put away the list and concentrate on your relationship with God. Later, dig out the list and see how many have been answered.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Passing on the Torch

In the Levitical law God commanded the priests who served in the tabernacle or the temple to keep the fire on the altar always burning. The flames must not go out (Leviticus 6:12-13). The priest had to feed the fire keeping it ablaze. Putting another log on the fire was not a very spectacular job, and often happened unnoticed, behind the scenes. The burning fire was the testimony that the priest actually has done his duty faithfully. What happened when one of the priests was going off duty and another one came on duty? They simply passed on the torch.

John Baggaley has been our Session Clerk for over six years. John has faithfully kept the fire of the Lord Jesus aflame here at SSCB! What he did was not always spectacular or in front of the church family, but the living faith, the seamless life and activity of the congregation are the testimonies that John was faithful in all his duties.

John took up the role of Session Clerk at a difficult time in the life of SSCB, when some might have been more inclined to withdraw. With faithful prayer life, excellent organisational skills John picked up the pieces that were dropped by others and kept the flames alight. I have witnessed a number of times how fiercely John stood up and fought for this church family, for he believes that God has called us to serve Him and proclaim His Good News in Jesus Christ here and now! He carried not only the duties of a Session Clerk but also that of an administrator for most of those years! John was the right person at the right time for SSCB. I never had to worry for I knew the life of the church was in good hands.

After six years of committed service John has stepped down as Session Clerk, but he continues to serve as an elder in the Session. He has passed on the torch to Timothy Pitt to continue keeping the fire burning. Tim is taking up the role for three years. In Tim the congregation receives another prayerful Session Clerk who also has great organisational gifts, Scriptural vision, acting and preaching skills, and commitment to the Lord Jesus and His church here at SSCB. The torch has been passed on to very safe hands!

Tim will need not to do an administrator’s tasks, as Alison McLaughlin, our new Operations Co-ordinator is looking after the day to day admin and life of the church. We are grateful Alison to you for undertaking this task!

On behalf of the Kirk Session, the church family and myself, John, thank you for your dedicated service. We wish you and Sue God’s grace and rich blessings as you continue to serve on the Kirk Session.

And to you, Tim, we are also grateful for taking up the torch and not letting the fire go out. We wish you and Elspeth the very same rich blessings, wisdom, patience with us, and a good sense of humour as you serve us in the role of Session Clerk.

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent

Christmas Hail

The Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael is a collection of prayers and poems from the oral tradition handed down from Celtic Christian times and finally written up and published in the nineteenth century. We are looking from the perspective of the Celtic Christians this Advent.

The Christmas Hail is, quite simply, a poem / prayer that greets and praises our Lord.


HAIL to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He who has come betimes,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed be the house and all therein,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
'Twixt stock and stone and stave,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Consign it to God from corslet to cover,
Be the health of men therein,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Lasting round the house be ye,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Healthy round the hearth be ye,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Many be the stakes in the house,
And men dwelling on the foundation,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He.
 
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
This night is the eve of the great Nativity,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Born is the Son of Mary the Virgin,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
The soles of His feet have reached the earth,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Illumined the sun the mountains high,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He.
 
Shone the earth, shone the land,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Heard was the wave upon the strand,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Blessed is He, blessed is He,
Hail to the King, hail to the King,
Blessed the King,
Without beginning, without end,
To everlasting, to eternity,
To all ages, to all time.
 

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Carol of the Week: Good King Wenceslas (1854)

“Good King Wenceslas” is a much loved and intriguing carol. It links together a Bohemian duke and an Anglican minister who lived about one thousand years apart.

Wenceslas was born in Bohemia (part of modern Czech Republic) in the early 900s AD. His education was supervised by his godly grandmother. When his father died, Wenceslas, seeing his mother mishandling the state affairs, stepped in at age 18, seizing the reins of government. From the very beginning he proved to be a different sort of king. He sought good relations with surrounding nations, particularly with Germany. He took steps to reform the judicial system, reducing the number of death sentences and the arbitrary power of judges. He encouraged the building of churches and showed heartfelt concern for the poor. He reportedly cut firewood for orphans and widows, often carrying provisions on his own shoulders through the snow.

However his reign was brief, ending suddenly, when his pagan and rebellious brother, Boleslav, murdered him in 929, as he was leaving for church. But Wenceslas has been venerated as a martyr and today he is the patron saint of Czech Republic.

But he would be hardly remembered outside of his native land if it were not for John Mason Neale, an Anglican minister with a passion for returning church architecture and music to their ancient grandeur. He worked hard to restore dilapidated church buildings. He was particularly infuriated by the ugly stoves installed in churches during Victorian times.

He disliked the hymns of Isaac Watts, and sought to return church music to its medieval roots. He translated ancient hymns and carols form Greek, Latin and Syrian.

“Good King Wenceslas” is not a translation, it is his original poem honouring a godly king’s concern for the poor. Neal himself worked with the needy, serving as warden of a charitable residence for impoverished old men.

John Neal’s antiquated opinions were widely scorned in his own time, but we are still loving and singing his carols and hymns, like: “Good King Wenceslas”, “Good Christian Men Rejoice”, “O come, O Come Emmanuel”, and “All Glory, Loud, and Honour”.

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Youth Worker’s Testimony

Philip, our Youth Worker recently announced that he is looking to step down from the youth worker role in the spring time next year. His reasons are personal, as Mary and Philip are looking forward to settle down in the borders, Philip’s role here in Edinburgh will be difficult to maintain. He is sharing his testimonial article with us, inviting us to reflect on life’s journeys as we are walking with Jesus.

So what has led me to this decision? In Martin’s (Martin Bethell is Philip’s line manager) words I’m ‘a Borders laddie at heart’. He isn’t wrong, the move to the Borders excites me, but also creates questions regarding my working life. Where is God calling me? What shall I spend my time doing? While sitting in church this week I felt God speaking to me as I prayed about my work. During the ‘No Longer Slaves’ praise that was concluding our service with the declaration ‘I am a child of God’ I felt the Spirit saying to me: “Do your fathers business!” I have an earthly father who farms, and a perfect Heavenly Father who works to save people! To me this was a clear direction to be involved with both practical farming and relational Christian youth work.

I have been very aware that as I have been the St Stephen’s Youth Worker, I’ve become increasingly aware that it’s not so much me doing ministry, it’s me getting to surf the wave of what God is doing in young people in our church and community. The knowledge that God is working helped me to accept this move away from a job and people and place that I love, praying and trusting that others can and will ride the waves in the years to come.

I have learned a HUGE amount from my time at St Stephen’s, I have pressed deep into asking God what I should share, I have learned to be more organised, I have forged and deepened relationships with young people and I have gleaned wisdom from many church members.

To you as a church, I want to say thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I have enjoyed it thoroughly and it is with sadness that I look to move on.

Phil Anderson – Youth Worker

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Blessing

There is no difference between a blessing today or from Celtic Christian times. Ultimately, it’s all prayer. But if Lorica and Chaim prayers were the Celtic Christians seeking God’s protection for themselves and others, then blessings were an outpouring of the power of prayer and of their relationship with God.

A blessing shares God’s Word, strength and encouragement. We do well to remember that this is of Jesus – not of ourselves – whether we preface it with “In the name of Jesus, I bless you …” or dive straight into “May you …” ultimately, it is simply being connected with God.

Paul wrote blessings such as:

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. (2 Timothy 4:22)

From earlier times comes the priestly blessing:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. (Numbers 6: 24-26)

The Celtic Christians blessed each other to have that close relationship with God (inevitably stating expressly Father, Son and Holy Spirit):

And the King of kings
And Jesus Christ,
And the Spirit of peace
And of grace will be with us,
Of grace will be with us.

Consider what we often simply call ‘The Grace’:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

And then let it take shape in the context of the Celtic Christian world:

May the King shield you in the valleys
May Christ aid you on the mountains,
May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,
in hollow, on hill, on plain,
Mountain, valley and plain.

Celtic Christians took their learning from the Bible and applied it to their own context and surroundings. Celtic Christianity is not just one topic (in this instance, blessing), and so we must also look outwards and beyond; to their relationship with the world. They blessed each other and the world because they recognised God’s authority over everyone, every place, every thing. This can inspire us to be more aware of the people we encounter, the countryside available to us and even the city surrounding us.

Or consider communion where we ‘share the peace.’ For us, usually a handshake or a kiss with the words “the peace of Christ.” For the Celtic Christians, it would be prefaced by a prayer-talk with God, a prayer-blessing for others and then actually sharing that peace. Maybe you can pray-talk this at communion:

Peace between neighbours
Peace between kindred,
Peace between lovers,
In love of the King of life

Peace between person and person,
Peace between wife and husband,
Peace between woman and children
The peace of Christ above all peace.

Bless, O Christ, my face,
Let my face bless every thing;
Bless, O Christ, mine eye,
Let mine eye bless all it sees

And having prayed that blessing, THEN share it by offering the handshake, the holy kiss and ‘the peace of Christ.’

As we saw last time, the Celtic Christians could pray in the avoir and the être. So pray that people might have protection, encouragement, wisdom … and pray also that they would be blessed and a blessing to others.

(Celtic Christian blessings taken from Carmen Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Shepherd of the Flock was Born

We are following the Celtic Christians in prayer and poem this Advent, with a rich oral heritage that was finally collected and written up in the nineteenth century by Alexander Carmichael and published as the Carmina Gadelica.

Jesus is our shepherd King. Contemplate the following verses – the nativity story stripped of glitter and commercialised romanticism. (And note the reference again to Michael, indicating a knowledge of the struggle.)

THAT night the star shone
Was born the Shepherd of the Flock,
Of the Virgin of the hundred charms;
The Mary Mother.

The Trinity eternal by her side,
In the manger cold and lowly.
Come and give tithes of thy means
To the Healing Man.

The foam-white breastling beloved,
Without one home in the world,
The tender holy Babe forth driven,
Immanuel!

Ye three angels of power,
Come ye, come ye down;
To the Christ of the people
Give ye salutation.

Kiss ye His hands,
Dry ye His feet
With the hair of your heads;
And O! Thou world-pervading God,
And Ye, Jesu, Michael, Mary,
Do not Ye forsake us.

(Taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (1849)

This is a very unusual carol for it does not mention Christ or his birth at all! The author, Edmund Hamilton Sears was a Unitarian (they do not believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ), born in Massachusetts in 1819. After attending Union College and Harvard Divinity School, he was ordained as a Unitarian minister, devoting himself to serve small towns in Massachusetts, where he had time to study, think and write. He is the author of two Christmas carols that are mirror images of each other, written fifteen years apart.

At the age of 24 he wrote “Calm on the Listening Ear,” a Christmas Carol based on the angels’ song in Luke 2:13-14: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’” It proved very similar to the more famous carol he would later write, having the same metre and theme, and it can be sung to the same tune as well.

Fifteen years later he wrote its more famous twin: “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”. Sear, being a Unitarian omitted to mention the birth of Jesus being the occasion for the angels’ singing!

The author’s only focus was the angelic request for peace on earth. One can appreciate this, considering the date of the carol: 1849. It was written as the clouds of civil strife were gathering over the young United States, setting the scene for the Civil War (1861-1865)! Sears’ concern drove him to write the carol with the verse:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

Sears became well known through his hymns and books. He received a doctor Divinity degree in 1871, and took a preaching tour of England. He died in Massachusetts, in 1876.

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Prayer

We have seen that Celtic Christians prayed regularly and expectantly, just as we should. Can we learn from their prayers? We know many of them from accounts of saints and general history and we also have the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of oral tradition Celtic Christian prayers finally written up in the 19th century.

Like us, they were called to pray without ceasing; praying is connecting with God. Like us, they were called to live in God’s presence, not focussing on grand prayer techniques. Quite simply, as for us, it was set out in Scripture:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18

They prayed into any occasion. Nothing was their own power, effort or deservingness, not even simply getting up in the morning:

I arise today
Through the power of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the power of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the power of His resurrection with His ascension.

Celtic Christian prayers were real, immediate … and just the same as ours. Perhaps they just had the rhythm of God in their prayer life.

Almost as with French grammar, Celtic Christians would pray in the avoir (to have) and the être (to be). 

Contrast:

Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need

with (remembering, from Sannox, that Michael is referenced in struggles):

Be my soul in the trustance of the High King,
Be Michael the powerful, meeting my soul.

Aware of humanity’s weakness and God’s power, they had a particular affinity for seeking protection, with lorica (armour) and caim (encircling) prayers. Lorica prayer sought God’s protection in all aspects of life. This was Ephesians 6:10-20 stuff; the full armour, through God’s grace and love.

Father cherish me; Son cherish me;
Three all-kindly.
Three aid my hope; Three aid my love; Three aid my eye
And my knee from stumbling.

Caim prayer sought God’s protection in a deliberate act of encircling, inspired by Joshua and by God’s powerful love surrounding us:

On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times.

Joshua 6:15

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 125:2

Caim is not our power movement to encircle ourselves; it is giving ourselves up to Jesus. At the centre of our prayers – and our very beings – is Jesus, then as now. I invite you to read the following extract from the ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ prayer slowly, especially if it is the first time you have seen it. Dwell on each phrase:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I stand. 

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me,
Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me.

(Prayers taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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SSCB Nativity Advent Calendar

We have created an Advent Calendar for you counting down to Christmas. Clicking on each door a nativity will be revealed with a Scripture verse to inspire and bless you this season. The nativity images were sent in by members of our church family. We hope you will enjoy the calendar as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Just click on the image or the link bellow, which will take you to the Advent Calendar. The Calendar will be “live” from 1st December. You will be able to open a door only on the actual date (door 1 on 1st Dec.; door 2 on 2nd Dec.; and so on). Each day you will need to come back to this page and click on the image or the link under it if you want to find out what the next nativity is. Hopefully there will be some pleasant surprises.

Have a blessed and joyful Christmas season!

SSCB Nativity Advent Calendar Link

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Send a Christmas Card to Church

We miss you all at church! Sadly Coronavirus has changed so much in our lives this year. Some things perhaps needed to be changed, like caring and being concerned for others and supporting each other. But other things, like not being able to worship together in one place are not such a good change. We miss each other and the physical fellowship.

But we want everyone to be in church for Christmas! We know that it is not possible for everyone to be there because of the safety regulations and we are not encouraging anyone to break them! But we want you to be in church for Christmas!

How can we do that? By your own Christmas card! Please send a Christmas card to church! Your Christmas card will represent you or your family at church. We want to fill the church with your Christmas cards. Imagine what a spectacular view it will be the whole of SSCB being filled with Christmas cards! And while you are at it, just write down your Christmas prayer or Christmas blessing on the card too! I wonder from how far will cards come to us? How awesome it will be telling your neighbours that you were in church at Christmas! You can tell them you were there in spirit and by your card. We also want to be able to tell others and other congregations that our church family, all of them, were in church this Christmas!

So please send your Christmas cards to:

St Stephen’s Comely Bank Church
10 Comely Bank Road
Edinburgh
EH4 1DW

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Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

The Celtic Christians had a rich oral tradition of prayer, poetry and storytelling. Many were finally collected and written up in the nineteenth century as the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael, a civil servant in Edinburgh born on the island of Lismore (near Oban), who dedicated his free time to recording the Celtic Christian oral heritage.

As we prepare our homes in Advent, let us dwell on this as a prayer offering.

HAIL King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Ho, hail! blessed the King!
Ho, hi! let there be joy! 

Prosperity be upon this dwelling,
On all that ye have heard and seen,
On the bare bright floor flags,
On the shapely standing stone staves,
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He! 

Bless this house and all that it contains,
From rafter and stone and beam;
Deliver it to God from pall to cover,
Be the healing of men therein,
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He! 

Be ye in lasting possession of the house,
Be ye healthy about the hearth,
Many be the ties and stakes in the homestead,
People dwelling on this foundation,
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He! 

Offer to the Being from found to cover,
Include stave and stone and beam;
Offer again both rods and cloth,
Be health to the people therein,
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Hail King! hail King! blessed is He! blessed is He!
Ho, hail! blessed the King!
Let there be joy! 

Blessed the King,
Without beginning, without ending,
To everlasting, to eternity,
Every generation for aye,
Ho! hi! let there be joy!

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[shared by Timothy Pitt]

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Advent Reflection

We are stepping into the period of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas. For most people it is a time of preparing for the Big festivities and celebrations at Christmas. Perhaps this year even more than in other years.

The word Advent originates from the phrase “adventus Domini,” which means “the coming of the Lord” and it refers to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The final message of the Bible is exactly the Lord’s promise of his coming:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Revelation 22:20

It is something that is certain, and sure, something to look forward to with anticipation and expectation.  So the big question of Advent is: Are you looking forward to the coming of the Lord? What will His coming mean to you? How will His coming affect you? What are your expectations of Jesus’ coming again? (Yes, I know these are more than one question.)

You see, our Lord Jesus Christ has four advents, or comings:

  1. when He came in the flesh;
  2. when He enters one’s heart;
  3. when He comes to one at their death;
  4. when He comes for the Last Judgement.

Let’s just pause and think about these advents a bit.

The Lord’s first advent already has happened when all the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled at the first Christmas. The Son of God came into our world, and completed the work of salvation in obedience to the Father, so all who repent can receive forgiveness from God the Father.

Jesus comes into one’s heart when one realises that they lived without God, against His ways, and they don’t want to continue in that Godless life, so they ask for forgiveness and call Jesus to come into their lives because they want to be obedient to Him.

The time of our death will come to all of us and if Jesus already has come into our hearts, at the time of our death He comes to meet and take us into His heavenly glory. But if He is not in your heart by that time, He will not come to you and not take you to be with Him in glory, for He knows you not.

Now we live in an age when we are waiting eagerly (or so we should!) for the sudden coming of Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to rule in His Kingdom for ever and ever. Again, if Jesus has not entered your heart as Lord of your life by that time, His judgement of your life will not be favourable to you. (Matthew 25:31-46)

So Advent is not about festivities or frantic preparation for our Christmas celebrations. It is about RELATIONSHIP. Your relationship to Jesus who has come and who is to come. Has He come to you already? Is He in your heart, ruling your life? If He is not yet, His future comings, at your death and at the end of time will be not good news for you! So make good use of this time of Advent, consider your life, and all that Jesus offers you, consider your relationship with Him, and invite Him to come into your heart! What an amazing Christmas present He will be to you!

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Praise of the Week: Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult

Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895) was born in Dublin. She had a gift for poems from an early age. However, knowing her father being stern and strict she hid her poems under the carpet. One day her father discovered her secret writings and the whole family expected harsh punishment for the wee lass. Instead he gave her a pretty box to keep her writings in that and invited her to read them aloud to the family every Saturday evening.

With her father’s encouragement her poetry flourished. As a young woman she wrote verses to enhance her lessons she taught at Sunday School.

By the age of 30 she penned hymns that became favourites ever since, like: “Once in Royal David’s City,” “All things Bright and Beautiful,” “There Is A Green Hill Far Away.” By the end of her life she penned over 400 hymns and poems.

In 1850 she married Rev. William Alexander, and Anglican priest, who eventually became the Primate of Ireland. One autumn day her husband has spent the whole day writing the sermon for St Andrew’s Day. Over dinner they discussed the passage (Matthew 4:18-20), in which Jesus called his first disciples, saying to them: “Follow me!” That evening, inspired by their conversation, she wrote her hymn of discipleship: “Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult”.

Frances not only wrote about discipleship, she practiced it too. While she was the wife of the Primate of Ireland, she mixed with high society, and hosted dignitaries, but she also travelled miles in the soggy moorlands taking food, clothing, medical supplies to needy farming families as the nation was recovering after the potato famines of 1845-1849. She willingly gave away the money she made from her hymn and poetry collections, funded a school for deaf children, and supported women who got into trouble.

Cecil was not overwhelmed by “the vain world’s golden store,” or bewildered by the “tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea” rather she was overwhelmed by the love of Jesus and served and loved Him best of all, following Him wherever His calling took her. Jesus still calls us in the Gospel and through her hymn: Christian, follow me!

A traditional rendition – Songs of Praise from St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen
An absolutely great contemporary version

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Tall Crosses

Tall Crosses are iconic of the Celtic Christian heritage, what were these crosses for?

First, what are they? Carved from one piece of stone (usually granite or sandstone), they have a circle (nimbus) at the intersection. Most are intricately carved – often with specific scenes as well as with the triqueta or 3-cornered ‘knot.’ This knot, without start or end, symbolises the eternal Three-in-One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some carved scenes and knots appear to have been painted for added effect.

Heights average 2 metres (6 ½ feet), but Monasterboice’s Tall Cross in Ireland stands 6.5 metres (21 feet).

As to the nimbus, one theory is that the cross of Christ’s suffering for our sins is made complete by the halo of His redemption for us; another is that it was simply a practical means to support the weight of the arms of the cross. Both are correct, but neither can be proven to be the overriding reason.

As to their purpose, rather than look back at what might have been, let us look from the perspective of a Celtic Christian at the time. What would they see? What was their context?

Villages were smaller, fewer and farther apart. They were reached along roads that were just worn tracks, lit only by daylight or moonlight in a less-farmed countryside of natural woodland and wild scrubland. The population was smaller, more were illiterate with few having access to the Bible or other books. But they travelled. And they still needed learning, direction and encouragement. Into this setting we place our Celtic Christian for whom everything could be a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey and an opportunity to contemplate God.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Tall Celtic crosses could be seen from afar; reassuring direction posts confirming that a traveller was on the right path to their destination: early march-stones and Google Maps ® way points.

Carved Celtic crosses were references for preaching. Local or travelling monks, nuns or leaders (or simply someone from the area) would preach beside the cross, illustrating their points with the carved scenes. Even a solo traveller could pause at a cross and take encouragement from the picture narratives.

Individual Celtic crosses were erected in memory of Disciples or particular saints (wise leaders, not necessarily as consecrated by Rome), such as St. Mathew’s Cross and St. Martin’s Cross, both on Iona. The Celtic Christians (and those who came after) would have had constant encouragement.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Hebrews 12:1

We are more mobile now, and tend to use church buildings and internet rather than a large stone cross outdoors for preaching, direction-finding and remembering the examples of others. Rather than being anchored to our faith, we can be led by our faith as the Celtic Christians were. Perhaps we carry that around as a modern Celtic cross necklace or T-shirt logo. Let it not just be a pretty design, but a trigger to remind ourselves of God’s power and grace.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Overflowing Hope

Last Lord’s Day (15 November) Philip shared with us at Praise & Worship a poem that he wrote being inspired by Romans 15:13. It was moving, inspirational, and uplifting. Now here we share it with you, both in print and recited by Philip himself. We pray you will be blessed by it and filled with hope.

Overflowing Hope

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

We once were a barren soil, sin-sick and starved of spiritual substance.
     Acidic with cynicism, shallow rooted and hard like stone.
 Lacking vision, not seeing the Victor sat on the throne...
     But no more for the sovereign soul searching gardener of the nations,
 did not leave us as a wilderness vacant of vegetation.
     He has sown his seed, his word that germinates inside of me, inside of we.
     We who have been turned right over by the gospel of the eden restoring God,
 Who melted his sword of divine judgement into nails that into him were beaten.
     And made a ploughshare that restores the years that locusts have eaten.
 Let his ploughshare turn our soul soil to repentance again!
     For the workers are few but the fields are white with grain.
 The God dream is at hand, yes, the a kingdom of a helping hand,
     A kingdom that broke man's selfish plans.
 Jesus you're the true vine, I can feel you taking root in me,
     Sonship and setting free, ... Jesse,
 Your plan all along to grow faith, hope in love in me, in we.
     As the gardener tends, of course our faith grows,
 Holy Spirit is poured on us, of course it overflows,
     Oh, may the God of green hope, fill you up with peace, fill you up with Joy,
So that your believing lives filled with the life-giving Spirit will brim over with hope.

[by Philip Anderson]

Has Covid-19 put Church on the Bench?

Last year I had the privilege of getting to know two S6 Broughton High School students. One, a Christian, brought her friend along to our lunchtime SU sessions in school. I got to know both amid their intrigue as they asked insightful and intelligent questions that led the SU group into deeper discussions about life and faith. Sadly, due to Covid-19 SU hasn’t managed to start back up yet. However, we hatched a plan to meet at Costa and talk about what the next year might look like for these two soon-to-be school leavers. 

As I left the church office and rounded the corner onto Comely Bank Road I was met with the sight of the two young women leaning over an upturned bicycle, spanners in hand! As they were cycling to school together a pedal had fallen off! I joined them and we sat on the new benches in front of ‘Little Dobbies’. Despite our best efforts and a trip to ‘Bike and Spanner’ the bike wasn’t a quick fix due to a stripped thread.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, sitting on that bench outside little Dobbies, and later at Costa, God was drawing close, helping one student take her eyes off the burdening problems in her life – the things that need repair. Instead, through the supportive love of her friend, she began to see some solutions and a way ahead.

We talked about church a little, but we did church a lot. We didn’t sound spiritual and we didn’t fix anything, but we were there and we listened. 

I was reminded that church is the people, not the place. We can’t meet together as freely at SSCB at the moment, yet spiritually we are free indeed! We are still His Church. God is not limited by a building and neither are we! We still have the power to love radically, to see people come to know Christ, to listen to the broken and even heal the sick!  

Today I passed the same bench outside Little Dobbies, two friends from our congregation were on that same bench deep in conversation. And I was struck with my first thoughts of Christmas: Emmanuel! God with us…. Even outside Little Dobbies.

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Samevloeiing

I thought long and hard whether to include this as an example of a Thin Place. Iona, Inchcolm and Sannox (on Arran) are all islands, so perhaps I should even up the imbalance; it is not just islands that are blessed, and it’s not just Scotland. I have experienced Samevloeiing and been struck by God’s awesome creative power, so I offer it to you to consider. 

In Africa, in the Kalahari Desert, is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (some 15,000 square miles – about twice the size of Wales), and within it is Samevloeiing. Let me explain my journey to this particular Thin Place.

Body: I became interested in South Africa as a child through reading “Boys’ Own Tales” of daring do. But the reality is that Victorian Adventuring had so much wrong about it; even if it aspired to a noble ideal, inevitably it became broken and corrupted.

Soul: We first visited Cape Town in 1998, not long after apartheid ended. The sheer force of joy was tangible – the vibrant colours, happy enthusiasm and raw emotion, like an uplifting song. This is an oversimplification, as so much still required addressing and healing, but life just soared.

Spirit: In 2009 (and we have been blessed to return a few times afterwards) we went to the Kglagadi. Following the wildlife, amazed at the flora and geography, we found ourselves at Samevloeiing waterhole. And there I found a Thin Place.

It is the nearest waterhole to Twee Rivieren camp, where the Auob and Nossob dry river beds split. We have seen it empty and also teeming with gemsbok, springbok, even brown hyena, with fleeting glimpses of leopard and lion nearby.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

When I first arrived at that waterhole (and each return visit) it made such an impression on me. I was struck by a sense of peaceful eternity. We can be distracted by busyness, but to come here, to this particular waterhole, is to experience a moment that lasts forever. The Kalahari, especially Samevloeiing, is permanent and eternal. It is peaceful and still, yet expresses God’s power. For me, this Thin Place evokes meaning in Scripture, speaking of eternity that is but a moment to the Lord.

