SSCB News Blogs

Choose ‘The Chosen’

A new television series has started to gain traction – and viewing numbers. The series is … different. It is called The Chosen and it follows the gospels, looking at Jesus and His followers from the eyes of those who were there; at the impact on those who encountered Jesus.

It is a drama, not a documentary and it is not your typical ‘Jesus movie.’ It is the first multi-season show about Jesus and is essentially a 56-hour film in 7 series, each of 8 episodes. Globally, it has had over 190 million views to date, in over 50 languages.

It is not controlled by studios or corporates, requiring a return on their investment and taking poetic licence for maximum effect. It is curated by biblical, cultural and historical accuracy and, of those three, biblical accuracy is pre-eminent.

It is certainly a high-quality production and both impresses and engrosses through the quality of the filming and direction, the acting, music, sets and costumes. As for the writing quality, well, as the production team say, that was all done centuries ago when the Bible was written. Their job has simply been to lift those stories, records and anecdotes and faithfully re-tell them in today’s language.

In looking at Jesus and His ministry, The Chosen poses some questions and seeks to find answers. For example, given that the Disciples did not all grow up in the same household or even street, what was it like when they were getting to know each other?

In another article, I shall mention possibility and plausibility, but it is appropriate to introduce it now. There is input from many experts in theology and Bible studies, history, culture and geography. They look to the Scripture, and if they are providing some backstory or other element that is not expressly in Scripture, they do not just look at what is possible (what it might have been like) but at what is plausible (what it probably was like given Biblical references, cultural norms and historic evidence). For example, we know that Nicodemus was a pharisee, a member of the ruling council. We know Jesus told him “No-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3) which prompted a conflict in Nicodemus: “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4) Was age a concern for him? In The Chosen, he is portrayed as old enough to be a grandfather. Expressly stated in Scripture? No. But from our knowledge of culture and history, it is not only possible that Nicodemus was older, but it is plausible as well.

I am utterly taken with The Chosen (at the time of writing, we are in season 2 which looks at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after season 1 opened by introducing us to Jesus as he called His initial disciples. So we have 13 episodes already released. And watching is both easy and free. It is not controlled by corporate investors because it is crowd-funded. It is the largest crowdfunded media project in history, with some $10 million raised from over 19,000 people, and growing. All this enables the show to be produced, distributed and watched on a free platform, without adverts.

You can watch it by going to www.thechosen.tv and you can even download an app (IOS or android). It is also free on YouTube, but with adverts in episodes.

Jesus said, `Come and see.‘ (John 1:39). So come and see for yourself!

Link to ‘The Chosen’ home page

[from Timothy Pitt]

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kettle, cleaning & garden

The Kettle, the Cleaner and the Garden

(A Tale of Gifts, Talents and Requests)

The title might imply you are about to read the story of a spaghetti western. You are not. Still it is worth the read, and it is also important if you love and care for our church family.

We recently asked if anyone could help with a gift or loan of a kettle. Someone (and she knows who she is!) had previously said she would buy one and give it to the church, but she does so much already that we just could not accept yet another quiet gesture from her, instead looking to the wider Church Family to see if anyone had a spare kettle to fill the gap. Sadly, nobody came forward, but happily we have found that, with more people bringing their own re-useable cups, we can actually manage with one kettle. So, we are no longer looking for a gift of a kettle but thank you all for considering the request.

Saul said to his servant, ‘If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?’ (1 Samuel 9:7)

Meantime, our cleaner is taking a short break – the week of Monday 5th to Friday 9th July. Her standards are so high that, frankly, ordinary people would not notice if she missed a week. But in these Covid-19 times we want to maintain her highest standards of cleanliness. We can restrict this to cleaning in the Sanctuary, Vestry and Vestry toilet. Oh, and as a church, we don’t have much money …

So, could any person / group bless the church family by cleaning the sanctuary, vestry and vestry toilet (dust, vacuum and damp wipe) within the following windows:

  • After the end of church service on 4th July but before Open Prayer at 1000 hrs on Wednesday 7th July;
  • After the end of Open Prayer at 12 noon on 7th July but before Sunday Worship activities commence at 0930 hrs in Sunday 11th July.

Any fabric, woven or knitted material, or any leather article that has been washed and is rid of the mould, must be washed again. Then it will be clean. (Leviticus 13:58)

Which brings us to the garden, and our coffee time outside. We have created a seating area away from the building works and want to enhance that by trimming the large bushes outside the Tower Room entrance. Would anyone be prepared to lend a hedge trimmer (preferably cordless, but power cable is fine) so that I (your friendly Session Clerk and local Landscape Gardener) can do this work one evening?

Please let us know via office@comelybankchurch.com or just bring in the hedge trimmer and we’ll notice it is there! If there is one available, the sooner it is provided, the sooner we will have a better seating area for coffee time (and for the families who use the gardens through the week). It will also provide better access to daylight through a couple of windows at the church sanctuary.

You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice! (Song of Songs 8:13)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Celtic Christian Literature 3: Cædmon’s Poem

In the introduction to this mini-series, we met Cædmon again. He was a worker, probably a herdsman, at the vast Whitby abbey complex led by Hilda. He would hide – or just leave – whenever it was his turn to recite verse or sing a song as part of the evening entertainment. He had a dream where, despite Cædmon’s protestations that he could not sing, a voice said, “But you shall sing to me!” He was also told that he would sing about everything beginning. Wisely, he sought Hilda for counsel (you will recall that she made herself available to anyone for discussion and counsel, no matter their station in life).

Hilda encouraged Cædmon and sure enough, Bede and other historians recount that Cædmon did indeed find a talent for verse and for singing. He did indeed sing ‘to’ the Lord for his songs and poems were ecclesiastical in nature, in praise of the Lord. And when he performed, it was said that he was not addressing the people or performing for them, but it was as if he were speaking (or singing) directly to God. Hilda encouraged him to study the scriptures and he was said to have built a catalogue of songs and poems especially regarding creation, taking holy orders and becoming an evangelising monk.

Only one work of Cædmon has been known to survive, composed between AD658 and AD680. Known simply as “Cædmon’s Poem” it is the oldest recorded poem in Old English. (Remember that Hilda was of Anglo-Saxon heritage but led Whitby Abbey in the way of Celtic Christians.)

Originally a sung item and passed on orally it was written up in Old English by AD730 and nearly 20 verifiable manuscript copies survive today. There we might have left it, with only copyright-protected modern English translations from those who know ancient Anglo-Saxon as our key to unlock lines such as ‘Thā middungeard moncynnæs uard.’ (One thing I do know is that ‘middungeard’ means ‘middle earth’ – clearly Tolkien was onto something!) But I was delighted when my world-wide search on the internet brought me to Colin Symes, a Christian in Edinburgh. Colin has kindly allowed me to reproduce his translation of Cædmon’s Poem and also of the ‘epic’ which is the subject of the fourth article of this mini-series. First, Cædmon’s Poem:

Now let us praise all heaven’s mighty Lord
For His great wisdom and creating Word.
The wonder-Father’s wondrous works abound;
Almighty God and our Creator
First created for His children
Heaven a roof, this holy Maker,
Then middle-earth to guard mankind,
Th’ Eternal Lord then provided
Men for earth, the Lord Almighty.
[This translation © Colin Symes. Reproduced by kind permission.]

Those lines, from these shores, were composed in Old English at least 1,340 years ago! 

And yet:

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations. (Psalm 89:1)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Coming Soon – Go for Gold

Are you a sports fan? What is your favourite sport? I like all kinds of sports, mainly the ones that involve chasing a ball (football, handball, hockey, volleyball, tennis, water polo, table tennis, snooker, golf, etc. – you get the picture), but I just as much enjoy the thrill and excitement in any kind of sports. If you like sports, it is very likely you enjoy the Olympic Games that brings a vast array of sports to our screens.

This year we can enjoy the Tokyo Olympics (at the time of writing the games are still on!). Although, one year late and a bit squeezed, but they are still on to enjoy them. For our household we can really enjoy it as we can support Team GB, Finland, Hungary, and Romania! Let’s go for Gold.

Did you know that the Apostle Paul was a massive sports fan? Paul quite often used examples from athletics and sports to emphasise his message of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Acts 20:24). Just like athletes who want to win the race, Christians too, need to discipline themselves, train hard and compete with perseverance and fairness to win the crown of life, we need to go for gold! There is no alternative, we cannot be mediocre Christians. In the Christian life there is not crown for the ‘also ran’. Paul admired all the qualities that went into fair competition. He saw those qualities as essential for Christians in their journey of faith too. One needs to put in all they have, into pursuing their faith. We need to do our best in following Jesus! There is no other way (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)!

However, Paul is not the only New Testament writer who was inspired by sports, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews also used athletic images to emphasise the gospel message. In ancient Greece athletes competed unclothed. They wanted nothing to hold them back in their race. The writer of Hebrews used them as an example writing that the followers of Christ should “throw off everything that hinders” their “race” following Christ, and they should “run the race with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1).

We will explore Hebrews 12:1-13 in July to learn and discipline ourselves in running the race Christ marked out for us. Let us go for gold and let nothing hinder us in running the Christian race marked out for us!

[from GV]

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Refuel Lite 21

Refuel Lite 21, a family friendly Scottish Christian festival, 19th-23rd July 2021 

Can you imagine what it might be like to come together safely this summer, to worship with other brothers and sisters in Christ in the beautiful setting of the Morayshire Coast sharing times of ministry, community, worship, encounter, presence and connection?

Refuel is a summer family festival in the grounds of Gordon Castle Estate, in the Scottish Highlands from Monday 19 to Friday 23 July 2021. There will be worship, cafés, ministries and pop-up prayer stations. Optional activities are available across the region on the preceding Monday and Tuesday.

The main worship will be outdoors and led from an open sided stage where folks can control their proximity to others, sitting on the lawn or near various large screens throughout the grounds where the worship stage will be beamed to. Confirmed speakers include Bruxey Cavey, author and pastor from Canada, Fred Drummond, Director of Evangelical Alliance and Yinka Oyekan, President of the Baptist Union, pastor and author. 

All under 16’s can attend FREE and although they cannot offer the normal children’s ministry as in previous years there will be activities and ministries offering outdoor experiences for the over 8’s (e.g. Archery, Bushcraft, Canoeing, Kayaking, Mountain Biking and team games – requires payment, but will be subsidised).

For 12–18-year-olds, there will be a Refuel Youth event of camping, worship, teaching and mayhem, run by The Message Trust and DNA. The Youth event costs £60 for the 3 days and includes space in a campsite and some additional activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, archery paddle boarding. All under 18s must have a responsible adult onsite during the event and 12-year-olds must have completed their first year at High School.

Camping will need to be booked at local campsites but caravans and motorhomes can park in the estate. The cost for adults is £199 for the three days and Day tickets of £66/day are available too. If Refuel has to be cancelled refunds will be made. 

Check out www.refuelscotland.org.uk or phone 01343 610230 if you have further questions.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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Prize Giving

When I was at Sunday School, we had an annual ‘Prize Giving’ service, when each child in the church was presented with a book in recognition of attendance. I still have some of these books, well read and well loved, the certificate in the front was a source of pride. From children’s bible stories to the adventures of C.S. Lewis, they enchanted and informed me. I was delighted to discover that this was also a tradition at SSCB. Our society has an uncomfortable relationship with tradition, we often write off things that we believe have ‘had their day’. I’m personally pleased that presenting children with good books has not had its day. 

Our children this past year have had the most challenging of times. They have been forced to keep their distance from their friends and grandparents, to adapt to new ways of learning, and to live with new things that even the adults didn’t want to accept. They have done this with fortitude and grace. 

Sunday Club was simply not allowed to meet in person for long time, and now, thankfully restored, they must use their own separate entrance and exit. They haven’t been allowed into the sanctuary of the church all year. Our youngest, pre-school members have struggled too – they don’t understand social distancing or one-way systems. Their parents are stressed by permanently keeping their physical boundaries in check in a way that isn’t normal. And the babies, oh, how I have missed having a cuddle with our church family babies.   

I don’t know about you, but I find our church a quieter place without our children, quiet in a way that isn’t right. As a family church, we are missing a critical generation- one of life, colour, challenges and difficult questions. Fear not though. Our children are still there- using separate door ways, leaving when the noise gets too much, dialling in on Zoom, trying their hardest to learn about God whilst keeping everyone safe. 

This years ‘prize-giving’ service will be all the more special because of the year that we have all endured. It will be a COVID safe service, naturally, but we will finally share the same physical space and be able to see and hear each other. I pray that our children will feel able to share with us something that they have learnt this year, that they receive amazing books, full of enchantment and adventure, inspiring them to learn more about our awesome God. 

The ‘Prize Giving’ / end of term service will be on Sunday 20th June, 11am. All welcome.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Filled & Transformed

We have recently celebrated Pentecost, often named as the birthday of the church. Jesus told His disciples to wait until He sent the Spirit, which would enable them to go out and proclaim God’s kingdom with power “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.” (John 14 v26).  But have we forgotten this source of power in much of our church life?  Two pictures which may help.

We are encouraged by the New Testament writers to go on being filled with the Spirit, so how? Well think of those large glass jars full of coloured pebbles and water that people used to have on the hearth. You are the jar, the Spirit is the water and the pebbles, well the junk in our lives. Chuck out a pebble and you can get more water in. And so it is with God’s Spirit – as we turn away from those things which are not from God there is more room for His Spirit to fill us. What are you going to throw out this week?

Paul gives another picture in Romans (Romans 8: 12-17) Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation… For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We are people of a different kingdom as we have been hearing over the last few Sundays, a Kingdom which was inaugurated when Jesus rose.  If we are children of God, born of the Spirit, we belong to a new Kingdom. Have you changed your passport, or have you got dual nationality, keeping the old one for times when it is more helpful in avoiding a conflict with the world view?

What happens when we take God at his word and let His Spirit fill us? The church grows and we see signs of His Kingdom.  We may also upset the rest of the world!

[from John Baggaley]

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Praying for Our Church

God’s church across the world continues to grow and thrive. Development in China, India, Russia, South America and Africa is strong. However, in some areas of Western Europe, God’s church is struggling to be heard. The Church of Scotland is struggling. Note, I don’t say the church in Scotland, because many churches in Scotland are growing in number. But the Church of Scotland is struggling. 

At the General Assembly last month, attempts were once again made to deal with the consequences of reduced attendance, finances, and ministers. New plans to combine Presbyteries and reduce the number of churches allowed to call their own ministers were fiercely debated. Many of God’s people are worrying as they look towards an unclear future.    

Change can be painful, no doubt. Many churches, members and ministers are exhausted and fearful. However, just as our gardens bloom from loving attention, we should not fear Godly pruning. Remember what we read in John 15, before He went to the cross Jesus gave his final sermon. In it, he spoke about spiritual growth and pruning, about how his disciples (and we) should draw our strength from God. God prunes and prepares his vines for growth and renewal.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Let us pray for our Church, for the Church of Scotland, for those making truly difficult decisions. Let us pray that the church will undergo Godly pruning, so that it will once again bear much fruit.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Celtic Christian Literature 1: Hymns, Poems and Epics

When we walked among the distant echo of the Celtic Christians, we saw in passing that there was an oral tradition for poetry and prayer. They were handed down, spoken and sung; repeated and learned. Not many were literate and so the oral tradition enabled not just the spread of those words but of The Word itself.

We paused at some Tall Crosses, and saw the biblical scenes carved into them. These were useful both as encouragement for passers-by and also as a community focus; a framework for a sermon to those gathered at that cross to worship.

At Christmas, we read through our own Celtic Christian Advent. Poems and prayers passed down orally and, finally, written and published as the Carmina Gadelica.

Celtic Christians had a particular expression of their love of God, reverence of the Holy Spirit and delight in Jesus. The oft-repeated (usually sung) words were embedded in the memories of the individual and the community. They prepared themselves for worship using the natural rhythms of God’s creation all around them (the ebb and flow of the waves, the rise and fall of a light breeze, the percussion of a river dashing over rocks), alongside which they might repeat:

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection. (Carmina Gadelica Vol 1)

But that oral tradition was not the only medium for Celtic Christians. As we saw, those in holy orders (both men and women) were usually able to read and write and would study Scripture by writing it out as they contemplated its meaning and beauty. This was a factor in vast religious settlements such as Iona, under Columba, and Whitby, led by Hilda. Monks, nuns, farmers, herdsmen, weavers, bakers … an entire community built around God’s Word and copying out that Word to share it and evangelise.

The ground was fertile: crops to feed the body. The culture was fertile: the arts to nurture soul and spirit. Hymns, poems and epic tales all pointed to God’s glory. Expressing faith was not just preaching a sermon but connecting in different ways.

We saw, for example, how Cædmon was a herdsman at Whitby who hid whenever it was his turn to sing as part of the evening entertainment. Hilda encouraged him, especially after he had a dream that he would sing and play for the person in his dream. He came to know God and used his songs and poems to evangelise all around the area – all in praise of the person in his dream; all in praise of Jesus.

So for the next three articles, we will look at some examples of Celtic Christian literature. We will look at a hymn, a poem and an epic. The Celtic Christians learned from the Scriptures, and so can we:

… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord … (Ephesians 5: 18-19)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Love Shine a Light

As an aficionado of the Eurovision Song Contest, I recently decked out our house in bunting of European flags, printed out score sheets and tucked into food from a number of European countries as I settled down with family and friends to watch the annual extravaganza, which is, without doubt, my cultural highlight of the year. Apart from the two years I lived in Japan, I have watched every Eurovision Song Contest since 1966 and am genuinely moved by the show of solidarity and joy as people speaking and singing in different languages come together to celebrate this annual festival. There have been many touching moments over the last 65 years although one of the stand-out moments for me was when Israel awarded the coveted douze points in 1982 to Germany, the eventual winner, despite all the cultural and historical baggage between the two countries. The song, sung in German, by the 18-year-old Nicole Seibert, about the need for peace in the world was proof that deep-seated resentment can be overcome, and that love will always prevail. The performances and costumes may have become whackier over the years and some geopolitical voting may have crept in, resulting in the UK’s humiliating nul points in this year’s contest, but generally the best songs always shine through. Love it or hate it, criticisms of the contest can often obscure its real purpose.  Set up in 1956, in a ravaged post-war Europe, its aim was to bring people together through music and celebrate cultural diversity. 

