SSCB News Blogs

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:

[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

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 

[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.


  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:

[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

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:

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 –]


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

[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]

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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

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. 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: 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

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 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”!


[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 .

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, or contact the church at

“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 light a candle and place it in your window as a testimony to the light of the world shining through and giving light to our journey.

“As we continue to journey through this challenging time, we are conscious that the course of our journey will take us to different places. At some points, we will have greater clarity as to where that journey is taking us. At other points, we will be less sure. The two disciples who left Jerusalem to journey to Emmaus were definitely in the latter category (Luke 24: 13-35). As they journey, they try to make sense of all that they are currently experiencing and, in truth, they are finding it difficult. It is as if the source of their hope has gone. Unexpectedly, they then find themselves in the presence of someone whom they do not recognise. The unrecognised presence listens to their story and, having listened, begins to offer a new way of understanding that story. As they come towards the end of their journey, the unrecognised is revealed as the risen Lord: ‘The Lord has risen indeed’! The Lord is always with us on our journey and so we pray…”

Lord, we are those who journey
And who find that journey hard today.
We are those who journey
And long to find our hope renewed.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, whether in our own company or with companions beside us,
We journey on.
Whether sure, or unsure, as to our journey’s end,
Come beside us through the risen Lord.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for others;
For carers of the living and of the dying;
For the bereaved and for the anxious;
For those fearing loss of work and of business.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for scientists and researchers;
For those seeking to understand the challenge we face;
For those creating potential vaccines;
For those advising decision-makers.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for those who shape our common life:
In local Councils and in Scottish Government
And in the Government of the United Kingdom.
Grant to them wisdom, compassion and understanding.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for your Kingdom to come
And for your will to be done,
On earth
As it is in heaven.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer. Amen

The Stone that Did Not Roll Away!

At Easter time our joy is focused on the empty tomb! Christ has risen! He is risen indeed! We know this because the stone that locked the tomb was rolled away! But there is a stone in Scripture that does not roll away!

David wrote in his song of praise, Psalm 18, that “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

We can say that one of God’s nickname in the Old Testament is ‘Rock’ (cf Deuteronomy 32)! The Rock who does not roll away, no matter how many the enemies number, no matter the strength of the adversity, or the severity of the circumstances! He stands firm!

David is bursting out in praise in Psalm 18 for in the Lord he found refuge and safety time and again! He could return to God as to a safe rock that was not moved! From the time of his anointing as king (he was only a mere shepherd boy at the time) and the actual time of ascending to the throne David faced conflicts, persecution, and wars on every side (cf. 1 Samuel 18-31). David knew he was only inches away from being ambushed, killed, or destroyed in innumerable cases (“The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.” verse 4) if it were not for the Lord, his God who bent down and picked him up and stood him on his feet.

David is wholeheartedly giving the praise and honour and glory to the Lord for who He is and how He revealed Himself to David, as his Saviour and Redeemer. The Lord is his Rock, his fortress, his shield, and stronghold.

David repeatedly experienced that he always can trust in God! God will not let him down! He will not roll away!

How comforting and soul strengthening it is to know that David’s Lord is our Lord Jesus Christ who saved us from all our adversaries! He is faithful and true. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Entangled? Outnumbered? Or terrified? Turn to the Saviour, Jesus Christ! He is your Rock and stronghold who will never roll away!

At the Doorstep

Luke 24:13-35; verse 29; cf. Revelation 3:20

The journey of the two disciples to Emmaus on the Day of the Resurrection is surprisingly and profoundly relevant to Coronavirus lockdown!

“As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:28-29)

The two disciples arrived to their destination. The amazing Bible study with Jesus, explaining the prophecies about Himself, came to an end. Now they stand at the entrance of the house, and Jesus is ‘preparing to go further.’ At that moment they began to urge Him to stay, inviting Him in to stay with them!

This is the moment that is missing from so many people’s attitude who got acquainted with Jesus! A good number of people don’t mind listening to one or two sermons about Jesus, or reading a book about Him, or have a good chinwag about Jesus, but then the whole thing, and Jesus too, are gone, it was just a phase, Jesus was just another person they met on their journey and now they parted ways, they never invited Him in to stay with them.

The words of Jesus stirred up the feelings and memories of the disciples, their hearts were burning within them. That stirring became a decision in their minds and they invited Jesus to stay with them! They didn’t even know who their travelling companion really was. They just knew that what He is offering them is missing in their lives. They need that! They need Him! Come, stay with us! They recognised Jesus for who He truly was only as He stayed with them, and he completely transformed their lives.

Jesus went along with them as far as their destination. But then comes a point when Jesus will only stay with us if we ask Him to do so! He is not forcing Himself upon us. He comes alongside us on our journey of downheartedness, in our isolation, and tells us a lot about Himself, but it is we who need to ask Him to stay with us! That’s the only way to be together with Him for ever.

It appears that during this COVID-19 lockdown a good number of people are seeking and connecting with Jesus through online services. They find it helpful and encouraging. Maybe you find His words helpful and encouraging too! That is great! What will happen when the lockdown is over? Will you ask Him to stay with you? Or will it just be a passing phase?

In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in, and eat with them and they with me.”

The two disciples did not know exactly who they invited to stay with them. But we do know, you know it is the risen Saviour, Jesus Christ – and being with Him now on earth means being with Him for all eternity!

(based on a meditation by Rev Kálmán Cseri, Hungarian Pastor )

Is the Bible Relevant to Coronavirus Lockdown?

Recently somebody said that he is not interested in the Bible, as it is an ancient book full of outdated, irrelevant stuff. It is useless in our 21st Century, especially in this present Coronavirus pandemic.

So I had a brief look at my Bible to see if indeed is it useless for us as we are combatting this deadly virus?