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole earth,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Psalm 90:2

Kgalagadi means ‘place of thirst.’ It is somewhere I can easily meet God and drink deeply of His living water.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2)

Psalm 42:2

As I say, we have returned a few times to the Kalahari on holiday (acknowledging the grace shown by my long-suffering wife who would really like to explore somewhere new, and our long-suffering boys who would simply like some wifi). I relax and don’t even need to reach out to God, as I sense He is so close to me.

I find myself drawn back again and again to Samevloeiing, to a Thin Place and to God. It was only whilst writing this article that it struck me: Samevloeiing is Afrikaans for ‘come back’ in the context of a confluence or meeting point.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Rock of Ages (1776)

The short life of Augustus Montague Toplady was both sad and outstanding. To start with he received his formidable name at his birth, in 1740, in Farnham, England. His father died in war and his mother simply spoiled him, with the result of being thought of as “sick and neurotic” by his friends, and disliked by his relatives.

From his childhood young and confident Augustus was interested in the Lord. “I am now arrived at the age of eleven years” – he wrote on his birthday – “I praise God I can remember no dreadful crime; to the Lord be the glory.” By the age of 12 he was preaching sermons to whoever would listen. At 14 he began writing hymns. At 16 he was soundly converted to Christ while attending a service in a barn. At 22 he was ordained an Anglican priest.

Augustus Montague Toplady was a staunch Calvinist and he despised Arminian theology and bitterly attacked John Wesley the great Methodist leader. In 1776 Augustus wrote an article about God’s forgiveness, intending it as a slap at Wesley. He ended his article with an original poem:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Save from wrath and make me pure.

Augustus Toplady died shortly after at the age of 38, but his poem outlived him and became a much loved and widely sung hymn.

Strangely enough his poem is remarkably similar to something that Wesley had written some 30 years earlier in the preface of a book of hymns for the Lord’s Supper: “O Rock of Salvation, Rock struck and cleft for me, let those two Streams of Blood and Water which gushed from thy side, bring down Pardon and Holiness into my soul.”

Perhaps the two men were not as incompatible as they thought. It is such a shame they did not see how close they could be to each other in Christ!

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Jesus is the Great Adventure

Last week one of the young people I mentor at Broughton High School said to me ‘I just feel dead inside’. He is so bored with lockdown and has no adventure in his life. Amid my compassion for his difficult situation, and my concern at his behaviour: truancy and fighting. I was led to reflect on my own adventures. Amid my adolescent misdemeanours, I experienced the excitement and adventure of being filled with the Holy Spirit and trying to tell others about Jesus.

A few weeks ago George asked me this question in an interview: “What would be the top three things you would like to tell young people?” I have taken this opportunity to expand on part of my answer ‘Jesus is the great adventure’!

Don’t you think the person who made you, would know how to bring the most out of your life? Yes, the adventures of hedonism and sin are off the cards if you are serious about your relationship with Jesus. However, in following Christ, we gain the satisfaction of communion with our Father and unlimited adventure of Kingdom Come! We gain the relationship we were created to have, and we get to experience part of God’s Kingdom. That is, the place we were created to live.

We have a God who gives lasting peace, satisfaction and joy – spiritual wholeness – rather than fleeting repeating cravings of earthly desires. When we adventure selfishly we are bound by the limits of our efforts and ability. However, when we adventure with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the possibilities are endless! We serve the God whose mission is to make peace with humanity. He wants to release us into fearless freedom as the Holy Spirit lives in us. Walking on water, raising the dead, healing hearts, restoring sight, multiplying food and many more miracles are all in Jesus’s adventure handbook! These are the adventures that await when we commit to spend time with Jesus and are willing to step beyond our comfort zone, and into the faith zone… If you let Him, if you ask Him to, God will lead you into seeing lives transformed, prayers answered and a deeper experience of His love. It will be the greatest adventure!

Oh, in case that’s a little daunting: I should mention we are also given a secret communication channel to the all-powerful God who commands the angel armies? Its called Prayer!

Let’s Pray:

  1. Please pray for my bored mentee as he seeks ‘adventure’ in truancy and fighting.
  2. Ask God to show you where he wants you to step out of your comfort zone.
  3. Ask God for boldness to tell someone about Jesus.

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Sannox

Sannox (the Viking ‘Sandvik’ means ‘Sandy Bay’) is a small village on the northeast coast of the Isle of Arran. This island has a tale to tell from earlier days. In the west is Tobair Challumchille (the ‘spring of Columba’) from where it is claimed Columba, looking up and realising he could still see Ireland, continued his White Martyr journey, ultimately arriving on Iona.

At Sannox, though, a chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael was established around the 14th century – such association often denotes a spiritually significant place and a struggle. By 1800, the moderatist tradition was well-established – where enthusiasm was frowned upon and cold, formal worship was re-enforced by ‘reason’ (amidst a general acknowledgement that dark spirits held sway on the island). A struggle, indeed!

Into this culture, two evangelising ministers came to the island in 1800. Local landowners told several tenant farmers to leave the evangelists or leave their farms. They chose to leave their farms. They gathered at Sannox, and amazingly received offers of farm-holdings there. Initially 14 people, this became a congregation of 60 within 2 years, and in 1806 Alexander Mackay was appointed minister. Two early members were Duncan and Katherine Macmillan whose great grandson, Harold, was British Prime Minister 1957 – 1963.

In 1821 permission and land was obtained for a church to be built (as opposed to holding open-air services throughout the year). It opened in 1822 but only 7 years later the population was much reduced amidst the Highland Clearances. The emigrants sailed to Canada where they built a replica church.

At Sannox, the church continued, led by Alexander Mackay until his death in 1856, after 50 years as minister there. The last permanent minister died in 1966, and by 1976 only occasional services were held with the building becoming dilapidated.

But the call of the Thin Place was heard, and the Sannox Christian Centre (‘SCC’) trust was established to redevelop the site as a house of prayer; a place of rest and restoration; and a place reflecting the Celtic Christian Mission of Christ at the centre, open to all.

The nearby cottage has been redeveloped into accommodation and the church is being restored (walls and roof completed and internals now being worked on), the overall site enhanced with further accommodation representing the cave (for our personal journey with God), a common table (God’s provision of sustenance for all) all next to a road (our godly outreach to others). All this around a focal-point Celtic cross which has already been installed.

I have stayed, prayed and worshipped there. For a place that has seen so much struggle, it surely is a place of spiritual significance. It is just so peaceful. It is as if you arrive to find God welcoming you, saying, “Relax! Take your time – settle in. When you are ready, come and let me know what’s on your mind, what’s on your heart. You are here; I choose to be here for you.”

SCC has been guided by Isaiah 56:7, which is an appropriate verse for all Thin Places when we gather there:

these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations
.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Stones That Cry

COVID-19 has silenced so much this year. During the first lockdown the whole country was silenced. Shops, work places, institutions were abandoned, theatres, cinemas, concert halls were silenced, churches were deserted, and the streets were empty, hardly or no traffic at all, and people were quiet too. Now again parts of the UK are in lock down, and we are afraid that we will be silenced once more.

When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the crowds of disciples were joyfully greeting him, but the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke them for this. Jesus replied to them: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40).

Our Remembrance this year is limited in many ways, but not silent. Indeed the stones are crying out and call us to remember. Remember the suffering, pain, toil, sacrifice and tragedy of wars. Remember that freedom and peace have a price and many were called to pay that price. We will remember them. We will remember in silence, but the stones we gathered and form a large poppy in the church grounds cry out and let the world know that there is no peace, reconciliation, ands freedom without sacrifice!

The Son of God gave Himself for our freedom, and reconciliation with God, for our peace! He died on the cross paying the price for our sins and our rebellion – for all that causes fights, quarrels and wars. What a price! What a sacrifice!

We proclaim His victory this Remembrance Day that by Jesus and through Jesus all who put their trust in him will have freedom and peace, and life eternal. Nothing can and nothing must silence us to proclaim His Victory by which He won our Freedom!

[Our Remembrance Day Installation is in the church grounds. You can add your own stone of remembrance to it. Just paint it red and cover it with clear nail polish to be water resistant. A huge Thank You is due to Moira who helped creating the installation and to John Curran who made the white crosses. Thank You, Moira and John!]

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Third Tier for SSCB

The apostle Paul writes that he knew of a man in Christ who was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Well, we have also been caught up, not quite to the third heaven but to the third tier of COVID protection level here at St Stephen’s Comely Bank, Edinburgh. It is not the same! But the Spirit of God breaks through all kinds of tiers and levels. There is no boundary before God to reach you, wherever you might be physically or spiritually! See Psalm 139:7-12! Our comfort and hope is that Jesus Christ is close by our side through His Spirit. He sent the Spirit as our Comforter!

What doesTier 3 mean for us as a church family and a worshipping fellowship? The Church of Scotland issued us with their guidelines based on the Scottish Government’s ‘Strategic Framework’. It is extremely important to be aware that these levels (the Tier System) are set out in law approved but he Scottish Parliament and, therefore, they MUST be followed. This is not just advice, it is the Law.

  • We can continue meeting for worship in church up to the maximum number of people observing safe distancing (this is about 35 people in our church).
  • The maximum limit of number of people attending funerals or weddings is 20.
  • Outdoors events (worship) are NOT permitted.
  • Congregational singing still should not be part of worship.
  • Informal hospitality (teas and coffees after service or during groups) are NOT permitted.
  • Face coverings must be warn by all in a place of worship with the relevant exemptions in place.
  • Sunday Club and Youth Work can continue according to the existing youthworker guidance with limits on numbers.

These regulations do sound strict, and they are. But they are so with a good reason. They are meant to protect us and by adhering to them we can protect each other. However these strict laws cannot and should not block us expressing God’s love, care and support within the permitted formats. Phone each other, send a card, zoom, or go for a walk with someone, have a coffee with a friend at a cafe (remember maximum 6 people of 2 households!). Above all continue to pray for each other, and for God’s grace to visit us and heal our land!

To sum it up:

  • we continue to remain open for prayer on Wednesday mornings (10:00-12:00) and for worship on Sunday (11:00), but we will have no coffee or tea at the end fo the service.
  • you can also join worship by zoom form your home.
  • Sunday Club and Youth Work will continue in the halls.

Keep safe and close to the Lord – and see you Sunday in church or on Zoom.

[from GV]

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God’s Olive Branch

I recently received an olive tree to mark my retirement. Native to the Mediterranean region, I have been amazed as my olive tree has thrived on my patio and even begun to form small, perfectly formed olives, despite the damper and far harsher climatic conditions here in Scotland. For thousands of years olives have been harvested and are still valued to this day for their major contribution to the healthy Mediterranean diet. The fruit of the olive tree, albeit an acquired taste, is an important staple food, in its own right, while olive oil has been used for cooking and for lighting lamps for centuries. In Genesis 8, it is significant that the dove sent out by Noah first returns with an olive leaf as a sign of the end of the flood and God’s promise to His people never to bring destruction to the earth again. The expression ‘to extend an olive branch’ has, of course, since entered our language as both a symbol of hope and peace, reflecting God’s graciousness to us. In Romans 11, Paul tells us as that through the disobedience of the Jews, we, as Gentiles have been shown mercy by God and that, in time, the Jews will also receive mercy. He likens us Gentiles to wild olive shoots that have been grafted onto Jesus, the cultivated olive tree. If we can thrive as wild shoots on the cultivated olive tree, then how much easier it will be for the Jews, as severed cultivated branches, with their common ancestry and history to be grafted back onto the cultivated tree.

As I gaze on my own olive tree in the garden, I look forward to the time, as come it will, when we can all live in harmony with God and with one another, once the wild olive shoots and the natural branches are grafted back onto the cultured olive tree.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Inchcolm

Columba is recorded as having visited Inchcolm (the “Iona of the East”) in 567, just a few years after founding Iona. It is a small island, only 6 miles from Edinburgh city centre. But as with the way of Celtic Christians, we should remember that every journey, whatever length, can be a pilgrimage.

It is a way-point on the old ferry route from Edinburgh and the Lothians to Fife – there would have been a fleet of ferries along the coast, not just at South and North Queensferry, named for Queen Margaret, wife of King Malcolm Canmore. One of their sons, King Alexander I, took refuge on the island whilst attempting a crossing in stormy weather. He was sheltered by a Christian hermit at his dìseart, and in gratitude Alexander vowed to build an Augustinian monastery there.

Alexander died and the responsibility for completing the work was left to his brother, King David I. It became a full abbey in 1235 during the reign of Alexander II (and his queen, Marie de Coucy), David’s grandson. The abbey was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation in 1560 and although it fell into ruin it was not the target for repeated attacks and total destruction. The result is the best preserved medieval abbey in Scotland (Pluscarden and Iona Abbeys having both been ‘restored’, not simply ‘preserved’).

But where does the Celtic Christianity element fit in? Remember, we are looking at a way of life, a culture of some of God’s people and a thin place where we can meet with God. Visiting Inchcolm Island recently, I took a photo and gained a sense of peace, of yearning for God. Edinburgh can be seen so close and clear, but at the same time it feels a world away.

I sensed the transition from the rhythm of the Celtic Christians to the foundations of the Augustinians. The cloisters inspire security in God (and are unusual with three sides being the ground floor of the abbey building, with windows out to the courtyard). The magnificent octagonal Chapter House (meeting room) inspires orderliness in working for God. There is a quote from St Augustine on display: “Dwell in the house with oneness of spirit, and let your hearts and minds be one in God.”

And that is the point: Dwell in the house, yes. Come to the thin place, sure. But do so in unity with your brothers and sisters, seeking together the Holy Spirit (chasing the Wild Goose). And, body and soul, be one in God. It’s not the buildings or the thin place itself – it’s our attitude to God; our choice to seek Him and worship Him.

I felt blessed praying on Inchcolm Island. As if to confirm the blessing, on the return trip I noticed the boat’s commissioning prayer, framed and displayed, including:

“Lord …

You were with the Celtic monks who went out in small boats from Iona

To take the word of your evangel to the people of Scotland …

May those who travel on this boat and walk through the sacred ruins

Feel something of Your presence  …

Touch their hearts so that their journey by this ship

May become a pilgrimage and that they return to the shore

More aware of the wonder of Your goodness and more committed

To seeking You and serving You all the days of their life …”

It is my prayer for us all.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still (1529)

On the Eve of All Saints’ Day, 31 October 1517 an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses as a discussion starter to the church door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The 95 points stirred up not just Wittenberg but the whole Christian world, and it is traditionally considered as the beginning of what became the Protestant Reformation. So Luther is regarded as a great reformer, Bible translator, political leader, fiery preacher and debater, and godly theologian. He was also a musician. He was born in the Thuringia, known for its music, and the young Martin grew up listening to his mother singing. He joined a boys’ choir and sang at weddings and funerals. He became proficient with the recorder, and he often expressed his emotions with an outburst of a song.

When the Reformation began in force, Luther was determined to restore worship too. He worked with skilled musicians creating new music for Christians, that they could sing in the vernacular. He helped reviving congregational singing and wrote a number of hymns.

He often ‘borrowed’ popular secular melodies for his hymns. Occasionally though a tune brought too much criticism and he was “compelled to let the devil have it back again” because it was too closely associated with bars and taverns.

Luther held strong views about music: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” – he wrote passionately in the uncompromising style of his age and his own conviction and character.

Luther’s most famous hymn is “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” – “A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still.” Based on Psalm 46, it reflects Luther’s awareness of our intense struggle with Satan. In difficulty and danger, under the attack of Satan, Luther would often resort to this Psalm, saying to his assistance, “Come, Philipp, let us sing the 46th Psalm.”

It is a difficult hymn to translate for the original German text is so vivid. At least 80 English versions are available. In the UK the translation of Thomas Carlyle is best known:

A safe stronghold our God is still,

A trusty shield and weapon;

He’ll help us clear from all the ill

That has us now o’ertaken.

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Ingredients of Strong Faith

-New Sermon Series-

Without faith it is impossible to please God! (Hebrews 11:6) For many the question is to have a great faith. The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith too (Luke 17:5-6). Jesus’ response to them is very revealing. It is not the size of one’s faith is the most important thing but the almighty power of God, who is the object of our faith. So even faith the size of a mustard seed can achieve things that seem humanly impossible, like uprooting a mulberry bush.

It is not the size of your faith that is really crucial but who is the object of your faith (God who can do all things), and how strong your faith is! How can we have strong faith that will not be moved or shattered by storms and earthquakes of life? In the period leading up to Christmas we will explore this by looking at the ingredients for a strong faith. We will explore:

15/11/2020 – The Centre (John 15:1-11) – around who our faith is revolving;

22/11/2020 – The Word of God (Jeremiah 36) – what nourishes our faith;

29/11/2020 – Prayer (Matthew 7:7-11) – the way we connect to Father God;

06/12/2020 – Fellowship (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) – the way we connect to the people of God;

13/12/2020 – Service (Mark 10:42-45) – the way we connect to the world.

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Iona

Iona is a small island off Mull (which itself is off Oban), not quite 3 ½ square miles. To this day, the only motorised vehicles allowed are those of the permanent residents. When Columba arrived in 563, Iona formed a centre point for the loose Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada, composed of Northern Ireland to the west and the Hebrides and Argyll to the east. It retained a spiritual prominence, but Dunkeld became politically and geographically more central to the church from c850 when the nation of Scotland was more or less established, losing Northern Ireland in the west but gaining mainland Scotland to the east.

Originally the monastery buildings were wattle and timber but only the ditch and earth bank remain from Columba’s time. Around 800 a stone chapel was built and this was enlarged over the years, becoming a full abbey producing Christian texts (including the Book of Kells) and manuscript Bibles as part of the monks’ work amidst their daily rhythm of prayer and worship.

After Rome’s victory at the Synod of Whitby, the monks at Iona continued to hold onto strands of Celtic Christian ways, but first Augustinian ideas became increasingly dominant and then, by 1200, the monastery was officially Benedictine. It suffered various Viking raids (63 monks killed in one raid alone in 806), was actually annexed to Norway by Magnus Barelegs and only returned in 1266. By then, Iona had established a spiritual importance throughout western Europe. Some 48 Scottish kings (including Macbeth) and queens, as well as Norwegian, Irish and French monarchs, are buried on Iona; their funeral processions would traverse the Street of the Dead, a medieval paved road leading to the Abbey that still exists.

The abbey continued, with occasional alterations and rebuilding, until the Scottish reformation of 1560 when it was finally abandoned and fell into ruin. The 8th Duke of Argyll made safe the ruins and, in 1899, handed them over to the Iona Cathedral Trust to progress his rebuilding dream. From 1938 the Iona Community carried out extensive works and what began as an ecumenical social and evangelical campaign became a long term project with the building complex finally handed on to Historic Scotland in 2000 complete apart from the next “thing to do” that can always be found in addition to general maintenance. 

So those are some of the hard facts, but what about the place itself – is it truly ‘thin’?

It is. There is a sense of tranquillity over the whole island which seems to centre on the Abbey complex. The grass is a shade greener; the quiet is a tone quieter. When I was last there, I found that wherever I was – sitting in the Abbey pews or standing on the grassy hill outside, I just wanted to acknowledge God’s majesty, to shelter in Jesus’ power and to lean into the Holy Spirit’s gentleness. 

Is there a reason for that? I don’t know. Perhaps so many people declare the place to be ‘thin’ that we arrive with the expectation of meeting easily with God.

And that is what we should carry on our travels physical and spiritual: an expectation of meeting easily with God, of connecting with His majesty, His power, His gentleness. “… live each day with holy awe and reverence throughout your time on earth.” (1 Peter 1:17 – The Passion Translation)

[from Timothy Pitt]

Let’s Be Honest … about eating disorder

This week a very committed volunteer who helps lead our young people at Rock Solid, wrote an article. She has opened up and been very honest about her struggle with eating disorders. I have witnessed her worshiping Jesus amid the difficult things in life. As the youngest youth leader, she is a great example to me and the young people when she expresses her worship in singing. The article she has written is a great reminder of the power of vulnerability and the importance of listening and kindness. [Phil – Youth Worker]

In our society more and more people are suffering from Eating Disorders. Some of these people are prevented from getting help because they feel ashamed. Research shows that most eating disorders develop during adolescence, although there are cases of eating disorders developing in children as young as 6 and adults as old as 70. Between 1.25 million and 3.4 million in the UK suffer from an Eating Disorder. 

I struggle with eating, sometimes I go a whole day without eating a proper meal. This obviously isn’t good but I just don’t feel like eating sometimes. My anxiety leads me to snack on junk food and energy cans which doesn’t help keep me going for long but it’s all I feel like eating sometimes. 

I find it hard to talk to people about eating disorders as it’s not something that people talk about a lot. I often feel people might judge me or think less of me. I know we all have our struggles in life and whether we open up and talk about them or not is our choice. When we do open up about our struggles, it is so important that we are not made to feel ashamed. If I feel judged or looked down upon it makes me feel more rubbish. This only deepens the problem. When I feel anxious or down I often don’t stop to think. It’s not until after when I look back and regret and then think to myself “why did I do that?”. I’m meant to be looking after myself not making myself more ill but when I’m feeling down I find it hard to make the right decision as my head is not thinking straight. When I started to realise I wasn’t eating enough I found it hard to talk to people about it. But as time has passed I have realised it’s helpful to talk about it. There has been a rise in the amount of people posting stuff on social media about it which helped me feel like I could talk about it. I sometimes find it easier to write down how I am feeling, so that whoever I open up to I can just read what I have written. This means I don’t feel as anxious as if I had to speak. When people listen to me and show their support it really helps me stay healthy.

[from Youth Volunteer]

Ps. Let’s be honest with each other. Let’s listen and be kind to one other. Let’s bring our struggles out into the open. Let’s bring our struggles to Jesus! 

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Praise of the Week: Count Your Blessings (1897)

This popular hymn has been much liked at Guild meetings and in Sunday School. The words ‘count your blessings’ came to life in the life of its author, Johnson Oatman Jr.

He was born in 1856 in Lumberton, New Jersey. His father was a local merchant and was a very popular singer in the community. As a child Oatman Jr. often sang together with his dad and because of his father’s example and nurture he grew in the Christian faith and in his love for Jesus. It was said Oatman Sr. had a powerful booming voice the captivated his audience. Young Johnson looked up at him and wanted to be like his dad in every way, and be a musician and singer as he was.

Initially he joined his father’s business as a junior member. Johnson later studied for the ministry in the Methodist Church. While he tried his best as an ordained minister he soon realised ministry was not the right thing for him. He knew he is not going to be a great preacher even though he felt God’s calling to the ministry. He continued to seek God’s purpose for his life.

His desire to sing like his dad was also unfulfilled. But at the age of 36 he discovered that although he can not sing well, and he is not a great preacher, but he can write Christian hymns. Thus he began a prolific journey of hymn writing. He turned out about 200 hymns a year, and by the end of his life he was the author of some 5,000 hymns!

Johnson Oatman Jr. did not dwell on his disappointments and failings, he counted his blessings and made the most of them. He found his voice in hymn writing and this way he was more than able to preaching the Gospel, fulfilling his calling by God!

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Stone Poppy Remembrance Day Installation

[Shaftesbury Stone Poppies 2018]

This year everything is different! So too will be our Remembrance Day Service. It is always a moving and emotional time and we will not be able to gather in the usual numbers to remember.

But we will remember in numbers nevertheless. But in a different way. In the Old Testament we often find that the LORD commanded His people to erect stones as memorials to remind that future generations of His great acts and involvement in the life of His people, like when they crossed over the Jordan and entered the Promised Land (Joshua 4:1-7).

We will have a Giant Stone Poppy Installation in the church garden for Remembrance Day. This way we all can remember together yet still observe our physical distance and keep safe.

We invite all who want to remember to take part in this installation by painting a small stone or pebble, or more, red, (you can do it with your family, children and/or grandchildren), maybe add in black the name of a loved one who were involved in WW1, WW2 or other wars and conflicts. Make the colour water-proof by clear nail polish. Please bring your stone of remembrance and add them to the installation in the church garden from Saturday, 7th November till Wednesday 11th November.

On Wednesday 11th November the church will be open for prayer and reflection from 10:00 to 12:00, and being Remembrance Day it will be a special opportunity to do so.

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places

A thin place is a place where God appears closer – a mere veil between earth and heaven; between physical and spiritual. It is not merely the historical place where something happened to someone else long ago, but can include places of seclusion and places of activity. Celtic Christians spent time with God in Thin Places, in worship and wonder.

Historical places can be important. Stop and pause for a moment: Moses saw the burning bush. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) How would you react today if you were on holiday and found you were literally there – at that same spot? Or if you were walking up the now archaeologically-investigated steps leading up to Caiaphas’ Palace, the route Jesus was led after his initial questioning by Annas?

Secluded places can assist our devotional time. The so-called Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers were hermits who lived mainly in the Scetes desert in Egypt from around AD 250 onwards. They sought a place where they could be at peace, undistracted, with God. As Celtic Christianity took hold and flourished, many found inspiration in the same life. Dysart in Fife comes from the Gaelic word dìseart meaning hermitage and itself comes from the Latin desertum or desert. St Serf lived at Dysart for a while – we shall hear more of him.

But a thin place was not necessarily for one person alone. Iona is possibly the most famous of the “Thin Places’ in the world. Columba and 12 fellow monks arrived there in AD 565 and eventually there came to be a community of some hundreds. Clonfert grew to be a community of some 3,000 brothers and at Whitby, Hilda was in charge of a combined order (male and female) of many thousands, including those who looked after the cattle (it would take about 70 calves to produce enough vellum for a single Bible) and the other animals as well as the tending the fields for crops to feed both the people and the animals. A hive of activity and yet a place of peaceful encounter with God’s Spirit.

Many places have retained their ‘thin’ atmosphere from earliest times (again, Iona is a good example); some (Inchcolm Island, the so-called ‘Iona of the East’ in the Firth of Forth) were founded much later but retain their ‘thin’ characteristic. Others developed Christian affiliations much later, but are coming into their own (services were only held at Sannox, on the Isle of Arran, from the mid-18th century, but it has that thin quality and is now being redeveloped into a Christian retreat modelled on the Celtic Christian way.

A word for Iona? Tranquil. Incholm would be peaceful and Sannox restful. Lindisfarne, the Holy Island is awesome. But it is not them.

The most important aspect of a ‘Thin Place’ is discernible when you remember one of the key principles held by the Celtic Christians. They were followers of Jesus and they knew Him as Immanuel – God with us. In other words, the most important element was not the special hill or the awesome view. It was being alert and attentive to God in all places, for He is with us always.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Count Your Blessings

At the Harvest Thanksgiving Service I was encouraged to count my blessings. It reminded me that I used to keep a Thanksgiving Diary. At the end of every day I would give thanks to God for all the blessings of the day.

However I have let this habit slip, maybe I found it more difficult during the days of COVID-19. But I realised that this is exactly the time when I needed to be reminded of God’s goodness and love and give thanks more than ever. Especially if the day is challenging and dark I need to seek out the glimpses of light, the blessings, the moments of joy, the sense of God’s presence during those times.