In the same way, we can often forget the true purpose of the Church. The Church is not a collection of often crumbling buildings. The Church is its people, the people of God, the body of Christ, here to further His kingdom in this world. Non-Christians often point to the failings and divisions of the Church but, as Nicky Gumbel pointed out in the Alpha course, we are an imperfect people. The Church is not a museum but rather more akin to a hospital that needs the healing power and love of Jesus to restore and refresh us. It is true that there are many denominations within the church, all with a slightly different emphasis or appealing to different sensitivities yet we are all family, united in and through Christ.  Unity of purpose is a common theme in the Bible. In Corinthians 1.10 Paul says, ‘’I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement.’’ Even in the Old Testament we read in Psalms 133.1; ‘’Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.’’ One of the commonalities we have as believers is encouragement from our relationship with Christ. We can be united because we have in common the same friend, the same comforter, the same encourager. For each of us, Christ comes alongside to walk us through the pains and struggles of life. Another commonality and empowerment for unity that God has given us is the comfort from Christ’s love. In Romans 5.8 we read: ‘’But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’’ Christ’s perfect love casts out fears and anxieties that keep us from unity. Thirdly, we are all united through fellowship with the Holy Spirit. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.13, ‘’ For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’’ The Spirit of God has made us one and works in us to work together and depend upon one another; however, we need to strive constantly to maintain this unity he forged within us. Unity, however, does not mean conformity. God made everyone different with different gifts and roles to fulfil within the Church. This should be seen as a strength and not a weakness of the Church and it is our responsibility to work together in love and tolerance to further His work.

The UK winning Eurovision entry of 1997 by Katrina and the Waves contains the following words: ‘’Love shine a light in every corner of the world. Brothers and sisters in every little part, let our love shine a light in every corner of our hearts.’’ Despite our failings as individuals, we can be encouraged that we are one in Christ and that His love will always shine through His Church.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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After Alpha – What Next?

Confession time – I have just completed the Alpha course and I was supposed to be helping out. However, I definitely got more out of it than I put into it. 

I’ve been a Christian for a number of years now and always thought that Alpha was for people who had no faith, or perhaps had a bit and wanted to explore it. To be honest, that’s exactly who Alpha is aimed at. So, in my mind, I was clearly in the category of helping others to explore, rather than exploring for myself. My ‘road to Damascus’ experience has long passed. 

But our God of surprises knew exactly what he was doing. I’m far more likely to make time to do something whereby I think I’m helping out, rather than making time for something for myself. God seized the opportunity to sit me down and refresh the foundation stones. 

If you weren’t able to join the course this time, the quality of the videos and level of information was excellent. As a history geek I loved the list of primary sources for evidence of the life of Jesus Christ. The questions were challenging and our group discussions were fulsome. My group had just 6 people in it, from different stages in our faith journeys, and it was such an encouraging place to come each week. I won’t name and shame anyone, but I learnt so much from everyone there. 

‘What next?’ I wonder. We all need the opportunity to talk about life’s big questions, to explore God’s plan for our lives, to dig deep into the Bible and figure out those passages that challenge us. It doesn’t matter how long we have been a Christian for, there is always more to discover and we all benefit from the company of others along the way. Fellowship, homegroups, personal bible study and quiet time are all possibilities. The church library shelves have many good books to borrow.  Homegroups are always time well spent and welcome new members. ‘The Bible in One Year’ is a free daily Bible reading app with a commentary by the people who lead the Alpha videos. It can be downloaded on the App Store, Google Play and at https://www.bibleinoneyear.org

For me, I’m a talker and a people person. It’s all about chewing it over with others, particularly over a coffee and a piece of cake. Lockdown has been hard, removing our face-to-face contact. But Alpha has reminded me that this can be done in different ways, and that spending time in fellowship with others and giving time to God, is critical not optional. Home Group, here I come!

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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EMMS COVID Fight Update

Friends of SSCB, EMMS International, have continued to support Christian hospitals and healthcare workers throughout the COVID pandemic. Their work has been impacted everywhere, but particularly at Duncan Christian Hospital, India, and Green Pastures in Nepal.   

India’s fresh COVID crisis has gripped headlines recently, with Delhi’s large, predominantly private, hospitals struggling to maintain their oxygen supplies.  Hospitals that serve India’s poorest and most rural areas rarely make the headlines. Duncan Christian Hospital, in rural Bihar state, is once again feeling the impact of the virus. Dr Prabhu, the hospital’s Medical Director, wrote last week:

“We are again flooded with COVID, and over 40 staff, including myself, are positive. The first three days are quite uncomfortable, but we are all recovering, and some are back to work. I’m sure you are watching the news on TV to get an idea of what’s happening in India. This time around, we were not locked down, and the virus had spread extensively.”

The pandemic is once again a crisis on top of the ongoing critical needs of the local community. Today, Bihar state has announced that it will go into lockdown to stop the virus’ spread. Lockdown will, however, put countless households at risk of hunger, particularly day labourers. 

Nepal is now also declaring a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators. “The situation in India is a big concern, and we too are experiencing a second wave of COVID,” wrote Dr Ruth Russel from Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. Green Pastures Hospital will once again become an essential part of the coronavirus response. These amazing health workers are resolute in their commitment to serving their local communities and caring for those with COVID-19.

In the UK we are now daring to hope, thanks to lockdown easing and the widespread national vaccination. But we must share that hope with others. With vaccine numbers still low in India and Nepal, their crisis is far from over. EMMS International are seeking our support for their “Dare to Hope – Share the Hope” appeal. They are asking you to support Christian healthcare workers and those they serve. If you can spare a donation today, please visit www.emms.org

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you…” Luke 14:13-14.

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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Refurbishment Work Begins – Frequently Asked Questions

The long planned refurbishment work at the church is about to begin and it will affect our daily life and ministry at church. Timothy Pitt, our Session Clerk tried to sum up here most important information about the work and its implications for us. We hope you will find this helpful.

What are the planned dates?

Works start on 7th June and are due to complete in the week of 13th September 2021.

Roughly, what are we doing again?

Phase 1 involves a new kitchen and toilets and a better accessway. We are also moving the electrics box from the ‘toilet corridor’ to the West Transept ready for a new office and entrance where the prayer room currently exists.

Where are the ‘out of bounds’ areas?

Kitchen, ladies and gents toilets, both halls and the side access doors.

How do I get into church?

Via the Tower entrance (accessible) or the front entrance on Comely Bank Road.

If you need access through the week and no other door is open, even if you have a key, ring the bell and the builders will let you in; they control the site for health & safety.

Will we still do coffee and if so, how?

Yes! The vestry has been set up as a preparation point and we will then bring the tea and coffee from there into the main Sanctuary or outside in good weather, just as we do at present.

What if I need the toilet?

Repent! We are warned of ‘damnation without relief!’ Fortunately, others provide while your Session Clerk tries to joke: there is a toilet in the vestry. Please be careful as you pass the aforementioned coffee preparation area!

We will try to ensure the toilet in the Prayer Room is available each Sunday, but it is liable to be dusty.

What about Creche, Sunday Club and Inspire?

Creche facilities would be available, subject to Sunday clean up, in the Prayer Room.

Sunday Club will try to meet in the church gardens, and will use the Session Room if the weather is bad. Access to the Session Room is via the Vestry and the Church Office (please be careful of the coffee preparation point and the long queue of people waiting for the toilet!). Sunday Club does not usually meet over the summer holidays.

Inspire will remain flexible – likely to be meeting online for the Youth Alpha course, perhaps in the Session Room when not in use by Sunday Club. And I’m sure it says somewhere that God loves His children to go for ice cream and Bible study trips …

Can I see what’s going on?

You cannot access the corridors, halls, kitchen or toilets, but we will see the project taking shape. Please do come to church on Sunday and see for yourself.

I still have a question

Please speak to Timothy Pitt. (He might not answer, but you can still ask him!)

Against the walls of the main hall and inner sanctuary he built a structure around the building, in which there were side rooms. (1 Kings 6:5)

[from Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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Heaven on Earth

We just finished, by God’s grace a sermon series about the life that is to come after death. As a wee reminder for those who followed it and as a note for those who missed it here are a few words about what we can expect after death: Heaven on Earth.

Heaven is the word in both Old and new Testaments for sky. It is referred to it as being somewhere up there. While Heaven is primarily the ‘place’ where God is, being in His presence, nevertheless right now is a location in physical, tangible, and real space somewhere (not necessarily ‘up there’, for what is ‘up’ for us in Scotland is very much ‘down’ for our brothers and sisters in Australia!). However, at the Second Coming of Jesus heaven will be a renewed cosmos.

Primarily Heaven is a PERFECT place. A place where life is lived to the full without sin – life free of sin’s effects, influences or curse!

Secondly, Heaven is a new world without pain, disease, death, or suffering, or tears. Life will be free from evil and the hurts of evil.

Thirdly, Heaven is the place where we will be together with the redeemed people of God. That will be our new society, the Kingdom of God. Relationships and fellowship without being marred by jealousy, fear, or distrust. What will we do in all eternity? Well, we will work, love, play, share, laugh, and worship together with the saints.

Heaven is a new earth with all its features, redeemed of its curse, pain and sin. Is Creation as it is intended by God, filled with his unspoiled image, redeemed humanity to live life to the full. And all of this for ever and ever, and most importantly in the presence and company of our Saviour, Jesus! We will see His face (Revelation 22:4), and not just having a glimpse of it, but seeing Him always, for ever. Talking to Him, thanking Him for all He did for us and in joyous worship and praise and adoration for who He is.

It is a place where you want to book your place now!

[from GV, based on Derek w. H. Thomas: Heaven on Earth]

Recommended Further Reading:

  • ALCORN, Randy: Heaven (Tyndale House Publishers) – detailed, readable, very informative, Biblical but a bit speculative
  • GRAHAM, Billy: Death and the Life After (W Publishing Group) – addresses all aspects of death and life after, thoroughly Biblical, shares personal testimonies, answers questions, practical, loving and comforting
  • LAWRENCE, David: Heaven: It’s Not the End of the World (Faithbuilders, originally by Scripture Union) – clear and positive presentation, very readable

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Wake Up! .– .- -.- . / ..- .–. -.-.–

Thomas Edison Sr. was very much fond of the Morse code. His first daughter, Marion was called in the family as Dot. When her brother, Thomas Alva was born they called him Dash. Apparently, Thomas Sr. proposed to his second wife (his first wife sadly died) using Morse code. The Morse code was very much part of the Edison children’s life from a very early age.

The story is told that on one occasion young Dash (Thomas Jr.) was waiting at the railway station for the arrival of his sister Dot.  The news came through that the railway bridge the train was supposed to cross before getting into the station collapsed. Panic broke out at the station for there was no way to notify the coming train about the danger waiting for it. Tragedy was looming! Young Dash had the idea to give Morse code signals to the arriving train with the whistle of a steam locomotive at the station. He hoped his sister will hear the code and interpret it in time for the train to stop. As it happened, she was asleep. But she was awoken by the shaking of the carriage and heard the signals. She instantly alerted others of the danger, but it took a while until some passengers (not all by any means) listened to her and pulled the emergency cord. Tragedy was avoided.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

‘Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.’
(Ephesians 5:14)

Paul’s quotation (probably from an early hymn) tells us that not everyone who is living is alive, and not everyone who is conscious is awake! From the story above it appears that some of the passengers who had their eyes open on the train were deeper in sleep than the young girl!

Are you awake or are you asleep? God sends waking calls to us too. He wants us to wake up to the truth that we have life only in Jesus Christ! We might seem to be active, moving about, have our eyes open, but we are in deep sleep, unaware of the danger ahead of us! They who hear the divine alarm and wake up realising their lost condition and stop their journey to be lost for ever, will truly live!

In this world there is a great pretence, lulling into a false sense of security, (‘chloroforming,’ if you like) going on! Evil tries to make us unaware about our real condition of sin by making it insignificant, or immaterial, or even calling it right and progressive, and by making us too busy to pay attention to it.

Give thanks to God that he sent His only Son to save us; has given His Word (not in Morse code but in a language we can understand!) to wake us up that we may stop and turn to Jesus for salvation.

Wake Up! in Morse Code

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Listener or Disciple?

He (Jesus) appointed twelve … to be with him…” Mark 3:14

Jesus had many listeners but only a few disciples. Even today relatively many hear about him but only a few know him personally! What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, today? What do you think?

A disciple is more than a pupil or a student. Most dictionaries define ‘disciple’ as ‘a follower’ of a teacher, or leader. Someone who believes in the ideas of the leader. A pupil needs to learn only a predefined subject material, which is only a segment of the whole, and they are not required to believe in it. A disciple had to assimilate with their master’s worldview, and ideals. Today pupils or students spend only a short time with their teachers. In Jesus’ time a disciple literally lived together with their master for years, followed them wherever they went, they were involved in everything the master got involved. They received not just the master’s teaching but also witnessed the master’s behaviour, the ways how the master lived out their ideas in daily life, how they applied it to particular circumstances. It was so with the twelve, the gospels give plenty of evidence how they went where Jesus went, they got involved in the things Jesus was attending to. Because of the continuous togetherness they got assimilated to the master, to Jesus. Jesus also reminded them that they are to act as he was acting – that’s how people will recognise them as Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 13:34-35)!

Jesus called his disciples for this purpose, to be with him and then becoming like him they will be sent out to proclaim Jesus’ message and do Jesus’ acts of love. This is the order, first being together with Jesus, becoming a spiritual unity with him, then going out in his strength and love serving in His name.

The big personal question is: Are you a listener or a disciple? A listener, a pupil can preserve their distance, independence, neutrality to the teacher. They just study the material taught to them. A disciple on the other hand is a committed person. They take in and accept the teaching and try to implement it as a way of life. They make it their own! They remain faithful to the master and the teaching no matter what.

So, are you a listener or a disciple? Do you have only knowledge about Jesus, or do you know Jesus personally? Are you seeking spending time with Jesus only occasionally (Easter, Christmas), or are you in a daily fellowship with Jesus? Is your life beginning to resemble the life of Jesus? That’s a sign of becoming an actual disciple!

One needs to become truly His disciple here in this world and this life to be able to enjoy eternal fellowship with Him in glory!

Lord, Jesus, help me to follow you always not just listen to you!

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Praise of the Week: O Worship the King (1833)

Robert Grant was of Scottish ancestry, born in India. His father, Charles Grant, director of the East India Company, was respected throughout India as one of Britain’s finest statesman. He was also a deeply committed evangelical Christian, who used his position to encourage and support Christian mission in India.

Robert was six years old when the family returned to Britain, as his father became an MP for Inverness. His son, Robert grew up in a world of power, politics, and privilege. But he also grew up as a devout and most committed follower of Christ. He attended Magdalene College, Cambridge, and entered the legal profession. His intelligence and integrity were obvious. He became King’s Sergeant, and in 1818 he entered Parliament. Among his legislative initiatives was a bill to remove civil restrictions against the Jews.

As Robert was studying Psalm 104, he compared the greatness of the King of kings with the majesty of the British royalty, and found that they cannot compare!

  • Verse 1: “O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty.”
  • Verses 2-3 tell us that God covers Himself with light as a garment and makes the clouds His chariot.
  • Verse 5 reminds us that God laid the foundations of the earth.
  • Verse 24 proclaims that all of creation reflects God’s greatness.
  • Verse 31: “May the glory of the LORD endure for ever.”

Robert filled his heart with these verses, and from his heart came a magnificent hymn of praise:

O worship the King all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love:
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.

In 1832, Robert was appointed Judge Advocate General; this praise was published in 1833, and he was knighted in 1834. Soon thereafter he returned to India, the land of his early childhood, to be Governor of Bombay. He died there in 1838. A nearby medical college was built and named in his honour. But his most lasting memorial is this hymn of praise, calling us to worship the King of kings.

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Pray for the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland begins this weekend (22 May), which is Pentecost Weekend. I believe this is significant and the basis of my appeal asking you to pray for the church to be filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit. We need Spirit filled, Spirit driven, Spirit inspired, and Spirit empowered people to lead and serve in our church, in every church!

“The church that is man-managed instead of God-governed is doomed to failure. A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles. The church that multiplies committees and neglects prayer may be fussy, noisy, entertaining, and enterprising, but it labours in vain and spends its strength for nought. It is possible to excel in mechanics and fail in dynamic. There is a superabundance of machinery; what is wanting is power. To run on organisation needs no God. Man can supply the energy, enterprise, and enthusiasm for things human. The real work of a church depends upon the power of the Spirit.” (Samuel Chadwick: The Way to Pentecost)

The sad thing is that the above was first published in 1932, and not in 2021! It is profoundly relevant for us here today! We have the same Holy Spirit who birthed, inspired, and empowered the New Testament church. The Holy Spirit never abdicated His authority or withdrew His power. Yet it seems the church in our age is powerless, lost her direction, and is just tossed by the waves of populist secularism.

We simply have forgotten the Holy Spirit. As William Fitch puts it, “He is the great forgotten one in all the work we do within the church.” When the church needs radical change, presbyteries need reforming, congregations seek their future in hubs, and clusters we desperately need the godly wisdom, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit on every level, General Assembly, Presbyteries, Kirk Sessions, congregations, individual Christians!