This is what I found, and this is not comprehensive by any means.

In Leviticus 11:39-40 God commands that people who touch or eat the carcass of an animal must wash their clothes and be in isolation for a period of time. Similarly people who got in contact or even got close to the body of a dead (murdered) person need to wash their hands. Furthermore people are forbidden to eat from the carcass of an animal found dead (Exodus 22:31). While some of these laws can be interpreted as spiritual laws, they seem to protect the health and well-being of people. They are protecting them from bacteria, viruses and infections, that are easily spread by decomposing carcasses. This was written thousands of years before science identified bacteria and viruses and the ways how infections work.

In Leviticus 13, 14 God gives regulations about how to act when someone has an infectious disease. God commands thorough washing and isolation for people with infections (Leviticus 13:45-46; 14:8-9). This sounds very similar that is advised to us today, many thousands of years later!

In Leviticus 15 God commands full body washing, and washing of clothes, and isolation if someone has an illness with the consequence of bodily discharge (whatever that might have been), and for anyone that might come into contact with that person or anything that person might have touched or was in contact with (bed, chair, etc.). What is more they had to wash in running water (verse 13), not in a bowl of water that could retain the bacteria! I think that is pretty advanced for an ancient book, like the Bible.

Just a wee comment here. We, of Hungarian origin are extremely proud of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, the “saviour of mothers”. He worked in a hospital in Vienna in 1845 and noticed that about 30% of women that gave birth there died because of infection. He noticed that the doctors who conducted autopsy in the morgue then went over to the maternity ward and examined the pregnant mothers without washing their hands. He had to fight for it, but finally achieved that the doctors had to wash their hands before each examination. The death rate dropped to 2%! A doctor had ‘to fight’ that his colleagues should wash their hands when dealing with autopsy and examining people with pregnancy some 3,500-3,850 years after God already commanded that in His Word!

So much about the relevance of the Bible today in the midst of Coronavirus pandemic. And how much more the Bible has to say about washing and cleansing ourselves from sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be saved for eternal life?

Call to Prayer

Sunday marks four consecutive weeks of joint calls by Scottish churches to pray at the same time in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Thousands of people across Scotland have been answering the call to join in prayer during this time of sacrifice, difficulty and bereavement. Praying at the same time (19:00) and placing a lit candle in the window together with others in their homes, help to create a sense of community when we are isolated in the lockdown! Join your brothers and sisters and let’s pray together as we reflect on John 20:19-23!

Prayer for Sunday, 19 April

Living God, speak into the depths of our experience,
Speak the word that stills our fears
And calms our anxieties:
‘Peace be with you.’
Speak your word to the lonely and to the broken,
To the bereaved and to those whose world has crumbled:
‘Peace be with you.’

Faithful God, speak to us behind locked doors
As we remember others, who risk their own safety,
In order to serve others:
Peace be with them.
Carers and nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers,
Delivery drivers and shop assistants:
Peace be with them.

God who inspires Hope, speak to us in the present
And speak to us of the future,
For though the doors are locked, in time they shall be open:
Peace shall be renewed.
For those who lead the life of our Nation: Our Queen Elizabeth,
First Minister and Prime Minister, and all who shape our common life,
For us all: Peace shall be renewed.

God whose name is love and whose gift is love,
Open our hearts to know you and to love you,
To love you and to love our neighbour
And as we do, to hear again: ‘Peace be with you.’
May we find our strength in you,
And hear again:
‘Peace be with you.’ Amen

We Live in the Hope and Power of Easter

The Way Forward After Coronavirus

Easter might be gone according to the calendar, but we still live in the power and the hope of Easter. Jesus was raised from the dead and He is alive and was given all authority over heaven and earth. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! He continues to be alive and rules in the power of Easter. And all who follow Him, believe in Him, are living in the power and hope of Easter. We are the people of the risen King, we are the People of Easter.

God showed us His love and care by entering our circumstances, a sinful, and broken world that knows far too much sorrow and suffering, sickness and death. Jesus went through all that in His earthly ministry and in particular during His arrest, trial and death on the cross. As God, He could have kept a safe distance from us, but He became like one of us, yet without sin. He was not immune to our sins, sorrows, pain, tears, and suffering. He took them upon Himself and carried them to the cross where He died because of them. He took all of them away from us so we can become free! The empty tomb and the risen Christ gloriously confirm this! We can live in the power and redemption of Easter for ever as followers of Christ, trusting in Him.

The Coronavirus crisis brought a lot of fear and suffering to the whole world! We know this too well. But it also triggered so much care, love and kindness, from the smallest gestures to grandiose efforts. A 99 years old veteran raised already over £16 million for the NHS. Children draw rainbows and put them in the window. People do shopping for neighbours, help the vulnerable. Sweets and thank you notes are left out for the binmen. Many thousands volunteered to hep where the need is greatest. We can’t even give a good and proper appreciation of the much goodness that was brought forth.

After the Coronavirus crisis I pray and hope, and encourage you to pray too, that we will not go back to ‘normal’ as we knew it before COVID-19! That ‘normal’ was not good normal! Was not right normal! Wasn’t NORMAL at all. We, humanity, normalised greed, anger, injustice, discrimination, isolation (strange isn’t it?), violence, aggression, disrespect, poverty, selfishness, rage, hoarding, hate, and that’s not all of it. We should not long after them! Or for a world like that! When you got to know the light and freedom of Easter, you do not want to go back to the hopelessness, the pain, and the darkness of pre-Good Friday! When Jesus took off you the burdens of sin, evil and death, why would you want to take them up again?!

No, we must not go back to that ‘normal’! We received a new way of life! We received a new, bright, garment form Christ, we must take off our old self (pre COVID-19 self) with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9). Apostle Paul goes on and encourages us: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

This must be the way forward after COVID-19! Living and acting in the hope and the power of Easter! What an opportunity we have! The opportunity of life in fullness! Live it and share it! For we are the people of Easter!