Recently I was pleased to notice that my phone gives me visual reminders of this day a year ago, bringing up the photos taken on that date exactly a year earlier. Often this would be a celebration, or event, or a beautiful picture of nature taken at a walk we’ve been on. What a great way to be reminded to give thanks! So, inspired by my phone, this past week I read my Thanksgiving Diary from a year ago when George and I were back in Budapest and celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I found it so encouraging to read what I had written that time. These reminders (diary or phone) would make me give thanks again to God that He is unchanging and faithful in an ever-changing world, and He pours blessings into our lives, we just need to see them and receive them with a grateful heart.

So I want to encourage you to get a page-a-day diary or a simple notebook and at the end of every day count your blessings, in particular if it wasn’t a good day! You will be surprised to find blessings in them! Then write them down in your Thanksgiving Diary. It will help you to process the events of the day, talk them over with God, I found this particularly encouraging when I was single, or alone, and had no-one to share things with. When you will reread your entries days, weeks, or months later you will be blessed again. Name your blessings and count them one by one, you will develop a grateful spirit.

What blessings will you give thanks for today?

[from Emma Szilágyi]

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Congratulations and Celebrations

We usually share the story behind a hymn each week. This week we broke the tradition because Cliff Richard was 80 on the 14th of October.

He was the first pop star to be knighted and he is the third best-selling artist int eh UK singles chat after Elvis Presley and The Beatles. He has got 14 singles, and 7 albums number 1 in the UK. Among them is the Millennium Prayer, based on the Lord’s Prayer.

The pop star went public about his Christian faith in 1966. Sir Cliff turned to God when his friends were unable to help him at the height of his fame, in 1964. While his outlook on life, fame, money, and culture radically changed he did not go public about his faith for two years, until a Billy Graham Crusade in the UK when he was invited to take part. Cliff didn’t give up his music and his career, he simply brought his Christian values and faith to the fore. Queen guitarist Brian May hugely respects Cliff for having and “open faith” when the public expected him to act as a rebellious rock star.

Since then Cliff has supported Tearfund, has been a Christian speaker, made Christian music alongside his music career.

His faith and music reached many of his fans who became Christians because of his impact in the 60s and 70s. If it hadn’t been for Cliff they would never have even have looked at Christianity because they thought it was full of old men and women, and had nothing to do with them. But then Cliff said ‘I’m a Christian’ and behaved like one and that made an amazing impact on them.

At eighty he can not be written off. He still enjoys his music and celebrates his birthday with a new album that will be released at the end of October. What a testimony and what a legacy! Happy Birthday Cliff!

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Church Officers’ Testimony

Tony, and Catherine are much loved members of our church fellowship, and indeed of the community at Comely Bank. They have been faithfully serving the Lord at SSCB in the capacity of Church Officers well over two decades. It has started with Tony being involved, then Catherine joined too. They have recently ‘retired’ (whatever that means), and here we have their testimony of their years of service.

My first contact with St Stephen’s was in 1984 not long after we had moved here from Drylaw. We enrolled our children into the thriving Sunday school with possibly about 40 other children. Not much different to nowadays. Jane Scott was the principal of the Sunday school in those days. After a year or two of me just putting children into the school, she asked me to help out. Inevitably I was sucked in, (Jane was good at that) it went from that to taking the Bible Class. Here things get a bit hazy, at some point I was asked to become a Deacon as well, I think this was in the late 80’s. At this time the Deacons Court was approximately 20 odd members plus maybe the same number of Elders.

It was during this time that Mr Craig retired, and Mr McKee took over as Minister. Later Mr McKee asked me to replace Bob Flockhart as church officer when he retired. I served Mr McKee through his term, then Mr Graham Dickson, followed by Jonathan De Groot and finally George. Five Ministers! Maybe I was a jinx! But I must say I have enjoyed my time serving the church over all the years. My woodwork skills were an asset sometimes, carrying out repairs etc. But as time marched on and my health started to deteriorate, I had to adjust my activities to more sedate stuff. 

I would like to say at this point my thanks for everyone’s good wishes. As I have said I have enjoyed my tenure as church officer, along with Catherine as my girl Friday. No doubt I will find something else to take up my time soon.

Yours Sincerely, Tony Peckham

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Going into the West

“I passed the test. I will diminish … and go into the West … and remain Galadriel.”

[from The Lord of the Rings]

The quote is from The Lord of the Rings, but could easily be of Celtic Christians after the Synod at Whitby. We will take time to reflect on what happened to key people involved, looking more at the temporal this week and then getting back to the spiritual next time.

Led by Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne, some monks withdrew to Iona seeking to maintain the Celtic Christian ways and leaving mainland Britain to the Roman order. After wandering in Scotland and then strengthening Iona, Colman wound up in Ireland, land of his birth. He founded a monastery at Magh Eó (the Place of the Yew Trees), which became known as Mayo, and died in 674.

Bishop Wilfred, the advocate of the Roman order, had an unsuccessful career playing politics, siding with kings and ambitious nobles. Elected Bishop of Northumbria, he insisted on a triumphal consecration abroad but spent so long away that he returned to find someone else had been installed instead. He appealed to the king, who denied him. He appealed to Rome, where he won. He sought to enforce his papal decree, but was denied and exiled. He appealed again to Rome, and eventually he accepted a lower episcopal post at Hexham where he died in 710.

King Oswiu remained a major figure in Britain until his death in 670. He was described by the noted theologian Alcuin as “very just, with equitable laws, unconquered in battle but trustworthy in peace, generous in gifts to the wretched, pious, equitable to all.” After his death, Queen Eanflæd moved to (and eventually became abbess of) Whitby, the hugely influential monastery founded by Hilda.

Hilda herself continued to lead Whitby Abbey and to establish and guide other monasteries until her death in 680. When she died at Whitby, a young nun at Hackness monastery, some 14 miles away, said she saw Hilda’s soul being borne up by angels and Hackness immediately went into mourning. When a party arrived from Whitby the next day, they were stunned to be told of Hilda’s death when they themselves were the ones bringing the news.

The British Christians were unified and the Roman order held sway; although it was not until 1069 when the “Celtic Church” was formally abolished by King Malcolm Canmore. Over time, the idea that there was or had been an organised Celtic Church was given credence by, for example, the Church in Scotland sulking: until recently the Scottish Divinity Faculty taught church history from the Acts of the Apostles until Whitby … and then had a gap until the 1560 Reformation, refusing to acknowledge the intervening period.

But back to that victory at Whitby and Wilfred calculating holy days according to Rome’s method rather than that of the Celts. The formula Wilfred used had actually originated in Alexandria, not Rome. But to complete his ignominy, some 60 years later, a British monk, the ‘Venerable Bede’ not only identified errors in the method but produced his own calculation which was ultimately accepted by Rome. So Rome came to follow a British method of calculating holy days after all.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Meaning of the Rainbow

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbowin the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Genesis 9:12-16

“While the earth endures” God’s physical promises remain: the very laws of physics which the rainbow expresses as a reminder that we can depend on God upholding the universe, and with it the rhythm of seasons, night and day, sowing and harvesting. 

Enlightenment man smiles indulgently at the quaint explanations of folk in biblical times for natural phenomena. “Of course we know now … Sunlight refracted by a rain cloud after a storm creates the rainbow. Simple physics.”

Ah, but do we know now? For it is God who created the physics which light and water droplets obey. It is God who wrote the laws of chemistry, and the strange hydrogen bond which joins water molecules loosely together, so that water is a liquid and not the gas it ought otherwise to be; and so makes life possible.

God created the size and distances of our planet and the laws of gravity and motion for there to be life on earth. He wrote the whole panoply of fundamental constants which define our known universe, which mean there is a universe at all.

And He keeps them. God’s bow is a promise that He will keep the laws of physics and chemistry safe: That gravity will not suddenly get weaker or chemical bonds break, and water evaporate into thin air and make life on earth impossible.

While the earth endures the rainbow is the promise of the Lord of Physics that He will uphold the laws He created. On His upholding our very lives depend and we can depend on Him.

[from Donald Bruce; Skudiburgh Beach, 11 October 2020]

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Praise of the Week: For the Beauty of the Earth

Folliot Sandford Pierpoint was born in 1835, in Bath, England. After graduating from Queens’ College, Cambridge, he taught at Somersetshire College.

One beautiful Spring day, when he was 29, he was walking in the countryside. He saw the ocean of green, the blue dome of heaven, and the winding River Avon cutting through the flowery landscape. Folliot was overwhelmed with God’s creative brilliance and he burst out in thanksgiving and praise, which resulted in the poem For the Beauty of the Earth. He intended it primarily for communion services, but when the hymn crossed over the pond to the United States, it quickly became associated with their Thanksgiving Festival.

Sadly, little else is known about Folliot Sandford Pierpoint. He resigned from Somersetshire College, and moved from place to place in the Bath area and the south-west, teaching a bit, writing some hymns, and publishing his poetry. He died in 1917.

For the Beauty of the Earth is one of the few praises that is devoted purely to giving thanks. One of the strange things about our “attitude of gratitude” is that we tend to exhibit it in reverse proportion to the amount of the blessings received. The more we have the less thankful we become.

One of the evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a gradual reversal of that twisted pattern. God wants to make us people who exhibit a thankfulness in proper proportion to His goodness to us manifested in His gifts and blessings.

I’m certain that even in this present time of COVID infection and restricted living space we can find plenty of God’s grace and blessings in the world and in our lives. So, let’s count our blessings, and give thanks!

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Of Calendars and Hairstyles

Celtic Christianity was a way of life, familiar and embedded in the culture. The Church in Rome had a systematic approach to its own identity and workings: efficiency and uniformity.

At its most basic, perhaps Celtic Christianity had found a way to walk with Jesus whereas Rome had found a way to walk for Jesus. The Celts looked to the individual – each person, each community. Rome found its cultural identity in the state: one in, all in. Faith led Celtic Christianity; faith anchored Rome.

Celtic monastic life was more austere than Roman with, for example, its Benedictine order. Both had their attractions but the competition for growth was a distraction in the face of resurgent paganism and human sacrifice and as yet unreached heathens in the land. In that crisis, whilst faith in Jesus was clear in both Celtic Christians and Romans, clarity of works was also needed. A clash was coming.

Surprisingly, it was not doctrine or mission that triggered the end of Celtic Christianity. It was celebrations. And hairstyles.

Rome and the Celts worked to different calendars in calculating holy days. King Oswiu followed the Celtic way and could be found feasting at Easter even as his wife Queen Eanfled was still fasting at Lent. The king called a Synod in 664 and it took place under one of the most noble, gracious, significant and intellectual leaders of the day – Hilda, who led the combined community at Whitby.

The noted orator Bishop Wilfred stated Rome’s case with PowerPoint presentation and glossy handouts of flowcharts detailing how to approach God in worship. The Celts turned up late (on foot, having given their horses to the poor) and mumbled, “Errr…. we’re pals of Jesus, thanks to His grace. Would you like a cup of tea and we’ll pray?”

Of course, there was more to it than that. Bishop Colman said that Easter was calculated following Columba’s example who in turn had taken his lead from the tradition of St John himself. Bishop Wilfred said that Rome took its lead from St Peter, declared by Jesus to be the ‘rock’ on whom the church was to be built and who held the keys to heaven. King Oswiu was persuaded, “Lest there be no-one available at heaven’s gates to let us in.” The decision was heading for Rome.

Rome pressed home its advantage. The matter of a monk’s hairstyle – the tonsure, or circlet of hair, with the rest shaved – was a serious business. The Celts styled their hair from ear to ear, shaving the back of their heads. Arguing against Christians being compared to the old (pagan) styles, Rome secured the decision – and global conformity to the exclusion of local culture.

Hilda was Celtic. She moderated fairly, accepted the final decision and continued worshiping God, leading her community and caring for the people. But most of the Celts, and 30 English monks from Lindisfarne, immediately left the Synod for Iona. Their replacements were from an Ireland that, in the main, already accepted Rome. Those who left continued the Celtic Christian ways, but by 716 even Iona accepted the Roman Order.

The Synod at Whitby considered fundamental principles and debated with dignity and mutual respect, without force or threat. But if it were truly a struggle between Rome and what would become Britain – well, the British Christians would win an unlikely victory, as we shall see later.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Pray Across The Pond (2): And the Distant Shores Rejoice

Thank you to everyone who joined the PATP2 event, whether as participant or prayer-er, coming together with La Jolla Christian Fellowship in San Diego, a twinned city with Edinburgh.

It is so hugely encouraging when we find so many common links (why wouldn’t we – we are all God’s children, which makes us brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of where we live). The theme this time was pretty much that: Affirming our common links and interests.

As Pastor Adam said, you could probably swap half the church families from one church to the other, and the other half would not notice, as we have so many similar personalities and character traits. Each prayer was only some three minutes per person and we prayed through diverse topics including a general reflection, the poor, the overlooked, the socially isolated and gave thanks for the wisdom and example of our older people, as well as holding up discipleship, leaders (church and national) and our many respective home groups. And more besides.

So many bridges are being built – indeed, one of the LJCF-ers who was praying had his Zoom background set as the Golden Gate Bridge. (Any volunteers to set a background of the Forth Bridge for next time?!)

Talking afterwards, we found so many were touched by the Spirit during the prayer time. Some had dragged themselves to their computer screens only to be refreshed and enlivened; others had looked forward with enthusiasm all day and Pastor Harry (their version of our Philip!) confessed that as it was Saturday at 9am his time – he’d just woken up and rolled in front of his computer. We finished up with extracts from Psalm 29:3-4 which had come to me earlier:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.”

Psalm 29:3-4

Amazingly, later that evening I was reading up on Celtic Christianity and turned to a poem by Columba which was based on one of his favourite psalms (also quoted in the book) … Psalm 29. And then Jacqueline sent me a link to a song by Allan McKinlay called “He reigns” which begins “The voice of the Lord is over the water …”

So keep praying, keep rejoicing and keep reaching out over that Pond!

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Energy for Every Day

“To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

Colossians 1:29

Paul, in prison, wrote this to the small Christian community in Colossae. The question for all of us as we struggle to find energy for each day in the present times is this – What was Paul’s ‘end’?  What released the energy in him so he could continue his work?

Christ is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

As we look ahead, into this ‘new normal’, living with something which humanly we can’t control and which ‘political correctness’ has not tamed, we need to think long and hard how we proclaim Christ to this generation. Let us remember this is the generation which has seen a whole range of idols demolished in a matter of months. Much of what politicians dangled in front of us as their gift to the nation has turned to dust (read Jeremiah for a fuller picture!) and many are left questioning their future.  

Paul knew the person he proclaimed – the crucified, risen and ascended Christ – the Lord of heaven and earth. As we go forward into this new normal are we going to proclaim Christ as a life changing encounter, which calls into question many of the ways of the old normal? Or, do we carry on doing church just as we did before? 

This should be a disturbing question for us all – what do our friends know of Christ (the question is not “What do our friends know about the Church of Scotland”)? Do they see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven? (Matthew 5, v16), or do they just say “they are nice people”?  

Is the call of Christ into the new normal to be different – from those around us and from what we were before?

[from John Baggaley]

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Praise of the Week: I Surrender All

Surrender brings victory only in Christian life. Judson Wheeler Van De Venter learnt that for himself.

Judson was born on a farm in Michigan, in 1855. He grew up interested in art and music. He came to faith at the age of 17, and after graduating from college, Judson became an art teacher and later supervisor of art for the high school in Sharon, Pennsylvania. In 1885 he toured Europe, visiting art galleries, museums and studying painting. But he was also a musician, having studied in numerous singing schools.

From his younger years he was involved in his local Methodist church where he sang in the choir. He found it particularly fulfilling and exciting participating in evangelistic rallies and revivals. He took great delight being part of helping people  to receive Christ as their personal Saviour. His friends encouraged him to resign from the school system to enter full-time music evangelism, but for five years he struggled with the decision.

Finally falling to his knees he said: “Lord, if you want me to give my full-time to Your work, I’ll do it, I surrender all to You.” For the next several years he travelled extensively through the United States, England and Scotland, assisting in evangelistic work, leading the singing for Wilber Chapman and other evangelists.

While engaged in meetings in East Palestine (Ohio, USA) he wrote the praise “I Surrender All”, as he recalled his own personal submission to Jesus in full-time ministry.

Moving to Tampa in 1923, he began teaching hymnology at Florida Bible Institute. After his retirement he still occasionally visited the campus to lecture or to speak in chapel. In the 1930’s a student at the college sat wide-eyed, listening to Judson Van De Venter. That student was Billy Graham. He later wrote: “One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist, who wrote ‘I Surrender All”, the Rev. J. W. Van De Venter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute in the late 1930s. We students loved this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his winter home at Tampa for an evening of fellowship and singing.”

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Harvest 2020

Traditionally about this time of the year churches and Christians celebrate Harvest. Celebrations have changed throughout the years. Instead of fresh vegetables and fruit donated and displayed in church, tinned or dry food dominated the chancels in recent decades. What will dominate this year’s Harvest display?

This year’s harvest has developed in challenging and unfavourable conditions indeed. For the whole world it has been a very hard time. Still in this period of Coronavirus and lockdown God has sown seeds of His grace and blessings that grew and ripened into fruit and a harvest that blessed and encouraged others. The lockdown gave opportunity to spend more time with the Lord, in the Bible and in prayer, so faith could become stronger and acts of kindness and sacrifice could grow into fruit: neighbourliness and fellowship became fresher and more meaningful, we discovered new skills and novel ways to keep in touch, encourage and build up each other. Some old and simpler but effective ways of living and helping were rediscovered or reinvented. Our creativity to put our faith into practical ways was inspired by the Lord and the extreme circumstances.

So what is the harvest of this year? It consists of fruits of determination, friendship, creativity, helpfulness, and many more that call us to be thankful. All these contain seeds that can help to shape the ‘New Normal’, so don’t waste the seeds but nurture them and share them, make this into your harvest celebration.

We will dedicate the service on 11th October to celebrate Harvest. We are inviting you to show your thankfulness to the Lord for the harvest with your generosity, bringing the ‘firstfruits’ of your harvest to bless others.

There were so many who were hard hit by Coronavirus and the lockdown, the poor in particular, those who need to fall back on the support of the Foodbanks. You have been faithful and very generous with your gifts to the Foodbank at SSCB, bringing your gifts to the church. During lockdown this was not possible. We encourage you this Harvest time to think of those people and families in need of simple basic food items every week, even every day.

We ask you to donate as you can to the local Foodbank. When you do your shopping please get some of the items the Foodbank needs and leave them at the collection points, which in our area are at:

  • Waitrose, Comely Bank;
  • Morrisons, Ferry Road;
  • Marks and Spencer, Craigleith Retail Park.

You can also bring your gifts to the church, either on a Wednesday, 10:00-12:00, when we are open for prayer, or on a Sunday, 11:00-12:30 to worship.

At the moment there is urgent need for: CEREAL, CHOCOLATE/SWEETS, COFFEE,  CUP A SOUP, CUSTARD (TINNED), FRUIT JUICE (LONG LIFE), HAND WASH, HOUSEHOLD CLEANING PRODUCTS, JAM, POTATOES (TIN), PULSES, RICE PUDDING (TIN), SIZE 5 AND 6 NAPPIES, SUGAR. You can find more information at the Edinburgh North West Foodbank website.

Our Harvest celebration will be very different this year, as pretty much everything in our lives, but I am sure we can find in our lives many fo God’s blessings fro which we are grateful this time and willing to share some of those blessings with others.

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Concepts & Foundations

Although not a formalised ‘Church’ Celtic Christianity expressed itself through clear concepts, perhaps best known being:

Anam Cara – literally ‘soul friend’ and a vital relationship for Celtic Christians. Brigid, well respected in her leadership role as Kildare Abbess, reportedly said, ‘Not having a soul friend is like not having a head.’ (We see much female influence amongst the Celts. In Roman society, a woman was effectively her husband’s property, without rights and unable to give lawful evidence. A Celtic woman continued to own anything she brought into the marriage and could be elected to leadership of her tribe or community. This system was probably re-enforced by the strong community nature of Celtic life.) A Christian mentor and confidante: we should find our own today, both men and women.

Prayer retreats – woven into the ‘Thin Places’ where the Celts found it easy to connect with God, sensing the Holy Spirit. We will look at some Thin Places later, remembering that Celtic Christians saw everything as a basis for prayer, not just a specific hill top. A countryside walk could be a prayer retreat, as could time spent weaving. Viewed with modern eyes, Celtic Christians are sometimes accused of godly superstition – instead of saying ‘touch wood’ or whatever, they would continuously invoke God’s blessing. Quite simply, they just saw God working in everything, which gave them cause to pause, wonder in awe and worship God.

Mission work – As well as evangelising to Celts, Picts and other Britons, they undertook plenty of basic and local mission work. They were called to provide for the poor of their own community and simply to ‘be there’ for others – a visible and reassuring Christian presence.

Hospitality – Celtic Christians were famed for hospitality. So too are many peoples around the world, but it is notable that the Scottish Clan system, which indirectly grew out of the Celtic society, held hospitality almost as a necessity.

Looking beyond these concepts we can find extremes, perhaps best known being the three martyrdoms:

  • Red martyrs died for their faith (although not actively pursuing their own deaths!);
  • Blue martyrs lived as hermits (only a minority of Celtic Christians, perhaps gaining fame in part because they were a minority);
  • White martyrs were missionaries (all were called to be missionaries whether travelling or staying at home).

A formalised Celtic Christian society was hard to define, replicate and grow as there was no set teaching or standard of practising these concepts; each community had its own ‘way’ or ‘Rule of Life” (as we shall see later). But underpinning the martyrdoms and the concepts were rounded and clear foundations:

  • A strong evangelical love for the Bible;
  • A deep spiritual life;
  • A radical commitment to the poor;
  • A radical commitment to God’s creation;
  • A charismatic life.

The reality was not a romantic idyll of perfection. Even those who held to the concepts and foundations would fail, hurt others, surrender to temptations and display inhumanity to each other. But by and large, they knew the Scripture, they prayed and sought God, they looked to carry out Jesus’ teaching, they cared for God’s creation as stewards and they shared God’s love. We can learn from that today.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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COVID Restrictions and St Stephen’s Comely Bank?

As the number of Covid cases are rapidly rising in Scotland and the whole of UK and fresh announcements of restrictions and guidelines swiftly come from the government I want to share with you what these restrictions and guidelines mean for our church family.

As things and the guidelines are changing almost daily the information shared here is valid as we know it on Friday, 25th September 2020, and is coming from the Church of Scotland.

Firstly, in terms of the operation and running of our church there is no change! The numbers for worship are still a maximum of 50, dependent on the safe numbers that our church building can hold with physical distancing, which is 35. Funerals and weddings are still set at a maximum of 20 (excluding the minister, funeral director staff, and volunteer stewards). 

Secondly, in the current restriction on individuals entering another person’s home, there is exemption for pastoral care, if both parties are comfortable with that.

Our Kirk Session took the decision not to open up our halls yet for hall users during weekdays. Circumstances are changing very fast and corresponding guidelines and safety requirements (from the Government, the Church of Scotland and Presbytery!) also alter accordingly which make it an extremely onerous task to meet the necessary safety standards to keep every hall user and ourselves safe.

In conclusion:

  • we continue to remain open for prayer on Wednesday mornings (10:00-12:00) and for worship on Sunday (11:00).
  • Sunday Club are also returning this Sunday (27th September), which is exciting for all of us. They will enter straight into the halls and remain there for their activities the whole time.
  • we also will celebrate Communion this Sunday. Communion bread and cups will be set on the pews before the service. They will not be passed on, or shared. Everyone will be able to take the bread and the cup straight from the pew set before them.

Keep safe and close to the Lord – and see you Sunday in church or on Zoom.

[from GV]

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Retirement Calls

This weekend marks the end of another era for St Stephen’s – Tony and Catherine Peckham are retiring from their role as Church Officers after many years of service.  In recent years this has become a less visible but still vital ministry in the life of the church.  No longer does Tony need to lock the minister in the pulpit for the service or tend the oil fired boiler in the dungeon, but the grass has still been cut, the bins put out, tradesmen and deliveries welcomed and the building looked after.  Faithful stewards!

As many of us know Tony and Catherine face many challenges, both in their own health and also within the family. As they step aside please continue to remember them, still a part of our church family, as they seek to support others and look after themselves. Your prayers mean a lot to them! The Apostle Paul encourages us: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Bearing Burdens!

For many in Comely Bank – church members and others – Tony and Catherine have been a ‘fixture’ in a changing world, the folks people knew as part of St Stephen’s. We must take up that connection with the people around us, looking out for the vulnerable and the lonely. Quiet ministry!

The greatest compliment to their work would be someone, somewhere, saying ‘I want to do that’.  Is it you?

[from John Baggaley]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians

What is Celtic Christianity and is it still relevant to us?

First, what is it not? It is not national or nationalistic – this was a time when Edinburgh and the Lothians were in the English (Angles) kingdom of Northumbria, when Strathclyde was still part of Wales. It is not an established or institutional organisation, like the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of Scotland – this was an expression of Christianity through the culture of a people. And it is not mere spirituality, following pagans and druids with their devotion to nature and their human sacrifice – this was Christian spirituality: loving God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and seeking to reflect the grace and compassion of Jesus; chasing the Wild Goose (pursuing the Holy Spirit) and offering hospitality and love to all.

There is no record that Celtic Christianity just ‘appeared.’ Certainly, Aristobulus who died in 99 AD was bishop of Britain and St Ninian was a British priest who evangelised the Picts from 397 AD. Celtic Christianity flourished but half a millennia later its decline was confirmed, rather than begun, by the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD.

King Oswiu of Northumbria called the Synod, or conference, to hear the evidence and decide whether to follow the Augustinian (Roman) or Celtic expressions of Christianity. It was chaired by Hilda who was the Abbess at Whitby. She led the entire community of nuns and monks at perhaps the most significant monastery of its day. She was responsible for faith well-being and advancement as well as for the workers providing food and vellum (cow hide on which to transcribe copies of the Bible) and for the schools and hospitals. We will hear more of her later in this series.

We will touch further on the Synod of Whitby itself and the decline of Celtic Christianity. As we look at aspects of life that defined Celtic Christianity, we must be conscious that it was a way of life; we should not isolate one aspect and consider we have the definitive answer to who they were.

Famous for the ‘thin places’ where people could easily sense and acknowledge God’s presence, Celtic Christianity was not just a place. It was an expression of Christ in the lives of people at the time. Today it is an echo of a culture long past.

But what do we still hear? What can we still learn? Some traits are given expression in the characteristics most associated with certain Celtic Christian saints (A Celtic ‘saint’ was a wise leader of a community, not necessarily as sanctified by Rome). In Celtic Christianity we can discover an evangelical love for the Bible, a deep spiritual life, a commitment to God’s people and His creation and a prayerful expression of godly qualities.

As we model these traits, we can continue our life journey with Jesus and acknowledge those Celtic Christians of old.

Let’s go for a walk …

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Missing Out?