So, in this season of Pentecost and General Assembly, pray for the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us all, so that we all will be filled with the Holy Spirit for the glory of Christ and the coming of His Kingdom!

[GV]

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Prayer During the Battle

There is a very interesting verse in 1 Chronicles 5, it is verse 20, and it goes like this:

“They were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers because they trusted in him.”

What makes this verse so interesting is the place where it is in Scripture. For this verse is in a 9 chapters long family tree, genealogy of the tribes of Israel. It is there because this was a hall mark of the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

They went into battle, and they cried out to God. They waged their battles not in their own strength but in the strength of the Lord! The significance is not just in trusting in God but that they prayed during the battle! Pretty sure they had a strategy, but they made time to pray too! Prayer was just as much important and reliable ‘weapon’ for them as their shields, swords, and bows (verse 18). They were trained for battle (verse 18), but they were trained for spiritual warfare too, they PRAYED in battle.

You might have a strategy for life, work, for your smaller and larger battles, you might be well trained for them, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as a Christian do you also pray during your battles?

We are calling you as our brothers and sisters, as members of our church family let us pray together at our Summer Day of Prayer. We as a church have got our skills, gifts, and some training too, but we have got our battles as well (adjusting to new ways of being church because of covid infections; church building redevelopment; confronting ungodly, non-Scriptural influences; mission; care; children’s and youth work; etc.). We are calling you to join in at the Day of Prayer (10:00 to 22:00, Saturday 29 May) to pray during the ‘battle.’ It is good to work for the Lord, but let us not forget it is His work, and we need to pray while we do it. We can accomplish His work, His victories not by our own strength but only by His grace, His Spirit, His strength. (Zechariah 4:6)

Find out more about our Day of Prayer-Summer and Sign up for a prayer time by clicking the buttons below. Let us all pray, trusting the Lord! And we will see His amazing works among us!

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Spirit of God, and Understanding

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

In school, we regularly had to do poem analysis. One standard paragraph started something like this: Here the poet wants to say… and followed your understanding of the verse. I never liked these exercises. How could I know what the poet wanted to say? I wasn’t there when he or she wrote it. It would have been different if the poet were there and tell us what was on their mind writing those verses. But they never were there.

This is why I like Pentecost! Because at Pentecost when the Spirit came the Author of the Bible (and of Creation) came to us to explain what He means by every verse in Scripture. We do not have to guess, assume what God tries to tell us. We can know it for certain because He Himself explains it directly to us. We just need to ask Him, Lord tell me your truth; open my heart, mind, and soul before your Word, as Jesus opened the minds of His disciples so they could understand Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

So, when you read the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit you can recognise God’s own word, His voice, behind the words coming directly to you. You can understand His message, you can rejoice over them,

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16)

You will agree with them and obey them. Then the Spirit will start to work in you, shape and mould your life and understanding. It will bring you God’s peace, His guidance, His joy that will be your strength.

This Pentecost (23 May) give thanks to God that He, the author of all Creation and of the Bible comes personally to explain what He means with every word He says! Ask Him to speak to you every day!

[GV]

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Gathering v. Muttering

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)

These two groups can be often found around Jesus, the tax collectors and sinner, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They never mixed with each other though! The latter group deeply despised ‘sinners’ group. The tax collectors and sinners hurried to gather around Jesus to hear him. The Pharisees on the other hand muttered and judged Jesus: “This man (!) welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The sinners were not satisfied with themselves, they wanted to get closer to Jesus having their hope in His help to change them. The Pharisees on the other hand, were not satisfied with Jesus and the sinners. The tax collectors knew they were lacking that they were sinners. The Pharisees believed to be righteous. The tax collectors could not hide their sins, while the Pharisees tried to cover up theirs.

Who can be helped? Only those can be healed who realise they are unwell and want to be healed. Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

In one of His parables a Pharisee prayed in the temple giving thanks that he was better than others, while at the same time the tax collector asked God to be merciful to him a sinner. Which of the two was changed? Jesus said it was the tax collector who went home being justified (Luke 18:14).

Because if someone is full of themselves nothing can be given to them! Who wants to get rid of their sins confessing them to Jesus, they receive righteousness, purity, peace, hope instead of them from Jesus.

Which group do you belong to? Do you want to be changed, forgiven, or you want to change Jesus as the Pharisees wanted? They accused Jesus that he was the friend of sinners. Do you belong to his circle of friends? If not yet, do you want to?

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)

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Parable in F Major

As we are still not permitted to sing in church, here is the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) in F major.

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow, Fred, forced his fond father to fork over his farthings.

Fred flew far, to fancy foreign fields finding foolish frivolities, frequent fornication and fabulous feasting with faithless friends and fillies. So, he frittered father’s fortune. Fleeced by his fellows-in-folly fully fatigued and facing famine, Fred found himself functioning as a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard with fungus face and a fist full of fresh fragrant fertiliser. Fairly famished, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from the fodder fragments.

“Far out and fooey! What a fiasco! My father’s flunkies fare far fancier!” the frazzled fugitive fumed feverishly, frankly facing facts.

Freezing, frightened, frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, Fred, following his feeling, fled forthwith from the filthy foreign farmyard to his family. 

Faraway, the father focusing on the fretful familiar form in the field flew to Fred, fondly flinging his forearms around the fatigued fugitive. Falling at his father’s feet, Fred forlornly fumbled, “Father, I have flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favour.”

Fortunately for Fred, the far-sighted, faithful father, forestalling further flinching, forgiving, and forgetting Fred’s failings, frantically flagged the flunkies: “Fantastic! Fetch the finest fatling from the flock and fix a feast! Furnish Fred with fashionable flannel!”

Faithfully, the father’s first-born, Farley, was in a fertile field fixing fences while father, fugitive and family were feeling festive. The fugitive’s fraternal faultfinder flew into a fury, frowning on the fickle forgiveness of former folderol. “Fred’s a fool!” said Farley. His fury flashed, but fussing was futile. For the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, Farley, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Unfurl the flags! Find the fiddles and flutes! Let fanfares flare! Let fun and frolic freely flow!”

Former failure’s forgotten; folly forsaken! Father’s forgiveness forms the foundation for former fugitive’s future fortitude!

[adapted from Graham H Twelftree: Your Point Being…? (Monarch Books, 2003) p. 194.]

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the cup or the coffee?

A group of young professionals who achieved much quickly in their career visited their favourite old college lecturer during their reunion. They enjoyed each other’s company, but the conversation drifted off to a negative tone, complaining about the demands and the pressures of their work and responsibilities.

Their lecturer offered them coffee and brought in a big tray of coffee cups of different sizes and makes, some fine bone china, others plastic, or glass, simple mugs, and some ornate delicate ones too. They all picked a cup for themselves and the lecturer commented:

“Have you noticed that all the nice and fine cups were taken, leaving behind the ordinary and simple plastic ones. You all, quite naturally, want the best of everything for yourselves. But this is the source of your stress and problems too. What you all wanted was coffee and not the cup! Still, you consciously chose the better, bigger, nicer cups while you watched what others are picking up.”

The penny dropped for the ex-students:

“We assume than that Life is the coffee, and our work, positions, money are the cups. They are just tools for Life. They don’t really add to the quality of life. And by paying so much attention and using so much energy in choosing the “right” cup we miss enjoying and making the most of the coffee that’s in it. Thank you for continuing teaching us of things that really matter.”

Jesus said that He came to give us Life in abundance or as some translations put it to the full (John 10:10)! Pay more attention to the Life and the Life Giver this coming week, and always, to enjoy the full flavour of His Life. And you will see, somehow, only Jesus knows how, He will make “the cup” of your life nicer and better too!

[inspired by the Facebook post of Nagyvárad Olaszi Reformed Church in Romania]

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Wisdom of the Cluster

Right Rev. Colin Sinclair (Palmerston Place)

We are part of a cluster of congregations with Murrayfield, Palmerston Place and Stockbridge. We are exploring the ways we can serve our communities better together. One thing we can do is to learn from one another. I often shared that one of my favourite Scripture verses is Romans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

With this article series Wisdom of the Cluster, we want to grow and be encouraged by the shared wisdom of our brothers and sisters in the cluster.

We launch the articles with the wisdom of Very Rev. Colin Sinclair, minister of Palmerston Place. Colin and Palmerston Place gave thanks to God this week for the 40th anniversary of Colin’s ordination and ministry. Colin served the national church as her Moderator in 2019.

Q: Colin, how do you keep your faith strong?

A: Theologians talk about “the means of grace!” and by that they just mean that to keep your faith alive you need to prioritise: – making time for worship and spending time with other Christians – not getting isolated (not easy in a Covid19 world); keep your own devotional life alive through taking time to read the bible and pray and sharing in Communion and remaining active in Christian service.

Also, I have tried to keep in contact with people whose Christian lives I admire. Their example and inspiration have made me want to stand tall and be the best I could hope to be. Not wanting to let them down – many have been members of my congregation over the years though a good number of them have gone ahead to glory.

I have been inspired both by those I have met personally and those I have read about or whose writings have inspired me.

Finally, I have tried to set myself challenges and goals whether in study or service that take me beyond my comfort zone and increase my dependence on God.

Thank you Colin, and we also share in the thanksgiving for your fruitful ministry, wishing Ruth and you and Palmerston Place God’s continuing rich blessings in the ministry of the Gospel!

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Cluster Meeting Information – 3 May 2021

Cluster of Murrayfield – Palmerston Place – St Stephen’s Comely Bank – Stockbridge

You will recall that Presbytery instructed that congregations should collaborate in clusters amidst a realisation across the Church of Scotland of a lack of ministers for the available posts and a lack of funds generally. We are encouraged by the fellowship and common purpose shared in this Cluster and are looking to the future (both challenges and celebrations) in how we can support and bless each other.

The shared Holy Week services worked well and was a good start for working together as a cluster.

The Presbytery Strategy Team noted that there have not been any innovative and radical suggestions coming from Cluster Groups across Presbytery; certainly, no congregation has volunteered to disband in order to save money! In this Cluster, each church serves a distinct community and the congregations should be maintained, even the number of ministers reduces following retirement etc. Congregations should be aware that one or more buildings may be closed by Presbytery, acknowledging that merging congregations has not statistically resulted in 1+1=2; more like =1.6. Edinburgh and Glasgow Presbyteries have many of the most successful (spiritual growth, missional activity, numbers and finances) congregations and – as the Church of England found 30 years ago –  you do not grow the Kingdom by cutting churches that are active in promoting the Gospel whilst saving those that are not!

The Property Toolkit is being used by each Congregation, as required by Presbytery and the National Office, to assess Churches, Halls and Manses whether they should be marked for retention or disposal. (SSCB is in a good position and this is being enhanced by the Vision 2020 Refurbishment work, so we continue to pray for funds for the Phase 2 Works.)

The Dean Fund is being assessed as a potential source of funds for the mission work that all the churches in the Cluster seek to carry out and grow, and we are liaising with Blackhall St Columba which also ‘inherited’ some of the former Dean Parish.

Getting to know each other better will be progressed in both Kirk Sessions and congregations, looking at pen portraits for newsletters, visits to other churches, small team meetings and social gatherings when permitted. 

Name and Logo for the Cluster will be looked at. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Four main areas for initial collaboration were identified, namely Pastoral; Outreach; Youth Work; and Technology.

Prayer is vital and we will gather a couple of prayer points each month from each congregation to produce a monthly prayer list.

Pulpit Exchange is being considered for one worship service, to continue the introductions process – the Ministers would each move round one place and preach in another church in the Cluster.

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Dawn of Easing COVID Regulations

We give thanks to God for His grace and love by which He enabled scientists, medical professionals, front line workers, leaders and ordinary people to progress in easing the COVID Regulations. More and more light is dawning on us as the regulations are easing, and we are grateful to God for this!

Mainland Scotland is now in Level 3 and with the regulations for churches easing, this means the following changes for us at SSCB, for which we are grateful to God:

CHANGES:

  • The cap of fifty people attending worship has been replaced by a maximum for each building based on maintaining the 2m physical distancing. This means a slight increase in available seating capacity at SSCB. 
  • Church Balconies and galleries can be used for seating (still 2m physical distancing unless sitting as a small family group).
  • Informal hospitality (tea and coffee) after service is permitted. This is excellent news even though certain restrictions apply:
    • People must remain seated and be served in their place – tables will be set out.
    • Face coverings must always be worn unless exempt or consuming food or drink.
    • There must be 2m physical distancing between people at different tables.
    • The number of people at different tables must not exceed the current regulations, which at the time of writing is 6 people of 2 households.
    • People (other than servers) must not move between tables.
  • We will set up tables at the end of the service at the back of the church where we will have coffee and tea in line with the guidelines above. If weather permits it we will enjoy our cuppa outside.
  • The cap on attending weddings and funerals in church is now 50 for all (maintaining 2m physical distancing), with the following conditions:
    • Weddings: The maximum of 50 includes the couple, witnesses, photographer and guests. The officiating minister, church staff and/or volunteers facilitating the wedding are not included in that number 50.
    • Baptisms: Baptismal services take place as part of worship. Baptismal parties are counted in the number of the congregation. Physical distancing and good hygiene practices must be observed in the act of Baptism. Only the parents and the baby may come forward, and one of the parents holds the baby, while the minister pours or sprinkles water on the baby’s head.
    • Funerals: Again, a maximum of 50 at a funeral service in church, maintaining 2m physical distancing.

While there are considerable changes there are still many restrictions which have not yet changed, including:

UNCHANGED REGULATIONS:

  • Face coverings must always be worn in the church building unless someone is exempt on medical grounds.
  • 2m physical distancing must be maintained throughout the building.
  • Singing is still not permitted at a service. If singing is a necessary part of the service one soloist may sing behind a shield, maintaining the 2m physical distance from others.
  • Only certain musical instruments are permitted to be played.
  • Good hygiene practices must be observed.
  • Government regulations must always be followed.
  • A temporary register of attendance for track and tracing purposes must be kept.

There is much we can be thankful for. We continue with our blended services on Sundays, in church and shared on Zoom. Despite some restrictions, being in church is becoming even more meaningful again and more like a church family sharing in worship and fellowship. So, we encourage you to return to church. We have been particularly careful to make and keep the place safe for everyone. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask, or contact the church office: office@comelybankchurch.com

The good news from the Scottish Government is that if the number of cases continues to fall, further changes and easing will follow. According to their planned timetable, all of Scotland will move through the levels on the following dates:

  • 17 May to Level 2
  • 7 June to Level 1
  • June (late) to Level 0

Please continue to pray for the Government, scientists, medical professionals, front line workers and everyone that the much hoped for changes and easing will be fulfilled as planned.

[from GV]

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God, Creation, and SSCB

Gus Speth, an American environmental lawyer and advocate said: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.” [Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 October 2013)]

King David wrote in Psalm 24 verse 1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;”

Gus Speth and King David together are laying a huge amount of responsibility at the feet of Christians and the church! As the followers of Christ, we are called to be good and faithful stewards of our environment! We are to protect, and wisely manage God’s Creation that it will flourish, and sustain and enrich life, and that way glorify God!

After all, how can we love the Lord with all that we are and have if we do not care for what belongs to Him? And how do we demonstrate our love for our neighbour if we do not care for the world that should sustain them too?

Jesus overcame sin (selfishness, greed and apathy are part of that too!) by His love for God’s world, giving Himself for it all, we included! We are called to love one another and our world as he loved us. How can we manifest that love here at SSCB in practical ways towards our God, neighbour, and environment?

We are inviting all who are interested to start discussing what we as a church family can do to become more conscious of and caring for our environment.

Join our Zoom meeting at 20:00 on Wednesday, 12 May to chat and pray on this topic and share our thoughts with one another. Zoom link will be provided in the newsletter as usual. If you would like further information, please contact Emma De Sailly through the church office: office@comelybankchurch.com

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: “Go and Do Likewise”

We have come a long way since we first caught a glimpse of the Celtic Christians. Hopefully we have seen that we are all essentially the same. We are human beings in need of God who not only created us, but who sustains us – for He provides life, justice and mercy through His love and power. 

In the Celtic Christians, we have seen how different peoples can not only see themselves as family, but be family; not through ourselves, but through being adopted by God the Father.

It can be good to find quiet times and quiet places – not as ends in themselves, but as a means of shedding distractions and drawing closer to God. He is always here: do we choose to turn to face Him or to turn away from Him?

We have seen how fulfilling a good and godly life is when we simply get on with it. But we need to remember that getting on with life includes times of contemplation – are we actually doing as God calls us; using the giftings God has given us; actively supporting others or just helping ourselves?

We were created to be in relationship, fellowship, community. We can come together and hold ourselves accountable to each other and to an especial dear one whom God provides for that purpose – and through all that, we can draw closer to God.

We can admire and learn from godly traits in others, but as a means of inspiring us to do godly things ourselves. We do not need to travel to journey; we do not need to see the result for there to be completion of God’s will.

We can learn and follow the importance of timing – seasons of activity and rest. We can relax into the care and love which our Father has for us all, through the power of a blessing:

The blessing of God and the Lord be yours.
The blessing of the perfect Spirit be yours,
The blessing of the Three be pouring for you
Mildly and generously, Mildly and generously.

We can seek protection in prayer, noting that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) provides us with the means of our protection even as we seek Him to encircle and surround us in providing for us and in loving us:

Form of Christ before thee
Form of God behind thee
Stream of Spirit through thee
To succour and aid thee.

We have blessings, caim and lorica prayers, in Psalms:

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favour as with a shield. (Psalm 5:12)

We are called to walk in step with Jesus so that we can see what He sees, do what He does, rest when He rests.