Love Your Neighbour

Let me share with you my favourite Easter story of this year. On Easter Sunday, after our online Zoom service I delivered some Easter Bags for our children of the Sunday Club and the youngsters of Inspire.

As I crossed the city I saw many windows displayed the sign of the rainbow drawn and coloured by children as a sign in support of the key workers who daily face danger on our behalf! It was encouraging to see the support for them around the city. It was good to see the gratitude for their service!

When I got to my last address delivering the Easter Bag, at the end of a small cul-de-sac, I noticed that all the houses had a rainbow drawing. How nice, I thought. I arrived to my destination. Right there before me, next to the door there was another drawing of the rainbow. As I pressed the bell and waited at a sufficient distance for it to open I noticed a drawing in the window of the next door neighbour too. The two drawings looked very similar! It looks like somebody made a drawing for the neighbour too, I thought to myself.

My assumption proved to be correct. It was Ewan Preen, from our Sunday Club who made them both. Actually he drew 25 rainbows and gave one to every household in their street. It was his drawing that I saw at every house! That was not all! Ewan also worked out a signal system for the street to ask for help. He also gave a red card to every household, so if they are in need of something they just have to place the red card in the window. Ewan very dedicatedly checks every day if there is a red card signalling that someone is in distress. Up until Easter nobody needed to reach for the red card, although there was a near call for brown sauce at one of the homes, but the person reconsidered her need that perhaps it wasn’t so desperate after all.

Well done Ewan for thinking of your neighbours and showing kindness and care in a very simple and practical way. Jesus said that there are two commandments that are the most important to govern our daily lives. The first is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and the second is very similar: to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Ewan you showed us and to your whole neighbourhood how to do that. Thank you.

Easter Bags

On Easter Sunday, after our Zoom service we delivered 22 Easter Bags to the children of our Sunday Club and the young people of Inspire. In spite of the lockdown we were able to communicate in this simple way that they are not isolated! The bags contained an Easter Egg with the Easter story as part of it, and some fluffy toys of chickens and bunnies, and some Easter puzzles. The young people of Inspire received an Easter Egg, and publications about Easter and a leaflet helping to find important passages in the Bible. We hope we were able to add to the joy of Easter for them all.

Easter Gallery

Here we share some of the artwork created by our church family for Easter. We are really blessed with so many gifts in our church family. “The lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts,” writes Francis Schaeffer. “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.” Our human creativity and desire to create, shape, form new things and things of beauty reflect our being created in the image of God, who is a creator God! So it is our privilege that we can enjoy and share these creations with you.

We wanted to celebrate the resurrection of Christ with these artistic gifts and talents. Enjoy the colours and shapes and forms and the hope and new life they communicate. Many thanks to the contributors!

Christ is Risen! Hallelujah!

The artists and their pieces are:

Alex Scarbrough: Easter Rooster [I painted this rooster as part of my art class, and then on reflection it reminds me of the cock that crowed three times and how Peter reacted.  It reminds me of the need to stay steadfast in the faith in the face of challenging times.]

Alex Scarbrough: Easter Rooster

Alia Pietsch: Easter Warmth (Watercolour) [It’s just a quick little watercolour that symbolises how Easter makes me feel. When I lived in Australia we had a sunrise service every Easter Sunday. A sense of warmth during a cold sunrise and the reassurance of hope. For me God is in that sunrise and Jesus with his flock flies up to join the heavens.]

Easter Warmth (Alia Pietsch; Watercolour)

Diana Porterfield: This poppy opened up in Diana’s garden on Easter Sunday (12 April 2020), wonderful masterpiece of our creator God!

Easter Poppy (photo; Diana Porterfield; 2020)

Emma Szilágyi: Songs of Spring (Catkins) (oil); Songs of Spring (Catkins Study; Charcoal); Apple Tree in Bloom (Oil) [Plants in Bloom traditionally associated with new life, have long been motif in art. I draw and paint directly from nature and then intensify the colours to create the mood. This oil painting of an apple tree in blossom is intended to be a celebration of light and colour, reflecting the joy, new life and hope of Easter morning.]

Song of Spring (oil, Emma Szilágyi; 2020)
Song of Spring (Study, charcoal, Emma Szilágyi, 2020)
Apple Tree in Blossom (oil; Emma Szilágyi)

Fraser Wood: This is a painting from my files of the work the guys painted last Easter in the Bethany Mens Drop-In morning that we have in Leith. I drew lightly on the roll of wallpaper and the real “artists” (with real faith life stories) painted with vigour.

Christ is Risen (Bethany Men’s Drop In Group, Easter 2019)

Joan Brown: These flowers are just picked and laid on a piece of paper. They won’t last; they have been cut away from their sustenance. Jesus was taken from the Cross but he sustains us, we are never cut off from him.

Easter Arrangement (live flowers, Joan Brown, 2020)

Mairi Marlborough: Just sharing some of our Easter Decorations – usually dotted round our house and very glad to share them as it will just be Norman and me this year for our Easter Family Gathering. Such a hopeful time – new life and a promise that all will be well. 
Happy Easter to everyone

Easter Card 2020 (Mairi Marlborough)

Moira McLaren:

Daffodil/narcissus (It symbolises renewal of life/rebirth and celebrates Easter as a festival of new hope.

Green Hill Far Away (The hymn was and is a favourite of mine, the words in the hymn say it all!

Myra Ball: Easter Greetings

Easter Greetings (Myra Ball, 2020)

Pam Hamilton:

Beauty from Broken-ness

The embroidery is created from leftovers, discarded threads, scraps, none of which would be any good on their own.