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

Covid has caused us to miss out on quite a lot! Speaking to young people this week there has been disappointments and the feeling of missing out. Camps cancelled, no rugby training, no face to face freshers events for those starting university to name but a few of the cancelations. The younger generation in their youthful enthusiasm can get some serious FOMO! That is: Fear Of Missing Out. 

I used to suffer terribly of FOMO whenever I had a clash in my timetable. I would be at one gathering but fearing that I was missing out on another gathering – ‘What if that party would have been more fun!?’. These FOMO thoughts pushed me, tired me out and stopped me enjoying the moment I was in.

As a university student God started to speak to me about this and I gradually started reminding myself and praying saying ‘I never miss out because you are with me, Jesus you are my great adventure’. 

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Anywhere you are, in every situation, whether boring or adventurous, God can change what is inside your heart. He has a mission for you and can use you to bring about change in the world. His presence is with you, his power is with you and his love surrounds you. If you remember these things then you will never miss out on life, and life in all its fullness (John 10.10).

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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The End of an Era

For over five years we have met together for lunch once a month on a Sunday – the family of St Stephen’s gathered to chat and eat together. For much of this time the kitchen has been overseen by Pam Hamilton, whilst David has made sure there were chairs to sit on and tables to eat off, with cutlery and plates.  Others have helped, and we trust learnt, from Pam and David as they have worked to make this event a central part of our fellowship.

I say ‘learnt’ because Pam and David are stepping back from this ministry.  When we can meet and eat together again we need someone (or two) to step into their shoes – could it be you?  Please consider – and then talk to George, or anyone on Kirk Session.

We also say “Thank you” to them both – without the effort they have put in, our fellowship would have been poorer and our effectiveness as a church family would have been weaker.  They are not leaving – just finding something equally challenging (Grandson minding) to keep them occupied in the months ahead.  Retirement – never!

[from John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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Art and Worship

‘Transformation’ by Emma Szilágyi

During lockdown Colin Peckham, the artistic director of Origin Scotland, contacted me to say that there was to be an online concert in September: Symphonic Praise 2020. I was delighted when he asked me to participate and speak for a few minutes about my work and faith, about Art and Worship. Symphonic Praise is an evening of great Hymns performed by Origin singers and Orchestra. It is primarily an opportunity to help people engage with a transcendent God, to promote music and art, which hints at His majesty and glory. This was to be the first online concert uniting Scottish singers and South African singers, The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and New Scottish Hymns with visual artists from Scotland and Canada. I was asked to show one of my paintings, which engaged with the songs, and to speak about it during the concert. This was a novel approach for me and took much prayer and thought. The painting I chose is called ‘Transformation’ and I connected it to the last verse of the Hymn ‘Because He Lives”. The painting is the outcome of a series of observational drawings and sketches I made in an ironcasting foundry. It is about the transformation which takes place to metal as it is heated to a very high temperature inside a crucible. 

The molten metal glows as it is being refined. Beautiful colours radiate against the dark and dirty backdrop of the workplace. It reminds me of life, we are often hard pressed in the crucible of affliction. During these times our faith and character are being refined and the Lord is creating something beautiful in and through us. There is hope because He lives and He is with us. Even death will be victorious because we’ll be transformed in an instant and see Him as He is. Please visit the concert, it is available on Youtube and be uplifted. We have got a link to it further down the page.

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

‘Because He Lives’ – Gloria Gaither / William J. Gaither

[from Emma Szilágyi]

Full Concert of Origin Symphonic Praise 2020
Interview with Emma and ‘Because He Lives’

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Praise of the Week: Because He Lives

“Because He Lives” is a modern classic. It is based on John 14:19c — “because I live, you also will live”. It was written by Gloria and Bill Gaiter, authors to numerous Christian songs. Gloria recalls the events behind the hymn.

“It was in the middle of the upheaval in the ’60s that we were expecting our third baby. The drug culture was in full swing, existential thought had obviously saturated every area of our American thought, the cities were seething with racial tension, and the God-is-dead pronouncement had giggled its way all through our educational system.

“On the personal front, Bill and I were going through one of the most difficult times in our lives. Bill had been discouraged and physically exhausted by an illness and by personal conflict at church.

“It was on New Year’s Eve that I sat alone in the darkness and quiet of our living room, thinking about the world and our country and Bill’s discouragement and the family problems – and about our baby yet unborn. Who in their right mind would bring a child into a world like this? I thought. The world is so evil. Influences beyond our control are so strong. What will happen to this child? I can’t quite explain what happened at that moment, but suddenly I felt released from it all. The panic that had begun to build inside was gently dispelled by a reassuring presence that engulfed my life and drew my attention.

“Gradually, the fear left and the joy began to return. I knew I could have that baby and face the future with optimism and trust. It was the Resurrection affirming itself in our lives once again. It was LIFE conquering death in the regularity of my day.”

This gospel song has undoubtedly offered hope for many people because of its connection between the Resurrection and a “life … worth the living.”

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Just One Scone

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:3-6

As a church community we are one! God has called us all to repent, all to be forgiven, all to receive Holy Spirit into our hearts and all to have our lives changed.

Because of Covid the younger and older parts of our church are not mixing very much. We are out of contact and therefore cant ‘make every effort to keep the unity’ like we are instructed in Ephesians.

As such I am proposing a new initiative called ‘One Scone’. From October, young people from one household are encouraged to make a scone for an older adult in our church. They would then take it round to the adults house and enjoy a snack together and discuss the ‘Get to know you’ questions that I (Philip) will provide! If you feel you want to there is an option to pray, before you arrange another date for the ‘return leg’ where the older person can bake a scone for the young people! 

If you would be interested in joining in with ‘One Scone’ and meeting up with a young person, getting to know them and encouraging them, please let me know by: Phone/text:  07551396481 Email: youthworker@comelybankchurch.com

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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I Hear You. I See You. I’m With You.

I suffered a detached retina; like a curtain coming across it. I think my eye just got bored working. My Bible reading that day included: 2 Corinthians 3:16 “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

I emailed the Prayer Group. It was so reassuring to receive emails – some specific; others like: “Am on it.” “Praying you will be seen and assessed.” We are not alone in turning to the Lord.

All opticians were fully booked. One called back: I could be seen in between other patients if I didn’t mind waiting. She searched diligently and finally, “Aha! Found it!” She put me in a taxi to the eye hospital who booked me in for emergency surgery.

I felt reassured and calm. The Prayer Team was messaging me and friends locally and internationally were also praying. I felt both at peace and energised.

A chap on the ward was nervous and agitated about his procedure. He asked how I was so calm. I offered to pray for him. “Sure – give that Jesus stuff a go, why not?” So I prayed. Afterwards he said his surgery was so smooth and calming. “Is this what it feels like to be a Christian?”

The medical team were calm and calming; so focussed on me as a person that it was profoundly reassuring. On the way to theatre with the escorting Nurse, my glaucoma consultant just happened to walk past. He read my notes as we waited for the lift and smiled. “If you’re going to have a detached retina then you want it the size and place where you have yours – it should be fine.”

The operation was so gentle that – given I had to have it – it was actually pleasant and I was allowed home the next afternoon. On the Daily Audio Bible prayer line someone had called in for prayer for eye surgery on the day I went in, and others were now responding. I grabbed onto their coat tails.

My sight was blurry, but listening to my Bible app I had an answer: Mark 8:24-25 “He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

I felt I was living the Bible: I really did see people as trees – distorted smears of colour. I was waiting for Jesus to put his hands on my eyes again, so more prayer.

I have found that so many people have been praying for me. I didn’t actually need messages to tell me – I knew at the time I was being prayed for because … well, you just ‘know it in your knower!’

I was reticent about contacting the Prayer Team (and I’m even a member of it!) but it was such a good thing to do. By praying, we acknowledge that God is bigger (than us and our challenges). And when others pray with and for us, it unites us in acknowledgement and praise of God. We pray for Jesus to be with us, and He is.

Sometimes prayer is answered as we would formulate it – physical healing, the job offer. But sometimes we just need to pray and hear Jesus say, “It’s OK – I’ve got this. I’ve got you. You’re safe. Rest easy.”

Right – I’ve got some lying down to do. Could I trouble you to pray for me?

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Returning to Church – “There is Still Room”

[photos by Mhairi Marlborough]

While Jesus was at a Pharisee’s house he told the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). It is a story about a man who prepared a great banquet but the invitees one by one refused to come. So he sent his servants into the streets and the alleys to bring in all who they could find. That being done there was still room at the banquet! It is a parable about God’s deep desire to fill His House with people.

I do believe that God wants His House to be full! And there is still room! In August we returned to church after months’ long of compulsory lockdown. We can safely accommodate about 35 people in the church.

It is a delight to see people returning who are hungry for worship and fellowship! Who want to feast on the Word of the Lord and enjoy the fellowship of His people, their church family. We are having about 20-25 people back so far. But there is still room! So if you were wondering, afraid, or being uncertain about coming back to church, I want to encourage you to come? Especially if you were unable to join the services online on Zoom. There is still room and it is safe, certainly safer than any of the supermarkets or the Hight Street, in particular on a weekend.

We have got hand sanitisers at the entrances, and we have spare face coverings available too. We keep the track and tracing list, and there is a well signed one way system (anticlockwise) in the building. We are all wearing face coverings throughout the service, except those who are exempt on medical grounds. We keep the safe distance at all times, walking around or being seated. We do not sing, but we might do some actions to some of the praises. At the end of the service we have a cup of coffee or tea outside as we continue keeping safe distance.

Here is what one of our members experienced and said among other things about the service last Sunday (6 September):

“Just wanted to say how glad I am that I was bold enough to come to church today. … The church feels very safe and welcoming and the things that I thought I would miss like the singing were not a problem. I think the first hymn that we sang worked really well with the Songs of Praise congregation on screen – it almost felt as if we were there with them and our numbers were swelled. … So I appreciate all the work going in to get people back to St Stephen’s – it was lovely to be there today – like coming home – thank you again.”

The images at the top powerfully illustrate the comments. So the message is: There is Still Room! God wants to fill His house! We are missing you there, and so is God!

[from GV]

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Pray Continually

Do you ever wonder if prayer really works?  Do you worry about who you are praying for and who you should be praying for?  1 Thessalonians 5 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  That’s quite a demand!

I read the following story this week.   My prayer is that it encourages you as it encouraged me.

Adrian does some supply work in secondary schools.

Like many a teacher, when he’s set the pupils some work, he often walks up and down the class, pausing here and there at a desk. No doubt the pupils think he is glancing over their work. No doubt sometimes he is. But often he’s praying for them by name. To remember that God loves every one of these pupils, that God answers prayer, and to pray and trust him for the answers, even though Adrian is very unlikely to see any difference himself, or be able to tell anyone else that something amazing has happened…

One day, like any other day, Adrian is in a class of 14-year-olds. He’s set them some work. He walks up and down the class. He stops by one of the boys and begins to pray. And then he hears God say this to him:

“No one has ever mentioned this boy’s name to me before.”

Imagine that! No one has ever mentioned this boy’s name to God before. No midwife, no health visitor, no parent, no uncle or aunt or grandparent, no sibling, no godparent, no lollipop person, no doctor, no primary school teacher, no football coach or sweetshop owner or bus driver, no schoolfriend… no one.

But God was listening, waiting it seems, alert at that moment to the fact that, though there are 7.8 billion people on his planet, and no doubt hundreds of thousands of prayers being offered at that very moment, someone was at last lifting this particular 14-year-old person to his throne. To him.

God hears every prayer!

God cares for every person. Indeed, one might wonder why Adrian chose to stop at that particular desk and pray for that particular boy. After all, he didn’t stop at every desk or pray for every child in the class. Perhaps God really wanted someone to pray for that particular boy, yearned for that boy to be lifted to his throne. And worked through Adrian to bring it about.

There is mystery here, but praying for the people around us, as we are led, however briefly, is something we can all do. And when Jesus returns, we will indeed get to see how he has worked through the things we regard as little, and created something gloriously beautiful.

Who could you pray for, right now?

[from Alison Franks]

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Technically Speaking

From the start of Lockdown, it is not just the church family which has had to adapt and develop. The church’s Audio Visual has undergone constant tweaking.

The current church was opened in 1902 when the way to reach out to more people was to shout a bit louder. Over the years we have introduced microphones, loudspeakers, loop system, and the sound mixing desk. We have expanded from a basic hearing loop system to a wired microphone for the minister and Scripture reader. We have extended still further to a full praise band and a wireless microphone for the minister. Hardware and the computer systems have been upgraded over the years. This has meant extensions to existing cables, splitting microphone controls and new adaptors joining old sockets with new technology connections. All perfectly serviceable and all pretty cheap.

This year we found that we had to extend and adapt still further. Initially all services were brought from, and delivered, to the comfort of our own homes. All we needed was the Zoom subscription and each person to have access to Wi-Fi or data. For the foreseeable future we are looking at a hybrid where we provide the main worship service for people who are physically in church and simultaneously through Zoom for those at home.

We bought and installed a cheap computer camera. This was great and allowed the Church family to see both the speaker and the congregation who were in the church. We routed the minister’s microphone through the existing sound desk and out through Zoom. But the old cabling could not carry these new sound and vision requirements, so we bought a new length of cable to feed from the sound desk to the front camera. With so many cables around sometimes there is interference triggered that affects the sound quality. Happily, we have a team of volunteers who know what they are doing and have been quietly and cheaply making changes. It reminds me of the informal motto of the Royal Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: “adapt, improve, improvise and overcome.”

We are getting there. We already have a good basic system and will improve on this for the future. But please bear with us if you hear the odd hiss or crackle, or if the sound blinks in and out.

After all, even Jesus changed his infrastructure:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.

Mark 4:1

The science of physics has since shown the effectiveness of His actions, for we know that the sound waves of His voice would have bounced over the water into the natural auditorium of the land. Please pray for the continuing sound waves and the internet auditorium of SSCB.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Lavender Prayer: Summary

So what just happened over these past seven weeks? I believe I received a picture in answer to my prayer; a picture for us all as individuals and as a church family. I believe that God can and does speak clearly to people – the picture of lavender flowers that I received was clear.

If, in this instance, I had received a picture of lavender flowers and left it there then yes, it would have been nothing but a lovely fluffy image. I think my further prayer, research and article writing served to give me – us – ownership of what God was saying.

God has shown me (and I hope all who have read the articles) that He does speak, that his message is not hidden or secret, that His message is relevant and that there is a reason not just for the message but for how it is delivered.

For you, do these articles line up with the tests we set at the start:

  • Does it line up with Scripture?
  • Does it line up with the character of God?
  • Does it line up with what God is doing with your life?
  • Does your spirit bear witness with the Word?
  • Does it receive approval when you seek the counsel of others?
  • Does it glorify God?

Where does that leave you? Only you can consider, pray and answer that. Through this simple image of lavender flowers, do you have a sense of:

  • Purity – are we blessed, admonished and encouraged into purity of life?
  • Silence – can we use silence and solitude to worship God as we wait on Him?
  • Devotion – in devoting ourselves to God, can we find an awe in our very souls?
  • Caution – can we pause to consider God, be of good behaviour in sanctifying Jesus?
  • Serenity – can we enjoy fellowship with Jesus, loving the serenity of His peace?
  • Grace – can we accept God’s gift then take it, grow it and share it?
  • Calmness – can you see and take the calming strength of Jesus?

So the question, then, is what are you going to do about it? First, I would suggest, is to consider how we can all live the life of lavender in SSCB. Second is perhaps just as the banner says: “Try praying.”

And a final thought. The English word lavender is thought to come from the Old French lavandre; ultimately the Latin lavare (to wash). Thank you, Jesus, that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Amen

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Pray Across the Pond – Postponed till October!

We apologise but our planned Pray Across the Pond prayer sharing with La Jolla Christian Fellowship is postponed till October. Other engagements on both sides of the Pond prevent us from engaging in this event on the original date.

We will give information of the new date in due time. Meanwhile you should not stop praying though, even if you are not on Zoom.

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Praise of the Week: Be Thou My Vision (8th Century AD)

In honour of a missionary a national holiday is established and even rivers turned green! That missionary is none but St Patrick, the missionary to Ireland.

Patrick was born in AD 373, along the banks of the river Clyde. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. When Patrick was about 16, raiders stormed and torched their town. Patrick tried to hide, but one of the raiders spotted him and dragged him out of the bushes, hauled aboard the boat and took him to Ireland, as a slave. His conversion took place there. Later he wrote: “The Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart tot he Lord, my God.”

Eventually Patrick escaped and returned home. His family was overjoyed to have him back, not wanting to lose him again. But one night, in a dream, very similar to Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man in Acts 16, Patrick saw an Irishman pleading with him to come evangelise Ireland.

Patrick was about 30 years old when he returned to his former captors with the Gospel of Jesus. As he preached multitudes came to listen. The Druids opposed him and tried to kill him. But this did not deter him. Patrick’s preaching was powerful and blessed by the Lord. It is reckoned that he planted some 200 churches, baptising thousands and thousands of people.

Patrick’s ministry endured long after he went to be with the Lord. Centuries later the Irish church continued producing hymns, prayers, songs of worship and sermons. In the 8th Century an unknown poet wrote a prayer asking God to be his Vision, his Wisdom, his Best Thought day and night.

In 1905, Mary Eliza Byrne, a Dublin scholar, translated the ancient poem into English. Another scholar, Eleanor Hull, in Manchester, crafted the translation into verses and metre, which then was set to a traditional Irish folk tune, called Slane. Through this praise Patrick’s ministry still endures, inspires and blesses us.

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Learning To Dance In The Rain

“For I know the plans I have for you” said the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. 

Jeremiah 29:11

I’ve often clung to this passage from Jeremiah, this promise from the creator of the universe that he intends for us to prosper, to flourish, to bloom.

On the dark days it can be hard to keep it in focus, easier to dwell on the suffering of the now, but the promise is always there. It was there for the Israelites in the wilderness, it was there for persecuted Christians across the ages, it is there during times of war and peace and it is there now for you and I.

Let’s take a moment to think about it. The creator of the cosmos wants you to prosper.  He gave his only Son to die for you. He knows every hair on your head, he has plans for you, he plans to give you hope and a future.

I felt challenged recently to imagine what that looks like in our current situation. Within our current limitations, what does it look like to prosper, to thrive not just survive? Rather than waiting for the storm to pass, how can we help each other to thrive and prosper now? 

Change hits us all like a tornado, swiftly and unexpectedly changing our ‘normal’ overnight. We adapted quickly into survival mode and survived the first six months. We have enjoyed finding fellowship in unexpected places. Now that this ‘new normal’ looks set to be with us for a while how will we respond? Do we lay low and wait for the storm to pass? Or do we continue to adapt and learn to dance in the rain? Do we learn to thrive or do we simply survive? 

Please pray

  • Lord God thank you for your promise to prosper me. Help me to remember that promise on dark days.
  • Lord we want to thrive in your promise and serve our church family and community. Grant us wisdom and courage to do this in this ‘new normal’.
  • Guide us God. Whisper your plans into our hearts, guide our words and feet.

What plans has God laid on your heart? If you hear God whispering plans, please share them with our church family. We are all learning to dance in the rain.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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New Sermon Series Coming Soon: New Normal

The Coronavirus pandemic very much turned our world and life upside down. At the beginning of the year none of us imagined we could be in the circumstances we and the whole world find ourselves for the last five-six months.

We had to adopt new ways of living, isolating, communicating. We had to review our plans and hopes for the future. We learnt new expressions, like social distancing, Zoom, and New Normal. At the beginning of the year I planned a sermon series for early autumn on prayer – Praying with Paul. The series would have been a kind of follow up of the series we had last year: Paying with Jesus. Well, in normal circumstances we would do Praying with Paul. But we find ourselves in New Normal. And to be absolutely honest, nobody really knows what New Normal means. We feel very much lost and disorientated in this New Normal. Many hope that the so called New Normal will somehow, someday turn back to the old familiar Normal. I seriously doubt it! Not in our daily life, shopping, work, education, holiday, or even church. I believe New Normal is going to stay, and stay for a long time. We better get prepared for it.

I hope the sermon series ‘New Normal’ will help us to consider, explore what we need to do not only to survive but to thrive in the New Normal. Jesus stated with authority that “I have come that they may have life, and have life to the full.” (John 10:10b). We will focus on the Lord and His Word to lead us in our present circumstances that we will have life to the full as He promised and made possible for everyone who listens to Him and trusts in Him. For Jesus assures us that

“everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Matthew 7:24-25

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Another Prayer Across the Pond

On the 8th of August we had a new prayer initiative as we prayed together with brothers and sisters in Christ from La Jolla Christian Fellowship, San Diego, USA. It was a blessed hour to share, pray and laugh together.

We will join together in prayer again at 17:00 on Saturday, 19th September. We invite you to be part of it too. Nominated people from both church families will pray on particular subjects. The church families are invited to pray along, silently, or joining in aloud at appropriate times.

This is part of exploring a possible international relationship, whether that is simply to know them and hold them in our prayers, or perhaps developing into something more than that. We lift this up to the Lord to guide both of us. We have got great possibilities, it is up to the Lord and us what we will make of them.

We will send out an update with more details and about the logistics of joining the prayer time. If you have any questions or comments please let us know by emailing to office@comelybankchurch.com.

Meantime, please pray for this new prayer initiative and put it in your diaries – just one hour, at 17:00 on 19th September – and be part of it.

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Lavender Prayer: 7. Calmness

Is there a Godly calmness in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. I found myself thinking of Jesus calming the storm. Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, in the middle of the storm – and yet he was able to sleep through it. But then he knew he was protected, just as David had written: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

So if we just ‘know’ that we are protected, we can sleep in peace and be calm, right? Is that the message of calmness? I think the call to calmness for our church family at this time is the calmness that we can give out to others. Remember: physical distancing, not social distancing.

We can hold on to Jesus because we know that he has an even firmer hold of us – it is the triumph of our hope. We are still going through a time of trouble through the coronavirus – we need God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). And we know that we can come to him in prayer – that we should come to Him in prayer. Where does that leave us? It leaves us firmly in the Letter to the Romans:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

And how do we take this joy, this patience and this faithfulness and use it to help and encourage others? How does this provide calmness?

Look again at the lavender; pause and live. In that moment, we can adore Jesus. We can take that calmness, that quiet assurance, and go out to other people – be a witness in what we say, what we do, how we act.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

1 Peter 3:15

And that calmness of how we do it will so often be what is noticed, as others say to themselves: “That ‘way’ of Christ; it is true. I want that in my life.”

As we look at the lavender, we can gain a feeling of calmness. It is a strength. The calming strength of Jesus.

[from Timothy Pitt, elder]

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New Normal?

We are emerging, slowly, from a period of hibernation brought about by the lockdown, a slowdown from virtually all activities which are part of everyday life. For many the lack of normal contact with other people has been the hardest part – no conversations, no cake, no laughter, no life. We all hope for something different, real life to resume. But will it, and what will it look like? Will we like the ‘new normal’?

I think this may be a reflection on the Christian life for many of us. Are we waiting for something new – that promise of heaven – and not really sure what it will be? We have recently spent time in prayer for ‘Thy kingdom come’, and the scripture goes on ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. During his life Jesus often talked about the Kingdom being near, and that His death would usher in that Kingdom. He never said we would go to heaven, rather that His Kingdom would be established on earth.

So, are we waiting for something, we’re not sure what, to happen in the future, or are we living the life of that kingdom now? The early disciples were clear that the events of Easter changed the world, they were living in God’s kingdom, not Caesar’s, and so they were encouraged to look forward with hope. The first century apostles had seen ‘resurrection’ because they had seen Jesus, alive and well. As we break out of the Covid lockdown, let us also break out of the old life into resurrection life.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8-10; NIV

[from John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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Praise of the Week: What a Friend We Have in Jesus (1855)

Tragedy, loss and sorrow were not unfamiliar to Joseph Scriven. Still he knew that no matter what, in Jesus he has got a faithful friend! He watched in shock as the body of his fiancée was pulled from the lake. Their wedding was planned for the next day! Reeling from the tragedy, he made up his mind to emigrate to America. So the 25 year old left Dublin for Canada.

Ten years later, in 1855, he received word that his mother at home in Ireland was facing a crisis. Joseph wrote this poem and sent it to her. Mrs Scriven evidently passed a copy to a friend, who had it published anonymously. It quickly became a popular hymn, though nobody knew who had written it.

Joseph fell in love again. Sadly tragedy struck a second time, his bride, Eliza Catherine Roche, contracted TB and died before their wedding could take place. Joseph sought refuge in ministry and doing charity work for the Plymouth Brethren, ad preaching among the Baptists. He lived a simple and humble life in Port Hope, Canada, cutting firewood for the widows, giving away his clothes and money to those in need. He was described as “a man of short stature, with iron-grey hair, close-cropped beard and light-blue eyes that sparkled when he talked.” Ira Sankey wrote:

“Until a short time before his death it was not known that he had a poetic gift. A neighbour, sitting up with him in the illness, happened upon a manuscript copy of “What a Friend We Have inJesus”. Reading it with great delight and questioning Mr Scriven about it, he said that he had composed it for his mother, to comfort her in a time of special sorrow, not intending that anyone else should see it. Some time later, when another Port Hope neighbour asked him if it was true he composed the hymn, his reply was, ‘The Lord and I did it between us’.”

On October 1896 he became critically ill. In his delirium, he rose from his bed and staggered outdoors where he fell into a small creek and drowned at age 66. His grave was arranged so that his feet were opposite those of his lost love, Eliza Catherine Roche that at the resurrection they might arise facing one another.

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To Stay or Not To Stay ? – That is the Question

“When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”

Mark 5:15

When Jesus redeemed and saved the demon possessed man who was dangerous both to himself and others, the population of the village begged Jesus to leave them (v. 17). While the man himself asked to let him stay with Jesus (v. 18). What do you ask of the Lord when He reaches into your life? Do you want Him to stay or to go?!

Mark 5:1-20 tells the healing of an extremely disturbed man, who lived in a graveyard (probably living in empty or abandoned tombs), hardly wore any clothes, was destructively self harming and also dangerous to his surrounding! He terrorised the whole area and there was no way to control him.

When Jesus came to him, He healed the man, but the demons who previously tormented the poor man destroyed the pigs of the community. Because of this loss they population begged Jesus to leave them. They saw only their loss (the pigs) and not their gain (a sick person was healed and they do not have to live in terror any more)! Jesus saved them too from their fear and suffering they had no control over. Now they don’t have to fear, yet instead of bringing to Jesus their other sick neighbours, friends, and family members as others did (Mark 1:29-34), they rather send Him away.

We also face fear, emotions, anger, lies, anxiety, delusions often on daily basis, not knowing how to navigate between them to remain unharmed, or how to get rid of their terror. Is there anyone who could help?

Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to come to the aid of that man! Not even a violent storm could stop Him! He crossed over the huge gap between the holiness and purity of heaven and the sinful brokenness of our world to save us! Not even death on the cross could stop Him! Do we feel sorry for the “pigs” we lose as part of His salvation, or rejoice over all that we gain through Him? Too many insist on keeping their “pigs” rather than receiving new and abundant life Jesus offers them. For whoever believes in Him will become truly, fully human. Will you ask Him to stay?!