The Celtic Christians found so much expression and inspiration in simplicity, prayer and just looking to Jesus. But the point is not to stop there, admiring them. The point is to recognise – and to do – what Jesus calls of us. We have seen that already, and it is appropriate to close this series with the verses in Luke that sum up what we are called to do:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

‘Go and do likewise.’

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Now Thank We All Our God (1636)

There are over 130 passages in Scripture about thanksgiving. The Apostle Paul is encouraging us to give thanks in everything!

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This is not as easy as it reads! What about circumstances when we feel or are hurt, put down, have lost something or someone precious? Somehow our heart finds it hard to beat in the rhythm of thankfulness.

There are only a few praises devoted just to giving thanks to God. But there is one that is very powerful: Now Thank We All Our God. In many German churches it is sung as some of our churches are singing the ‘Doxology’ after the offering is uplifted.

It was written by Martin Rinkart (1586-1649), a Lutheran pastor of Eilenberg, in Saxony. He was the son of a poor coppersmith, and felt God was calling him to the ministry. After his training he began his pastoral work just as the Thirty Years’ War was raging through Germany.

Floods of refugees streamed to Eilenberg, seeking safety behind its walls. It was a desperate time! The Swedish army surrounded the city, and inside the walls there was nothing but plague, famine, and fear. About eight hundred homes were destroyed, and people were dying in increasing numbers. The pastors faced a ministry that drained the soul and the body: preaching the gospel to encourage their flocks, caring for the sick and the dying, and burying the dead. One after another, the pastors themselves took ill and died, until at last only Martin Rinkart was left. Some days he conducted as many as fifty funerals!

Finally, when the enemy demanded a huge ransom, it was Martin Rinkart who went out to negotiate with them. He did it with such courage and faith that there soon was a conclusion to the siege, and the period of suffering finally ended.

Rinkart, knowing there is no healing without thanksgiving, composed this praise for the survivors. It has been sung around the world ever since.

I want to encourage you to sing it yourself, this week, every day, no matter of your circumstances! Your God is greater than all the troubles and sorrows!

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Characteristics of Celtic Christianity

We have seen characteristics of individual Celtic Christians. Some were missional, kind or thirsty for God’s love. Some excelled as teachers or healers. Others were relational or had great leadership qualities. We have glimpsed some who were loving, wise, creative, funny and nurturing. As we noted earlier, all this hardly starts to build up a complete picture of the characteristics of Jesus Himself … but still, it is a start.

So what then about the characteristics of Celtic Christianity as an entity; this reflection of a culture and expression of a people? Is it enough to say that we will know it when we see it? There are some specific characteristics which, although shared in part with other expressions of Christian faith, do point us directly to Celtic Christianity.

Chasing the Wild Goose. The Celtic Christians readily accepted relationship with the Holy Spirit. They were guided by their faith rather than anchored by it, and that, in large part, was due to the way they viewed the Holy Spirit. The Wild Goose was a great analogy, because it showed to the Celtic Christians that the Holy Spirit was not some tame pet kept in a box and brought out to entertain others. The Holy Spirit could be seen and identified, would guide and reveal, but you approached only on the Holy Spirit’s terms. And even if the Holy Spirit appeared calm and gentle, there could be an edginess.

As C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Bible-based. Celtic Christianity saw the Bible as a living guide to life. Biblical scenes on Tall Crosses were formal preaching sessions and encouragements for travellers. As we have seen, the Celtic Christians were especially fond of the Psalms and many who could read had their own Psalter: a small volume of the Book of Psalms and usually other devotional material as well as a list of saints and saintly characteristics.

Caring. Celtic Christianity cared for others through hospitality and anam cara, and through loving stewardship of both land and livestock. It sought help from God as the ultimate example of powerful and gentle caring. It was caring that not only noticed but also took action – and brought together the faith and deeds of Celtic Christianity, leaving us prayers such as:

The Three who are above in the City of glory,
Be shepherding my flock and my kin,
Tending them duly in heat, in storm, and in cold,
With the blessing of power driving them down
From yonder height to the sheiling fold.

Praying. And this, of course, was another characteristic of Celtic Christianity. It should be a characteristic – a hallmark – of all Christians. For Celtic Christianity, this often circled back to the Holy Spirit, for after all:

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude vv. 20-21)

Four characteristics: not exclusive to Celtic Christianity, but together clearly indicative. Hold onto them and whoever or wherever you are, you represent Celtic Christianity.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Doors Wide Open

Praise God – it is delightful to have re-opened the church for worship. We believe everyone attending in person has been blessed. For many, not being able to attend church over the past few months has been a serious deprivation, and we give thanks for technology as services continue to be streamed by Zoom. We are grateful to God that we could re-open wide the church doors to welcome all. Gradually the restrictions are easing and we pray for safety and fellowship for everyone, whether attending in person or remotely. We continue to adapt our approach to the church set-up,  so that can all thrive alongside each other.

The return to church can mean renewed joy, anxious moments and also awareness of those for whom the time is not yet ready to return. Everyone is precious and every viewpoint is important as we look forward to welcoming more and more soon!

We are able to welcome up to 50 people together for worship. Soon this restriction will be lifted, but other safety measures (such as 2 metres physical distancing, hand sanitising, wearing face coverings and not singing in church) will remain for some time. We must follow these rules for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. 

Reducing unnecessary congestion in church we have a one-way system which does make it a bit longer to get around but it is a necessary requirement imposed on us, keeping each other safe. Please follow the signage!

Sunday Club and Inspire have been able to restart and it is great to have Children and Youth in church again. The Youth divide their time meeting in the halls, helping the wee ones and helping (running!) the Audio Visual. Sunday Club children meet in the halls for all their activities. Families with pre-school children are welcome in the church, and the whole Church Family can help because physical distancing and one-way system restrictions can be a struggle for younger children. To support this, we are making the Prayer Room available for them as a more spacious “base.”

Most Sundays we still have space for more people. Please be encouraged to come and worship together in church. It is lovely to see you in person and your presence is such an encouragement to the worshipping Church Family, especially those working so hard at keeping the church as a safe, welcoming place of worship in the present circumstances.

When you come, please follow the rules and the guidance of the Welcome Team so that the church can remain open. The Welcome Team will guide you to an available single seat (family seats available for spouses or wider families). We will re-start tea and coffee afterwards just as soon as we are permitted.

In spite of physical distancing and on-going restrictions, we hope you will enjoy being back in church. Not yet with singing, but we can return with the joy of the exiles returning to Zion:

“The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) 

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Thank you Video Message from Phil

Phil and Mary have been part of our church family for the past two years (almost). They were much loved and respected. Recently they moved to the Borders. We did not forget them, nor did they forget us. Phil sent a short video message of thank you to the SSCB church family. Thank you Phil and Mary for thinking of us. We wish you and Mary God’s rich blessing as you settle in and settle down in the Borders.

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Cluster Meeting Information – part 2 of 2

Having identified a potential cluster with Murrayfield, Palmerston Place, Stockbridge and SSCB, we spent time assessing our links, strengths and clear differences. We found we could work together and want to do so. What could it look like? What can we continue to do well, or even better together, where can we collaborate and what should we lay down?

We have a group of four churches that feel connected and led to explore what that might look like in practice. We seek clarity on the plans that God has for us. Nothing has been decided or committed to, and we are simply throwing around some ideas, mixing them up with prayer and trusting to the Holy Spirit to provide the vital yeast. If it continues to look good, then we might pop it in the oven and see what starts to rise!

We know, from the shared Holy Week services, that we can collaborate using technology. We want to engage with each other and reach out to others. Perhaps we can share IT (experience and equipment), with further expertise from Presbytery, to run a Cluster team hosting Zoom events such as worship, fellowship and prayer meetings?

Perhaps we can collaborate with Youth and Outreach. Cluster-wide paid leaders can combine with volunteers who are called to serve in their own congregations?

What about ministers themselves? In the future, if the number of available ministerial posts were to reduce, perhaps we could combine fewer ministers covering the four congregations alongside enhanced IT facilities and volunteers who are prepared to preach and be involved in other ministry activities? 

We aim to retain and enhance our existing relationships – for example ‘Comely Bank Churches Together’ and our links with La Jolla Christian Fellowship in San Diego.

For many of us, a focal point is gathering together in fellowship and worship, but for some of us, we may have found that Zoom services keep us fed spiritually, allowing us to seek Christian fellowship in other ways. Maybe the churches will be refuelling stations, enabling us to go out into our community throughout the week (wherever that community is and whatever it may look like)? Even after pandemic restrictions end, there will be elements of how we have survived that we can use to help us thrive.

If so, then maybe a Cluster with its pooled resources can enhance us? It’s all up for discussion and prayer.

What we do know is that we want to build from our existing strengths, not lose them. We want to praise God and bring the message to others, identifying where we can do that better together. Our Cluster footprint is a city bridge. It can be enhanced and made stronger, but if any church is removed then we would be facing a large gap. Our separate identities and environments are reasons not just for continued existence, but for continued growth. And growing as a strong Cluster, allows for mutual support.

As we collaborate, we must honour and praise God. We have made a start, we like what we see, and we know there is so much potential. We pray that all that we do together as a Cluster and as individual churches will please and glorify God. So how should we do it?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ [Matthew 22:37-39]

[from Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Themes of Celtic Christianity

In looking at the Celtic Christians, we have looked at concepts and foundations, been to Thin Places and studied history. Seven themes have emerged which interlink and provide mutual support.

Prayer. Celtic Christians loved God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and sought to be in relationship with God, not just to know about God. Prayer was their foundation, and led to everything else. They prayed for strength and protection; they prayed blessings on themselves and others. As children, we innocently ask our parents when we need or want something. We remain children of God, and whilst He has the advantage of knowing us and our needs better than we know ourselves, still:

‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11: 9-13)

This inspiration was drawn straight from …

Scripture. For Celtic Christians, the Bible was their encyclopaedia, history book, guide to healthy living and source of future planning. It was their route map to a closer relationship to God. They were especially drawn to the Psalms, taking them as personal prayers. They carved Scripture scenes on Tall Crosses. Those who could read would read to others, for they lived in …

Community. They lived by supporting each other, both in mission and basic hospitality. Even hermits would not be in total seclusion, for they would meet in fellowship and share, enjoying having …

Soul Friendship. They discussed their lives with their Anam Cara, not necessarily looking for advice and counsel, but holding themselves accountable. Together they would consider their thoughts and actions and, in transparency, would be in …

Contemplation. They spent time thinking, not just aimlessly drifting from one task or snatching at the next. A modern contemplation would be ‘WWJD’ or What Would Jesus Do, and they could consider this anywhere and at any time; for any activity could be an act of worship, being their …

Pilgrimage. They did not have to travel (although they travelled extensively) on pilgrimage. They did not have to find a Thin Place (although that helped give them focus and enabled them easily to meet with God). A prayer walk was pilgrimage; providing hospitality was pilgrimage. They did not have to go anywhere on pilgrimage (although many did) because Jesus is their, and our, Emmanuel: God with us. They just needed to set regular time consciously to be with God; to find their …

Rhythm. The Celtic Christians sought regularity and rhythm, progress and balance. Through the rhythm of the seasons they could witness God who creates; through the rhythm of rest they could benefit from God who blesses.

Seven themes. The Celtic Christians did not have the perfection of Jesus. But they sought it; they sought God and were with God.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week – All the Way My Saviour Leads Me (1875)

In this praise Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) shared her own personal testimony of God’s guidance as she experienced it. It is a bold statement and a massive encouragement to any of us! Maybe you don’t know, but Fanny Crosby was blind, still she understood her own blindness was part of God’s plan, strange that might sound to us!

When Fanny was about six weeks old, her parents noticed there was something wrongt with her eyes. The local doctor was away, but they found someone else – strangely nobody was able to remember his name later – who claimed to be a physician. He applied hot poultice on the baby’s inflamed eyes. The infection cleared up alright, but white scars remained after it, and the family noticed in the coming months that the baby was not responding to visual signals or objects held in front of her eyes. Fanny’s vision was very badly damaged, but she was not totally blind. She could discern day from night even in her old age, but that was it, her vision was gone!

However, this tragedy stimulated other gifts, like her amazing memory. In her childhood she memorised whole sections of the Bible, most of the Pentateuch, the four Gospels, all the Proverbs, and vast portions of other books! I wonder how much of the Bible could we recite?! Whenever she wanted to “read” the Bible she just “turned” the pages in her head! “This Holy Book,” she said at eighty-five, “has nurtured my entire life.”

In her older age she regarded her blindness as a special gift from God, believing He had given her a particular “soul-vision” which equipped her for a special work. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me,” she declared. “How in the world could I have lived such a helpful life had I not been blind?”

“Don’t blame the doctor,” Fanny said on another occasion. “He is probably dead by this time. But if I could meet him, I would tell him that he unwittingly did me the greatest favour in the world.”

The praise expresses Fanny Crosby’s lifelong testimony, yet it was prompted by a specific incident in 1874. One day she didn’t have enough money for her rent. As she committed the matter to God in prayer, a stranger appeared at her door and pressed a ten-dollar bill in her hand and as suddenly as he appeared he disappeared again. It was the exact amount she needed! In response as thanksgiving and praise she wrote that night the praise: “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me.”

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The Triumph of Joy

At dawn, on the first day of the week the women went to the tomb of Jesus but the tomb was empty. They did not find what they were looking for! They found something else, the risen Saviour, and joy: “so the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy…” (Matthew 28:8)

Easter is the triumph of joy!

John dedicates five chapters to the last night of Jesus with his disciples (John 13-17)! What is so amazing about this, is that as heavy darkness is descending both outside and inside the hearts, and the frightening shadow of the cross is overcast on Jesus, he speaks about JOY to his disciples (John 16:17-24)! In a short interval Jesus mentions joy four times! One last time before his death Jesus wants to make his disciples to focus on and anticipate Easter morning, as the explosive dawn of JOY! All that is to happen on Good Friday and Easter morning is about JOY!

Easter is the triumph of Jesus over sin, evil and death. It is the triumph of joy! This joy is not a cover over bad things! It is joy that triumphs over all that is bad, hurtful, sinful, and evil! Easter is not about hiding your disappointments, suppressing your pain, trivialising your loss, putting on a smile and pretending with a happy face that everything is fine. No, not at all!

Easter means: A new age has begun! Jesus has risen and His kingdom is here. He has conquered death, sin, and evil! Jesus is alive and He sits on His throne! And He is putting His and all your enemies under His feet! Jesus is taking all your pain, and grief, and burden and overcomes them all, making you more than conquerors. That’s His promise to you if you put your trust in Him! You will have trouble in this world but take heart! He has overcome the world! Your sorrow will turn to joy, and no-one will take your joy from you! For you are more than conquerors through Christ!

Easter declares for all time that Jesus who has conquered death gives us the victory, the triumph of joy!

[from GV]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Bible History-Who Were the Celts?

Celts appear to have come from continental Europe, around modern-day Marseille, first referred to as ‘Keltoi’ by the Greeks in 517BC. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus mentioned Keltoi living around the Danube (the Black Forest area of modern Germany) and they were also found in the far west of Europe.

To the Romans in the 1st century BC they were known as Gauls, or Galli, although Julius Caesar noted that they referred to themselves as Celts. The Continental Celts  (primarily France and Iberia) could regard themselves as those who stayed close to home, and they became known by themselves and others as the ‘Gauls’.

But a divergence had also occurred; a wandering of cousins north and east.

First, the Insular Celts had migrated north. They were the Celts of Britain and Ireland, the subject of our studies in Celtic Christianity. They came to southern Scotland which was then considered as far north as you could (safely) go. This was the land called Hen Ogledd or the ‘old north.’ The Celts painted their bodies and were known to the Greeks as ‘Pretani’ or ‘painted ones.’ Their lands were called ‘Pretannia,’ from which comes Britannia and the name for the whole island of Britain; its people being the Britons. The people living beyond them, in what is now central and northern Scotland, also painted their bodies. The Romans reached that far north and recorded them in AD297 as ‘Picti’ – Latin indicating painted or tattooed people. They were the Picts. The Insular Celts were crushed up against the Picts, but through intermarriage and intermingling, the Celts became utterly dominant in the new Kingdom of Scotland.

Second, some Celtic, or Galli, people had travelled east and south looking for a new home and a new identity. These Galli found both in 3rd century BC, settling in the highlands of central Turkey which became known as Galatia.

Paul wrote to the Galatians (Galli, Gauls and Celts – call them what you will). But if Paul was writing to family – to third cousins, twice removed of the ‘Scottish’ Celtic people – what did he have to say in his Letter to the Galatians? Is it relevant for the Celtic Christians?

Paul was concerned about the Galatians’ faith and emphasised that there was no other gospel. You will recall that paganism had counterattacked against initial evangelism (by Ninian and later by others) and that a desire for a consistent approach in the Faith was one factor in uniting under the Augustinian ‘Roman Church.’

Paul was at pains to explain his credentials and his mission amongst the Gentiles. The Celtic Christians worked amongst the Picts, Anglo Saxons and their own Celtic kin in spreading the Word.

Paul highlighted faith above (but not to the exclusion of) works. The Celtic Christians were led, by their faith, to act through hospitality, mission work, soul friendship and prayer.

And finally, and tellingly, Paul wrote to the Galatians of life by the Spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit was so important to the Celtic Christians, and we have already seen how they were not so much anchored by their faith as led by it. They had freedom in going where the Holy Spirit led – of chasing the Wild Goose – for after all:

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Life to Come

New Sermon Series about Heaven and Life After Death

As I created the image for the sermon series, I noticed the unintended pun in it: ‘Coming Soon – The Life to Come’. I suppose it is very true. We don’t know how soon ‘the life that is to come’ will come! In some cases, it comes well before we expect it, never mind being prepared for it! Are you prepared for it? I know, I know, this is not a comfortable question! It is a bit easier to ask you in print, but don’t you worry I will ask you face to face, and eye to eye in these coming sermons! Are you prepared for the life that is to come?