2 Corinthians 12 v 9 “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Vibrant New Life

Landscape in Acrylic

John 10 v 10 “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

Tony Peckham:

Call to Prayer

“Sunday at 19:00 has become increasingly a valued time for Christians as they pause to pray, conscious that many others will be sharing the same prayer at the same time. It helps create a sense of community when we are isolated through lockdown.” – says our Moderator, Rt Rev Colin Sinclair

Churches Together in England will also be praying each Sunday at 19:00 and will be using the hashtag #prayersofhope to share the message on social media.

So we also call upon you to pray on this Easter Sunday at 19:00. Pray for the nation, for key workers, for healing, for the bereaved, asking the lord of the Resurrection to have compassion and mercy on us all!

A prayer for Easter Sunday

Lord, it feels as if we’ve been walking in the Good Friday shadow of the cross;

feeling disorientated, concerned and filled with heartache;

praying for healing for those poorly, 
whether government leader or more personally known; 
and comfort for those bereaved;

expressing thanks for the selfless dedication of NHS staff, 
those delivering social care, 
and everyone ensuring that essential services and supplies are maintained, 
in company with those who volunteer.

Lord, as we journey on, 
help us now to embrace the dawning Easter joy of the cross;

like the first disciples, 
the transforming wonder of Christ’s resurrection;

like the first disciples, 
that it may take time to comprehend the reality of Easter;

reflecting new life through words and deeds. 
Hear us, and journey with us, 
in the name of the risen Christ. 

Worshipping Together Online

Since we began worshipping online more people started to visit our website, check out our Facebook page, and Twitter. We feel blessed that you are engaging with SSCB through these means, and thus engaging with God and the Lord Jesus Christ. We know these online means can not replace, and they do not intend to replace to collective worship together we enjoy so much, but it adds a new dimension to us being a church family, and inspires us in our faith!

There are fresh ways and expressions of fellowship, support and encouragement as we continue to be the family of God. Thank you for that, and we are delighted that you are taking initiative in all this.

We continue with our services and fellowship via Zoom. You will receive an invitation by email to join in and you just need to click on the link in blue that will take you through. Sometimes this might take a while. Therefore we suggest to try logging in about 10, 15 minutes before the service would start.

We appreciate that not everybody is able to join the services on Zoom. However you can join the live service by phone! You won’t be able to see others, but you will be able to hear all that is going on, and also participate, for others will be able to hear you when you speak. Our e-newsletter E-pistle contains the details about this facility, or you can email to request this information.

Alternatively we do record the services and they can be watched on our YouTube channel: SSCB Online Messages (also embedded on our Online Messages and Worship page), or listened to in audio format at our Audio Sermons page on the website.

We pray that your time of worshipping together as a family will be fruitful and a blessing to you for your growth in the faith and for your personal walk with Christ.

Easter Cross Family Craft

Jesus is Alive! He is Risen! Hallelujah!

We want to invite you to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with the words above and by making and decorating a cross at home. It is a great family craft with your children. Let’s join together by making this cross in our homes as we celebrate and give thanks for the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a great witness to our neighbours too!

You can place a palm cross in your window. If you haven’t got one, you can make one out of paper or even a ribbon, and  it can be decorated if you wish. You can find the instructions for it here.

Here is a bit more elaborate cross made out of sticks you can gather in your garden, or maybe on your walk in a park. See the attached instructions at the bottom on how to make it. When it is decorated display it in your garden, balcony, in front of your house, or in your window. This way your neighbours and passers-by can enjoy seeing the sign of Christian hope around them. We all need the encouragement of hope and life especially these days. Offer that hope to people in your neighbourhood. We got this idea from St Andrew’s Leckie Parish Church.

We would love you to share a picture of your Easter Cross with us, so we can share it with the church family and the wider world through our e-newsletter and website. Please email your pictures to

Christ is Risen! Jesus is Alive!

Tales from the Socially Isolated

While there are lots of things about being stuck at home with your family ALL the time which are not good, sometimes you find new ways of doing things which are just a bit special.  In the Franks’ house, we have each had our own way of finding a quiet time in the day to pray or read the Bible.  Peter and I used to do it together when he was younger, but as he has got older, he has been doing it himself each morning before school. 

But now we’re all here, all day, and we have started to do it as a family after lunch.  We take turns to lead, and read from a lovely book that Peter has been using called ‘Soul Food’ which is by Bear Grylls – adventurer extraordinaire.  Once we have read the reflection for the day, we talk about it for a little while, then we pray together.  It only takes about 10 minutes, but is now a really special part of our day.  And it stops us arguing for a brief interlude which is always a blessing!! 😉

From the Franks family

How do you do your family devotion? Have you tried it? This is a perfect time to try out. Don’t be afraid, it is not as daunting as it might sound. The way the Franks family are doing it is an excellent option. Feel free to copy them, they will not mind.

As a possible alternative here is a sample order for family worship based on the one in Terry L. Johnson’s book: The Family Worship Book, an excellent guide for families!

It’s What We Do!

We are privileged in our church family to have a number of health professionals! While we always had huge respect for them, particularly now we are not only respecting them, but want to support them in whatever way we can. So clap your hands and pots on Thursday nights! And pray fervently for them all every morning, noon, and night, for they are serving us often without a break morning, noon, and night. Lord, may your abundant blessing be upon them! Protect them, empower them, anoint them, for your glory, Lord Jesus, our heavenly healer. Amen.

We approached Dr. Elspeth Pitt who is in the front line at A&E in the battle with Coronavirus to tell us her experiences, so we can pray for her and her colleagues in a more informed way. Here is her brief account.

Working at the frontline of the health service at the moment is exhausting, heartbreaking, confusing, overwhelming, scary and at times joyous.