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Philippians 3:8-9

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Lavender Prayer: 6. Grace

Is there a Godly grace in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. I tried writing this article the way I thought it should be written, as that was both true and easy – Jesus died for our sins and gives us the gift of eternal life with God the Father not because of what we have done but because He loves us; THAT is grace. Job done. But then I asked the Holy Spirit if that was the angle I should be looking at. I got a sense that there was more; there was a message for us as a church family still adjusting to living in a world of coronavirus (and remember – we are in this world but we are not of this world).

Echoing last week: peace be with you. And in that absence of anxiety, as it says in Hebrews 4:16:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

This time is surely a time of need, and we are being pointed to God, for it is from Him that we may receive not just mercy but grace. OK, I thought, if I can only get to God’s throne then I can gain grace in this time of need. But what then do I do with it? Do I put it in a box marked ‘precious’ and hide it? We need to be familiar with grace, as it is a powerful godly weapon:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”

Titus 2:11-12

We, as a church family, are being pointed back to the first Lavender word (purity). So how do we seek or gain that grace? We can look back at the second Lavender word (silence) – we are not silent so that God will forgive us; God has forgiven us and it is that grace of forgiveness that stuns us into silence. And where is this grace? It’s all there in one of ‘my’ books:

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy 4:22

Grace is with us. As all flowers do, lavender grows and spreads. So use the grace of lavender to grow and to spread – in purity, silence, devotion and serenity, and in what is yet to come.

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Lavender Prayer: 5. Serenity

Is there a Godly serenity in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. ‘Serenity’ means to be untroubled; to be at peace within; it is the absence of mental stress or anxiety. Even the sound of the word is peaceful.

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a pause and a reset in our behaviours and way of life. Some of it we adjusted to easily; other aspects continue to be difficult. At times we felt alone, anxious and stressed – both as individuals and collectively as a church family. But thinking of my picture of the lavender, I am hearing a gentle word from the Holy Spirit: we are not alone and there is godly cure for anxiety. Indeed, for me, just the thought of the Holy Spirit gives me a sense of serenity, of comfort and companionship.

There has been a quiet strength in SSCB’s fellowship over these last few months – looking out for each other, checking in with each other and connecting with each other through the E-pistle Newsletter, Zoom Services and the Zoom Fellowship. For many there has been the added strength of Home Groups.

We are not called to respond alone, either during Lockdown or – each in our own time – as we re-emerge. We have always been together in and through Jesus:  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace  …” (Ephesians 2: 13-14)

There at the start of verse 14 is the truth staring at us in plain sight. The serenity of the lavender led me to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is reminding us all of the calming power of Jesus: “He Himself is our peace.” And then I found this precise message just waiting for me in John 14:26-27:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 14:26-27″

When I think of Jesus and acknowledge Him I am calm and free from anxiety. I am serene. And if all it takes is a picture of some lavender to remind us of that, then thank you, Holy Spirit!

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What are your Outlooks?

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Isaiah 37:20

In 721 BC Assyria was spreading towards the west. They have conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, now they surrounded Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. Sennacherib, king of Assyria gave an ultimatum to Hezekiah, king of Judah. The Assyrian representative was boasting and threatening the defenders on the walls of Jerusalem, trying to turn them away from their trust in God and also their king. The king, however was unflinching in his faith in God, the Lord will deliver them, He made His promise to them! The king entered the temple and bowed down in prayer before the Lord, asking for His deliverance from the enemy.

Hezekiah was resolute, and committed to prayer, but he knew not when, or how the Lord will save them fulfilling His promise. Yet he was certain that the Lord will be faithful! Next morning as they woke up they found the Assyrian camp empty, the enemy were dead, Sennacherib fled!

In a hopeless situation Hezekiah held on to God’s promise and entrusted his own and his people’s life into God’s keeping! If you know the depth of such battling and fulfilled petition then your outlook, your perspective of hopeless situations has been changed. Then you look totally differently upon your burdens, your life, and all that might threaten it, like COVID-19. Prayer, in an amazing way, lifts you up, out of despair, above your fears, and anxieties. Why and How? Simply because every word of your prayer is holding onto the Lord and His promises who is above, and lifts you to the eye level of God and you see your outlooks from his perspective!

All who live on daily prayerful dialog with the living Lord know that they have ‘a secret mana’ that nourishes and strengthens them on the way! In those the powers of the coming Kingdom are at work, and reach out through them into their surroundings.

Trust in the promises of God! Trust in His faithfulness! Trust in His Word! For what matters is not the size of the enemy, or the strength of their voice, but how close you are to the Lord, for your salvation is already prepared with Him! The Lord said:

“call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honour me.”

Psalm 50:15

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Praise of the Week: I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (1846)

“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

They say do not work with animals or children. They need special skill. Horatius Bonar, “the Prince of Scottish Hymnists” was able to connect with youngsters superbly.

He was born just before Christmas in 1808, one of eleven children. Two of his brothers, John and Andrew, also became outstanding preachers. He studied for the ministry in Edinburgh, serving his internship in Leith, and then being ordained in Kelso. Later he returned to Edinburgh to the Grange and became one of Scotland’s most well known preachers.

Horatius began writing hymns while in Kelso, and many of them were especially for children. In those days the congregation only sang the Psalms, only the children were allowed to sing his hymns. On one occasion when a hymn was announced at a service, two church elders stormed out in protest! But the children loved his visits to Sunday School when he would lead them in exuberant singing.

He wrote I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say for his Sunday School in 1846. On the page on which he wrote the words, he doodled four faces and the head of a man wearing a hat. He based the verses on three promises of Jesus in Matthew 11:28; John 4:14; and John 8:12. The first half of each stanza echoes one of the Lord’s promises, the second half is our response.

He very much loved children. His wife and he lost five of their children in rapid succession. But God gave him hundreds of children in the Sunday School. Not only that …

Many years later, a surviving Bonar daughter was widowed and returned home to live with her parents. She had five young children. Writing to a friend, Horatius said: “God took five children from life some years ago, and He has given me another five to bring up for Him in my old age.”

He was nearly 80 when he preached his last sermon in his church. Among his last requests was that no biography of him be written. He wanted all the glory to be Christ’s alone.

(By the way his grandson, Horatius Bonar Macnicol, is mentioned on our WW1 Roll of Honour.)

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Praise of the Week: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (1875)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

Few praises paint such a vivid picture of God’s love as this by Samuel Trevor Francis: … vast, unmeasured, boundless free; / rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me. / Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love…

It helps us visualise the immensity of Christ’s all embracing love, overwhelming and submerging us in the depth of His tender, triumphant heart.

Samuel was born on 19th November 1834, in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire north of London. His father was a merchant and an artist who moved the family to Hull. As a child, Samuel enjoyed poetry, and he also developed a passion for music, joining the church choir at the age of nine! However as a teenager he struggled spiritually, and when he moved to London to work, he knew things were not right in his heart.

One day, as he later wrote: “I was on my way home from work and had to cross Hungerford Bridge to the south of the Thames. During the winter’s night of wind and rain and in the loneliness of that walk, I cried to God to have mercy on me. I stayed for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, and the temptation was whispered to me: ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul: ‘You do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ At once I answered, ‘I do believe,’ and I put my whole trust in Him as my Saviour.”

Samuel went on to become a London merchant, but his real passion was Kingdom work – especially hymn writing and open-air preaching – which occupied his remaining seventy-three years. He travelled widely and preached around the world for the Plymouth Brethren. He died in 1925, aged 92.

Ebenezer the ponderous, rolling melody of the hymn is traditionally called “Ton-Y-Botel” (Tune in a Bottle), because of a legend that it was found in a bottle along the Welsh coast. In fact it was composed by Thomas J. Williams, and appeared as a hymn tune in 1890 in the hymnal Llawlyfn Moliant.

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First Sunday Service at St Stephen’s Since Lockdown Started

St Stephen’s was able to open its doors last Sunday for the first Church Service since March. An incredible amount of work was carried out beforehand, working out how to make it all as safe as possible with hand sanitisers, signs showing the one way system, available pews etc. A lot of work was also put into the technology so that Zoom could be used alongside the live service. It all went very smoothly on the day! The congregation was very small – we didn’t need to worry about exceeding the maximum 35 people! Although not the same atmosphere as with our usual numbers we could still feel God’s presence and it was lovely to be back. The hardest part was not standing up to sing but the signing of the Blessing was a great addition. Although there is not enough room in the church for Fellowship afterwards, people had the opportunity to chat in the church garden. It was good to see people face to face rather than on a Zoom screen!

[from Christine MacRae]

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Lavender Prayer: 4. Caution

Is there a Godly caution in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. I managed to type up “Caution” on the heading and then just stared at it. What next? Was this a call from Matthew 10:16 (“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”)? We must be both shrewd and innocent, yes, but caution is slightly different.

I kept looking, and found in the Amplified Bible translation of Philippians 2:12 that we must work out our salvation by cultivating it and actively pursuing spiritual maturity. And we must do that “using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ.”

It is all too easy, having acknowledged Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, to charge on in full fervour not realising that we are charging when God is saying, “Hold.” Or to take up things of this world and put Jesus’ name to them when in reality they are our selfish desires, not His glorious gifts.

So if we pause at our lavender flower, we literally find that we are not just charging on. We find that we have the time and space to ask God, “Is this what you want of me?”

And as I paused, I realised there was another caution. In Scots law, there is a concept called “Caution” but pronounced ‘Kayshun’. It is a payment as a guarantee of good behaviour. If the offender is of good behaviour the caution is returned. Jesus died for our sins, but He paid the price once and for all. In Him we have a guarantee of our forgiveness and being made right with God. Jesus is the caution and He was paid out for us; died for us. Through His payment, we are made pure and sanctified – or as the legal language would say, “He makes us to be of good behaviour.” So the caution is returned – Jesus could not be held dead, and is returned alive.

So pause at your lavender flower and ask God to help SSCB to act with caution – to discern what God actually wants of us and then to do it boldly, knowing that the price has been paid, the debt wiped out and that we are redeemed through the cautioner.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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We are Open for Worship from 2nd August – Praise the Lord

We are opening the church doors for public worship at 11:00am on Sunday, 2nd August! Praise and thanks to God for this opportunity to continue worshipping not just through the internet but by physically gathering too, although fully respecting the required social distancing measures!

We have made the church as safe as possible and a huge thank you is due to all involved in that! While we will be worshipping in the church building, we continue with our online worship on Zoom as well. This continues to be part of our church family life in the future for a time. Still one congregation, just sharing in various ways to suit our circumstances.

What can you expect at church? We continue to offer a warm welcome to all, however the experience in the present restricted circumstances will not match the encounters of the past.

Who can attend church?

  • In theory all are welcome. We particularly encourage those to come to church who were unable to be part of a worshipping fellowship (virtual or otherwise) during the lockdown. However there are certain necessary restrictions:
    • Those who are shielding, should follow the Scottish Government’s instructions.
    • If you display symptoms of covid-19 infection, or you are self-isolating because you share a household with someone who has the symptoms, or as a result of contact tracing, you are advised to stay at home.
  • The capacity of our building, observing the required social distancing is only 35.
  • All attending the service need to be registered as part of the contact tracing programme.

What can you expect at church?

  • The presence of the Lord God Almighty! He promised to be with those who gather in His name!
  • A welcoming, clean, and safe space for worship.
  • Helpful welcoming team to guide and advise you in the building.
  • Registering your name and phone number for Tracking and Tracing purposes (this data will be kept safe for 14 days, then it will be destroyed).
  • Hand sanitisers both as you enter and exit the church.
  • It is recommended that those coming into the building should wear a face covering.
  • Social distancing throughout the building.
  • One way system (anti-clockwise) within the building to avoid physical contact with others. Clear signage throughout the building.
  • Designated seats at appropriate social distancing from each other. Therefore please be aware that you might not be able to sit at your usual seat!
  • Sadly no singing is permitted during worship, but dancing if you fancy it is welcome. We will be able to listen and reflect over recorded praises.
  • For safety reasons the church Bibles are removed, so please bring along your own Bible to follow the readings.
  • The service in church is shared through the internet, by Zoom.
  • Toilet facilities will be available.
  • Sadly, no social mingling and sharing of refreshments after the service in the church is possible. However people can meet outside in safe distance if they wish to do so.

Please consider prayerfully your return to the church building. We would love you to be there and are looking forward to see you in person, but remember both your and the safety of others are important in these uncertain times. If you are happy to join us over the internet please do so, you will be as much part of the fellowship as if you were there in person.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate asking at office@comelybankchurch.com 

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Praise of the Week: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending

Charles Wesley was born before Christmas in 1707. He was premature and neither cried nor opened his eyes. The youngest of 18 children, Charles possessed prodigious talents that soon blossomed.

At age eight, he was taken to London to attend Westminster School. At thirteen he became a King’ Scholar and upon graduating he enrolled at Oxford. He was nineteen and full of life.

During his second year at Oxford he grew serious about spiritual things. Neither he nor his brother, John, had received Christ as Saviour, but they both began seeking to live the Christian life so methodically that they were dubbed “Methodists” by fellow students.

Their studies completed they volunteered to go as missionaries to Georgia, a new colony in America for those in Britain’s debtors’ prisons. They failed as missionaries. Charles was too demanding and autocratic. He left America ill and depressed.

Soon John also returned in low spirits. Finding themselves in spiritual crisis they began attending the meetings of the Moravian Church. On Sunday, 21st May 1738 Charles wrote: “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. I saw that by faith I stood.” John came to Christ about the same time too.

Charles became a prolific hymn writer. His lyrics are solidly based on Scripture. He penned some 9,000 spiritual poems, of which about 6,000 are hymns. His writings are passionate and well crafted. Many of them he wrote while riding on horseback to his evangelistic meetings.

“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” uses events of the past to remind us who we are in our faith, and guiding our vision to what the future holds, and rejoicing in who our God is. The hymn is powerful encouragement to all of us who are looking forward to the coming of Christ!

“‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’So shall it be! Amen.”

(Revelation 1:7)

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The Spiritual Matter of Social Media

//Tik Tok//YouTube//Snapchat//Instagram//Minecraft//ClashOfClans//JESUS

Whether you use social media or not it’s a huge influence in today’s world, particularly on our young people. Join me in bringing social media to Jesus, laying it at His feet:

Belonging and Community: Online community is the only community some of us are experiencing just now! But online community is not new for young people. Communities of interest, education, support, and entertainment, all have their own ways of connecting. Although they are very different to physical communities, like our church family, they are building on the same blocks, being know, sharing and belonging. Although online community has many pitfalls, it trumps physical community in one area: Accessibility. If you have internet connection then its instantly available, 24-7, 365!

Generation-Z have lots of words for their positive feelings (chill, yeet, lit, dope, bet, gucci, fire) and indeed their negative feelings! Much of their vocabulary bleeds from the online world into the park, classroom and youth culture. In this way we see how the online world has influence over the younger generations. Lets pray for kingdom come and Jesus influence on the online world.

PRAY 

  1. For Christian influencers online who often face a lot of criticism but play a vital role in making the Gospel, the wisdom of God and the truth accessible on the online world amid a vast array of worldly messages.
  2. For our young people to let the Holy Spirit guide and filter their consumption and interaction with media, online communities and for protection for their heart as they discover the vast online world.

“Father we thank you that you are even more accessible than the online world! 24-7, 365 is not a problem for you, God who watches over our youth and will not allow their feet to slip; you are the protector who does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121,3-4). You are Emmanuel God who is with us. Closer than the phone in the hand. Lord, help our young people to share light, friendship and love online.” Amen

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Lavender Prayer: 3. Devotion

Is there a Godly devotion in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. Devotion is not simply performing an action or function, but doing so through a deep and ardent affection.

I was struck by finance. I give money to the church. Go me! I give quite a lot. Praise me! I give by standing order which was originally set up so that I would not forget and to make it easier on those who bank the cash. Efficient me! But until I reflected on the lavender, it had become just something I did. I have lost the deep and ardent affection for why I give. I just give (there is the performance) and don’t look to loving God through my giving (where is the affection?).

Whether in our giving, our service, our prayers for each other or just our attentiveness to each other, we need to hold fast to (or regain) that affection.

We do not want just to claim the credit of Revelation 2:2 (I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance) and overlook Revelation 2:4 (Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.)

So what do we do? Love each other as Jesus loves us – devotedly. Look at the devotion in Acts 2:42-44 (“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers”). And what happens then? (Awe came upon every soul!)

A few Sundays ago in the Holy Chaos of the start of our Zoom service, one of my dear sisters in Christ showed a vase of lavender on her camera. Reading about lavender was helping her in her walk with Jesus, coming closer to God. But do you know what – as she shared briefly in a fellowship moment with me, I saw how she had set aside and devoted the lavender to God, and an awe did indeed come upon my soul; an awe of how big God is that He is able to speak to each one of us intimately if we just devote ourselves to listening to Him.

In devoting ourselves to God we find a common devotion that binds us together. The next time you see lavender, stop. Devote some time in awe of God’s amazing love for you, for us, for our church family.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Update: Opening up the Church

We are planning to have the church open for public worship at 11:00am on Sunday, 2nd August. While this is much awaited good news, I am afraid it is not without certain restrictions. A desire to “return to normal” is natural, but not everything of the “old normal’ will be possible at this time. Our task in this moment is to consider the opening of the church to offer a safe environment for worship. While we expect to be able to open the church building for public worship we will continue with our online services as well. This will  continue to be part of our church family life for a time.

We are opening the church following the instructions and guidelines of the Scottish Government and Church of Scotland. As guidelines go they are quite clinical in their wording, and while we want to follow them we also want to assure everyone of a warm welcome at church, however the experience in the present restricted circumstances will not match the encounters of the past.

Who can attend church?

  • In theory all are welcome. We particularly encourage those to come to church who were unable to be part of a worshipping fellowship (virtual or otherwise) during the lockdown. However there are certain necessary restrictions:
    • Those who are shielding, , should follow the Scottish Government’s instructions.
    • If you display symptoms of covid-19 infection, or you are self-isolating because you share a household with someone who has the symptoms, or as a result of contact tracing, you are advised to stay at home.
  • The capacity of our building, observing the required social distancing is only 35.
  • All attending the service need to be registered as part of the contact tracing programme.

What can you expect at church?

  • A welcoming, clean, and safe space for worship.
  • Helpful welcoming team to guide and advise you in the building.
  • Hand sanitisers both as you enter and exit the church.
  • It is recommended that those coming into the building should wear a face covering.
  • Social distancing throughout the building.
  • One way system within the building to avoid physical contact with others.
  • Designated seats at appropriate social distance from each other. Therefore please be aware that you might not be able to sit at your usual seat.
  • Sadly no singing is permitted during worship. We will be able to listen and reflect over recorded praises.
  • For safety reasons the church Bibles are removed, so please bring along your own Bible to follow the readings.
  • The service in church is shared through the internet, by Zoom.
  • Toilet facilities will be available.
  • Sadly no social mingling and sharing of refreshments after the service will be available. 

Please consider prayerfully your return to the church building. We would love you to be there and are looking forward to see you in person, but remember both your and the safety of others are important in these uncertain times. If you are happy to join us over the internet please do so, you will be as much part of the fellowship as if you were there in person.

If you have got any queries or would like more information, please email us at: office@comelybankchurch.com

[from George Vidits, minister, and John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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Praise of the Week: How Great Thou Art

This praise is one of my favourites. Most of us know it by its chorus: “How great Thou art”. In fact the first line is: “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder”. It is a truly international praise!

Carl Boberg, a 26 years old Swedish minister, wrote a poem in 1885, which he called “O Store Gud” – “O Mighty God”. His poem was published and ‘forgotten’. Several years later though he was surprised hearing it being sung to an old Swedish melody.

Somehow the hymn travelled to Ukraine in the early 20th century. There a British missionary, Stuart Hine was so moved by it that he expanded the words and made his own arrangement of the Swedish melody. He later said that the first three verses were inspired by and in the rugged Carpathian Mountains. The first verse was composed when he was caught in a thunderstorm in a Carpathian village, the second as he heard the birds singing near the Romanian border, and the third as he witnessed many villagers in the Carpathians coming to faith just by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ read to them. The fourth verse was added much later, after WW2. Hine was concerned for the exiled Polish community in the UK, who were keen to return home. They partly inspired verse four.

Some time later, Dr. J. Edwin Orr heard “How Great Thou Art” being sung by Naga Tribespeople in Assam, India, and decided to take it home to use it in their own meetings in the USA. There it was noticed by a music publisher who got it copyrighted by Stuart Hine. It was published and recorded.

During the 1954 Billy Graham Crusade in the UK the song was given to George Beverly Shea, a soloist of the Crusade. He sang it to himself and shared it with others. But the song was introduced only later. In the New York Crusade in 1957 he sang it 99 times with the choir joining in with the tremendous chorus:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,

How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

What an astonishing international praise, by the Spirit of God, for the people of God, to the glory of God! How great thou art!

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Prayer Link Across the Pond

We invite you to join in a Prayer Link across the ‘Pond.’ In his ‘Five Churches’ series Timothy Pitt introduced to us the La Jolla Christian Fellowship from San Diego, USA. On Saturday, 8th August we have the opportunity to get to know each other a bit and pray together. What better way to get to know one another than praying together?!

Please join in on Zoom at 17:00 on Saturday, 8th August for an hour of prayer with La Jolla Christian Fellowship.

To break the ice nominated people from both church families will pray on particular subjects. The church families are invited to pray along, silently, or joining in aloud at appropriate times.

This is part of exploring a possible international relationship, whether that is simply to know them and hold them in our prayers, or perhaps developing into something more than that. We lift this up to the Lord to guide both of us. During lockdown, Tim has done a video devotional for them and read Scripture at one of their online services. We have got great possibilities, it is up to the Lord and us what we will make of them.

We will send out an update with more details and about the logistics of joining the prayer time. If you have any questions or comments please let us know by emailing to office@comelybankchurch.com.

Meantime, please pray for this new prayer initiative and put it in your diaries – just one hour, at 17:00 on 8th August – and be part of it.

Lavender Prayer: 2. Silence

Is there a Godly silence in Lavender? What does God mean by it? Test it. Silence is special and stunning. Two Bible passages just jumped out at me:

I am silent and cannot open my mouth
because of what you have done. Psalm 39:9 

David does not want to speak sinfully, so he decides not to speak at all. This just suppresses his emotions and leaves him tormented. It is not a good silence. He turns to God and sees that he is forgiven. Suddenly everything else is all right. He is silent now because he cannot find the words to express his awe at God cleansing him from his sin.

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal on the scroll,
there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1

Think about it – the entirety of Heaven stunned into silence by Jesus’ power; his love for humanity, for us!

We can choose our own willpower to keep quiet: don’t move so that we won’t make a wrong move. But that’s the wrong way round. The reality is that God has forgiven us our wrong moves … and knowing THAT is what stuns us into silence.

We can use this silence, for it is a spiritual discipline. Get away from the noise of the world and spend time in silence with God. Pay attention to what is stirring in your soul. Like David, do not try to suppress those feelings, but use the silence and solitude to worship God.

Through lockdown we have gained a silence and solitude – maybe wholly, maybe within our family unit. In physical terms, we are emerging back into community (but consider always those for whom that is ‘not yet’). As we transition from that silence, hold on to God. The church has been open for prayer for a couple of weeks now. We don’t need the church in order to pray, but it sometimes helps. Indeed, we even have lavender flowers at the church gate, inviting us into that godly silence.

And coming back to life
I took a heavenly ride
Through our silence
I knew the waiting had begun.

Pink Floyd: “Coming Back to Life”

Lavender is silence, but God was telling me that it is a glorious silence filled with His presence.

[from Timonty Pitt]

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Let’s Pray … Every Day

The other week at our Inspire zoom call we had two passionate 21-year-olds who are studying in Edinburgh. Our young people asked some great questions and grilled Finlay and Mae about their faith! It was great to here their testimonies!

There was a lot a wisdom and encouragement shared. Something that Finlay said has stayed with me and got me thinking deeper: responding to a question about sharing his faith with his friends, he said:

“Sometimes we expect meeting God and that His answers to prayer to be big things. But I’ve learned that God often provides for us in the everyday … like providing opportunities for us and answering prayers little by little.”

I was struck by this comment as I often pray for the youth to have powerful encounters with Jesus, but I realised that I should also ask God, and trust God, to show His unlimited faithfulness to our young people in the everyday, the mundane Monday morning, in their thought life, in their own personal space. 

Please pray for our young people in this time:

“Father God, your love is just what we need to be secure and to flourish! We pray that our young people would experience how loving you are. How faithful you are, how Holy you are, and how fiercely you want to protect and correct them.  Lead our young people to Repent and Believe. Lead our young people to build on you, the Rock, the safe place, the true way to life. Holy Spirit your presence with us turns us from everyday people to world changers, culture crafters, people who love with your love. Do this in our young people we pray. In the little things and the big things we praise you that you are present with our young people Jesus!  Amen.”

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Update on Re-opening of the Church

We have received the Church of Scotland’s revised guidelines for re-opening of church buildings for worship on Friday afternoon, 17th July. The guidance document is 57 pages long, and the additional risk assessment document is 9 pages long, while the church re-opening checklist is 5 pages long. We are sharing this with you to emphasise that there is a lot of material our Kirk Session needs to work through even before we can begin to meet the necessary requirements to open up the church as a safe facility to all.

We will continue to keep you informed about the developments.

While we are keen to open up the church for public worship as soon as reasonably possible, the safety of all who come for worship is of primary importance to us! We will open the church only if all the health and hygiene criteria are met to make the church a safe place. We continue asking you for your prayers as the Kirk Session assesses the tasks before us and then by God’s grace complete them. Please pray for wisdom, and God’s guidance as we accomplish this. 

Meanwhile we continue with our Sunday worship on Zoom. You are also welcome for prayer/contemplation when the church is open on:

  • Wednesdays 10:00 – 12:00;
  • Fridays 14:00 – 16:00;
  • Saturdays 10:00 – 12:00.

[from George Vidits, minister; John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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COVID-19 In a Very Different Place

I received an alarming message from some friends of SSCB this week. I wanted to share it with you and ask for your help.

You may remember that we hosted Dr Matthew from Duncan Mission Hospital Raxaul, India, a few years ago. Dr Matthew spoke at SSCB about his work serving some of the poorest people in the world. Duncan mission hospital was established by a doctor from Edinburgh and is a beacon of God’s light and compassion in a very difficult place.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has now struck the town that they serve and is having a devastating effect. There were 95 positive cases in Raxaul town in one day this weekThe government does not supply PPE and there is a lot of confusion, anxiety and fear. A doctor there said “a fear of death is spreading like wildfire”.

The team have been working with donors to get supplies and be prepared. Yet their ability to buy PPE (masks, goggles, suits, gloves and hand sanitisers) is limited by cash. Here’s what one of the hospital team said: “In case we run out of supplies we were planning on getting some on our own which is an expensive venture. We were also thinking of other options like using raincoats and washing them and reusing them.” 

Better paid staff at Duncan have taken a 50% pay cut to help with the crisis. They continue to serve the sick, distribute food to vulnerable families and reach out to their local community with practical education and the grace of God. 