Recently we explored the Book of Revelation and celebrated the Resurrection at Easter. They directed our attention even if we did not want it to heaven and life after death. Heaven, and life that is to come have been very much before us. In our present age life, death and heaven are subjects that people don’t want to think and talk about or even hear about. But we need to think about life, death and heaven, because whether we like it or not it will come to of us all! Sadly, many even in the church have confusing notions about life, death, heaven and hell. Many are not prepared for them at all. In these sermon series we will consider what the Bible says about what happens after we die. After all, the Author (God) knows it best. He has experienced them both and offers the opportunity to all of us to experience eternal life with Him!

I hope this series will guide you to know how to receive eternal life! So don’t miss the series, after all the life to come will be coming soon! The sermon series begin on Sunday 18 April.

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Cluster Meetings Information

You might be familiar with the phrase ‘cluster’ mostly in relation to mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, or chemistry, but churches? We want to share with you some information about clusters in relation to churches, in particular to our congregation and church family.

What is a Cluster in relation to churches? It is a local gathering of churches sharing in ministry, mission, vision and resources in order to mutually encourage and strengthen each other and primarily to build God’s Kingdom. It is like logs on the fire, feeding and fuelling each other to burn brighter and give out more light, heat and energy. Move a log away, and it will begin to lose its flame, heat and finally its spark and grow cold.

You will be aware that a couple of years ago the General Assembly put forward a Radical Plan to re-imagine and restructure the Kirk to make it effective in building God’s Kingdom in our present age and the future with diminishing resources.

The restructuring affects not only the central offices at 121 George Street, or the Presbyteries, but also the individual congregations. This means a restructuring and reforming of our Presbytery, by joining some neighbouring Presbyteries, and also developing a new Presbytery Plan for the ministry of our congregations.

Often such plans were drawn up by a committee with little or no input from local congregations until a draft version was presented for discussion, causing much distress and upset locally.

This time the Strategic Planning Committee proposed a different approach involving representatives of the local congregations. They proposed Cluster Groups for geographically close congregations around the city to begin exploring together how they could make the mission and ministry of the church more affective. What things they share, like circumstances, resources, vision, etc. This part of the process is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find the matching or closely matching pieces to create the big picture. After a bit of jigging it seems to our Kirk Session we found our match, or we are part of the big picture we are happy to develop. Our cluster consists of four Church of Scotland congregations: Murrayfield Parish Church; Palmerston Place Church, Stockbridge Church, and St Stephen’s Comely Bank. Already our cluster congregations shared services during Holy Week, which were a real blessing!

We are at the very beginning of exploring the opportunities to share in ministry, mission, fellowship, vision and resources, while keeping our particular identities and cultures as individual congregations. We are asking God what His vision is for this area where our congregations live, work and witness. We are assessing our own resources, gifts and mission, considering the things we can contribute to God’s vision and plan! We are also exploring how we can continue ministering together with our brothers and sisters from other denominations with whom we have already been sharing in the past.

It is an exciting time. It is a radical time. But we need to remember that radical change in our church will not come from rearranging the present structure! Change will come by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, if we restructure our focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith! After all the builders labour in vain if the Lord does not build the house (Psalm 127:1)!

Please pray for our Kirk Sessions, all four (!), that we will seek God’s guidance, we will listen to Him and each other, and will be obedient to God’s leading.

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 3:10)

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Pray for Our Elders

Easter Sunday we rejoiced for by God’s grace we ordained and admitted four new elders to serve the Church of Christ in our church family. It is a delight to us that the Lord has called Veronique, Emma, Cat, and Jacqueline to serve Him and His people here at St Stephen’s Comely Bank!

As part of the ordination service I asked you, the church family to encourage and support our elders, and surround them with your love and remember them in your prayers!

I’m reminding you now to pray for our elders! Why is this so important?

First – elders are called to be overseers over the flock, to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28). The Apostle Paul regarded of great importance that elders will ensure the good order of the church, be faithful in upholding the message of God to encourage people by sound teaching (Titus 1:5-9). Overseeing the life of the church family requires sound Biblical discernment and wisdom!

Second – elders are called to serve the people of Christ; to comfort, counsel, and sometimes rebuke, teach and correct them (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Doing these are not always easy or pleasant, yet our elders are charged by Peter to shepherd us willingly, being eager to serve, and being an example to us (1 Peter 5:1-3)!

In all these our elders do need to demonstrate their own personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, seek the unity of the church family, uphold the teaching of Christ, assure the faithful worship of the Lord, maintain good Christian, Biblical discipline, service and government of the body of Christ.

Such calling is demanding in body and spirit! It is important for us the church family to know these things too – so we will appreciate the calling of our elders, the service they do, and all that is involved in fulfilling their calling diligently and serving the Lord cheerfully. These things also help us to know how to pray for our elders! Let me encourage you to pray particularly for the following:

  1. A strong and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to give them zeal and resilience to fulfil their calling. The demands of eldership require a close walk with the Lord. Pray that this will be a priority to our elders!
  2. A solid Biblical discernment and godly wisdom. Elders must be people of the Word of God, training themselves to think and act biblically (Romans 12:2)! Pray that God will grant them the motivation to continue to develop themselves in the knowledge and grace of God!
  3. A Christ-like love for the flock (John 21:15-19). Such love flows from prayer for the flock, wrestling for them with and together with the Lord in prayer!
  4. Protection for our elders! Ministers and elders (and their families!) are prime targets of Satan for spiritual attack! Pray for God to protect them, empower them, and clothes them with His armour to stand firm against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18)!

Do you love your church? Then pray for our elders! Pray for them weekly! Pray for them daily! Few people beyond the elders’ families realise how great are the sacrifices our elders make for the well-being of our church family! Give thanks to God for blessing us with such faithful elders, who beyond their duties of work and family also devote their service to our church family!

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The Light of Easter – The Light of the World

Easter celebrations are over, but the light of Easter continues to shine! It is important for us to have the Light of Easter that revealed the victory of Jesus Christ over death and evil! There can be so many occasions when darkness tries to overwhelm us! Those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour need to remember and take constant encouragement that they are children of light! They are people of Easter! They walk in the Light and victory of Easter!

On Sunday evening, 18 June 1815, a few miles south of Brussels the Battle of Waterloo was over. Wellington defeated Napoleon and he wanted to send news of the victory to Britain. A series of line-of-sight communication stations were set up to pass on the message of the good news. But as the message was sent thick fog set in and the signallers could not see the second part of the message that was transmitted to them. All they could pass on to Britain was: “Wellington defeated…” The people in Britain were crushed and distressed. It was a devastating news. Then the fog lifted, and the second half of the message was revealed: “Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo!”

Imagine if we had only the first part of the news of Holy Week: Jesus died on the cross. That would be devastating news! Bad news of defeat! All hope would be crushed. But Easter morning dawned with glorious light and revealed the whole picture. The tomb was empty! It revealed God’s victory: Jesus died on the cross but rose to life!

You need the Light of Easter to see and read the full message of Good News! You need to be in the Light of Christ to know the full story of your life!

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to Worship – Tim Hughes; 2000 Thankyou Music

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: Building Your Own Rule

Following the Celtic Christians, how might we craft a Rule? First, a reminder of Scripture, highlighting key points:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognise what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message: Romans 12:1-2)

Pray and contemplate before drafting a framework for life. Aspire big, but start with what is manageable.

A Rule can be for an individual, family or full church community. Consider what is happening in our church right now for we have definite signs of a Rule – a trellis – being identified and established to support and enable us in our journey with Jesus. We have been calling this ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ It should encourage us in the every-day aspects of life so the big decisions have a reference point. 

The Rule need not be complex – the Northumbria Community’s Rule is ‘Availability and Vulnerability.’ Our church family’s aim is to build each other up in Jesus and lead others to Jesus, so what are our building blocks?

  • Prayer: Remember lorica (armour) and caim (encircling) prayers. Pray for ourselves and others, for our church and our plans. Pray constantly.
  • Fellowship: We are called to serve others. Do not just make room at your table, but make room in your heart. Be together.
  • People: Be real for each other; Anam Cara for those to whom you are called – soul friend first; advisor second. Be family.
  • Mission: What does God want us to do to reflect the light of Jesus and not hide it under a bushel? Godly purpose.
  • Discipleship: How do we develop others and grow closer to Jesus. Live so others can learn. Be the example.
  • Worship & Teaching: We are church family. Worship. Read the Bible. Share insights. Take in; give out.
  • Buildings: How can we turn our buildings from stone structures to Thin Places, open and relevant? God’s home.

There is a gap between each bullet point and they are part of the Rule. They denote rest which is not just something for when we are too exhausted to function. Rest is part of life, not a reaction to it. I do not think that God sometimes cannot get out of bed and just needs some “me time” (or is that “I AM time”?), but still He incorporated rest into His own activities:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Then add the detail. For example, how regularly to pray and in what setting? Be deliberate and accountable as you craft building blocks into your every day. Discuss!

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Easter Pronouns

Pronouns are small parts of the language, yet they are very important and they do express a lot. They can tell what the focus of someone’s thinking is. The story of the Emmaus road disciples testifies to this (Luke 24:13-35).

For many in our world the order is I, I, I, or Me, Me, Me. There is only one person that is important to them and that is themselves. Their own interest, profit, joy. They view everything in the world around them from that very personal point of view. How something is affecting them!

When Jesus joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and began to talk to them, they tell Him the things that happened in Jerusalem in those days from their own personal point of view. They tell how it made them feel, what they have lost, what they have experienced, what made them upset. They are talking only about themselves, really. People in our world tend to look and evaluate things in the same way, how it makes them feel.

But when their eyes were opened they recognised Jesus (v. 31). And their eyes and hearts and whole being were filled with Jesus. Not Me, or I, but Jesus, only Him. How He stepped next to them, what He said to them, what He did, the risen Jesus became great and the most important, the first to them! And others became important after Jesus. Earlier on they just wanted to get away from the others, didn’t want to do anything with them, now they are hurrying back to them! They are taking the good news to them, they want to share it with them, they start out on the journey back to Jerusalem straight away!

These are the Easter pronouns. The order of I, you, he changed and turned around: He became the first, you/they become second. But what about the I/Me? It faded into the background, into insignificance. Just as Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The I/Me is not important anymore, because I met the risen Christ, I have been born anew and Christ is formed in me! I can’t but speak only about Him! This is the wonder of the Easter Pronouns! May this Easter swap around your pronouns too!

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen!

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Alpha “The Place to Ask the Questions You Always Wanted to Ask”

I first went on an Alpha course over 25 years ago. It was at a church very similar to SSCB. The minister invited Elders, house group members and the wider congregation to join.

Now, I am always in favour of anything related to food, so the weekly group meal at the start was a big attraction but I can honestly say that my favourite part of the evening was always after we watched the video, when we were in our small groups discussing the video and asking any questions. That was where I could ask all the daft questions I had always wanted to ask but didn’t feel confident enough to ask. The group leader and the rest of the group always made it feel so safe and supportive that it was just a joy to be part of it all.

The Alpha course was where I first really learnt about God as the Holy Spirit. I knew way more about God the Father and Jesus, the Son but not much about the Holy Spirit. Up until then most of my prayers were pretty much “Dear God/Jesus, please protect me and my family from bombs, earthquakes and volcanoes.” (It had worked so far, although when I did encounter all three later in life when we lived in Indonesia, God did protect us!) Anyway, we learnt to pray in a much more powerful and personal way than I had ever come across before and I can tell you that completely changed my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a way that has shaped my faith to this day. 

So come and join the Alpha course, you won’t regret it, you will learn things about God and yourself and you may be surprised how much you get from it. You can remain in the comfort of your own home and although we might not be able to share a meal in person, I am sure it will still be one of the best choices you make all year. See you there.

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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Youth Worker’s Thank You & Good Bye

Dear St Stephen’s congregation and community,

I write this article having just made the classic mistake of not realising the clocks have changed! My morning has been somewhat tainted by the sadness and disappointment of missing what I thought was going to be my last Sunday meeting with you all on Zoom. Nevertheless, I choose to rejoice in the blessings of today and remember that God uses people who make mistakes! This morning (28 March) marks an end and a beginning for Mary and myself. My sheep flock at St Boswells had its first two lambs today, which marks the start of a busy season on the farm. Whilst, this afternoon will be my last bible study with the young people.

Although this is the end of my ministry to our young people, it is by no means the end of Rock Solid and Inspire as God has answered prayer and provided a team of nine amazing volunteers to keep the youth groups going. As such, the coming weeks are a time of change for the young people, as well as an opportunity for them to learn and grow through the wisdom and service of the volunteers. Join me in praying for the young people during this time; that their faith would grow as they experience the deep revelation of Jesus and that they would be supported in this season of change.

Mary and I have begun to get involved at Hope Church Borders, who are planning to start a new gathering in the area where we just bought a house. We sense God’s hand in this and are asking him how he wants us to serve Him in this area, with this home and through the Church. Please pray that in this new and busy season we would have strong connections – to God, to each other and to our new community.

I have learned a huge amount through serving the SSCB young people. I have given my best and have enjoyed it a lot. I firmly believe that the young people of SSCB are part of a generation that can turn the tide on ‘church decline.’ I believe this because Jesus promised “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I find comfort and challenge in this promise. It was hard for me to step down as the SSCB Youth Worker because I believe this promise to be true, and I felt this role was helping me stake my life on this promise and allowing me to see this fulfilled. Thank you so much for all your prayers, support and advice during this time.

The Lord bless you and keep you,
    The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you
    The Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace. Amen

[from Philip Anderson]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: The Rule of Life

Celtic Christians found their lives and organised worship complex and stressful; so much to accommodate; needing time and resources just to tread water. They were too busy and that was 1500 years ago!

Their ‘go to’ for help was not to turn to a myriad of self-help books and apps about how to declutter your life; it was to turn to God and the Bible, where they found encouragement in Jesus’ words:

‘…  I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10)

In general, Celtic Christians were not disposed to be legalistic and wanted simple freedom in their lives. Freedom to choose to honour God, relate to people and steward nature; loose structure, less hurry.

Some, it is true, were tied to an austere and regulated life, and ironically many in Celtic Christian holy orders found austerity in the extremes of simplicity. The more relaxed Benedictine Order became more appealing than its Celtic Christian counterpart, which helped the Benedictine monk, Augustine, arriving on British shores with the new wave of the Church of Rome.

It is called a ‘Rule’ but it is not a legalistic set of requirements. The word comes from the Latin for ‘trellis’. The Rule is a framework to lift us up in Jesus, enabling better growth; preventing disease attacking from below:

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)

We can, of course, find a biblical template. Despite us looking at Celtic Christians of so long ago, it is the contemporary version of The Message which perhaps highlights this best:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message Romans 12: 1-2)

A Rule is not regulation but rhythm. It supports our changing needs as we grow up and allows us to work with the seasons in which we live. What the Celtic Christians did – and what we can seek to do – is to find our rhythm of life in God; not work against it or even drive on relentlessly pursuing, for there is much to be gained from including a season of rest.

In practice this addresses both the positive and negative. It positively leans into godly habits and practices, drawing us closer to God and enabling us to have time with God. Remember that for Celtic Christians, any activity could be worship – they reshaped the routine of walking somewhere into a prayer-walk. It is also helps avoid evil and negativity: identifying and helping us remove habits and practices which prevent us from consciously being with God, consciously doing what He calls us to do.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Church Re-opening for Worship

Our church doors open for public worship at 11:00am on Sunday, 28 March! So, “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name, for the LORD is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations!” (Psalm 100:4-5)

The Scottish Government is allowing people throughout Scotland to attend places of worship, with certain restrictions, from Friday 26 March. The Presbytery of Edinburgh has granted us permission to re-open the church, welcoming people for prayer and worship.

What will our church service be like?
  • We have retained the safety measures we established after the first Lockdown and will continue to offer a warm welcome, operating amid certain restrictions.
  • Worship services will be held in the church building and live streamed by Zoom, just as before. This will continue to be a feature of our church family life for some time to come; one congregation sharing in various ways according to our circumstances.
Who can attend church?
  • All are welcome and we particularly encourage those who were unable to be part of a worshipping fellowship (online or otherwise) during Lockdown.
  • If you are shielding, you 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 should stay at home.
  • The capacity of our building, observing the required physical distancing is 35.
  • Sunday Club will gather, with its own maximum of 35, in the halls. 
What can you expect at church?
  • The presence of the Lord God Almighty! He promised to be with those who gather in His name. (But online does not cause difficulties!)
  • A clean and safe space for worship.
  • A helpful Welcoming Team to guide and advise you in the building.
  • Registration of your name and phone number for Track and Trace purposes (data to be kept secure and destroyed after 21 days).
  • Hand sanitisers, for use as you enter and exit the church.
  • While in the building you must wear a face covering.
  • Maintain physical distancing throughout the building.
  • One way system (anti-clockwise) within the building with clear signage throughout, in support of the physical distancing.
  • Designated seats at appropriate physical distance – you may not be able to sit in your usual place.
  • Sadly singing is not permitted during worship (but dancing, if you fancy it, is welcome!). As before (and on Zoom), we can listen and reflect over recorded praises.
  • Toilet facilities will be available.
  • We are not permitted to have any social mingling or refreshments after the service in the church. 

Please consider prayerfully your return to the church building. We would love you to be there and are looking forward to seeing you in person. As always, remember that both your own and the safety of others are important.

Also, please remember the clocks are going forward on Sunday 28 March, and we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper!

If you have any queries, please contact us at office@comelybankchurch.com

[from George Vidits, minister; and Timothy Pitt, Session Clerk]

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a matter of time

Summer Saving Time is starting on Sunday, 28 March as the clocks move forward an hour. It feels like we are losing an hour. Which poses the question how well are we using our time?