We have known for a couple of months that this crisis was approaching – we have planned, trained and tried to prepare ourselves, our hospitals and clinics, totally changing the way we organise & deliver healthcare yet we still feel ill prepared as none of us has ever experienced anything like this before.

As Healthcare professionals we know its a huge privilege to be able to care for people when they are ill, frightened, fearful and vulnerable. We are in a position to contribute to the nation’s response to this crisis, we get to leave (and return to) our homes, interact with folk other than our own household members, we have job security and a guaranteed salary – we have much to be grateful for – yet it takes its toll. The distress of caring for very sick people, isolated from their loved ones; the difficulties created by wearing protective equipment; the torment of seeing some patients deteriorate very rapidly; and the real fear that we might catch the virus, or worse, bring it into our own homes contributes to a constant sense of anxiety and dread in all of us.

As uncertainty rules the world, the certainty we have, as followers of Jesus, is that he has overcome the world (John 16:32). We know that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31) and that his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). So at this time of global darkness, it’s important to remember that our loving Saviour Jesus, who cares for the lonely, the sick and the lost, calls us to let our light shine for him.

Yours in Christ, Dr. Elspeth Pitt

Easter in Isolation

Many have said already these days that we are living in extraordinary times. Preparing for Easter in a church or Christian context in these circumstances make it even more unusual: “This will be a very strange Easter.”

Of course people are thinking of our enforced and necessary isolation. We will not experience the usual Easter eggs, early morning worship in Inverleith Park, the fun of egg rolling, the pleasant fellowship at bacon and roll breakfast in church and the celebration of worship in church, or the company of our families. No we will not have the usual experience of Easter as we know it. However we will experience more the first Easter, which the disciples experienced. Please read John 20:19-23!

It might be surprising to us but the disciples were in self isolation on the first Easter evening! They did not feel like celebrating either! They self isolated themselves in a secure lockdown (please note that “the doors”, in plural[!] were locked), probably in the Upper Room. They were fearful, lost, and confused. What will happen next? What can they do? What is safe? When will this be over? Questions you and I have right now in our own context!

What is amazing is that the reality of Easter breaks through all their fear and confusion! Often fear and confusion can keep us in stronger lockdown than walls or doors! Jesus simply came and stood among them in the middle and offered them His peace! “Peace be with you!” He gives His peace not as the world gives, so do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.

While the disciples and we have to deal with the unwelcome reality of fear, confusion and lockdown, God is active! He steps into the lockdown and breaks it up! Jesus cannot be locked down or locked away! He is alive!

Our God, our Jesus (our Saviour) breaks down the doors! On the cross Jesus broke down the power of evil, sin and death. They were utterly defeated. At Easter morning the risen Lord Jesus broke out of the tomb! No death, no grave clothes, no rock, nothing at all could keep him locked away! He is risen! In the evening of the same day He broke in into the isolation, fear, and confusion of the disciples’ locked down upper room. “Peace be with you!”

He still breaks down, sin, death and fear! He still breaks out of places where they want to lock Him away (like church buildings), He breaks in into our fearful isolation and brings in His light and peace! He wants to give you His peace this Easter too!

He is risen! He is alive! And He is breaking in into your isolation! He is not leaving you in isolation! Rejoice and give Him the praise: Hallelujah! You are not alone! He is with you! He brings His peace to you! Happy Easter!

Call to Prayer

Call to Prayer at 19:00 on Sunday, 5th April

For the last two weeks, thousands of people across Scotland have answered the call to pray at the same time in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Together with thirteen Christian churches and organisations across the land we also join in praying at this time of such need. Pray for our land and world! Be the light!

We are in this together, we need to pray for one another. Join in with your prayers on Sundays at 19:00. You are invited therefore to join in with prayer and lighting a candle in your window at 19:00 on Palm Sunday, 5th April. Here is a prayer for this time:

Living God, for the precious gift of life that you have given to us,

We give you thanks.

For the enduring presence of your love in this world,

We give you thanks.

For the knowledge that you are with us at the close of the day,

We give you thanks.

On this day, we hear the Gospel words that speak of hope,

We hear the cry: Hosanna!

We hear the Gospel words that speak of promise,

We hear the cry: Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

On this day, we journey in hope as we trust in your promise.

Lord, as we journey into the Holy Week to come,

We are conscious that we share in the life of the world.

We are conscious of the presence of those who are near to us,

And of those from whom we are apart.

Whether near, or far, embrace us all in your love.

Lord, we are conscious of others,

Whose life and work is woven into the fabric of our society,

And upon whom we now depend.

We pray for them:

For delivery drivers and posties,

For refuse collectors and cleaners,

For police officers and care workers,

Protect them and keep them safe.

For nurses and doctors,

For scientists and surgeons,

For midwives and ambulance drivers,

Protect them and watch over them.

For those who govern on our behalf,

For those who make decisions that impact upon us all,

For all who shape our common life,

Protect them and increase their wisdom and understanding.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

And grant us faith to journey into the week to come,

Assured of the presence of the crucified and risen Lord,

Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Have a Palm Cross in Your Window this Holy Week

As we continue to be in lockdown and Holy Week and Easter are coming you might have wondered how to celebrate Easter and proclaim the victory of Christ over suffering, death and sin. Here is an idea. You might still have at home a Palm Cross, one you received a while ago at church on a Palm Sunday. Go and find it and put it in your window on Palm Sunday (5th April) until Easter Sunday (12th April) to proclaim in its simple way the Good News of Easter, Jesus’ victory over sin and death. On the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem people lined up the streets and were waiving palm branches as in a victory march (John 12:12-13). In the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7:9) we are told that the great multitude worshipping the Lamb were holding palm branches in their hands. It is interesting how this pandemic has changed our lives, church life as well, and our worship. We used to hold and maybe wave, if we were charismatic enough, the palm crosses in the church where nobody except ourselves could see it. Now we can actually put them in our windows for the whole world to see it (well at least those few that still might pass by).