I feel very challenged spiritually that I can stay safe at home, whilst my brothers and sisters are putting themselves in harms way. My heart breaks at the thought of them serving God and saving lives dressed in raincoats.

In normal circumstances I would have organised a fundraising event. But these are not normal circumstances. I am asking you please to pray for them, and if you can give anything, to give financial gifts to them.  You can give directly through the EMMS emergency COVID 19 appeal or I’m happy to give on your behalf if you want to make a pledge to me directly. Timing really is critical. 

Thank you for caring enough to read this far. 

Suggested Prayer

Thank you Father God for our Christian brothers and sisters who serve in your name, across the world. Thank you for their skills and sacrifices. 

Protect medical staff across the world. We pray particularly for the staff at Duncan Hospital, that you would protect them physically, emotionally and spiritually. Wrap your protective arms around them and allow them to serve those most in need.

Lord we entrust our world to you in all its broken form. We pray for those who live in fear of this virus, we pray for ourselves and those we love, we pray for those we do not know. Lord help us to remember that you are Lord of all. Amen

Ways to give: www.EMMS.org/virus

Please give with big hearts. Your gifts can go a very long way.

  • £4.50 – Bucket and soap
  • £13.20 – Help’s a poor and at-risk family 
  • £20 – Infrared thermometer
  • £66 – Food packs for 5 vulnerable families
  • £10​0 – Six PPE kits

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Praise of the Week: In the Cross of Christ I Glory (1825)

After the fire at Notre Dam last year in Paris the cross at the altar remained undamaged. It became a symbol of hope and encouragement to many.

A similar story is associated with this hymn. The story goes that when a cathedral was destroyed on Macao, only the front wall remained. On the top of it there was a metal cross, blackened with age, silhouetted against the sky. Apparently the hymn writer John Bowring was so inspired by it that he wrote the hymn: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”.

The validity of the story is questionable, but the story of the tune of it (Rathbun) is verified.

In 1849 the minister of Central Baptist Church in Norwich, Connecticut, USA preached a series of sermons on the seven last words of Christ on the cross. One Sunday during the series it was a very rainy day. Ithmar Conkey, the organist was bitterly disappointed that the members of the choir did not turn up, except for one soprano. He was so discouraged and disheartened that after the prelude he closed the organ, locked the instrument and went home! That same afternoon as he was sitting at his piano practicing he was pondering about the sermon he heard in the morning, and the words of the hymn “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” came to his mind. He then and there composed the tune that he named Rathbun. He admitted later that the inspiration was a vivid contradiction to his earlier feelings at the morning service.

But why did he name the tune ‘Rathbun’?

The one choir member that showed up on that rainy Sunday in 1894 – that one faithful soprano – was Mrs Beriah S. Rathbun.

“rejoice that your names are written in heaven”

Luke 10:20 – NIV

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Youth Update

This week marks 11 months working as the Youth Worker here at SSCB! A fantastic time getting to know our young people! Some of you might not be aware of what we have been up to together this year, so here is a quick update… 

Before the disruption of Covid the youth had three main opportunities to engage with SSCB: 

  1. ‘Inspire’ is our weekly discipleship meeting on a Sunday morning (check out Ewan Pitts great description on the church website here).  It is my prayer that Inspire is a time where we learn who Jesus is deep in our hearts and work out what it looks like for our young people to follow Jesus’ commands in today’s world.
  2. ‘Youth Sounds’ on Monday afternoons was an opportunity to have a lot of fun while learning to play as a band in the sanctuary using our church’s amazing band equipment… a microphone makes everything more fun! It’s a privilege to work with such talented young people and see them enjoy themselves! Youth Sounds is a space where young people can invite friends to hang out in the church and I hope that one day our practice might develop into a youth worship band. 
  3. ‘Rock Solid’ continues in all its crazy goodness! Drama, whipped cream, human buckaroo, and Andy Dole’s big friendly laugh accompany the activities and group discussion! This is often the highlight of the week for me. The fun and games are accompanied by the privilege of discussing the Bible and topical issues with churched and unchurched youth.

Sadly, Covid put a pause on playing music together at ‘Youth Sounds’. However, Inspire and Rock Solid have continued on Zoom. We have had to get creative but it’s been a lot of fun! The youth have been sharing their thoughts on the Bible, mainly passages in Acts, we have done an online escape room and discovered a whole raft of new online games together including ‘IS IT ROCK SOLLIIIIDDD?!’ – ask a young person about this! Overall, I’ve loved checking in with our young people throughout the lockdown but am excited to hang out with them face-to-face again soon.

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Lavender Prayer: 1. Purity

Was God speaking of purity through Lavender, and if so, what was He saying? Test it. 

Lavender flowers mean purity; being free from anything that contaminates. The Lord has pure eyes (Habakuk 1:13). His words and ways are pure (Psalm 12:6; 145:17). So people used pure items in the temple to approach Him: pure gold lamp stands with pure oil burning. We were created, in His image, to be pure. But we gave in to sin, separated from God by our own impurity. How do we regain purity of fellowship with God? “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4)

In Old Testament times, the people had a complicated system of sacrifices and atonements – rules to ‘prove’ that they were re-aligned with God. Time and again they invoked the rules; time and again they failed. But Jesus makes it possible – once and always. But what is our response? Do we actually desire to live in purity as we are called: “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

This resonated with me. I was hearing of a heart posture that we have at times but need always – in SSCB and in ourselves. God desires that purity should define our thoughts, words and actions. God sees in purity, speaks in purity and acts in purity; we should do likewise.

I sensed that the Lavender was not just saying what might be, what to aspire for. It was an admonishment! When our hearts are clouded with impurities, we cannot hear God’s voice as He speaks to us; we cannot experience God’s presence. Jesus offers us both a blessing and an encouragement: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

We live all our days, not just the Sundays during church services. But are we actually alive 24/7? As individuals, as church, we need to live in purity of heart, enjoying fellowship with God.

So please pray with me that we, as a church family, would enjoy that purity of life; that each one of us as individuals would stay on the path of purity throughout our life journey.

I thought the Lavender was going to lead me to congratulations: Hurrah for religious purity and blessings all round! But no, we are called to this all the time. Let’s take a long, hard look at ourselves. Let’s stop and smell the flowers!

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Plans for Opening the Church for Public Worship

On Thursday, 9th July, the Scottish Government announced that, as part of Step 3 of easing out of lockdown, churches will be allowed to open their doors from 15th July for public worship and other “life events.” This gives us much reason for rejoicing, still it does not mean that every church will be open for public worship beginning on 15th July.

According to the information given by the First Minister all public worship must strictly respect the two metres physical distancing. There is a requirement to collect contact details and time of attendance of those coming for worship. Corporate singing cannot be part of the service. These criteria will make worshipping in church a strange experience indeed. The First Minister also said there will be a cap applied to the maximum number of participants, but she did not indicate what that number is. When all the information will be available the Church of Scotland will amend their guidelines and will issue it for Presbyteries and congregations. This amended version is expected to be issued some time the middle of next week. It is very likely that Presbytery will also issue their instructions based on the Scottish Government and Church of Scotland guidelines.

While we are keen to open up the church for public worship as soon as reasonably possible we still do not have all the necessary information and guidelines to do so yet. There are clearly still much to consider and do at various levels.

The safety of all who enter our doors for worship is paramount to us, we are committed to fulfil all the necessary health and hygiene requirements. Therefore we must be patient and wait until all necessary information and guidance are available and the church is made safe for all.

Meanwhile we continue with our Sunday worship on Zoom. Also you are welcome for prayer/contemplation when the church is open on:

  • Wednesdays 10:00 – 12:00;
  • Fridays 14:00 – 16:00;
  • Saturdays 10:00 – 12:00.

Thank you for your continued support and patience in these very challenging times. Keep safe, be wise, and be close to the Lord!

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Praise of the Week: The Lord’s My Shepherd (1650)

Our oldest hymn book is the Book of Psalms. Paul encourages us to praise the Lord using “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5;19; Colossians 3:16). John Calvin, quoting Augustine, wrote: “We shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose than the Psalms of David, which the holy Spirit spoke … And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if He Himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.”

In the early 1640s, Francis Rouse, and English Puritan, rendered all 150 Psalms from Hebrew into metrical English. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland took Rouse’s translation and, as good presbyterians would do, submitted it to revision committees (sarcasm intended!). These committees (note the plural!) spent six years comparing the metered Psalms with the original Hebrew, seeking to develop a singable translation that was accurate to the original Hebrew. They worked as painstakingly as if creating a new translation of the whole Bible.

Finally, in 1650, the Scottish Psalter was released and approved for the use of congregations in the Church of Scotland. One of the best known and most widely sung pice fo the Scottish Psalter is its beautiful rendition of Psalm 23, set to the tune “Crimond”. The melody was composed by Jessie Seymour Irvine at about 1870. She was the daughter of the parish minister of Crimond. The village, and the church is also famous for its church clock. The clockmaker accidentally put six marks into the five minutes section between eleven and twelve. Thus an hour in Crimond is 61 minutes long, making a day 24 minutes longer than anywhere else on earth.

It just gives a little extra time for singing “The Lord’s My Shepherd.”

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God’s Face Mask

Face masks are mandatory wear in shops in Scotland from the 10th July. There is much controversy about face masks, about their efficiency, and propriety. Some of the arguments both pro and con are scientifically based, others are politically influenced. But everybody has an opinion about them. What is yours?

They come in different designs, shapes and colours. Some are fashionable, others are simple; some are mass produced, others are home made. Some conceal your face, others express or communicate things.

Would God wear a face mask? What kind of face mask would that be?

In fact God has got “a face mask”. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, and “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus Christ]” (Colossians 1:15; 19). Jesus Christ, God made flesh is the “face mask” of the invisible God. This face mask, Jesus, is an expressive, revealing, communicating ‘face mask’. Shows us who God is, how much he loves broken, sinful humanity, how far He is ready to go to save us and reconcile us with Himself. Jesus assured the disciples that “anyone who has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). All that Jesus was, said, did, God was that, said it, and did it! Jesus made the invisible visible and brought the distant close!

What a wonderful “face mask” Jesus is! Wherever he is, he goes, whoever he meets God Almighty himself has come to them!

The followers of Christ are supposed to reveal the likeness of Jesus. He is a Christian’s true ‘face mask’. As we ‘wear’ Him we show forth his love, care, compassion, grace and forgiveness, and so much more, the fullness of God. Wear your true face mask, and reveal the living God wherever you go!

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Is Lavender Answer to Prayer?

When we had a day of prayer recently, a number of us signed up for a prayer slot; all were blessed with an insight, a picture, a thought, a response. It was an incredible time of togetherness, as we were praying and worshiping God in our homes, and then linking with each other by email as to where it had left us. We had encouragements and admonishments for each other, dreams and ideas of what the church was and what it could be. Some were clear, others prompted further prayer for discernment. But the point was – we went into a time of prayer, and we were blessed with a response: God answers prayer!

As you might have worked out from the title, when I prayed, I was struck with an almost overwhelming sense of peace, and grace … and lavender flowers!

Was it just a nice fluffy thought that came to me? Was there a point to it? How could I take that picture, that very fragrance, and use it to glorify God? What did it all mean?

I want to take you for a walk through my prayer and thought process (possibly a scary and daunting prospect in itself!). I do not claim to be an authority on prayer and hearing the Word of God through prayer, but I do know that the only way to become good at prayer is to practice. And I do know that when one receives a picture, a sign or word that is believed to be from God, then it must be tested! “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

  • Does it line up with Scripture?
  • Does it line up with the character of God?
  • Does it line up with what God is doing with your life?
  • Does your spirit bear witness with the Word?
  • Does it receive approval when you seek the counsel of others?
  • Does it glorify God?

Lavender flower – That was the specific picture I had sensed and seen so strongly when I was praying. I was intrigued, so I looked up the lavender flower, and discovered that there are in fact various meanings for it:

  • Purity
  • Silence
  • Devotion
  • Caution
  • Serenity
  • Grace
  • Calmness

It looked like I could be onto something here. But what did it all mean and how would it point to our church today, and how would it glorify God? Lavender Time to get praying …

to be continued…

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (1834)

Edward Mote was born into poverty on 21st January 1797, in London. His parents, innkeepers, wouldn’t allow a Bible in their home. Still, somehow Edward heard the gospel as a teenager and came to Christ. He eventually became a skilled carpenter and the owner of his own cabinet shop.

“One morning” he recalled “it came into my mind as I went to work to write a hymn on the ‘Gracious Experience of a Christian’. As I went up to Holborn I had the chorus: ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand’. In the day I had four verses complete, and wrote them off.

“On the Sabbath following, I met brother King … who informed me that his wife was very ill, and asked me to call and see her. I had an early tea and called afterwards. He said that it was his usual custom to sing a hymn, read a portion [of Scripture], and engage in prayer before he went to meeting. He looked for his hymnbook but could find it nowhere. I said, ‘I have some verses in my pocket; if he liked we would sing them.’ We did, and his wife enjoyed them so much that after service he asked me, as a favour, to leave a copy of them for his wife.

“I went home, and by the fireside composed the last two verses, wrote the whole off, and took them to sister King … As these verses so met the dying woman’s case, my attention to them was the more arrested, and I had a thousand printed for distribution.”

In 1852, Edward (55), gave up his carpentry to pastor the Baptist Church in Horsham, Sussex, where he ministered for 21 years. He resigned in 1873, in failing health, saying, “I think I am going to heaven; yes, I am nearing port. The truths I have been preaching, I am now living upon and they’ll do very well to die upon. Ah! The precious blood.” He died at age 77.

About 140 years after Edward’s death Hillsong led worship in Stockholm, not long after the deadly massacre in Norway (77 were killed). They were seeking out words and tunes to comfort and reassure people in shock, fear, uncertainty and grief. The outcome was the song we know and sing as Cornerstone. They constructed a new melody and chorus around the strong words of Edward Mote’s testimony: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness.” This certainty, from the hymn, spoke to their hearts as they restructured the melody for the verses and wrote a chorus.

As we are living in very uncertain times and many are wondering what will happen in the world, in their own lives, and with their families, is there any certainty in anything at all? For Edward Mote and every Christian there is One sure certainty, Jesus Christ! No matter what happens, for we do not build our lives on the stock market, on our present health, strength, fame, or worldly circumstances. We build our lives on Christ, He is the foundation, on Him God is able to establish us. You can know that, you can sing it, confess it, and live it.

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Taking the Knee

We have been hearing a lot about the act of ‘taking the knee’ in recent times – an act which began in the US where athletes ‘took the knee’ during the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and racism. But whenever I hear it, I think about how we as Christians have a different reason to get down on our knees.

You may have heard this story before – it is an old one, but they are often the best 😉. An art critic was standing in a gallery looking at a painting of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap. He admired the painter’s skill but somehow found the proportions all wrong. The critic wasn’t the first to criticise the painting, but as he stared, he had a revelation. What if the painting had never been intended to hang in a gallery but in a place of prayer? The critic dropped to his knees and suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed – the picture finally made sense, everything in perfect proportion. It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all of these years, but the perspective of the people looking at it. It was only when the critic got to his knees that he saw the power and the beauty of what the painter intended.

We can try to go through life as critics – standing and staring, looking for flaws and faults in the world and God around us. But we weren’t created for that. We were made for more, and we find it when we kneel down before God, trusting Him with our lives that things fall into the right places where they are meant to be.

[from Alison Franks]

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Shining Like the Sun

NASA has now been watching the sun non-stop for over a full decade! They have produced a video of the full decade time lapse of the sun. One day is compressed to one second on the video. Even so the video is over one hour long! It is an amazing sight.

John wrote in Revelation about the risen Lord Jesus that “His face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1:16-17)

Perhaps we do not fully take in what John is saying here about Jesus, His majesty, greatness and wonder. John, together with James and Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty, catching a bit of His amazing splendour when He was transfigured before their eyes (Matthew 17:1–8). But in Revelation John describes an even more astonishing vision of Jesus. He hardly can find words to describe Him. The best he can do is to say that Jesus’ face was like the sun shining in full strength.

Watching the NASA video of the decade of the sun (not the whole hour, just a few minutes), and reflecting on these verses I hope I got a bit of a glimpse of the magnitude and majesty of Jesus John is trying to express here.

Just consider for a moment what it means for Jesus to be compared to the sun. The sun is unthinkably massive, counting more than 99.8 percent of the total mass of the entire solar system. Most of the remaining 0.2 percent is taken up by Jupiter, itself 318 times the size of earth! On the earth you are just one 7.8-billionth of the population! In other words, compared to you the sun is immensely huge!

Now, Jesus and the sun. The light of the sun has been sustaining life on the planet for all its history! So has Jesus, only more so! The sun is so dazzling that we can’t look at it without being blinded, even though we are nearly 100 million miles away. So is Jesus, only more so. The sun is so powerful that in one second it emits more energy than we humans have generated in all of human history (92 billion one-megaton nuclear bombs, every second)! So does Jesus, only more so.

Yes, Jesus is the helpless baby born in a manger, our teacher, and our friend, and a dying victim on the cross. But he also is the most awe-inspiring, most powerful, most astonishing life giving and life sustaining Lord of all!

How amazing it is that He whose face is shining like the sun in full strength loves you, cares for you, gave himself for you that you may have life and enjoy life in fullness while He will constantly shine his light on you in His eternal glory. One can but fall at His feet in worship and adoration!

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Theological Reflections in a Time of COVID-19 – FOURTH OF FOUR

Physically Distant, Socially Close: The New Normal

  • What is your new normal? Is it truly new? And more importantly, does it move us to God’s norm.
  • Rest. Let creativity flow into you from the Spirit. Trying to press into things all the time is a false premise.
  • Do keep doing what we can in community. But perhaps look at the ‘traditional’ evangelism the other way round … preach the word through action, yes, but look also to when you can use words.
  • Pretty much all we do in a “traditional” church service is based on words: read, hear, sing. We may benefit from thinking of others who do not have words (the Instagram generation) and who do not easily sit still and listen.

The new normal is not the old normal with a different hat on.

A new pandemic has been declared –  but not for the millions who will die each day from starvation, wars, terrorism. Before you panic, consider them.

  • Think of Palm Sunday – the joy and exultation.
  • Think of the Passion – the pain and despair.
  • Think of the Resurrection – which helps us see how life really is now; a new normal which is not the same as the old.

So how can we move FORWARD to normality?

Money and possessions have become a narcotic to us; we do not notice our prosperity or others’ want. When the pandemic started, suddenly everyone ‘needed’ toilet roll … why? Was that the herd mentality? We just needed some treasure to stash away and store.

Sabbath is a space that God asks us to take so that we can focus on who God is. Lockdown is a gift within which we can focus on sabbath in a way many (all of us, perhaps?) have not been able to do in the past and may not even be able to do in the future.

We should consider not using the term social distancing but “physical distancing.” Social distancing indicates we are isolating away from community. Many people have suffered from social distancing for years. Ironically, as people look out for each other in the community, the SOCIAL distancing is being reduced even whilst the PHYSICAL is being maintained

Social media contributes to the idea of absence being a cultural norm – you don’t have to be physical there in order to be close to people. This is true, but is not a wholesome long term plan. We can use social media to bridge the gap of physical distancing, but don’t let it be the defining reality of all interaction.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Scripture Union Holiday Resources

Scripture Union Scotland have been working really hard over the last few weeks developing online resources for young people to access over the holidays.  A number of them are outlined below:

The Wonder Zone

This is a holiday club for primary age school children which is running from Monday 29 June. You must register on their website – the details are:

During Wonder Zone, the children will meet Solomon and his desire to be wise. They will explore three Psalms and see what those tell us about God. They’ll see Jesus bring sight to a blind man and light to the world. And they’ll hear the story of the lost son who is welcomed back by his father.  Along the way, they will experience the fun of discovery, explore the wonders of the universe, investigate light and colour, be awed by the diversity of the natural world and encounter robots and artificial intelligence.
Scotland’s Biggest Holiday Club is aimed at P4-P7s with some activities for a younger audience too, offering 5 x 15 minute weekly videos and 5 x 30 minute weekly Zoom small groups later in each week.

Explore Online

This is an online resource updated each week with different materials for primary school and high school pupils. The High School material looks excellent for all of us (young at heart as well as actually young!) with interesting titles such as:  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Do the facts of the resurrection stack up?  Some details:

As SU Groups are not able to meet in schools right now, we wanted to give you something to help you continue exploring the Bible at home.  This page will be updated each week with new primary school and high school SU Group sessions. 

I wholeheartedly recommend them to everyone, by Alison

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Theological Reflections in a Time of COVID-19 – Third of Four

A New Era

  • What is your new normal? Is it truly new? And more importantly, does it move you to God’s norm.
  • Rest. Let creativity flow into you from the Spirit. Trying to press into things all the time is a false premise.
  • Do keep doing what we can in community. But perhaps look at the ‘traditional’ evangelism the other way round … preach the word through action, yes, but look also to when you can use words.
  • Pretty much all we do in a “traditional” church service is based on words: read, hear, sing. We may benefit from thinking of others who do not have words (the Instagram generation) and who do not easily sit still and listen.

This time is part of a critical change. We may be living at the turning point to a new era, a new time and way of life. We may look back and see that whilst we did certain things (good or bad) because we could, now we know their impact. Jesus discusses this: 

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

John 15:15 NIV

This pandemic invites us to lean into living with that faith. But consider the physical world – the earth where we live. Consider the earth as a subject as well as an object of God’s creation. Do not think just about the earth but towards the earth – the delight we have in the birds, that the trees keep growing, the seasons still turn. The pandemic has heightened our awareness of the natural world and also our dislocation from it.

We are called to be stewards, so how do we care for the world? The people least responsible for these things will be their hardest hit. Think of Scripture. In Psalms, the writer is brave enough to cry out in honesty: Where are you, God!

And have compassion – be kind to yourself and others. Remember our fragility. And we may even re-open some lost aspects of our faith. Think of the monks and their lives with regular isolation.

In a recent poll, 61% of people in Britain did not want things to go back to what they were. The Hebrew word for ‘crisis’ is the same as the word for a ‘birthing stool.’ This crisis may yet be the beginning of something new.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Being Called to be Shepherds

And Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had asked him a third time. Peter said “Lord you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “feed my sheep.” – John 21:17

Feeding sheep is about making the right noise: At feeding time I use our old noisy quadbike and attach the feed trailer. After filling the trailer with pellets, I set off opening up the throttle to a roar and shouting “huuuuway”. It is my intention to be heard by every sheep in every field on the farm. If I am not loud enough then the far-away sheep and the shy sheep won’t get what they need!

Are you making the right noise when you tell people about Jesus? Are you talking about Jesus in a way that offers him as the answer to your neighbour’s hunger/needs?  Perhaps being extravagantly generous for a birthday present is a better message than a John 3:16 card? As your neighbour starts to open-up to you are you inviting them into your home? Maybe we should talk more about what Jesus commissioned us to do and a little less about what he commanded us not to do? 

I believe we should be talking about the awesome things God has done for us and through us more often. Together let’s take more risks – openly bringing up conversations about faith and offering to pray for our friends, expecting that God will show up. Jesus has given us all the task of discipling Christians and making new disciples. He has given you your personality and interests, he has put people around you. What unique way is God asking you to ‘feed his sheep’? What actions and words can you use to show and tell others about him?

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Acts of the Early Church and the Present Church

SSCB have just become advocates for ACTS 435, which is a charity that helps provide specific practical help, in small but significant ways, for people known by local churches to be in need.

Acts 435 is based on Acts 4:35 “Then they would give the money to each as any had need”. Here we see the early church giving to each as any had need. Acts 435 takes that from a local setting to connect people more widely through the internet, to provide fast, financial help for people in poverty.

Acts 435 is the idea of a businessman who recognised that there was a lot of donor fatigue in charity giving. Acts 435 enables people to give to a specific need and know they are making a difference. Acts 435 believes that a small gift can make a big difference, especially in moments of crisis.  It is also good for provision of unusual items especially small items which are usually given to quickly.

Since Acts 435 was launched in July 2010 by its patron, the Archbishop of York, over 15,000 people have been helped and over £1,450,000 gone directly to help people in need. There are now over 400 participating churches and charities partnering with Acts 435.

Acts 435 is a resource for churches and charities serving those in need in their local community, perhaps through ministries the church runs such as a foodbank or debt centre, or through the contacts the church has such as with the local school. Which fits well with what we do at SSCB.

Acts 435 is a website connecting those in need with those who want to help whilst protecting donor anonymity and applicant confidentiality. It is an opportunity to provide practical help for specific items in a simple way.

The website provides a simple place of exchange. Requests for assistance are posted anonymously. Donors respond by gifting money to meet the request and the money is then sent to the church to purchase the item so desperately needed:

  • A family moved into a hostel with baby twins and no way to store or heat baby food. Acts 435 provided them with a mini fridge and a microwave.
  • One boy suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was given a mood lamp with just £30 which now means the whole family can sleep through the night and cope better with life.
  • A man who suddenly found himself homeless was given a tent, camping stove and bicycle to help him cope during that period and get back on his feet.

People have been helped with white goods, furniture, school uniform, gas, and electricity, and much more. Some churches have received over £10,000 a year through Acts 435 to help individuals in their community.  These are funds they could not have raised themselves. Acts 435 is a resource alongside a church’s other ministries to go that extra mile for people in need.

As Advocates we play a key role meeting with the person in need and posting that need on the Acts 435 website. I am the advocate for SSCB but do have a chat with me if you would also like to be involved, and let’s pray that we can help people who find themselves in difficulty, especially at this strange time we are living in.

[from Martin Bethell, CAP Manager and ACTS 435 Advocate – martin@comelybankchurch.com]

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Plans to Open the Church for Prayer

On Thursday, 18th June, the Scottish Government announced that, as part of Step 2 of easing out of lockdown, churches will be allowed to open their doors from 22nd June for private prayer and funerals, observing social distancing and relevant hygiene measures. From the 29th June weddings with minimal attendees will also be permitted, outdoors.

Our Kirk Session discussed the actions we need to take so that we will be able to open our church doors for private prayer. This helps us to continue with our ministry and mission in new circumstances. The Church of Scotland has issued a set of guidelines alongside those from Government. The Kirk Session has completed the associated risk assessment which needs to be submitted to the Presbytery for approval. Kirk Session is keen to open our church doors offering space and encouragement to all who wish to pray. We also want to open up the church garden as a Prayer Garden for all who wish to take time to pray or reflect there. We are committed to fulfil all the necessary health and hygiene requirements offering a safe environment to all. 

Subject to Presbytery’s approval we will open our church doors for private prayer on Wednesday, 1st July. For the time being we plan to have the church open for private prayer weekly on:

  • Wednesdays 10:00 – 12:00;
  • Fridays 14:00 – 16:00;
  • Saturdays 10:00 – 12:00.

In order to be able to do this we need the help of volunteers who will steward the church while it is open. Please consider your availability and let us know which of the above times you could help. Please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com.

[from George Vidits, minister and John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

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The Many Faces of Jesus During Lockdown

During these three months of lockdown we have seen many images of the good, the bad and [sadly] the ugly.