The Apostle Paul wrote: Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Are you living wisely? Are you making the most of the time that you have received?

Every new day we are given 86,400 seconds to use them well because at the end of the day they all will be gone. If you wasted some of it it’s gone for ever, never to come back. So be careful how you live, make the most of every opportunity of every moment, for they are precious. Often we don’t realise how valuable time is.

Look upon time this way. To understand the value of a year is, ask the student who just lost it because of covid. To appreciate the value of a month, ask the mother who gave birth prematurely. To know the value of a week, ask the editor of a weekly magazine. To recognise the worth of an hour, ask the person in love waiting for the beloved. To comprehend the value of a minute, ask the traveller who just missed the train. To perceive the importance of a second, ask the driver who could not avoid the accident. To grasp the cost of a tenth of a second, ask the sportsperson who after years of training got only a silver medal at the Olympics!

Every moment is valuable as a precious treasure. Make the most of the time you are freely given every day.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: A Summary

We have met different people, encountered different lives and drawn inspiration from different characteristics all with a common thread: devotion to God.

Some remained local, godly examples to all who came to them – David’s heart was for the people who surrounded him. Many, like Brendan (navigator), travelled extensively, helping point us towards a relationship with God. It is a fallacy to think that life long ago lacked intelligence and people did not travel; the journey just took longer, that’s all. Serf came from Canaan to mainland Scotland; Cuthbert, born in Dunbar, was Anglo-Saxon but of Celtic Christian ways. 

Non cared; Adomnán protected. Hilda’s gentleness, nobility and intellectual prowess saw her respected and loved as a leader. Can we build a picture through these Celtic Christians of long ago who have come fleetingly within view? Characteristics did not represent the full person, but highlighted specific godly attributes. Histories could be painted with a broad brush to illuminate key details. We can highlight the godliness and the truth, and see where that takes us:

  • Ninian – Missional
  • Brigid – Kindness
  • Ita – Thirst
  • Serf – Teaching
  • Kentigern – Preaching
  • Columba – Relational
  • Aiden – Neighbourliness
  • Winifred – Healing
  • Hilda – Leadership
  • Cuthbert – Praying

This is not just a list of different Celtic saints; we are starting to describe characteristics of Jesus.

Sometimes being missional is simply pioneering – willing to go there first and leave a legacy of God’s love for others to build. When we carry kindness as our heart attitude, then we share God’s goodness. We must have a thirst for the Lord: not taking His love and mercy for granted but still, knowing that He is merciful in His love for us. Like the Celtic Christians, we need to share our knowledge of God by teaching and preaching; by our actions and attitudes as well by as our words. As St Francis of Assis famously didn’t actually say, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” But the message is there.

And that message links, through word and deed, to being with others; being relational enables authentic preaching. Quite simply: consider others. In doing so, we demonstrate a neighbourliness to … well, to our neighbours. This does not mean living out of their back pocket (or vice versa). It means being available for them. Sometimes that simple availability helps heal them for we can heal by our words and heart attitude as also by medical skills. We carry Christ’s love wherever we go and whoever we meet.

In focussing on serving others we find that we are effective, decisive, gentle, and noble, inspiring others to follow us as we seek the Lord.

Above all, we need to pray. Constantly.

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

These characteristics are godly and relevant. They are of Celtic Christians and they are for us today. They build a picture of Jesus for us to live by. Not nearly complete, but still it’s a start:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Our Church is Re-opening!

We give thanks to God that we can announce with joy that our church is re-opening for worship at 11:00 on Sunday 28 March. As it is our Communion Sunday, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper! Please don’t forget that the clocks go forward an hour on Sunday!

On Tuesday, 23 March the Scottish Government announced that:

People living in all parts of Scotland will be able to attend places of worship in gatherings of up to 50, where there is space for physical distancing, from Friday 26 March.

Updated guidance publishing on Friday will also allow people to travel between Level 4 areas to attend their usual place of worship following sustained progress suppressing Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read the information in full HERE

We will be open for prayer during the week on Wednesday mornings 10:00 to 12:00 starting on 7 April.

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For Jesus – For Church Family – For Me

A long time ago in a church far, far away … OK, our first church (also called St Stephen’s) as a married couple. The minister spoke broad Aberdonian – almost as unintelligible as Transylvanian! Anyway, Jim suggested the Alpha course.

I prepared my defences – I was already a Christian and there was decent football on the tv. He just asked quietly if going to church on Sunday was ‘enough.’ If I simply opened my heart and mind to Jesus during this course, might it be possible that it would please Jesus? Might it be possible that He would bless me for seeking Him?

In the congregation, I knew a few folk, nodded hello to a few other folk and generally just got on with going to church then getting on with my life (my prayer time and my fellowship was my own business).

I started off attending Alpha – helped hugely by there being a feast of a meal as part of the proceedings. It was so interesting and involving that I soon chose to up my level; no longer just ‘attending’ I was now ‘participating in Alpha.’ I got talking to people I hadn’t really talked to, despite sitting alongside them ever since going to that church (and I don’t just mean Elspeth). Relationships were created, strengthened and developed – THIS was fellowship, not just ‘doing’ church on  a Sunday. We started to be even more of a family.

And then I realised that, whatever else was happening, I was the one who was benefitting. I was trying desperately to say “it’s all about you, Jesus” and to realise I had a church family, and yet I found I was being blessed with an inner maturity (yes, even me!) as I took time to acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

What did we do? There was a presentation (we’ll do this as a video we watch together on-line) and then, in our small groups (break out rooms), we just chatted – usually keeping roughly on topic. Some people were happy to speak ; others just soaked up the chat. But we all grew together, bouncing thoughts and questions off each other.

So I did it for Jesus, and to help grow into a Church Family. But ultimately it was for me.

SSCB On-line Alpha: try it.

[from Timothy Pitt]


Our Online Alpha Course starts at 19:00 on Tuesday, 6 April and in eight sessions and The Weekend continues till the end of May.

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Plans to Re-open Our Church for Public Worship

We are getting more and more excited as Tuesday, 23 March approaches. This is the date the Scottish Government intends to confirm places of worship may open their doors for service (max number: 50). We pray and hope there will be nothing hindering them, and therefore us, from re-opening our church for prayer and worship.

The Church of Scotland and the Presbytery of Edinburgh have already assured us that they will not issue further requirements for the re-opening of churches. Churches (like us) that have been open after the first lockdown had satisfactorily shown the safety of their buildings. We just need to maintain the same vigilance, physical distancing and hygiene standards we had practiced before.

We are eagerly awaiting both the civil and church authorities’ permission and guidelines to re-open our church building for prayer and worship as soon as possible (earliest date: Sunday worship – 28 March; church open for prayer – 7 April). While we wait, we are planning the cleaning and setting up of the church to welcome you for worship and prayer.

As we obtain all the necessary information for the opening of our building, we will let you know through our website, newsletter, and social media (Facebook, and Twitter). As you wait, please pray that we will be able to open the church and it will be a safe place for all! Please also pray and consider how you will be able to help keeping the church open for prayer and worship. Consider helping by being on the welcome team on Sundays or being a friendly face to those who will come to pray on a Wednesday. Let Alison, our Operations Co-ordinator know if you can help by emailing to office@comelybankchurch.com.

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Confessions of an Alpha-holic

Here we share personal experiences of those who have already participated in an Alpha Course, so you can have a flavour of it. Here are the confessions of Alison F.

“I returned to live in Edinburgh in my early 30s after a number of years overseas.  My sister asked me to go on an Alpha course with her at the church she had just started attending – I thought it might be interesting and I hadn’t developed much of a social life by then anyway.  It was an unpromising start – it was in a drafty old church hall, lumpy sofa and an old telly in the corner.  But the people there were friendly and the coffee was pretty good.  Astonishing to me still is that by week 2 of the course, I had heard for the first time in my life that Jesus died for me – ME! – and by week 5, I found myself saying over and over ‘Oh my goodness, this is actually true!’  By the end of the course, it was clear that my life was going to be very different from that point forward – it changed pretty much everything.

Since then, I have been involved in numerous alpha courses – hence the alpha-holic – in church, at lunchtime business meetings, and now on Zoom.  And for me, the question shouldn’t be ‘should I do this alpha course’ but rather ‘why would I not do this course?’  It is well constructed, full of evidence about the facts in the Bible and I guarantee you will have some of the most worthwhile conversations of your week.  Hopefully, we will have a laugh too!  So, whether you know the Bible inside out or just have some vague knowledge about some bloke called Jesus who lived a while ago, you will get something new and something potentially life-changing from this course.  I could not recommend it highly enough.”

See you there!

[from Alison Franks]


Our Online Alpha Course starts at 19:00 on Tuesday, 6 April and in eight sessions and The Weekend continues till the end of May.

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Cuthbert [praying]

Cuthbert was born in 634. Bede wrote much about Cuthbert, for although only fifteen when Cuthbert died, Bede had entered Jarrow monastery aged seven and served alongside an old monk, Sigfrid. Sigfrid had been a novice at Melrose when Cuthbert yielded his horse and spear, entered the church to pray, then approached Prior Boisil seeking holy orders.

A young Cuthbert, as an Anglo-Saxon minor noble, was armed guard for shepherds when on 31st August 651, in the Lammermuir Hills, he saw a shaft of light. Taking it as both a soul ascending to heaven and godly guidance that he should become a monk, he set off for Melrose, being accepted by Boisil who confirmed that it was Aiden who had died on 31st. Outstanding in study and work, Cuthbert was happiest when simply praying. Under Boisil, he developed a reputation for prayerful contemplation, then travelling on foot and evangelising (much like Aiden).

Abbot Eata, Cuthbert and others established a monastery at Ripon, but after two years they were ousted and forced to return by an ambitious monk named Wilfred who had studied at both Lindisfarne and Rome. Wilfred would go on to argue the case for the Church in Rome at the Synod of Whitby and pursue, largely unsuccessfully, high office.

After the Synod of Whitby, Cuthbert became Lindisfarne’s prior and set about healing a fractured community. He did so by praying on his own and with those who were on opposing sides, and by listening to them before finally offering his counsel. He meditated on the Lord’s Word before mediating on man’s word.

Lindisfarne’s prior for a decade, he then relinquished office and withdrew to a hermitage on Inner Farne. There he remained, occasionally visited and visiting, but constantly praying (including prolonged periods standing in the sea praying to help him focus). After another decade, he was reluctantly persuaded to become Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Again, Cuthbert governed by prayer and contemplation, by listening and discussing; not by authoritarian decree. Again, he travelled, preached and evangelised. He met to pray with Herbert, his Anam Cara who lived in Cumbria, and who died on the same day as him. After only 2 years as bishop, he returned to Inner Farne where he died in 687, being buried at Lindisfarne. His body suffered from a series of exhumations:

  • 698 grave ‘elevated’ into a tomb (undecayed);
  • 793 removed inland when Vikings threatened Lindisfarne (undecayed);

(Monks settled on Dunholm (brown hill) as his resting place when they saw a dun cow there, and built a simple church incorporating his tomb.)

  • 1104 church rebuilt to become Durham Cathedral (undecayed);
  • 1538 Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation, body reinterred (undecayed);
  • 1827 artefacts removed from the coffin for display (skeleton);
  • 1899 formal post-mortem with findings ‘consistent’ with all that was known of Cuthbert’s life (skeleton).

Given the dun cow and Cuthbert, it is delicious irony that for many years the Edinburgh Co-op was St Cuthbert’s Dairy.

Cuthbert led by prayer; his leadership example was to follow the Holy Spirit and encourage those he met to know and act upon God’s will.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Colossians 1:9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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When the earth shook

Most of us, I assume, do not have real experience of an earthquake. What I experienced about it hardly can be called an experience.

I was eleven, it was a Friday night, we were watching the TV, when I noticed that the light hanging from the celling was slightly swinging. That was it. For me, and for our city. But for others, who lived some 560 km away, where the epicentre was, the experience was disastrous! 1578 died in that earthquake!

Earthquakes can be devastating. They can change the landscape unrecognisably! Luke tells of an earthquake in Acts 16:16-34 that changed things profoundly.

The Apostle Paul and his companion, Silas were badly beaten and in chains in prison in Philippi. At about midnight they were praying and praising God. Suddenly a great earthquake shook the earth, the prison doors all opened up, and the chains fell off the prisoners. When the guard saw the open doors, assumed that all the prisoners were gone, he wanted to commit suicide. Paul stopped him, saying that they were all there. To this the guard asked: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” And that man believed and got baptised. He cleansed their wounds, took them home, set a meal in front of them, and rejoiced because he and his household had come to believe in God!

Not only the foundations of the prison shook because of that earthquake, but the foundations of this jailer’s life were also profoundly shaken! The door of his heart also flung open, and his eyes were opened. He believed the word, and accepted Jesus as the new Lord of his life, whom he obeyed. He washed, and bandaged and fed Paul and Silas. For when someone believes in Christ and becomes His follower their thinking, their whole life changes. Up to that point they wounded others, now they heal the wounds!

Sometimes we need a spiritual earthquake to realise the most important question of our life is: “What must I do to be saved?” Happy and blessed is the person who is not reaching for their sword, but for the life giving word! They do not turn inwardly, trying to do it themselves, but turn to God, and His messenger to them. They do not want to end their life, but begin their true and full life offered by Jesus.

Do you want to know more about the life Jesus is offering us? Why not join our Online Alpha Course, starting after Easter?

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Are We Really Listening?

The Lord came and stood there and called as he had before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. I am your servant and I am listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

One of the amazing things about God is His ability to speak to us all, both as a church, and as individuals. On Sunday, 28th Feb, George talked about the importance of listening to God, really listening to the whole message, not just the bits we want to hear. It’s clear that we can hear God and harden our hearts to his word, not fully listen, mentally turn our back. It’s hard when God challenges us, whispers words that we don’t want to hear. We all know that it isn’t the right thing to do, yet it’s often easier to ignore and carry on, than to make changes within ourselves. 

Many years ago now, in SSCB, the minister spoke about the passage in 1 Samuel 3, when God spoke to Samuel for the first time. You may well have been there and heard the same sermon, I don’t know if you recall it. 

My recollection of it was a realisation of how faithful Samuel was from his very first words, and a self-analysis of my own responses to God’s word. ‘Speak Lord, I am your servant and I am listening’ said Samuel. Wow, what a short sentence with such humility, Samuel acknowledges who God is, he offers his service without question and he listened. 

There was no pause to consider the personal costs of serving God, no argument or hesitation. This teaching challenged me to reorder my priorities, to put service to God first. It helped me to refocus my prayer life and respond to God’s word, ‘here I am Lord, I am your servant and I am listening.’ We know that God’s church in Scotland is struggling, struggling to authentically represent our awesome God and His love for His people. We are all challenged to respond like Samuel, to listen and serve, to invite God to guide us and faithfully follow where He leads. As the hymn puts it “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if You lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”

[from Cat Rawlinson-Watkins]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Hilda [leadership]

We met Hilda in the introduction to Celtic Christianity – one of the most noble, gracious, significant and intellectual leaders of her day. She lived AD614 to AD680 and, as abbess, she led a community of monks, nuns, lay persons and general workers at Whitby, chairing the Whitby Synod in AD664. 

As a girl looking at icons of saints, she was asked if she knew who the saints were. Rather than naming them, she answered generically: “Saints are people who let in the light.”

Hilda was encouraged by Aiden to set up a community in Northumbria, and she created a double one – for both monks and nuns. She was responsible for faith well-being and advancement; and for general livelihoods, health and education. Under her leadership, Whitby became a centre for arts and education and for theological study, and Hilda saw to it that all people – not just the ordained – could attend and learn. 

Bede wrote that, filled with the Holy Spirit and yearning for Jesus, she simply exuded peace and love, which only attracted more people to Whitby under her.

She could find giftings and use them to the Lord’s glory. A man, Caedmon, came to work at the monastery, the inference of the records being that he was not then a Christian. Hilda sought to engage all people and everyone took a turn singing in entertainment, but Caedmon always slipped away to his duties before he was called. One night he dreamt a man appeared and asked him to sing. Caedmon objected that he could not, only to be told, “But you shall sing to me.” Caedmon told Hilda who set him the task of setting Scripture to poetry and song. He became an ardent evangeliser and Hilda worked with him in using his poetry and song to reach out to villagers beyond the monastery.

Whitby grew under Hilda’s leadership but, importantly, the gospel message flourished under her care. She loved her people and gave of herself for their welfare. She had high standards, using them to measure herself not to condemn others. Her intelligent stewardship of available resources allowed her people to live and to live well, providing also for others in charity. And she was always available for counsel, whether as a listening ear or to pronounce and guide; and whether for kings and nobility or for ordinary folk. All served her and all loved her, just as she served and loved them.

The Whitby Synod decided against Celtic Christian ways, not against the Bible, so Hilda did not run but asked herself: “How do we love Jesus? How do we love each other?” and proceeded to answer them in her life and leadership.

Leaders are often said to ‘need’ a hard edge to them – making them admirable but perhaps not sought out in friendship. Hilda displayed a gentleness, nobility and intellectual prowess which made her not just respected as a leader, but loved.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In all her ways, Hilda did not just ‘let in the light’ but she positively reflected out the light that is Jesus.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Suspicious Christians Wanted

On Sunday, 7 March, a news item on the BBC website caught my attention. It shared the recent experience of Amanda Gorman, the young American poet who recited her poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. She was walking home on Friday night, 5 March, and a security guard followed her to her home, and demanded to know if she really lived there, for “you look suspicious.” She showed him her keys, buzzed herself into the building, and the guard left without even apologising. She commented “this is the reality of black girls: One day you’re called an icon, the next day, a threat.”