If you haven’t got a Palm Cross at home, or you just can’t find it, here is a guide for you to make one. Perhaps you can make one together with your children.

Pray Continually

The leaders of the national churches in the UK asked us to pray for the nation last Sunday. As today the PM and the Health Secretary have tested positive for Coronavirus, and England’s Chief Medical Officer has symptoms of the virus it is more urgent that we as Christians engage in prayer! Church groups across Scotland are asking Christians to join in prayer at 7pm on Sunday evenings. This is in continuing with the prayer campaign we began last Sunday when thousands of Christians across Scotland prayed and gave evidence of this by placing a candle inter windows!

Let’s continue in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and everyone in the rest of the UK facing the threat of COVID-19 virus. Praying that Christ Overcomes Viruses, Infections, and Diseases (COVID)! Our Moderator, Rt Rev Colin Sinclair encourages us to keep on praying, when so much is not normal right now, let us do what is normal for Christians: PRAY!

Make a special effort to pray every Sunday at 7:00pm that God in His compassion and grace will overcome this frightful virus. Place a candle in your window to show that “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it!”

Here is thE joint prayer from Christians in Scotland to assist you in your prayers on Sunday:

We turn to you, our Father, for we need your help.
Lord Jesus, as you have promised, be with us, whatever lies ahead,
Strengthen us, Holy Spirit, as we face this together.

We pray for our world and our country,
as coronavirus threatens our lives and our livelihood, leaving many in lockdown,
while key workers continue, despite the risk.

We pray for government leaders at Westminster and Holyrood,
responding to medical and scientific advice,
making tough decisions for the wellbeing of all.

We pray for all who serve on the frontline in the NHS and in social care;
facing increasing numbers, overstretched resources
and distressing human need.

Bless those who are ill, those who are alone and afraid,
those exhausted looking after their family, those worried for the vulnerable,
those fearful for their finances, those shut in to their fears.

Thank you for those who have returned from retirement to help,
or joined the volunteer army.
Thank you for those working:
to manufacture needed resources,
to find a vaccine,
to keep in contact with the isolated,
to encourage others at this time.

Have mercy on us, O Lord.
Give us faith, hope and love and hear our prayers,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

May the Lord bless you! Keep safe! Be wise! And be close to the LORD!


Loving God, from whom life and healing comes to all,

we thank you for the lives, dedication, commitment,

and sacrificial service of the NHS in our land.

We thank you for all who committed themselves to bring help,

wholeness and healing to the sick and the troubled.

We thank you for doctors and nurses, surgeons, and medical staff,

psychiatrists, counsellors, chaplains and therapists.

In the present Coronavirus pandemic, Lord Jesus, we pray

be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals,

all the staff of NHS who seek to heal and help those affected by the virus

and who put themselves at risk in the process.

May they know your protection and peace.

Grant them the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit, Lord,

let your care, compassion, and strength be theirs.

Equip them in all they do, and bring wholeness, healing, restoration through them.

Merciful Lord, hear our prayer, Amen.

Praying for the Nation in Time of Crisis

Blessings of the National Day of Prayer

The leaders of the national churches called us to pray for the nation last Sunday! Those of us who prayed and placed a lit candle in our windows at 19:00 last Sunday found it a moving experience. It bound us together throughout the land.

The church could be still open for prayer and we were open, and put our candles in the windows of the church, testifying to the world that we have hope! We are holding onto Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, and we are holding Him up to be the Light for everyone that find themselves in darkness and fear right now.

The National Day of Prayer and Action is over, but time for prayer for each other, for the nation, for health care professionals and staff, for those serving us during our shutdown is not over, for the time of trouble is not over either! We all still need the light of Christ! So continue to be the light as you pray for your family, community, our world. Let the light shine and drive out darkness.

Home Alone – The Coronavirus Sequel

I imagine many of you have seen or remember the comedy Home Alone, telling the adventures of the eight year old Kevin who accidentally was left home alone.

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic our whole country finds itself home alone. Our circumstances are not comical at all, though. It is not a laughing matter, it is extremely serious. While most of the country must stay at home, some, nurses, doctors, health workers, pharmacists, the staff of emergency services, and many more in vital roles keeping the country going are on the front line. We who have to say at home and can’t even imagine what you go through for us just want to thank you for your service, and offer our prayers for you in this present struggle.

The big question in everybody’s mind is how are we going to cope with this compulsory isolation for who knows how long? When and from where will help and release come?

This morning I was reading Psalm 46. The Psalmist describes a scenario of disaster and utter destruction – a turmoil situation, something we find ourselves now. In the midst of the disaster he writes the calm command like declaration of God: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (verse 10) That alone transforms the situation.

This shutdown is a time for us to be still and to recon again with God, how great, majestic, gracious, holy, and mighty He is, and ask Him to transform our circumstances.

So as a first step be still. Stay put! Just stay at home, be still, be at peace, be assured God is still in control. Nothing can happen without his knowledge and permission. All that happens are part of His purpose, even if we can’t see it now or can’t understand it. So stay.

Secondly, pray. Pray to God for His love, care and protection. Pray for His wisdom to guide you through the present critical time. Pray for His love to overcome your fear. Pray for others, those who are maintaining the vital services for us. So pray.

Thirdly, share. Share the good gifts God has given you. Do not panic-buy or stockpile! Think of others with the generosity God is providing for you. Share, think of your neighbour who might need your help, a bit of shopping, picking up medication, or just a phone call to keep them company.

Be still and know that God is God, and not even Coronavirus can change that. Therefore: stay, pray, and share.