Captan Tom with his determination captivated the hearts of the nation. Amazing NHS staff up and down the land served sacrificially and faithfully the suffering, many of them did so in mortal danger (the figures are not absolutely certain but it is estimated that over 300 NHS staff and care workers died of, or related to COVID-19!). Patrick Hutchinson rescued and carried a white (apparently drunken and allegedly far-right protestor) to safety as anger and violence escalated during demonstrations in London.

Some of these pictures became iconic, faces became recognisable. To some we can attach a name, or incident, but there are many more millions of pictures, and people, who are nameless that served, helped, supported others with their talents, love and generosity. What do you see looking at these images? A 100 year old veteran? Exhausted, NHS workers? A black man carrying a white man? Or do you see Jesus among us in the lockdown wearing many faces?

They are captivating images of captivating people engaged in captivating actions – the many faces of the Captivating Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ – doing good, showing mercy, saving lives!

John writes in his Gospel that God became human and moved into our neighbourhood! As Jesus did that people saw His glory, and from the fullness of His grace they all received one blessing after another! (John 1:14, and 1:16)

The lockdown is easing, and many are planning to visit their loved ones, catch up with friends, have a break, even a holiday. We all are eagerly waiting for the lockdown and the restrictions to disappear! Will Jesus, goodness, kindness, mercy, and love also disappear from the neighbourhood together with the lockdown?

Jesus called us to be His witnesses in the world, in our neighbourhood. To be His many faces – young and old, black and white, male and female – in every neighbourhood! Will you continue being a face of Jesus in your neighbourhood?

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Praise of the Week: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (1707)

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) first published “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707). He intended it to be a communion hymn, and based it on his own personal spiritual experience of Galatians 6:14 “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

His parents were Dissenters (Non-Anglicans), his father was a Dissenter minister in Southhampton. Young Isaac took to books almost from infancy. He learnt Latin at the age of four, Greek at nine, and Hebrew at thirteen. He loved rhyme and verse. After graduating from college (a wealthy benefactor offered to send him to Oxford, but that would have meant to become Anglican, which Isaac refused), he returned home. The young 19 year old complained to his father about the dismal singing at church (only versified arrangements of the Psalms were sung). After a heated discussion his father challenged him to write a hymn. The congregation liked his hymns so much that they requested a new one every week. That’s how he began his journey to become the ‘Father of English Hymnody’. He wrote over 600 hymns in his life. The growing popularity of his hymns caused a storm. The issue of singing hymns versus the Psalms even split churches! I suppose there is nothing new under the sun.

He became minister at Mark Lane Chapel in London, in 1702. But his health broke some ten years later and he never fully recovered. He continued to fulfil ministerial duties as much as he could for the rest of his life, and devoted much of his time to study and writing. His books gained him considerable reputation, but he regarded his hymns as his most enduring contribution to the Kingdom of God.

‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ is acclaimed as the best of his hymns. It is still the favourite of many three centuries later.

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Theological Reflections in a Time of COVID-19 – Second of Four

The Church (the people) respond

Here is the second of the theological reflections from Tim.

  • What is your new normal? Is it truly new? And more importantly, does it move us to God’s norm?
  • Rest. Let creativity flow into you from the Spirit. Trying to press into things all the time is a false premise.
  • Do keep doing what we can in community. But perhaps look at the ‘traditional’ evangelism the other way round … preach the word through action, yes, but look also to when you can use words.
  • Pretty much all we do in a “traditional” church service is based on words: read, hear, sing. We may benefit from thinking of others who do not have words (the Instagram generation) and who do not easily sit still and listen.

What has been the Church’s response to the pandemic?’ Has there been a holy version of  Clap for the Carers on Thursday or even a united “we are here for you – come and see”?

We must acknowledge the difficulties for the Church: there has always been a wariness about social media. Written language is less communicative than spoken language which in turn is less than body language. Now, every day is like a Sunday – so ministers are busier than others. When we say “the Church should be there for them, for us” do we mean “the minister should be there for them, for us”? Ministers can only stretch so far.

As Lockdown continued, we withdrew into the comfort of dispensing advice from the Bible: “This too shall pass.” Some people have been moved to act: shopping for the vulnerable, holding online services etc. It has provided an opportunity to speak about God.

It’s OK to say the epidemic is saying something about our souls – but what is it saying? It seems to some that God has outsourced care for the body to medical science. But so far, medical science has not found the solution, merely forms of containment. It is OK to wait for medical science, but meantime, how do our spirits wait? Do we just sit blankly and listlessly? Is that how Jesus called us to wait until His return? Is this a test of our spiritual resilience?

The atheist who is offended that “God would allow this” is offended by their personal view of a god, not by an actual relationship with and knowledge of God and His ways.

Psychological advice is often reduced to the physical: do exercise, do not take too much alcohol and do get into a routine. The final truth, though, is what God is able to do for all of us. He can accompany us not just “in” but “through” time of anxiety, times of sickness and even death.

Seek and be met by God in this. “Be still and know that I am God.”

[from Timothy Pitt]

He is Your Shepherd

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.’” – John 10:14.

I had risen with the sun and drifted amid the pregnant flock on my quadbike as the ewes started to wake. Morning jobs were done; it was time for the sheep to get their daily feed. In addition to the spring grass, each pregnant ewe would receive 150g of protein pellets. My task was to distribute the feed evenly across the flock. To achieve this, I must know my sheep. It’s easy to notice the ewe who stands with her head through the gate bleating as I approach and the black sheep who will happily ram her flock-mates to one side to get at the pellets. However, I must seek out the slow limping grandmother and the recluse first-time mum who are left behind the avalanche of sheep running towards the feed. These stragglers concern me. To these I must give my care. I must come in close and place what they need right in front of them.

If you are a Christian, Jesus is your shepherd and He longs to feed you! The food He gives you is better than the food you can find without Him. The food He gives you is the food you need – maybe it’s not even the food that you think you need!  Are you relying on Him for your spiritual food? Are you receiving Jesus as He draws near? Are you receiving the bread and water of life? 

We were created for the ‘soul fuel’ of relationship with Jesus!  He knows what you need to live life, to make disciples and to grow. He is able to meet your needs right now, where you are. He sees your individual needs. Be confident that Jesus the good shepherd knows you. He sees your enthusiasm, your shy reservations, your serving, your hunger, your pain, he sees everything about you!  He has what you need and offers it freely. Our God will supply all our needs by giving us the riches found in relationship with Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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A Look at Post-Lockdown

The other week you could read reflections of looking at lockdown experiences. Now I invite you to look at the post-lockdown period.

While the lockdown will end eventually, there is no guarantee whatsoever that Coronavirus and its threat will be gone at the same time. This poses us the question what will be our, Christian, response to the situation? How will we live with Coronavirus around us?

I just finished reading ‘Where is God in a Coronavirus World?’ by John C. Lennox. [It is an excellent wee book!]. What I’m sharing with you here is taken from his book. In the concluding chapter firstly he recommends to take heed of the best medical advice available. Secondly to maintain our Christian perspective. He adapted a portion of C. S. Lewis’ words from his article in response to how Christians should react to the existence of nuclear weapons (“On Living in an Atomic Age” in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays [1948]). The article is still relevant for us if we strategically substitute the references to ‘atomic bomb’ and the like with Coronavirus, pandemic, etc.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb [Coronavirus]. “How are we to live in an atomic age [pandemic]?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents [age of AIDS; age of terrorism].”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb [Coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists [Coronavirus] have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb [Coronavirus], let that bomb [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

This is a tough reading, but I hope it prompts you to remember that in every life context our Christian faith offers us a different perspective!

Love your God, and love your neighbour! Do good and trust in your Saviour who won eternal life for you! Remember eternity! Living in this world in the midst of numerous dangers, and surrounded with various threats, we were given a hope and strength to live sacrificially and lovingly, because we have a hope beyond the grave! The Apostle Paul, writing in the age when persecutions against Christians were fairly common, encourages us:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:18; 38-39)

A lot of things will be different in post-lockdown, but I am convinced and assured that God, and the Lord Jesus Christ will be the same, as He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. He will never fail you, or forsake you. Live your post-lockdown life in unshaken faith, trust, and hope in Him!

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Praise of the Week: 10,000 Reasons

The story behind the contemporary praise: 10,000 Reasons (Matt Redman)

It is hard to believe that the praise ’10,000 Reasons’, a favourite of so many Christians was released almost a decade ago!

Matt Redman was working on a new album, when his friend and co-writer, Jonas Myrin, wanted to show him a few chords he came up with. Matt was putting it off to listen to them as he was so busy. However at a break he asked his friend to play the melody. It obviously was a Spirit filled moment for the tune began to stir things up in Matt Redman, leading him to Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name…”. The tune felt as a perfect fit for the words of the Psalm, so it became the Scriptural bases for the song. Words of praise were just pouring out of Matt and Jonas as they finished the song in a very short time. Matt Redman recalled that it was the shortest time they wrote a song, perhaps not much more than in an hour. Very soon after it was released it became a very popular praise in the churches all over the world. In 2013 it won two Grammy Awards, too.

“The point behind the song is this,” explained Redman to Worship Leader Magazine. “If you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his. We live beneath an unceasing flow of goodness, kindness, greatness, and holiness, and every day we’re given reason after reason why Jesus is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion.”

Open your eyes and heart today, you’ve got 10,000 reasons and more to praise His holy name!

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Running on Empty or Filled Up

A couple of Sundays ago we celebrated Pentecost – originally a Jewish festival, 50 days after Passover, but now celebrated by Christians as the ‘birthday’ of the church. In my younger days it was a Sunday of celebration by some; we went to listen to the Salvation Army band playing at an open air service in the nearby park. But where did this event fit, was it something separate for a few, or was it the final piece in a jigsaw that started at the Last Supper?

During this time of lockdown we have thought about:

An empty cross – Jesus was dead, the centurion knew that and Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t wrap Jesus’ body for burial without being sure he was dead.

An empty tomb – Jesus rose, as we have seen previously, and because he rose, so will his followers.

An empty sky – Jesus was ‘taken up’, not floating away in a nightshirt as medieval painters like to show it, but he moved from earth to heaven (something our star trek fans may be able to explain!)

Then at Pentecost we have Spirit filled disciples and a growing body of believers.

The question for us, individually, is this – do we take each bit separately, and maybe only go so far along this road, or do we follow our Lord who saw the whole sequence as one?  He told his disciples, as he taught them one last time “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you..”  That same Spirit also enables us to carry on ALL the work that Jesus started – he said so!  Don’t run on empty – Jesus promised we would be filled.

Read John 13 and 14.

[from John Baggaley]

Recent Posts:

Theological Reflections in a Time of COVID-19 – First of Four

Tim took part at a webinar the other week that discussed theological reflections about the lockdown, how it affects our personal life and church life. Here is the account of the first of four reflections.

1. One Body – Virtually

  • What is your new normal? Is it truly new? And more importantly, does it move us to God’s norm.
  • Rest. Let creativity flow into you from the Spirit. Trying to press into things all the time is a false premise.
  • Do keep doing what we can in community. But perhaps look at the ‘traditional’ evangelism the other way round … preach the word through action, yes, but look also to when you can use words.
  • Pretty much all we do in a “traditional” church service is based on words: read, hear, sing. We may benefit from thinking of others who do not have words (the Instagram generation) and who do not easily sit still and listen.

There does not seem to be any problem about the legitimacy of virtual church or communion. We can still call it ‘church’ when we are not physically together.

You may find yourself not as productive as you normal were; whether due to juggling working from home with childcare or just due to enforced containment at home. It might be difficult to be creative. That’s OK; you are allowed to be stressed even though not starving or ill.

Psychologists are not surprised by this. We are not dualistic human beings. What happens in our bodies and in the world around us has an effect on us and on our perception of the world. This is normal.

Some people who struggle in normal life (e.g. with anxiety) may even feel “validated and affirmed” because other people are now experiencing what they experience. We have much to learn from those who are used to this perspective of the world.

The pandemic is highlighting fault lines and weaknesses in our lives and in society. This brings us to vulnerability. Weaknesses and our own internal ‘attention grabbers’ are rising to the surface. Tensions are running high – marriage, mortality, questioning their ‘purpose’ and the so-called “mid-life crisis” questions. We can bring both our doubts and our faith to the Lord. Non-believers only have their doubts. So this is a time to pay attention to those areas of life, to create space for everyone to examine these more uncomfortable areas.

[from the notes of Timothy Pitt]

SSCB and Easing Out of Lockdown

In recent days we have seen the first moves towards easing the lockdown which has been in place since the end of March.  So, we have to start thinking and praying about the next steps in church life – not necessarily ‘back to the old normal’ but ‘continuing God’s business in new circumstances’.  The government is expected to announce further steps in less than two weeks’ time, on the 18th June, and we need to be prepared.  It is expected that:

  1. we will be allowed to reopen the church for private prayer
  2. small weddings can go ahead
  3. we should be able to meet people in our houses as well as outside

All the above is subject to social distancing and hygiene safeguards. The phases are conditional on a number of requirements, all set out in the Scottish Government’s framework document, mainly around a low or decreasing infection rate. Please note too that no building can open without a legally mandated COVID risk assessment, the paperwork for which is being prepared for us.

We will need to make detailed plans for opening the church for prayer, and what we do depends on who is willing and able to help, so please:

  • Reflect and pray about your ability to take part
  • Let us know if you can help clean the church so it is ready to be open for prayer
  • Let us know if you can help with the continued cleaning, remembering that this will need to be meticulous!
  • Think about your availability to steward at church when it is open, and then tell us (contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com).

If the careful easing of measures does not allow the virus to re-establish we hope to be able to resume other activities in the coming months, with the possibility of services in church later on.  Until then we continue to meet digitally and also to look after each other one by one.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

– says Psalm 127:1-2, please pray for godly wisdom, love, and compassion for those drafting the plans, and for us carrying out all that is necessary for the safety and wellbeing of everyone. We continue informing you about any future developments.

[from George Vidits, minister and John Baggaley, Session Clerk]

Praise of the Week: Amazing Grace (1779)

The story behind ‘Amazing Grace’

A parent’s influence and nurture on a child is extremely significant! John Newton could not shake off his mother’s influence. As a young boy he learnt Bible stories and many of Isaac Watts’ hymns on her knee from her. His mum had fragile health and she died when John was only seven years old. Much later he recalled her tearful prayers for him too.

His father spent most of his life at sea, and soon remarried. John was sent to boarding school, then he was at the high seas, wanting to live a good life, but he fell deeper and deeper into vulgarity and immoral living. He was pressed into service with the Navy, he deserted, was captured, and severely punished. His subsequent thoughts vacillated between murder and suicide: “I was capable of anything.” he recalled later.

More voyages, dangers, toils and snares followed. He worked on slave ships, and was notorious of his extremely foul language and blasphemy. He got enslaved himself for a year or so on an island off the coast of Sierra Leon. Apparently not even his fellow sailors and ship captains could stand his language! On the night of 9th March 1748 the young 23 year old was jolted awake by a sudden brutal storm. The next day, in great peril, he cried out to the Lord for mercy. Later he wrote: “ That tenth of March is a day much remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748 – the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of the deep waters.”

While the immediate result of this was that he stopped blaspheming and swearing straight away, for several years his spiritual growth and faith had a staggering growth. But by God’s grace he became a powerful evangelical preacher, and a curate at Olney (Buckinghamshire). He became the author of hundreds of hymns, and a powerful enemy of slavery, a great spiritual supporter of Wilberforce in his fight for abolition of slavery!

John Newton wrote what became known as ‘Amazing Grace’ for his New Year Sermon 1773. His passage was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17, in which King David asks God: “Who am I, o Lord God? and what is my house that you have brought me this far?” John Newton reflected on that passage in the light of his own life and experience of God’s grace and put it into this much loved praise.

On his deathbed he said to a friend: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things – that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!”

What would he had done, and what would you do without God’s amazing grace?

[Source: Robert J Morgan: Then Sings My Soul]

What’s Next after the Prayer Time?

On Friday 29th May 28 folk from SSCB joined in 12 hours of prayer for “Thy Kingdom Come”. It was a really blessed time and we were able to feel God’s presence and hear him speaking to us, sometimes by showing us pictures, or sensing what God was saying to individuals and to us as a church family.

While everyone who took prat in the prayer time is encouraged to think and pray over:

  1. What needs to stay the same for us as a church?
  2. What needs to change?
  3. What new opportunities do we have?

The soul searching question remains for everyone of us all who pray (regularly or occasionally):

What are you ready to do for the Kingdom of God to come? Are you willing to commit your gifts, talents, time and giving to realise God’s Kingdom to come?

I’ve seen the clip of a man who committed himself, his life to the vision he received. I share the clip here bellow because I was inspired him and his story. I was challenged by his commitment to bring about a transformation. Do I, do you have such a commitment to bring Jesus’ Kingdom more and more a reality in our own time? God the Holy Spirit has come to us to transform our lives and the world. Will you be partner to that? I hope and pray the clip will challenge you as well and motivate you to ask: What shall I do? Your action or non-action matters!

The Right Words

“To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews … To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

One of the joys of my role as Youth Worker at SSCB is the variety of contexts and cultures I find myself in. Sometimes, I have to pay close attention to the language I am using. I consciously try to ensure that the language we use in a church context is explained when I am in Broughton High School or talking to youth. For those not brought up in church there is a lot of church ‘jargon’, or ‘Christianese’, that can be hard to get your head around! In our services these words can be very useful, but, they can also stop new people understanding and being included. I have put together some potential alternatives that you could use instead of church language, so your friends don’t get confused.

Church ‘Jargon’Common Speech
Travelling mercies Safety when travelling
TestimonyThe story of how Jesus has affected my life
EcumenicalDifferent churches working together
SacramentA sign or symbol of an important action that helps put faith into practice (baptism, communion etc.)
The Lord’s DaySunday
SavedSomeone who is a Christian 
LiturgicalUsing written prayers and blessings so everyone can join in with the service
FellowshipSpending time together

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

Thy Kingdom Come Follow-Up


On Friday 29th May 28 folk from SSCB joined in 12 hours of prayer for “Thy Kingdom Come”. It was a really blessed time and we were able to feel God’s presence and listen to him speaking to us, some times by showing us pictures, others sensing what God was saying to them as individuals and also to us as a church.

As we are “in Lockdown” we got a real sense of what it must have been like for those first disciples as waited for the Holy  Spirit that Jesus had promised and we awaited in anticipation “Come Holy Spirit Come”, and felt a real sense that God wants to do something new and wonderful amongst us and prayed that God would show us as a congregation as we move forward:

  1. What needs to say the same
  2. What needs to change
  3. What new opportunities we have

I am currently compiling all the responses to these prayers and I will share them with you in next week’s Newsletter (issue 13) … so watch this space.

[from Martin, Prayer co-ordinator]

A Look at Lockdown [a church family member’s perspective]


WORK – I am actually working harder than ever. It’s just me, a computer and my coffee machine (which is worryingly close at hand). There is not the distraction of chatting with chums in the office – even on work-based matters – so it’s just ‘head down and work.’ There are so many more contracts needing prepared and existing ones tweaked to allow for current conditions, the new normal and what it might look like post-Lockdown.
DAILY ROUTINE – Quite simple, really: get up, log on and work. At the end of the day I log off and jump on my turbo trainer for a cycling session. I don’t really like going out (I can feel my horizons reducing each day!) and whilst I have actually been out of Edinburgh for some cycling, my main effort is on the indoor turbo trainer, including two silly sessions of 100 and 200 miles respectively.
CHURCH – I am enjoying the buzz of Zoom Services, contributing to the Newsletter and to our Homegroup (also by Zoom), and genuinely such fun. I am truly in awe of the team who phone round the rest of our Church Family for a chat and who deliver the Newsletters. We have had a few meetings of Elders by Zoom … Virtual Elders perhaps; but Virtuous Elders is another goal entirely!
WHAT I AM MISSING – Proper outdoor cycling. Trips around at the weekend – for example, to visit relatives or go walking in the countryside. I didn’t usually go for big walks in recent times, but not being able to … well, now I want to! Actually planning for a holiday – it’s hard to plan when you don’t know when, for how long or how far away a holiday might be. And I am hugely missing football with Callum – just spending time chatting as we drive to and from training. The boys and I are, though, idly dreaming of another holiday to South Africa – one is, and the other will be, studying the Anglo-Zulu War, so that seems an ideal reason for a Battlefield Tour (and Safari and Winelands …).
WHAT I AM DOING – Working, cycling and writing articles for the church newsletter! I have watched old tv programmes I missed first time round. I am positively enjoying working from home (as long as I remember to discipline myself to stop at a reasonable time!) and being at home for the boys – although computer games and perhaps the required school conference calls seem to be the key priorities for them. The boys and I try to show some sort of normality at home for Elspeth when she gets back from a shift. I have read various cycling history books (origins of Tour de France etc) and have a few books lined up – more cycling books and some on the Boer War, Ancient Scots history and others.
AM I COPING? – Yes. Despite the limited horizons, the essentials of life are there and whilst I wouldn’t say I am positively enjoying it, I am certainly not disheartened. It is what it is, so embrace the present. Luke 12:25 – “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

[from Timothy Pitt]

The Value of Cracked Pots

Alison, Grant and Peter are sharing their family meditation from Soul Fuel, by Bear Grylls, which blessed them richly.

A water bearer in India had two large pots, both hung on the ends of a pole that was slung across his neck. One of the pots was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.  The other was cracked.  At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot always arrived half full.  

The broken pot was embarrassed and miserable.  One day, while the water bearer was filling it up at the stream, the pot spoke. “I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologise to you.  I have only been able to deliver half of what you give me because of this crack in my side.  I leak all the way back to your house, making extra work for you.”

The water bearer smiled.  “Haven’t you noticed the flowers that are growing on only your side of the path?  I’ve always known about your crack, and so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, not the other.  You’ve watered them every day without realising it.”

You don’t need to be perfect for God to use you.  You just need to be available.  

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…..For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Love to all of the cracked pots out there! Alison, Grant, and Peter

Pentecost Reflections of a CAP Centre Manager

I was talking to a new CAP client the other day and this lady has been through a tough time over the last few years. She told me that her Dad is a Christian but that she has no faith, except she hopes that there is something out there.

In the last 3 years she has lost 3 children and her little brother has been diagnosed with cancer. She lives alone and has no one to turn to and understandably after all this happening to her she has had a breakdown and turned to drugs for answers. She has fallen into Debt and now has all the worries around this and cannot work at present as she is suffering from post-traumatic stress.

As I talked to her I was able to say that there is hope and a way out of debt and that CAP would help her find that way out, and we would stay with her until she becomes Debt Free. She found that amazing and said, “I can’t wait to start that journey”. I told her that she was already on that journey the moment she asked CAP for help.

I asked her permission to pray with her at the end of the call, she agreed, and when we had prayed, she said that was amazing to know that someone was there to help her.

That got me to thinking about how we have a helper present, not just on a journey out of Debt, but for the whole of our lives.

We have heard over the last few weeks about Jesus riding into Jerusalem, being celebrated and welcomed which then turned into mockery and derision and being nailed to a Cross, where he was put to death. Death could not hold him, and he was raised to life and spent some more valuable time with his Disciples, and he told them to wait (Acts 1:4-5), until they received the promised gift.

Last week we remembered that Jesus ascended into heaven to be with His Father. He did this so that his disciples and, now you and me, can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.The Holy Spirit is there to live in our hearts and help us understand the things of God, to make the Bible come alive, help us develop our gifts, help us to pray, be our daily guide and stay with us for ever and never let us down. That’s what Pentecost brought to us!

I realised again how amazing that this is and how often I take that for granted. I thank God for refreshing that hope within me, and I pray that you too may receive that fresh hope and make the journey you have with him exciting and fulfilling. How do we do that? Just ask! Our wonderful God is waiting and wanting to do that for us. Isn’t that Amazing?

Just like my client who is excited about her Journey out of Debt, I pray that we can all be excited about our Journey with Jesus, refreshed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and be like that early Church we see in Acts 2:42-48, where great things happened and the Lord added to their number, daily those that were being saved. All because of the Holy Spirit.

May you know his refreshing and empowering touch.

Bless You All, Martin

Personal Experiences of Church: 5. Mentoring, Caring, Scripture-reading, Family Church

We’ve journeyed our way to the last of my five churches. You know where this is going, don’t you?

We moved back to Scotland in late 2001 and settled at St Stephen’s Comely Bank – one of the few churches with a service time visible from the road as we passed; it’s important to consider those who have yet to come indoors!

We are a family church. So much so that I actually dislike the term “congregation” and prefer just to say my “church family.” Even in Lockdown, we have not lost our Church Lunch togetherness and I delight that we continue this as far as possible with our Holy Chaos chat before and after the Zoom Service online. Is it slick? No. Is it real? Yes. Are we all different? Yes. Do we have different outlooks? Yes. Are we, together, adopted by Father God and made co-heirs by the sacrifice of Jesus, able through Him to live not in uniformity but in unity? Yes. A family naturally grows over time, has different generations. We are all that, but we should aspire to “be” more of that – to look out for each other and reach out to each other.

We are a Scripture-reading church and we look at God’s word for us. It’s always a good idea to big up your own minister in your church newsletter, so let me just pick a few examples of the scriptural story arcs of George’s sermons – we’ve walked through Judges, we’ve looked at kingly praises with Psalms, we even joined Paul on a Mediterranean cruise with Acts. But more than just the minster preaching AT us … we are encouraged to read the Bible FOR ourselves; to use it as a springboard for a living relationship with Jesus.

Do we partner? Well, we encourage others: in the church (e.g. the CAP Debt Centre); sending folk out (e.g. when Jacquie did the “Turning” event); inviting others to the church (e.g. hosting the Daily Audio Bible’s only Scottish date in its world Reframe tour); and joining with community (e.g. Youth Work outreach to schools). But how much do we share with each other and actually represent Jesus to each other? How much better could we support and encourage each other to care, to be part of community, to contribute and to be able to have a full calendar which does not just rely on the same few people? We do well, yet have more common cause to make.

Do we mentor each other well? We have small Sunday Club and Inspire groups, but there is something big happening in them. Homegroups and other close groups like Praise Band allow for mutual accountability and spiritual growth. George has taught and encouraged me in my faltering steps of preaching. We have a thriving Holiday Club, but we could engage and mentor more in the months afterwards. Kirk Session is fellowship and Jesus, not just business and management. Whether coffee and a chat, or pizza and a prayer – if we engage with each other, we will know each other better, which enables us to mentor each other, which helps us serve each other’s needs, which draws us all closer to Jesus.

I think we have a bit of all these traits in our church here at SSCB. I think we have so much more to learn, to give, to share and to do. But I, for one, am proud to do so with you, my Church Family.

[from Timothy Pitt]

Should I Stay or Should I Go

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

Today (Thursday, 21 May 2020) is a special day in the Christian church’s calendar. It is called Ascension Day. Jesus Christ was on earth for forty days after His resurrection, meeting His disciples continuing to prepare them for their ministry. On the fortieth day, at the Mount of Olives, outside of Jerusalem, He was taken up to heaven before their very eyes (Acts 1:9). Here on earth no-one will see Him in person until He returns to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus returned to heaven from where He came. But He promised His disciples that He will certainly be with them always till the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Since then Jesus is not with us in a physical bodily form, but spiritually, invisibly, yet very much in reality. His disciples experienced this within ten days at Pentecost, and so did so many ever since.