Amanda also added on her twitter page: “In a sense, he was right. I AM A THREAT: a threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance. Anyone who speaks the truth and walks with hope is an obvious and fatal danger to the powers that be.”

This last comment of Amanda made me reflect about our Christian commitment. Because she very profoundly described what a Christian, you and I are supposed to be in this world! The followers of Christ ought to be A THREAT! A threat to injustice, inequality, ignorance, hatred, evil, and sin! We need to speak the truth and walk with hope in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

We need more Suspicious Christians in the world, who are a revolutionary threat to the rule of evil, greed, hatred, injustice, poverty, persecution, to the reign of sin in the world. Jesus called us to be heralds of His Kingdom! To bear witness to Him who overthrew the power of evil and sin on the cross! Easter is about His victory! We are called to testify that with Jesus the victory over sin and death is possible! He called us to tell that truth and give hope of liberation, and redemption to all under the suppression of evil.

Are you such a threat? What do you need in your life to be a threat to sin and evil? Put on the armour of God, for our battle is not against flesh or blood, but spiritual forces!

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains.Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

(Ephesians 6:10-20)

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Data Protection Update

Following a routine review of our Data Protection measures we have revised the Data Protection Policy, created a new Data Retention Policy (both are on our website) and created a new Privacy Notice with all three also displayed inside church. Overall, nothing has changed – we comply with the law, minimise our personal data use and protect people. We have added a bit of colour to the basic terms, now that the current data protection system has been in place for a couple of years.

We must comply with legislation, but our higher (and highest!) authority is, of course, God. We are all called to His standards and this can be summarised as: A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (Proverbs 11:13)

So we ask: Am I allowed, or do I need, to have, to use or to share this information? If so, how can I keep it secure and use or share it safely?

Data Protection Policy

We will process personal data fairly and transparently, and collect it for legitimate purposes.

‘Personal information’ relates to a living person. ‘Special category data’ reveals certain characteristics and one of them is ‘religious beliefs’ so clearly we are closely involved with that!

Using special category data is prohibited unless we have an ‘exemption’ of which three are relevant: (1) consent; (2) legitimate activities of a religious organisation with appropriate safeguards; and (3) necessary for the public interest, particularly to protect an individual’s well-being. In practice, as well as praying for you and just showing family love to you, if we know your details, we can reach out to you and send you the E-pistle newsletter, details of services and call to check all is well. At any time, you can always tell us to stop!

We keep the data secure – this means we don’t share it unless we have to by law or as part of our church family activities, for example, someone in the church family using your phone number just to call on behalf of the church and see how you are.

Data Retention Policy

We look after your data and will not leave address lists lying around or sell them. The Congregational Roll can be kept, by law, for 100 years (and can then archived). Miscellaneous contact information can be kept but must be reviewed and then deleted when there is no requirement to keep it. So, for example, if someone asks us to send correspondence to a relative who is not themself a member of SSCB, we can do so.

Privacy Notice

We use your data to administer membership records, for pastoral care and in relation to our activities (such as sending out this E-pistle) etc. This is why and how we have the information and are using it.

There are basic protection measures for all – e.g., if we are sending an email to a number of people, we will seek to send it as a ‘bcc’ blind copy so everyone’s email address is not listed openly. If we refer to anyone in a document but do not need to name them fully, then we will use a short form or use their initials etc.

All this applies to printed records as well as electronic.

Please be reassured: none of this stops you keeping and using your own contact details of people in church, even if you are also a church office-holder. It applies where you are acting on behalf of SSCB in carrying out a church task.

The Session Clerk is the ‘Data Protection Officer.’ If you have any questions or concerns, please make contact and they can be addressed.

This is a summary. Please refer to the full Data Protection / Retention Policies and to the Privacy Statement. It is your information and it is our duty to keep it safe for you.

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. (John 17:12)

[from Timothy Pitt, Data Protection Officer]

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Don’t Be Late!

“As Jesus started out on his way, a man ran up to him…” (Mark 10:17a)

The Rich Young Man ran after Jesus as He was leaving. He arrived late perhaps because he first wanted to finish his business. Isn’t this ‘first’ often the reason that we miss out on so much that is good, blessed, that Jesus is offering us? Because he was late he did not hear what he really needed as Jesus’ finished his teaching:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

That was exactly the young man’s question:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17b)

Jesus explained it earlier that eternal life is a gift, it can not be earned, or bought, one can only receive it with faith. The young man just had to hold out his hands and accept Jesus’ gift. But one cannot do this in a hurry, squeezed in by-the-way among their busy schedule, high level business engagements, or after all else is done. Eternal life is either important to you, and then you make it a priority, or you will hear about it from others because you are late.

Our life is getting busier and busier, even in this coronavirus lockdown. More and more duties are burdening us, the demands on our time and attention are growing, and we are unable to fulfil many important things. The urgencies often squeeze out what is important! Make sure you will not be late like the virgins who arrived late to the wedding banquet in Jesus’ parable, and the door was shut in front of them (Matthew 25:10-12)!

Slow down, quieten your heart beat, reconsider what is important in your life, and restructure your priorities, care for your soul and spirit too! Spend time with the Lord, and others, while you still got time! Don’t be late!

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Winifred [healing]

This carries a gory health warning but all turns out well in the end.

Winifred (‘healing’) was born in the early 600s, the daughter of Tyfid ap Eiludd, a Welsh nobleman in South Wales. From early years, she sought a monastic life but being of noble blood (and, by accounts, beautiful), she was sought after as a bride. She favoured holy orders, but one spurned suitor, Caradog, attacked her after she rejected him. Some legends are that he actually beheaded her and she was brought back to life; other accounts are that he slit her throat causing a serious but not fatal injury with lasting scars. But certainly, for the medical standards of the day, her healing was considered miraculous.

Perhaps this healing triggered her godly calling; perhaps it was always her godly gift, but Winifred was healed and then became associated with the healing of others.

There was more to her, but there was always the healing. Winifred became known for her wise counsel and administration … and her healing abilities. In North Wales, north of Wrexham and west of the Wirral peninsula, she founded a dual monastery and convent. It was known first as Winifred’s Well and then as Holywell. As its name suggests, it was famous for its healing spring. Winifred is one of the few Celtic saints to have been venerated throughout medieval times and into the present day, and the Holywell shrine is still frequented by pilgrims.

After seven years at Holywell (note the Biblical number for completion), Winifred was guided to Gwytherin in Denbighshire, North Wales where she founded and led another convent.

Over the years, only the legends survived and her life story was doubted. However, in 1991, some pieces of a reliquary (a container for relics in a shrine) from the early 8th century were discovered and, from earlier drawings, the pieces were identified as belonging to Winifred, providing evidence of her historicity.

She is often represented with images representing her wisdom and leadership – usually a crozier (bishop’s staff of office) and the wimple of an abbess (not just the ‘ordinary’ wimple of a nun). But the images often also depict the tell-tale scarring at her throat, and the stories told of her always touch on the healing that others experienced.

She died around AD650 at her convent in Gwytherin and was buried there. She was much revered and, in fact, was the patron saint of Wales until her relics were moved to Shrewsbury Abbey in 1138 whereupon the Welsh turned to David, not wanting a saint who was buried in England!

Henry V walked the 50 miles from Shrewsbury to Holywell to give thanks for his victory at Agincourt and to pray for healing – physical, emotional and economic – after the fighting.

It is important to remember that for Winifred, it was not a conveyor belt of physical healing and moving on. The healing was often emotional or spiritual as well. We should acknowledge those who have medical training and godly gifts of healing and at the same time we should ourselves step forward and act, for we help each other by caring for each other’s soul needs:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 1:2)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Trust and Obey (1887)

This Lent we are journeying with the Lord towards Easter, so it seemed fitting to learn a bit about this wonderful praise: Trust and Obey (aka. When we walk with the Lord).

Daniel B. Towner, who wrote the melody to this praise, inherited his gift for and love of music from his father, Professor J. G. Towner, an accomplished vocalist and music teacher. Daniel studied with some of the finest musicians and began his career as worship leader in a Methodist church in Binghamton, New York. In 1885 the evangelist D. L. Moody asked Daniel to join him on his evangelistic missions, so Daniel travelled with him, singing and doing personal work for several years.

He once explained how this praise came to be written.

Mr Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and one night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, “I am not quite sure – but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.” I just jotted the sentence down, and sent it with the little story to Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister.

Sammis wrote a poem based on the phrase “trust and obey,” and sent it back to Towner, who went to work on the music. Apparently, while working on the music, Daniel Towner grew discouraged. He crumpled up the paper and threw the manuscript into the bin. Next morning as his wife was cleaning his office found the manuscript and sang over the words and melody to herself. She left it on the organ and encouragd her husband to work on it some more, telling him, “I feel the melody you have written is just what is needed to carry the message.”

In 1893, Dr. Towner became head of the Music Department of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago where he trained hundreds of young people to lead worship and minister to the Lord in music. He continued to write the melodies to some much loved praises, compiled fourteen hymn books and wrote several text books.

At the age of 70, while leading singing at a revival meeting, he suffered a seizure and died in the service of the Lord.

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The Bridge

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

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

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Book Review: God and the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Elspeth Pitt]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Whose Footsteps?

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

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

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

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

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

[from John Baggaley]

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Coming Soon: ‘The Road to Jerusalem’

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

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

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

The sermons are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – BUILDINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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What Happened on the Day of Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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A Thought for Valentine’s Day

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

“My son, do you want to be happy?”

“Yes, of course I do! Very much so!”

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

“Certainly, I do!”

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

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

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

[from Hungarian, after Rev. Endre Gyökössy] 

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The Blessing of Fellowship

We had a Day of Prayer on the 30th of January. Some folks shared their Day of Prayer experience. Here are the reflections of Joan Brown about FELLOWSHIP.

As I near my three score years and 10, I realise that I have spent almost half my life as a member of the St Stephen’s family. Over these years I have had the privilege to know and share fellowship with so many devout people who were/are shining examples of witnesses to God’s love and instruction.

Last year saw nine people die from within our congregation. I will not see them on this earth again, but my life and so many others’ were enhanced by the lessons we learned from them.

The latest death was that of Jean Brown. Our names were so similar, so I often received calls from people thinking we were one and the same person. If only I could be like her!

I think of May Fischbacker whose deep faith never wavered despite the loss of her sight in her later years. May enhanced our Home Group discussions with her quiet wisdom and well-chosen quotes.

“Each of us is gifted differently, and each of us is gifted perfectly. The Holy Spirit in His divine wisdom has given to each of us the precise gift, or gifts that will enable us to function most effectively in the body of Christ.”

This is a quote from the ‘You are Gifted by God’ material that Jacqueline shared with us. It spoke to me. Without Fellowship how else could we function and care for each other and the community we serve?

I had booked two prayer slots which was fortunate because as I considered the fellowship, I personally have experienced I started to recall so many people and events that I ran out of time, but it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. I prayed prayers of gratitude. Thank you, Father, for the people you have placed in my life.

In my second prayer slot I prayed for individuals within our congregation who are unable to join in with Zoom on Sundays. EW, 87 just the other Sunday, and so many others whose names are on our ‘Pastoral List’. These people are contacted by telephone, post or just by a knock on the door (difficult during COVID-19 restrictions). Our fellowship is in our ongoing prayers and Newsletter delivery. Currently we cannot join in worship in our church building, share coffee, news, and precious time together after the service. They are not forgotten, and we can pray for God to bless them.

We also remember that we share Fellowship with people who find their way to our ‘Church on the Corner’. I prayed for AS who had been homeless for so long. He knew he was and is still welcome at St. Stephen’s.  Some of the people who came in to ‘Open Church returned to join with us on a Sunday and found a welcome. We had people who were passing through on their way to other countries, but they joined with us for as long as they could. Thank you, God, that we were able to share Fellowship with them. There will be no strangers in St. Stephen’s, everyone is welcome.

Over the years people came and went but our ‘family’ is strong. New talents emerge as technology advances, services and worship have moved with the times but all of us, those in the past and those still with us all have one thing in common.

We want to go to Heaven, why? Because we want to be with Jesus.

[from Joan Brown]

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Kentigern [preaching]

Kentigern lived about 528 – 603, born in Culross in Fife, where his mother, Teneu, princess of Lothian, had fled. (Lothian was named after her grandfather Lleuddun.) Some tell of her love affair with Urien of Cumbria; others that he had attacked her. Either way, unmarried, she fell pregnant and her father sought her death at Traprain Law. Her executioners were to stone her, but instead tied her to a cart and pushed it down the steep hill. Somehow she survived and escaped (some stories speak of help from her would-be executioners who were unnerved by her survival). From the shore of the Forth, she fled in a coracle across the water and was eventually found by Serf at Culross.

Kentigern was born and Serf cared for them both at his monastic school in Culross. He  taught Kentigern and trained him as a priest. Kentigern was Serf’s favourite pupil, and he gave him the pet name Mungo (‘dear friend’). However as he entered adulthood, Kentigern alienated himself from the others at the school and eventually left. He came to what is now Stirlingshire, stumbling upon the dìseart of a dying monk named Fergus. Kentigern stayed, praying with Fergus, who asked that Kentigern arrange his funeral. When the old man died, Kentigern put the body on a cart strapped to two oxen and asked God to show him an appropriate place. The oxen walked on, finally stopping in some open green fields where Kentigern buried Fergus and then decided to stay, calling the area the ‘dear green place” – ‘Glas Gui’ or ‘Glasgow.’

Kentigern built a chapel and cell, becoming known for his austere lifestyle and his great preaching, and securing many converts. However, a strong anti-Christian movement in these Welsh-lands of Strathclyde forced Kentigern to leave for Wales itself. Time passed and peace came to the Old North of Britain under a new King, Rhydderch Hael (much written about in the histories of Wales and the Celtic peoples) who invited Kentigern to return. Kentigern developed his old chapel into a monastery (now the site of Glasgow Cathedral) taking in the burial site of old Fergus. A community grew around his monastery as people settled there, drawn once more by his preaching. To this day, Glasgow’s full motto is, ‘Lord let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and praising thy name.’

Kentigern and Columba are said to have met at Kilmalcolm, exchanging staffs. Certainly Columba visited much of the Scottish mainland, and indeed Inchcolm Island in the Forth.

Perhaps wary of his mother’s exile, Kentigern never ventured to Lothian and it was St Baldred (‘travelling’) who earned the title ‘Apostle of the Lothians.’ His mother was, however, commemorated in Glasgui, becoming a saint in her own right. Over the years, ‘Saint Teneu’ became corrupted to ‘Saint Eneu’ then ‘Saint Enoch.’ She now has a Glasgow underground station named after her, even if most people think St Enoch was male!

Kentigern worked hard, lived an austere life and was an example to others. He drew others to Jesus through the sheer force of his preaching and comes alive in Paul’s words:

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – WORSHIP & TEACHING

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

Those involved in the TKC day of prayer had a variety of senses, pictures and themes centred on worship and teaching. First of all, it is good to worship the Lord!! It may sound trite, but it bears expressing (and repeatedly so): we should be thankful to God for His love for us, and in our response, we must seek anointing by the Holy Spirit – do that which is godly.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. (Psalm 29:2)

We should give thanks for sound and godly teaching that comes to us in a number of ways, not just from the pulpit. Pausing first at the pulpit (well, the lectern … or currently the computer screen), give thanks that our Minister not only has sound doctrine and bible knowledge but a clear personal relationship with Jesus, which comes across strongly in his preaching. We do not come under this preaching just to be told charming stories of love and happiness. We come to be challenged; to be shown biblical themes that are relevant and important to us today; and to be directed closer to God. Pray for our Minister and all who preach, for their protection and their own walk with God, and for the preaching always to be Bible-based.

Our default is fellowship in church as we worship together, but give thanks that we have learned, developed and adapted to life online. We retain a sense of togetherness as we worship. Indeed, one success of this pandemic has been the number of church plants; we are not just church in the building, but we can now ‘be’ church to family and neighbours who may not otherwise attend. Truly, church is not the building but the people.

And so we can use online technology to enhance our worship together, not be limited by it.  Pray for guidance about what this might look like after the pandemic – perhaps not “either or” both “both and” for online and in church? How can we reach new people and look after each other both online and in person?

Our Sunday worship time is a busy time (whether in church or online), and again we should pray and give thanks for those involved in Children’s and Youth Work as well as the Praise and Worship Sunday evenings from which we have benefited so much.

We can worship God and benefit from teaching in our Home Groups with fellowship and mutual support. It is godly to be in a Home Group: the first ever small Home Group was Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Give thanks for many uplifting articles in the E-pistle: 5th March is edition 50. Perhaps this can develop into more of a conversation – anyone should feel free to submit a short article.

But the point is that we have a wide range of resources which help us to worship God and to gain from teaching about Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we know about God then we can know Him better and knowing Him brings us naturally to worship Him.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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‘Hope, The Possibility and The Promise’

Philip Anderson, our Youth Worker has written a new poem about hope. He is sharing it with us both in written form and recited by himself.

In a world and in circumstances when we are so hungry for hope, it is a blessing when someone shares their hope with us.

I found hope…
It began to seep into my normality,
the everyday joys are lifted by helium hope
and daily drudgeries are diluted by this deep
definitive knowledge of the possibility and the promise.
 
Hope is getting hold of me,
hope I see, hope I taste,
hope my life won't go to waste.
Hope has said to the sceptical parts of me,
Come along taste and see his promise to me,
and dream with him about the possibility!
 
Pause and pray as I remember the perfect person.
May my life be centred on Jesus, God's Son.
 
I remember I was made by you, made for this connection.
He has lavished his affection and I am under his zealous protection.
As I pause and pray, hope clarifies my day, with the revelation of the possibility and the promise.
In praying I'm letting the stressing senesce inside of my soul move on from recession, move up from depression
breathe and hope again as fuel amid hard pressing.
 