The God Who Ignores Social Distancing

In the midst of the covid-19 pandemic more and more emphatically we are advised to respect and practice social distancing! Stay at home as much as you can and if you are out and about keep two metres (6.562 ft) apart form others.

In this hard period of increasing isolation, when even family members need to respect this advice it is wonderful to know that our God ignores social distancing!

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

What a wonderful God he is! If someone should and could avoid social closeness to us humans, He is the one to do that. To a holy and absolutely pure God sinfulness, wickedness, evil are absolutely abhorrent.

Yet He did not keep His social distancing from us! He came down from heaven and moved into our neighbourhood, and settled down in our vicinity. And as our neighbour and friend, Jesus brought us God’s love, forgiveness and saving grace! He came close to all, to the socially, economically, morally marginalised, to all who were avoided by others and kept in an arm’s length. Jesus came to the prostitutes, sinners, lepers, cheats, and thieves. Among them He came to you and me also!

While you are very strongly advised to keep your social distancing form others in these days, do not distance yourself from Jesus! Call on Him! Come close to Him each and every day! He is here for you! Jesus said: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Let him in, don’t be afraid of Him. He brings with Him His love, His grace, His healing, His peace. For He is the God who ignores social distancing! Thanks and honour, and glory to Him for this too!

National Day of Prayer and Action, 22nd March 2020

candle in the dark

As the COVID-19 virus spread and seemingly overcame the whole globe we have become aware in a new way of our own frailty and insecurity. We need to renew our dependence on God. The leaders of the national churches in the UK are calling people to come humbly and honestly in prayer before God, sharing openly our emotions, questions, and concerns in the shadow of COVID-19.

Knowing and trusting that prayer works, we encourage you to join in this National Day of Prayer and Action on Sunday 22nd March.

At 19:00 on Sunday stop and pause for prayer, wherever you are, and come sincerely before God. Please light a candle and place it in your window as a visible sign that we are people of the light of the world, darkness and fear will not overcome us, for our light is Jesus Christ Himself. Let your light shine and bring hope!

We will also light candles and place them in the windows of the church at 19:00. The church will be open till 19:30 for prayer to anyone. Here is a prayer you might want to use:

Dear Lord, and Father of Mankind,
For all that is good in life, thank you,
For the love of family and friends, thank you,
For the kindness of good neighbour and Samaritan stranger, thank you.

May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support,
May those who are sick, know healing,
May those who are anxious or bereaved, sense comfort.

Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers, with wisdom,
Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being,
Bless and guide each one of us, as we adapt to a new way of living.

And may the light shining from our windows,
across road and wynd, glen and ben, kyle and isle,
be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

We are moving our services online

All of us have been affected by the outbreak of the Coronavirus infection, some in more than one way! In these troubling and uncertain times we want to update you about where we are as a church, what is happening, and what we are doing in the given circumstances.

We want to help you steer safely through this period of our lives. Steer through in faith. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (Hebrews 10:39) We are men and women of faith, followers of Christ. So be close to the Lord, hold on to Him and His promises. Jesus said if you live by his words, if you put them into practice in your life, you are building on a firm rock and not even the strongest storms of life can overcome it! He promised to keep those that belong to him safe for ever. So trust in Him!

The church takes these present times very seriously and responsibly. In our actions we closely follow the advice from the UK and Scottish Governments and the Church of Scotland. Please be wise too, and follow the government guidance. Do not take risks and do not panic.

As a church, in response to the received advice, we are implementing the following changes for the foreseeable future:

  1. We are suspending our gatherings of worship, fellowship, Holiday Club, Lunch Club, and Home Groups. However this does not mean we stop being church. We take this opportunity God is presenting us to demonstrate that indeed the church is not the building but the people! We continue to be the church in a new way.
    1. We are moving our services online. Bible-based messages will be video recorded and uploaded onto our website, Facebook page, and perhaps other online platforms, where you will be able to watch them and participate in them in your own home. Our website is:  Facebook: sscbedinburgh
    2. The church will be open for prayer and quiet time on set days for a couple of hours. Currently we plan to have it open on Mondays, and Wednesdays at 14:00-16:00; Fridays and Saturdays 10:00-12:00; Sundays 11:00-13:00 (please note not for worship, only for private prayer!)
    3. A Pastoral Team will be in contact with vulnerable members, and those that are isolated. They will regularly contact them by phone, text messages, and other means; offering support, virtual company and practical help if required.
    4. The best way to contact the church is by email (, as the office telephone will not be attended, though messages will be checked and responded to.
    5. The church building, halls included, will be closed for activities from Monday 23rd March.
    6. Information about all that’s happening, or any changes will be communicated to members by emailing you, and also available on the website, Facebook page, and Twitter.
  2. Worship opportunities for you:
    1. St Stephen’s Comely Bank – 11:00, Sunday 22nd March – ‘Christian Identity’ Sermon Series: 3. Safety (Matthew 5;13-16; verse 14), online on church website.
    2. National Day of Prayer and Action – 19:00, Sunday 22nd March -The national church leaders of the land are calling us all for a National Day of Prayer and Action this Sunday (22nd). You are encouraged to come honestly in prayer before God, sharing openly your emotions, questions, and concerns in the light of COVID-19. We have become aware in a new way of our own frailty and insecurity; we need to renew our dependance on God. So, on Sunday at 19:00, stop and pause for prayer, wherever you are, and come sincerely before God. You are asked to light a candle and place it in your window as a visible sign that we are people of the light of the world; darkness and fear will not overcome us, for our light is Jesus Christ Himself. We encourage you to join in this time of prayer. We will also place candles in the windows of the church, and the building will be open for 19:00 to 19:30 for prayer if you happen to be there.
    3. BBC Radio 4 – 8:10, Sunday 22nd March – Sunday Worship
    4. BBC Radio Scotland – 6:30, Sunday 22nd March – Sunday Worship
    5. Premier Christian Radio (DAB, FM, or online), every day of the week with worship, praise, discussions, Christian news, etc.
    6. Daily Audio Bible ( – daily readings of the Bible to listen to.