Why did He return to heaven? Why did Jesus say it is better for those who believe in Him that he goes away rather than stay? Because He has finished His work on earth (John 17:4). Because He went to prepare a place in the Father’s house for those who believe in Him that they may be with Him forever (John 14:1-3). Because He is interceding for us without ceasing in the Father’s presence (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Because He is in authority over all in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). 

Yet, Jesus did not leave His beloved as orphans, He has sent His Holy Spirit, who comforts, encourages, guides, and counsels us, and is with us and in us forever (John 16). Live by the Spirit to know His life and peace in full.

Personal Experiences of Church: 4. Bible-based Church

From the sublime to the ridiculous: this church doesn’t even exist.

Well, it does: true to Lockdown, this is a virtual church, an online community. This is the world of the Daily Audio Bible, with its tagline of “You don’t have to be alone.”

It began in 2006 as a somewhat self-conscious podcast in the USA when Brian Hardin was prompted to read the Bible aloud over the course of a year. He anticipated about 20 listeners and that he would then quietly put away his Bible. But God spoke through the Bible, people listened and a community emerged. DAB podcasts have now been downloaded over 90 million times, read fresh every day.

I stumbled across it in the simplest of ways. I was concerned that my faith journey was a bit mechanical and although I had done the “big challenge” of reading the entire Bible some years before, my knowledge was limited and my attention span even less. I desperately wanted to hear God’s Word regularly. I remember, in early 2010, my internet search: “Let’s see … I want to know God’s word, so that’s ‘Bible.’ I want to listen, so that’s ‘audio.’ And I want it every day, so that’s ‘daily.’” I typed in Daily Audio Bible and found this was the actual name of a website, a podcast, a community. It’s about 20 minutes per episode with a different translation each week. I downloaded and started listening – and I haven’t stopped since.

The DAB website says that “You’re likely to meet people from all over the world here but everyone has a common interest in the Bible. This website is your portal to communicating with others. You’ll find your place and a context for community here.” And that common interest factor is vital – we need the Bible. It’s not just something that people read from on a Sunday; it’s a route map to God’s love for us. As God so clearly said to Brian, “Read the Bible!

DAB does Bible reading. DAB also does quality coffee, raising funds for mission work. I am a coffee snob, and happily so is Brian. I buy DAB Coffee (yes, that is what we serve in SSCB). Elspeth and I have become friends with Brian and his family and with his executive assistant, SarahJane, and her husband (who is the coffee roaster).

DAB is many things to many people: some live too far from a church; others want community but don’t want to be seen. Others like me, happily settled in church, just need that extra something every day. DAB provides God’s Word and points to a relationship with Jesus. There is a much-used prayer phone-in. A few months ago someone called in with almost a challenge – he was an atheist, training for a marathon. Bored with music as he ran, he had found DAB and called in to say he had decided to listen (although didn’t think his message would be played). So many DAB-ers then phoned in praying for him and welcoming him. We don’t know his back story, but a few weeks ago he called in again … to declare that he had given his life to Jesus! Sometimes there is praise music and there is a short Bible exposition as we read through the story of God’s love for us.

And as for our current Lockdown, the DAB website has long stated: “There are three things we can’t do without in our Christian life here on Earth. The Bible, a conversational intimacy with Jesus and COMMUNITY. Isolation is a killer … Virtual community is a relatively new development in the world. This has never been possible before. We’re not here attempting to replace physical community in a localised area but … we feel a sense of awe at the way God can bring people from all over the world together every day.

What is church? It is the people. Daily, as I experience my audio read-through of the Bible, I am part of community, I am with Jesus, I am not alone.

https://dailyaudiobible.com or find the podcasts in iTunes or Google Play.

[from Timothy Pitt]

Thy Kingdom Come

Thy Kingdom Come – Prayer Campaign 21-31 May 2020

Do you want God’s Kingdom to come, and come soon in full grace, power and glory? I hope you do! Are you willing to do something about it?

Here is something you can do about it, even in lockdown! Now there is not much we can do in lockdown, but we always can PRAY! Prayer is fundamental to us at SSCB! Or so it should be! So, let’s seize the opportunity to pray for God’s Kingdom to Come!

‘Thy Kingdom Come!’ is a global prayer movement. It wasn’t global to start out with in 2016, but now it is. It is an initiative inviting Christians to pray for God’s Kingdom to break through into our world. It is organised yearly from Ascension Day to Pentecost (for most of us  this year that is 21st to 31st May). Last year Christians from 172 countries took part in it! This year you can be part of it too! I think that is pretty amazing!

Do not be afraid, or feel stressed about this. There are different ways to pray, and they are all good. Last year we suggested (on the basis of the prayer pattern of the Bishop of York) choose five people you want to pray for and pray the Lord’s Prayer for them! Here is John Sentamu’s encouragement: Lord’s Prayer for Five. Pray for them all year around, and wait for God to act.

There are really helpful and encouraging resources available at the Thy Kingdom Come website: www.thykingdomcome.global. There are exciting resources from prayers you can use to family resources (really great fun!), and prayer journals. You may prefer to read written prayers or to pray what you feel the Lord has laid on your heart. You will know what works best for you. Prayer resources are available at www.thykingdomcome.global/prayer-resources

We encourage you to take part in this prayer movement. It will bless you too!

We are joining our brothers and sisters in North-West Edinburgh as we pray for Thy Kingdom Come. Churches from Cramond, Drylaw, Old Kirk & Muirhouse, Granton and St. Columba’s Blackhall are part of it and they are inviting us too! We desperately need Jesus’ presence and help, individually and as His people!

Martin Bethell, our Prayer Co-ordinator is co-ordinating this. Our ‘prayer slot’ is the afternoon of Friday, 29th May, from 12:00 to 23:00. Martin divided it up to 30 minutes periods. Some periods are taken already, and as this is changing all the time, we can’t offer an accurate schedule. It is never a problem if more people pray at a certain time anyway! You can sign up for one slot, two slots together or more than one slot at different times. You can pray as individuals, Family Groups, Social Groups. Obviously, this will be in the privacy of your own homes due to the current lockdown.

If you would like to join in, please email Martin at pray@comelybankchurch.com letting him know you want to be part of this and also your preferred time period of 30 minutes. He will acknowledge your message and will advise you as well.

Sowing in Lockdown

Sowing the Seed in Lockdown

If you’ve got a bit of a garden or a glasshouse you were able to do some gardening, planting new plants during this lockdown period. It is exciting to wait for the plants and their fruit to come forth.

Maybe you were ‘sowing’ some spiritual seeds too, sowing them into your own heart or maybe into the hearts of others. This is a good season to sow the spiritual seed! A lot of the ground (the hearts of people) is ready for it! Some churches in Edinburgh are about to run Alpha courses and apparently their courses are overbooked. They will see a great harvest, and church growth, because they are doing the sowing! Good for them! May God bless their efforts richly!

The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-15) is a powerful allegory of sharing the Word of God with others. In His explanation Jesus says that “the seed is the word of God” (v.11).

In the context of the story this means that our lives without the Word of God remain barren wastelands! Our human nature depraved by sin can bring forth only thorns and weeds at most. Only the Word of God that was fully taken in will bear new life and the fruit of the Spirit of God!

God’s Word, the good news of Jesus Christ stirs up faith and brings salvation. These are crop the devil does not like and wants to take out of your heart, and choke in your life! He is constantly on the attack, waiting for an opportune time as he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Precisely because the devil is so active (three of four soils in the parable are affected by him!) we must be active, and persevere sowing the Word of God! Many hearts have been prepared for it by the Lord during these trying times. Sow the seed God has given you in His Word! Sow it into your own heart, and into the hearts of others! The Lord of the harvest is sending you into his harvest field!

May the Fourth be with you…

Last Monday was May 4th – for many, just another day, but for fans of the movies, it was Star Wars Day.  And why have they picked this day?  A clever pun on ‘May the Fourth be with you’.  So, to celebrate, Peter and I have been watching all of the Star Wars movies in order – a movie a day.  For those not familiar with the franchise, that is 11 movies and Peter has been a stickler for including all the side story movies (Solo, Rogue One) in their correct chronological order too.  It’s been quite a journey for us, and ends tomorrow when we will watch the final film, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’.

Star Wars, like so many films before it, concerns the battle between good and evil (or ‘the dark side’ in Star Wars-speak).  And much has been written about how the movie mirrors the Christian story of the creation, fall and ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ.  I have thought a lot about this over the last 10 days (and counting) of watching these movies.  I’m not going to replay all of the parallels (and there are many!), but the one thing that has really struck me in watching them this time is that, unlike many other movies, there are not goodies and baddies, with no shades of grey.  There are people who start off well, but are ‘drawn to the dark side’ and there are those who start on the dark side, but are drawn to the good.  The biggest character in the whole story – Anakin Skywalker AKA Darth Vadar – starts well, then after many tortured scenes, turns to the dark side, then is finally redeemed at the end when he sacrifices himself to save the life of his son.  I think this description of the human condition is a more realistic depiction of what people are really like:  generally speaking, we are not good people or bad people, but people who every minute of every day make choices about what to do or to say or how to be – and some of those will be good and some of those will be bad and some will be somewhere in-between.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously wrote: The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.’ 

God has given us the free will to make whatever choices we want.  So my prayer for today, and during all of this lockdown, is that we all make good choices, helped to find those by studying the amazing wisdom in the Bible, through being led by the counselling of the Holy Spirit who lives within each and every one of us who confess Jesus as our Saviour, and by praying that the fruits of the Holy Spirit colour all that we do.  In the wise words of Proverbs 3:5-6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways to submit to him and he will make your paths straight.’  And the best news is that there is a way back from the bad choices too – where we ask for forgiveness, dust ourselves down and get back on to the straight path again.

May the force Lord be with you!

[from Alison Franks]

Personal Experiences of Church: 3. A Partnering Church

Now this is a strange one, as I have never even visited this church.

La Jolla Christian Fellowship is in San Diego, USA and its senior pastor is Adam Stadtmiller, a friend of mine. He and his family have been over a couple of times, including to SSCB. Coincidentally, San Diego is twinned with Edinburgh and whilst we have “Greyfriar’s Bobby,” they have “Bum” the loyal dog from the 1890s (there’s a statue of him in Princes Street Gardens).

LJCF has a lot in common with us: the building is about 100 years old, they came through a church split about 10 years ago and are challenged to be relevant to a diverse range, from senior citizen lunches to “Surf Church” (paddle boarding and Jesus: what’s not to love?) – although our closest would probably be the time I fell in Inverleith Duck Pond. 

For some time I have listened to Adam’s sermons via podcast, telling him my regular pew was a virtual seat near the back of his church. With Lockdown they began to broadcast services with daily devotionals and short “meet the congregation” videos. All very engaging, and I felt I was in a more central pew up near the front. Then Adam asked if I would do a devotional video for them, and suddenly it seems like the whole congregation is with me. Not as a special case; just looking to walk together. It’s a big old world out there, but Jesus makes it local. LJCF is interested in SSCB and looking to partner with us as and how the Lord calls. As Adam says, it is not because they have the answers but because they have both questions and a love for family through Jesus. 

Lockdown for LJCF may mean that the building is closed, but the people remain active; isolated physically but not in outlook. They have developed Four Cs: Community (their immediate church family … and their neighbours 5,198 miles away), Care (they care for each other; they don’t stop at the church door but reach out to us and to others), Contributions (asking what the church can do for its people, and whether the people can give financially to support the church) and Calendar (a certainty of events and a programme of support).

What is church? It is the people. I share a connection, a relationship, with them. It’s not of Adam; it’s not of the people; it’s Jesus.

I have just found their “mission statement” which I think they are living out: “LJCF is a local micro-church, purposed to bring deep community transformation and far-reaching global impact in the name of Jesus Christ.”

[from Timothy Pitt]

Call to Prayer

Let’s keep hope and the light of Christ alive by our prayers, and join together again at 19:00 on Sunday, 10th May 2020 and pray for God’s grace to heal our land, being His salvation, and restore us!

“Today, in these times, we pray that we may sense Christ’s guiding presence:

Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
showing me your way, through these disorientating days,
and opening my eyes to your accompanying presence.

Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
teaching me your truth, through these confounding days
and opening my mind to your living Word.

Come Jesus Christ, come my way;
revealing to me your life, through these bewildering days,
and opening my heart to the fulness of your being. Amen.

VE Day – What are we doing with the Victory?

Today, 8th May 2020, is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, when officially WW2 ended in Europe. It is right and important to pause and remember with gratitude all the sacrifice that made the victory possible. I am not glorifying war or violence, I just give thanks and tribute for the opportunity that was given to me, and us all, to live our life to the full in peace.

I was just thinking that Captain Tom, of whose recent and amazing activities we heard so much, was just 25 years old, and our own Captain Jim Allen, was a mere lad of 21 years of age when Churchill announced the end of the war 75 years ago! We are grateful to them, and all their comrades in the army, navy, and airforce, and to all their contemporaries who served sacrificially, and gave their lives, in uniform or not, till peace was won. Seventeen of our congregation gave their lives in WW2 for our peace! We will remember them!

When I hear this acronym, VE Day, strangely enough (I am rather inclined that way), a name comes to my mind: Victor Emmanuel. No, not the name of Italy’s king (1900 – 1946), but Jesus Christ.

In Jesus God came to us to be with us, as the prophet Isaiah foretold: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel, or Emmanuel, means “God is with us.” He is with us in our circumstances, sorrows, pains, wars, pandemics, and every life experience! Jesus Christ was Victor, our Champion, conquering our enemies: evil, sin, and death! He defeated evil and sin on the cross with his death, and overcame death when he was raised from the dead. He is our Victor Emmanuel! He brought us peace for ever, peace with one another, with creation and with God. Easter is our VE Day, for almost 2,000 years now!

The big question that dawned on Captain Tom, and our Captain Jim, and all who were blessed to live through VE Day 75 years ago, was ‘What are we going to do with this gift of victory?’ ‘What are we going to do with this peace?’ ‘What kind of new life are we going to build for ourselves?’

The same questions need to be answered when someone gains peace and new life through Jesus Christ? ‘What now?’ ‘What to do with this New Life, this opportunity?’ God guides us through His Word and by His Spirit in our new life in Christ! Ask Him in prayer to guide you and rest on Jesus Christ in faith as you follow Him!

And these are the questions we all need to answer when the siege of COVID-19 will be over! ‘What shall we do now?’ ‘What new life are we going to make for ourselves?’ I firmly believe we need to be grateful for the opportunity of a New Life we are given after COVID-19 lockdown, and show that thankfulness with a new way of life! We have experienced a growing scale of respect and care for each other, a deep hunger for hope, a revival of our environment and creation as the poisoning of the planet was so radically scaled down, a slower and more liveable pace of life, valued family time together. Keep and treasure all that you gained, the care, the freshly found hope; continue protecting creation, live the new life you were given to the full, build a new life! HONOUR THE VICTORY THAT WILL BE WON FOR YOU!

Come People of the Risen King

We sing ‘Come people of the Risen King’ but are we? In the last week some have watched the film Risen, imagining the reactions of a hardened roman soldier ordered to find the body of Jesus. There must have been those in Jerusalem who, like the Tribune in the film, came to realise that the only answer that fitted the facts was ‘He is risen’. The disciples met the risen Jesus, and they knew it was true. They were changed.

As we look to the future – next week, next month, next year – are we looking back like the disciples on that weekend, to a crucified teacher, or are we looking forward to telling the world about a Risen King and his kingdom? Who do we think we are – individuals saved through the death of Jesus or people of the Risen King, with a job to do and a Kingdom to proclaim? 

Sue and I have recently been pointed towards a book with the title ‘The day the revolution began’ (author: Tom Wright), an in-depth look at the full impact of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For many of us this is not the picture we have of ‘church’ or the Christian life, but it is what started when the group of frightened disciples moved out from their hiding place and told the world what had really happened. Those who watched the film saw that change portrayed as they moved from Jerusalem to Galilee.

We need to think ahead – is our desire to go back to ‘normal’ or to rekindle that revolution as the certainties of the enlightenment have been shaken by COVID-19? Leaders are powerless and science hasn’t delivered. In a race to be seen to be doing something the world economy has been shattered. But we believe the people of God are ‘the people of the risen king’.  We must change our thinking and proclaim a new, eternal, kingdom in the days to come.

Come, young and old from every land
Men and women of the faith
Come, those with full or empty hands
Find the riches of His grace
Over all the world, His people sing
Shore to shore we hear them call
The Truth that cries through every age:
“Our God is all in all”!

‘COME PEOPLE OF THE RISEN KING’ Keith and Kirstyn Getty & Stuart Townend © 2007 THANKYOU MUSIC (PRS) ADM WORLDWIDE AT CAPITOLCMGPUBLISHING.COM EXCLUDING EUROPE WHICH IS ADM BY INTEGRITYMUSIC.COM

[by John Baggaley]

Personal Experiences of Church: 2. A Caring Church

Katoomba Uniting Church (Australia)

I only went to this church once. Elspeth and I were on holiday in Australia in 2001 and were in the Blue Mountains, north of Sydney. It was Sunday morning and we went looking for a church service. We saw one was about to start at the Katoomba Uniting Church, and wandered in.

Almost immediately, we were stuck: it would be rude to walk out again. Here was a small congregation with whom I had nothing in common. I don’t think anyone was aged under 75 (I was about 33 at the time). I was about to be taught a lesson.

It started with a cringe, as we were asked to sign a visitors’ book and the minister welcomed the “special visitors from Scotland.” But the praise was heart-felt and the message rang true. After the service, we moved with the flow of people and found ourselves in a large common room where we all sat on cheap plastic chairs while tea, coffee and biscuits were produced. There was a quiet buzz of conversation. People were genuinely interested in us and our travels, but we also heard snatches of conversation – and responses – from around the room. Fresh flowers for Sally who was ill, home baking for Henry who had had a fall, plus a works party to fix his path. There was lots of chat about how people were getting on – really getting on, not just the superficial news. Conversation would break regularly and naturally into prayer, just a short and informal thanksgiving or intercession for whatever they happened to be talking about, and then move on again. You could almost see Jesus move amongst them, a hand on this shoulder, an affectionate touch of that arm, as He heard and agreed with prayer, offered healing, shared His love.

When I walked into this church, I had thought I couldn’t relate to them as they were too out of touch. I found that they were properly in touch. They really knew and loved each other; they were genuinely interested in each other and us, and they looked to commit everything to God in prayer. In the end, we had to tear ourselves away so we could catch our train. But that whole congregation travelled with me in my heart, and all from that one service and time of fellowship. Because they cared.

What was church? It was the people. I still think of them, caring and sharing with each other. And loving God together.

[from Timothy Pitt]

Previously in this series: 1. A Mentoring Church

Call to Prayer

Let us not grow tired and complacent about praying in this difficult time. Join thousands of Christians in prayer at 19:00 on Sunday night, the 3rd of May.

“In these challenging days: Is there anyone watching over us who really understands who we are and what we are experiencing at this time?

“The imagery of the Lord as Shepherd and of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd is woven into the heart of Scripture.

“The resonance of the ancient, yet immediately present, words of the Psalmist can be sensed, such that even now we can hear those words in the very depths of our being:

“‘The Lord is my Shepherd…Even though I walk through the darkest valley…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me’. (Psalm 23)

“The imagery is taken up in the Gospel of John where the Good Shepherd watches over us and calls us by our name.

“He does so because he knows us and knows what we are experiencing at this time. (John 10) Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd’ and so we pray:

Good Shepherd, watch over us today
In all we face and experience.
Never leave us or forsake us
And journey with us always.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us
As no-one else knows us.
Guard us and keep us,
As you guard and keep those whom we love.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the sick and the lonely;
For the anxious and the bereaved;
For those whose pain is beyond our comprehension.
We stand with them and commend them to your care.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the carers in hospitals and in homes
And for all who serve the needs of others.
May the example of living compassion
Inspire us in our care for others.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know the depths of our heart
And the fears which are ours.
Speak into the depths of our heart
And calm our fears.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us by our name
And our identity is not hidden from you.
Gather us to yourself as a Shepherd gathers the sheep,
That we might know your Name.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer. Amen

Real Life Parable: The Lost Sheep

Lost and Found – Happy Reunion

Parables are not just nice Bible stories, they can be powerful real life experiences too! Donald and Ann Bruce emailed us their story. Read it and rejoice!

“We have just lived one of Jesus’ parables. Amid all the bad news and the pervasive oppressive atmosphere of fear, isolation, badmouthing, surveillance and all, we have experienced a story of redemption which we would like to share for your encouragement.

“A few days ago, Ann successfully delivered a lamb that was coming out backwards and was stuck. He and the ewe would otherwise have died. The lamb was premature but gradually growing. Early this morning on his rounds of the flock up on the hill, the shepherd found the lamb’s mum wandering around bleating, searching for her lamb which she had clearly lost on the hill. The shepherd and Ann searched for the lamb and it was nowhere to be seen. The conclusion was that a fox or an eagle had taken what was still quite a weak lamb. It happens. Very depressing for a lamb we had ourselves saved. But the shepherd said, you might walk up the hill, following the burn that runs steeply down, on the off chance that the lamb had fallen in and got stuck and was still alive.

“We all knew the likelihood of that was almost nil. But Ann and I left the 38 sheep and 10 lambs and went in search of one lost lamb, praying for God’s grace. As we scrambled our way up the little gorge where the tiny burn comes down, we looked into the burn channel, just in case. The burn is only a foot or so wide, and at many points the water flows out of sight under grass or heather, so we kept calling “Maaa” because the shepherd said a stuck lamb might respond by bleating. It felt very odd for two adult humans to be ascending the burn channel calling Maaa every few seconds, wherever the burn was covered over, and going up and up, with no response.

“I turned a bend and said a half-hearted Maaa and to my amazement, there was a tiny weak bleat of a lamb. But where did it come from? There was only grass, heather, earth and the burn. We Maaa’d again and waited. Silence. Again and waited. Another bleat, somewhere behind where I was standing. I knelt down and put my head into the burn channel as it emerged from a tunnel under the grassy earth, and caught a glimpse of a white lamb’s face. There in a tiny cave under the bank just above the water lay the lamb, completely stuck, trapped behind a rock, unable to go forward or back. I pulled away an enormous clump of heather enough for Ann to reach down, roll the rock aside a few inches and pull out the lamb, cold but alive. This was God’s pure grace. The lamb would soon have died alone and trapped, with no one even knowing he was there.

“Great was our rejoicing as Ann carried the lamb back down the hill to pastures near the house where the flock was currently feeding. And there was his Mum, instant recognition and reunion, with a good suckle for a cold and very hungry lamb. We cannot describe the joy we felt.

“Jesus said, Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep till he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.(Luke 15:3-4)

“So we are calling our friends and neighbours not only to rejoice with us for we have found our lost lamb (Luke 15:5), but to rejoice with us over the extraordinary lengths that God has gone, and still goes, to redeem his lost human race of sinners, helplessly stuck in holes of own making, unable to get out without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ coming, searching for us and dying in our place and rising to new life.

“We are in a spiritual battle, which God has won. Here is a parable of that.”

Donald and Ann Bruce (from Skye)

Personal Experiences of Church – 1. A Mentoring Church

Jakarta International Christian Fellowship -A Church That Mentors

We all have different experiences of church. Some are good, some are less so. Here we are sharing some personal experiences (five, to be precise) of one of our elder’s, Timothy Pitt. We hope you will find them inspiring and encouraging. Here is his first experience: The Church That Mentors

When Elspeth and I lived in Indonesia we attended the Jakarta International Christian Fellowship. At the time we both thought we were just having a bit of a life adventure – certainly I was looking forward to life as an international oil and gas lawyer. Looking back on it, we both agree that God was at work in many other ways – He had our careers safely in His hands, but He wanted to work on other aspects of our lives and characters, especially our calling to church leadership. And JICF was pretty central to this.

It was an English language church, but of mixed nationalities. And the church services were held in a business centre – we even took an escalator up to the auditorium level.

The people were so welcoming and we were soon invited to join a Home Group.  After a while, we stopped and wondered: we were just into our 30s, but our fellow Home Group members were all elders at JICF: an oil and gas company president; an oil and gas company vice president; the leader of the Indonesian Wycliffe Bible Translation mission; a senior executive in the World Bank; and the owner / administrator of a hospital (no NHS there), and all their wives were some of the wisest and kindest leaders I have met.

We really enjoyed our time at JICF. We learned so much – about Jesus and representing Jesus to others – as we hosted small dinners and joined impromptu fellowship dinners (food featured highly!) and really got to know our church family. We were part of, and led, Bible studies and we helped with charities including emergency medical aid on one of the islands (OK, that was Elspeth – I stayed safe in my office and sent emails).

That was 20 years ago, but even within the last couple of years we have met five folk from JICF including from our Home Group and keep in touch with others by email.

What was church? It was the people. I still look back in gratitude to them, to that time, to what I learned. And, especially, to what God did for me (and for Elspeth) through them all.

[from Timothy Pitt]

Pastoral Care During Lockdown

We are already in the sixth week of Coronavirus Lockdown. While the lockdown is absolutely essential for our safety it can be stressful. Especially if someone is elderly and alone, or has certain health issues.

From the first week our Pastoral Team was concerned for the elderly, the lonely, the vulnerable, and those who are perhaps more isolated than others, that is have no internet connection. So they formed a list of those of the church family who could need help, support, and care in these difficult times.

Using this list we have a team involved with contacting those people firstly to ascertain if they have family nearby helping them or perhaps just for a chat or to ascertain if they need any help or shopping.

For those without internet access we deliver the Church Newsletter each week in printed format either by hand or by post to those who live further away.

A team member is reading to those with failing sight whilst another is sharing daily readings with locked in folks.

Some of our ‘locked in’ members have told us how they are passing the time. One lady is knitting hats for premature babies and has now branched out into sewing bags to carry ‘drainage tube collectors’ for the hospital.

Please share your stories of how you pass your time, how did God speak to you, what activities you are doing, if you read a good book, or have seen good film. You can post or email these to newsletter@comelybankchurch.com .

We would like to encourage everyone to telephone those they know to maintain contact sharing their news and daily thoughts. 

For those that can go for walks you could have a conversation ‘at a distance’ if you pass a friend’s house. A lady who attended the Saturday Café has offered to do just this.

If you have any concerns about yourself or others or wish to offer help please telephone Joan Brown (Pastoral Care Co-ordinator) at 0131 343 2576, or email jandjgbrown@talktalk.net, or contact the church at office@comelybankchurch.com.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Loving Lord Jesus, who carried our burdens, we give you thanks for carers and cared-for-ones. We pray your blessing upon them all, keep them all safe! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

[from Joan Brown (Pastoral Care Co-ordinator)]

Call to Prayer

We have now reached the fifth week of joint calls by Scottish churches to pray at the same time in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, at 19:00 on Sundays. Thousands of people across Scotland have been answering the call to pray during this time of sacrifice, difficulty and bereavement. Please