Here in the presence of the Prince of Peace
pieces of my person are purged of passivity,
You see the best in me, you perceive possibility,
and you awaken my true humanity.
Here I will unravel all of me.
You listen as I speak openly,
and in this fathering I'm set free,
as I rest and run amid the promise and the possibility.
 
All powerful,
ever present, 
love was personified,
then love was crucified,
and as he fully died and heaven cried,
sin was swept aside
as he paid the great price for his bride.
Providing a paradise promise to me,
providing a life in step with the Almighty.
Where I once was merely the sum of me,
I now know hope - a promise and a possibility:
Yes hope - the possibility and the promise.
 
You give me your word that sin is gone -
this covenant of oneness,
this certainty, amid stress, that God, has got this.
This promise, these unshakable truths that have won me.
Your love is my lifetime warranty,
Your covenant has covered me,
all that would have compromised me has been made null and void.
 
Wait and see! Watch as he sets me free.
Your kingdom come in me, such a promise and so great a possibility.
 
And it's more than a proverb 
it's more than psalm,
God himself has reached out a palm,
the Kingdom at hand so close we can know it now.
Listen and learn, hope and grow.
Hope is here, with faith and love it casts out my fear.
I found hope, because a dead man rose.
The possibility of Jesus in every situation
and the promise of Jesus at the close.

-by Philip Anderson-
 

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints: St Serf [teaching]

Serf, short for ‘Servanus’, lived from about 485 to 550. He appears to have come from Canaan and travelled to Rome where some records note him as having been elected Pope and serving for 7 years. At this time popes did not necessarily serve until death (an option recently revived). His term of office coincided with an upturn in theological study and teaching.

After demitting office, Serf can be traced as travelling through Europe before arriving in what was to become Scotland. We encountered him previously when looking at the Celtic Christians who were led to seek a place of seclusion where, free of distraction, they could be at peace with God. They modelled this on the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the Scetes Desert, and thus a hermitage became known in Gaelic as  a dìseart from the Latin ‘desertum’ for desert or deserted place. Serf it was who came to the Fife coast and had a holy retreat at what is now the town of Dysart.

Eventually Serf moved on and founded a monastic establishment on an island (now known as St Serf’s Inch) in Loch Leven, from where he evangelised and taught the surrounding Picts, taking forward some of Ninian’s earlier missional work. Serf stayed there for a while and it is interesting that he seems to have had a rhythm, again reaching 7 years, the Biblical number of completion, before moving on. The establishment had long-since disappeared when David I founded an Augustinian priory on St Serf’s Inch in 1150. After Serf left the island, he came to Culross where he established a place of holy education: part monastery, part school.

Serf was leader of this community at Culross when, in 528, a coracle came ashore having started its journey on the Edinburgh side of the Forth and carrying only one person – the fleeing, and heavily pregnant, Princess Teneu. After landing at Culross, Teneu gave birth to a boy. St Serf took in both mother and son and then oversaw the boy’s upbringing and education. We will meet the boy, and discover the importance of his mother, Teneu, next time. 

Taking this knowledge – both self-taught and gleaned from his fruitful time in Rome – Serf could have stepped straight out of 2 Timothy, for it was of great significance that he was led to show to compassion to Teneu when she was washed ashore, and then to teach her son:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1: 13-14)

Not much else is known about Serf. He is said to have died at Dunning with his body then being taken back to be buried at Culross. But he learned about God; he knew God. He studied, contemplated and walked with God – and he taught what he knew, not keeping it as ‘secret knowledge’ but seeing his very relationship with God as something to teach, to show and thus to inspire others.

You do not need a classroom setting or a church pulpit to teach like this; you just need a willingness to walk with God, find His joy and be vulnerable enough to share it with others.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – DISCIPLESHIP

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

From TKC, we gained a sense of the need for discipleship. What exactly does it mean? It simply means to follow Jesus. But that answer prompts consequences. To follow Jesus, we need to know Jesus; which means being able to recognise Him; which means being shown His ways, who He is, how He works, how others learn and walk with Him. That way we will know Jesus and know that we are truly following Him.

Why do we need others in this exercise? On our own, we can continue unchecked and find ourselves highlighting practices or ideologies that Jesus is not concerned about or, worse, that Jesus does not want us to follow.

It’s all part of Jesus being the vine and us being branches that are grafted on. If we do not remain in the vine then we are just a cut branch, dead and dying. In his analogy, Jesus did not just end with “be a good branch and stick with me.” He talked about what happens as a result:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

OK, asks the cynic. What’s in it for me? Apart from the small matter of glory to God and eternal life for us, if we are discipled correctly then there are one or two immediate perks:

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)

Loving Jesus is not a stand-still thing. If we are not actively growing in our faith, then our faith is receding and shrinking. To help grow our own faith, we can share it. We share with and encourage each other because we are not just church members, but we are church family, created to worship God with others who are on this journey of a lifetime. This is not the evangelising bit, this is the “OK, I’m on the path – where’s the map? What if I need some refreshment?” bit. Can we squeeze in more Scripture here:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

What can all this sharing and encouraging – this discipleship – look like?

One of our strengths is our teaching and we want to expand on this – to coordinate further and connect more; to be able to choose accountability with others. We want to focus on Homegroups and similar connections (e.g. the mutual support, learning and growth enjoyed by the Praise Band). More coordination does not mean less individuality; it means more sign-posts as we journey.

We certainly want to look at how we give our time, our skills and our money. As you know, giving has been down through the period of Lockdown, and any resumption or increase in giving levels would be welcome, but perhaps you have a skill (electrician, will-writing, tutoring etc?) that could help others through the week? We want to be a church family for whom it is all more than just a Sunday.

What skill or talent do you have to offer? What do you need from others? Please contact the church office – office@comelybankchurch.com with your input.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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A Candle for the Thousands

(A poem to remember the 100,000 people in the UK* who have died from COVID and for all of us who still live in the darkness of its shadow)

‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)

Light a candle for the thousands,
One hundred thousand* now who've died,
A number we know is still growing,
Lord, Lord, we need you by our side. 
And so we light this little candle,
Small, wavering, fragile in this long dark night,
For we must not, cannot, will not,
Let the darkness win this fight: 
 
The fight for those who have lost loved ones 
to COVID's merciless rampage,
Their fight for peace and strength and comfort, 
some betterness for grief's pain and rage,
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper,
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 
 
The fight for those now sick or dying,
And those who can only stand and stare,
Counting as gold each time of sharing,
Aching in those times they can’t be there. 
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 
 
The fight against the separation
That drains our spirit, numbs our soul,
That steals from us life's bare essentials:
A hug, a kiss, a hand to hold.
And so we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for those who are tired and trauchled,
Too many extra things to do,
Tasks beyond them, the plates are crashing,
Comfort zones out of the window, too.
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for the rest - the worried, frightened, lonely, 
Those not knowing how or if the bills will be paid
Those whose future’s written only in questions
Life changed forever, and what can be said? 
For them we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

The fight for wisdom, understanding,
Progress in science, medicine, care,
Craft for us, Lord, the best of weapons,
For a victory the whole world can share.
And so we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

There are some fights we don't need, Lord,
Fights for profit, fame, privilege, advantage, power,
Fights between, among each other,
The time to stop all that - is now. 
So we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That, though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light. 

Fight for the fighters, the light-bearers, 
Help-bringers, laugh-makers, and those who pray,
Encouragers, phoners, zoomers, facebookers,
Virtual shoulders to cry on or brighten the day 
For them, too, we light this little candle,
Trusting with all our heart and might
That though the darkness is deep and deeper
It will not, not ever, overcome Your light.

So, Lord, we light this little candle,
Fluttering, fragile, but lit in earnest prayer,
My child, I have heard you, keep on trusting, fighting, praying,
For, no matter the darkness, My Light will be there.
 

 * The UK death toll from the Coronavirus officially passed 100,000, on 26 January, 2021
 
 Helen Cuthbert © 2021 [published with permission of author]

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Resources for Lent

Lent begins on the 17th of February and runs until Saturday before Easter, 3rd of April. These six weeks are traditionally the period of preparation for Easter, and inner spiritual journey to the cross, a time for prayer, penance, repentance, and self denial. How will you prepare for Easter?

For some it is good to complete ‘this journey’ together with others. Maybe in a Home Group, if you are not part of one, this might be a good time to join one. Just email us at office@comelybankchurch.com and we will be able to help you.

Others prefer to do it in solitude, just themselves together with the Lord every day, maybe with the help of a suitable devotional book. Or you might just want to do both!

We would like to suggest a couple of resources for this Lenten period.

Prayer Course II – Teaser

Unanswered Prayer – The Prayer Course II

This resource is designed more for Home Groups but individuals can use it too.

It was developed by Pete Greig (24/7 Prayer). It is a five-week follow-up series to The Prayer Course, designed to provoke honest conversation around the hardest and most personal questions we ask about prayer. It is a free video based course and it is launched on 17th February. So you need to be a bit patient until then.


Devotional Book for Lent

‘To Seek and to Save’ is a daily devotional book for Lent by Sinclair Ferguson. He is following Jesus’ journey to the cross as the Gospel of Luke gives account of it. This will be an excellent supplement to our sermon series during Lent (well, for most of it). In our sermons we will also journey together with Jesus to Jerusalem. Our series will be called: ‘The Road to Jerusalem’. It will be based on the accounts of the Lord’s journey as it was recorded by various gospel writers. The book is available online both in printed format and as an e-book at The Good Book Company.

Sinclair Ferguson: To Seek and To Save

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Be the Light in the Darkness

The date when I’m writing this is the 27th of January, Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). The theme of HMD this year is Be the light in the darkness.

Jesus said that He is the Light of the World (John 8:12). When we look around in the world, or look back into history we can see how dense the darkness can be. Dark powers motivate deeds, dark purposes hide behind seemingly innocent endeavours. People, even nations and countries can be kept in the dark. And if we are honest we must confess to the darkness in our own lives, hearts and minds too! We need The Light!

The Bible says about Jesus that in Him the true light came into the world and He is able to give light to everyone (John 1:9)! He is the light that uncovers and reveals dark deeds, and thoughts. The light that guides us, and give us hope. Most importantly Jesus did not say that He has got the light, but He IS the light. What we need to get out of the darkness and to get darkness out of ourselves is Him, Jesus, the Light to shine in us.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also said that those who believe in Him are the light of the world too (Matthew 5:14). This is both an affirmation of the identity of believers and a call for particular action and living. When you consider the darkness in the world you are called to shine into it to unmask it and to bring hope to those who were enveloped by it! If we walk with Jesus we are in the light and can give light to others. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Do not curse the darkness, but let your light shine!

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Praise of the Week: His Eye is on the Sparrow

Sometimes we find life challenging and we get despondent, discouraged, and bitter. The last ten months or so of Coronavirus have not been easy at all! Beyond lockdown and restrictions of our usual free movement, people lost their lives, their jobs, it affected the education and future of our young people, for many front line workers it has been an extremely stressful time, it affected many people mentally too. So it is not surprising to hear complaints and expressions of frustration.

But when I came across the story of the hymn: ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’, I felt God was reprimanding me and us for our complaints. Maybe you will be convicted too!

Civilla Durfee Martin was born in 1869, in Nova Scotia, she became a school and music teacher and married an evangelist, Dr. Walter Martin and joined him on his travels to assist in his meetings. This is her account of the story of the hymn she authored:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn ‘His Eye is on the parrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – MISSION

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

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

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

Three groups emerged from TKC, overlapping and interlinking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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In Memory of Robert Burns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce W. Longenecker: The Lost Letters of Pergamum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from GV]

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

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

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

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

Prayer Topics

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

30 Minutes Prayer Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – FELLOWSHIP

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

‘Consider yourself … at home.

Consider yourself … one of the family.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Relishing Repentance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Can you learn this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – St Ninian

St Ninian – missional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lord, Save Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Footsteps of Celtic Saints – An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Thy Kingdom Come – PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what could we pray about?

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Hallelujah Chorus (1741)

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

1 Chronicles 16:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah Chorus Flash Mob

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When Jesus Comes to Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Shall We Look in 2021?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If God Should Come to Earth

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

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

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

 by Donald Bruce
 24-26 December 2020

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Thy Kingdom Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Opening Times and Christmas Services

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June 2021

Ladies’ home group

June 25 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 10:00 am on Friday, repeating until 17th December 2021

Ladies' home group is currently meeting on Zoom only. For more information please contact office@comelybankchurch.com

Find out more »

Home Groups on Zoom

June 29 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 7:00 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, repeating until 15th December 2021

Three Home Groups continue to meet on Zoom at various times in the evenings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you would like to join one, please email us at office@comelybankchurch.com and we send you the necessary information.

Find out more »

Open church – Private prayer

June 30 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 10:00 am on Wednesday, repeating indefinitely

SSCB, 10 Comely Bank Road
Edinburgh, EH4 1DW United Kingdom
+ Google Map

The church is open for private prayer every Wednesday between 10am and 12pm.  We look forward to welcoming you.

Find out more »

Home Groups on Zoom

June 30 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 7:00 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, repeating until 15th December 2021

Three Home Groups continue to meet on Zoom at various times in the evenings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you would like to join one, please email us at office@comelybankchurch.com and we send you the necessary information.

Find out more »

July 2021

Kirk Session Meeting by Zoom

July 1 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Kirk Session gathers for regular meeting.

Find out more »

Ladies’ home group

July 2 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 10:00 am on Friday, repeating until 17th December 2021

Ladies' home group is currently meeting on Zoom only. For more information please contact office@comelybankchurch.com

Find out more »

Open church – Private prayer

July 7 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 10:00 am on Wednesday, repeating indefinitely

SSCB, 10 Comely Bank Road
Edinburgh, EH4 1DW United Kingdom
+ Google Map

The church is open for private prayer every Wednesday between 10am and 12pm.  We look forward to welcoming you.

Find out more »

Monthly Prayer Meeting by Zoom

July 7 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every month that begins at 7:00 pm on day First of the month, repeating until 1st December 2021

Online Zoom Service United Kingdom

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

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Fellowship Thursday

July 8 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 7:00 pm on Thursday, repeating until 30th December 2021

Having restrictions in place on where we can go and who we can meet, can be wearisome and isolating.  To help, we will meet for fellowship on Zoom for sharing and encouragement.  You can be in your pyjamas, wear your most comfortable slippers and enjoy a cuppa with a biscuit, or two.  The link will be provided in the weekly newsletter.  If you have any questions please get in touch:  office@comelybankchurch.com

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Ladies’ home group

July 9 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am
|Recurring Event (See all)

An event every week that begins at 10:00 am on Friday, repeating until 17th December 2021

Ladies' home group is currently meeting on Zoom only. For more information please contact office@comelybankchurch.com

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Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Advent Reflection 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Passing on the Torch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from George Vidits, minister]

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Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent

Christmas Hail

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

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


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

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Carol of the Week: Good King Wenceslas (1854)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Youth Worker’s Testimony

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Anderson – Youth Worker

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Blessing

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

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

Paul wrote blessings such as:

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

From earlier times comes the priestly blessing:

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

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

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

Consider what we often simply call ‘The Grace’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Celtic Christian blessings taken from Carmen Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Shepherd of the Flock was Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Prayer

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

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

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

Ephesians 6:18

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

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

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

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

Contrast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua 6:15

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

Psalm 125:2

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

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

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

(Prayers taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[from Timothy Pitt]

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SSCB Nativity Advent Calendar

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

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

Have a blessed and joyful Christmas season!

SSCB Nativity Advent Calendar Link

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Send a Christmas Card to Church

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

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

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

So please send your Christmas cards to:

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

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Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(taken from Carmina Gadelica)

[shared by Timothy Pitt]

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Advent Reflection

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

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

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

Revelation 22:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Tall Crosses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 14:6

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:1

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Overflowing Hope

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

Overflowing Hope

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

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

[by Philip Anderson]

Has Covid-19 put Church on the Bench?

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

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

Why am I telling you this?

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

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

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

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

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Samevloeiing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 11:6

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

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

Psalm 90:2

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

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

Psalm 42:2

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Praise of the Week: Rock of Ages (1776)

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

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

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

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Save from wrath and make me pure.

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

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

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

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Jesus is the Great Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Pray:

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

[from Philip Anderson, Youth Worker]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Sannox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Stones That Cry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Third Tier for SSCB

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

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

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

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

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

To sum it up:

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

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

[from GV]

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God’s Olive Branch

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

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

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Inchcolm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord …

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

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

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

Feel something of Your presence  …

Touch their hearts so that their journey by this ship

May become a pilgrimage and that they return to the shore

More aware of the wonder of Your goodness and more committed

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

It is my prayer for us all.

[from Timothy Pitt]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A safe stronghold our God is still,

A trusty shield and weapon;

He’ll help us clear from all the ill

That has us now o’ertaken.

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Ingredients of Strong Faith

-New Sermon Series-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places – Iona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

Let’s Be Honest … about eating disorder

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

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

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

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

[from Youth Volunteer]

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

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Praise of the Week: Count Your Blessings (1897)

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

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

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

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

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

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Stone Poppy Remembrance Day Installation

[Shaftesbury Stone Poppies 2018]

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Thin Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Count Your Blessings

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

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

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

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

What blessings will you give thanks for today?

[from Emma Szilágyi]

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Congratulations and Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Church Officers’ Testimony

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

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

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

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

Yours Sincerely, Tony Peckham

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Going into the West

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

[from The Lord of the Rings]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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The Meaning of the Rainbow

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

Genesis 9:12-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Praise of the Week: For the Beauty of the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Of Calendars and Hairstyles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 29:3-4

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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Energy for Every Day

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

Colossians 1:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from John Baggaley]

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Praise of the Week: I Surrender All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvest 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Echoes of Celtic Christians: Concepts & Foundations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[from Timothy Pitt]

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