In the passage we explore at our worship (Matthew 5:13-16) Jesus says to his disciples, to us in fact, that we are the SALT of the earth, and the LIGHT of the world. God is giving us an opportunity now to demonstrate to the world that indeed we are SALT and LIGHT in this world. We will not shrink back, but stand firm in faith and bring light into our world!

Keep safe! Be wise! And be close to the Lord!

SSCB & Coronavirus (covid-19) Information

Our church leadership takes it very seriously and responsibly the present situation we all find ourselves with the epidemic of the coronavirus. After considerable time of prayer and discussion the decision was taken that the church will remain open to serve and support the congregation and the community.

It is a rapidly changing and still escalating situation and we take responsibly all the advice from the government and health agencies, and the Church of Scotland. While there are formal moves to limit large gatherings (e.g. sports and entertainment events), at present the indications are that church gatherings will be not affected by this, as they do not require the same level of resource from the emergency services. We are fully aware that the situation is dynamic and changing, therefore we will follow the developments and react accordingly.

We have already made steps to keep everyone safe as much as possible. We are cleaning the door handles with frequent regularity, as we clean all surfaces, and preparing food and refreshments according to high hygiene and safety standards (by a limited number of people wearing protective gloves).

At the same time we ask you, members and visitors, to keep a high standard of your own hygiene, thoroughly washing your hands, and refraining from physical contact (handshakes, and hugs, or kisses) to others at church. Please use tissues if you need to cough or sneeze. Tissues are available at the back of the church for your use. After use please deposit the used tissues in a bin! If you feel cold or flu type symptoms, please take the recommended action and self isolate yourself. A lot depends on you, so please play your part responsibly!

SSCB wants to be a Sanctuary to all. The church will be open during the week at certain times on various days for prayer and contemplation. When the doors are open, please feel free to come in, somebody will be here to speak to you, pray with you, pray for you and your loved ones.

We want to offer support to the vulnerable and those who have to self isolate themselves. Through phone calls, texts, emails, Skype we want to be by their side, and offer practical help if needed, like doing shopping for them.

We plan to carry on with our services. The Communion service at the end of the month is to go ahead too. We took the following measures regarding the Communion Service: only one person will prepare the elements, wearing protective gloves. The communion will be at the start of the service, and it will not be served in the pews, but it will be on a table at the front, and worshipper are to come forward and take the elements themselves.

Meantime we are keeping everybody in our prayers, praying for God’s healing grace to be upon you and upon His whole creation, protecting us from hurt and harm, and restoring all suffering people to full and complete health and strength. We continue to pray for all health professionals, for their safety, strength, and wisdom as they care for all of us. We pray for the government and all in responsible position to be wise and compassionate in their decision making.

on behalf of the Kirk Session,

George Vidits (minister)

Follow Me

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland begins next week on Saturday 18th May and will conclude on Friday the 24th May. Throughout the week commissioners to the General Assembly examine its work, life and laws and make decisions that affect the future of the church. The General assembly is the highest court of the church, and as such it is its sovereign governing body. It usually meets once a year. And a minister (teaching elder) or an elder of a Kirk Session (ruling elder) is usually commissioned to participate in its proceedings about every three years.

This year the so called Blue Book (containing the Assembly Reports, and referred to it by its colour) has the title: Jesus Said: Follow Me.

In our postmodern world it is so easy for individuals, congregations and the national church to follow the swinging moods of the world. Often the pressure is immense, and the arguments appear to be reasonable. Please pray that the General Assembly, the commissioners, and the whole of the church will know who to follow! We all will indeed follow the Risen Lord in discussion, decision making, service and conduct of life. After all He is the Way, the Truth and The Life. For no-one can offer us a way that leads to the truth and eternal life only Jesus Christ. Let us walk in His footsteps, living by and proclaiming His truth, and conducting a life filled with His obedience to God, our Father. Regardless what the world says.

The Cross that Conquers

The Cross that Conquers

I assume you were just as much shocked as the rest of the world was when the news about the devastating fire at Notre Dame church in Paris reached you. We just don’t expect such things to happen. We are not ready for news about the gunning down of a US president as JFK, or the fatal accident of Princess Diana, or the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Somehow we just can’t imagine that such things even could happen. But they do. Bad things happen. Evil things happen. They happen to us too. Is there any protection, insurance against them?

There is! Thanks be to God that there is. He is the protection. He offered salvation to all who seek Him and call on His name: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead is our salvation, and safety.

I found the images about the burnt down Notre Dame very moving. One image in particular was inspiring, even encouraging – strange it might sound at first. But it was encouraging. It is the image of the cross of the church. All around it there is darkness, burnt out walls covered with soot. Rubble everywhere, beams that turned into charcoal, pieces of the collapsed roof, scorched pews. It was all dark and grim. It was devastating and hopeless. But in the background there was the cross that was shining! The cross of Christ that brought light and hope into the darkness. It is just emerging powerfully, irresistibly out of the soot, rubble, ruins, and hopelessness. In its simplicity proclaiming life, hope, light, and glory! What an Easter symbol in a very real life situation! His cross conquers your sorrows, sins, and fears too!

I hope that anyone who has seen that image were grasped by the power of the cross. We celebrate the power of the cross in particular at Easter time! The cross of Christ is our hope for it conquered evil and sin, it was victorious over death. It was meant to devastate, to destroy, to annihilate, and it became the sign of hope and new life. For Christ was raised form the dead! Glory to Him, to the risen Saviour.

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! … He is risen indeed!