Rector’s Letter – July/August

“…my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”
[Acts 20:24]

Dear church,

I have just enjoyed a weekend with many of my friends in Church Army. Every two years Church Army hold a conference for the whole society at the Hayes conference centre, Swanwick. It was very special for me because although I received my Church Army commission back in late 2015, I missed it that year, so this was my first in ten years! There were one or two more grey heads than I remember, and some younger livelier recent additions to the community whom it was great to meet and get to know a little.

This year the theme for the gathering was ‘Grace’. We were blessed to have teaching from The Right Reverend Alan Abernethy (Bishop of the Diocese of Connor, NI, and Church Army board member), The Right Revd Stephen Cottrell (Bishop of Chelmsford, and Chairman of the Church Army board), and Church Army’s own charismatic chief executive, Mark Russell. The talks were challenging and inspiring and the speakers spoke passionately and generously of their belief in and commitment to growing in grace. Several members of the CA community were invited to share their stories of how God’s love and grace are transforming in all kinds of social contexts.

It was a wonderful few days and has been particularly helpful to me as lately I find myself wrestling again with the dilemma of learning to show grace while staying true to deeply held values and views, as your example and teacher.

I believe in grace, I rely upon grace, I encourage grace, and am always mindful that I/we are saved by grace. But I can be a rather inconsistent dispenser of grace, especially when cornered by theological and ethical conundrums.

It can be very stressful when our strong yearning to show love and grace finds itself shrouded and encumbered by our sense of duty to uphold truth/values. Whether these barriers are well considered theological principles, or echoes of ingrained bigoted prejudices, we cannot allow them to be the last word. The last word from followers of Jesus must always be ‘grace’, God’s grace.
There are no easy answers to this and it doesn’t necessarily mean that our views and values are wrong. But this world needs more grace, and consequently more effective dispensers of grace. Jesus didn’t train the disciples to be legalistic pious zealots; there were enough of those around with the scribes and the Pharisees. He was shaping them into people whom, having encountered and been wonderfully moved by God’s grace themselves, would become dispensers of that same amazing grace. So it is for His followers today.

But we can’t give to others what we do not possess ourselves. So let’s commit ourselves to pray, that while people around us may increasingly object to and condemn each other’s views and behaviour, that you and I may fully receive and continue to grow in God’s grace, and become the most effective and powerful witness to the Good News of Jesus that we can be.

With love and prayers,

Nick.

Rector’s Letter – June 2017

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” [Deuteronomy 31.6]

Dear folks,

It’s wonderful to be part of a church. I have heard people say that they are Christians but don’t think you need to go to church. But as I often reassert, we don’t go to church, we are church in our unity in Christ, even when not necessarily in the same physical place.

It’s wonderful when people enjoy being church and gathering for worship and fellowship. However, there is a risk that churches can become ‘holy huddles’ that find such comfort in gathering together and following their rites and observances that they close themselves off from the worrying reality of the world outside their place of meeting.

It is understandable that in worrying times folk tend to huddle in fear in places of security, feeling safer in numbers of people who share their views and convictions, hiding away from the world.

As I was saying the daily office in our delightful church building this morning, the horror of the Manchester terrorist attack which happened last night was very much on my heart. I don’t know many people from Manchester but as my hometown of Bolton is only about 10 miles away from it, there will have been people I know at the ill-fated concert. Whether or not that is so, like many others around the world I feel empathy for those who lost their lives, their loved ones hit by that devastated news, the injured (some still critical as I write), and all affected by this terrible incident. And as I prayed I felt a strong bond of unity in the knowledge that many of you were with me in praying for them all, wherever you were.

With anything like this, the injuries and ill affects extend far beyond the people in the blast range of a terrorist bomb at detonation. Certainly people as far up here as in Dunblane, and further, will be emotionally affected. And many people like my own parents who I spoke to just now are fearful and worried.

I thought about the church as a place where distressed and frightened members of our community can come and pray or be silent in God’s presence over this or any incident. We are very blessed to be able to offer that, with our prime location, beautiful building, and commitment to keeping an open door every day.

And then I began to think also how wonderful it is that St Mary’s church is not a church that is a terrified huddle each time something terrible happens. We are not only to be found in our building, but we are spread out, dispersed around the community, the country, and often around the world. We are in supermarkets and garden centres, prisons and charity shops, in foreign lands some working, and some holidaying, in boardrooms and offices in cities, in the country on lochs, glens and hill tops. St Mary’s is present in far flung and diverse places.

We are aware of the dangers but we are living out our faith in the world, driven by the same Spirit that drove those first nervous Christians from their safe place of gathering on the day of Pentecost into all the same kinds of places that you and I live out our lives today.

Terrorists are targeting contexts where people are gathered in large numbers, and this has even made churches targets for attacks as our brothers and sisters in Egypt and India and other places know only too well. But the church of the Risen and Ascended Christ is neither fearful to gather or to disperse. We go, as we are sent, driven out by His Spirit into the world to be a living testimony that violence and death are not the last word. Bearers of Good News and resurrection power.

St Mary’s is not a frightened church disempowered, but an active church. When not together we are found in all kinds of places and contexts all over the world. We have burst out of the tomb of fear into the world, driven by the Spirit. On June 4th with the rest of the worldwide church we will be remembering and celebrating the day of Pentecost. Our main service will be an all-age celebration, as we rejoice that we are not left alone to cower in safe places, but to live the risen life of Jesus out in the full view of the world, so that everyone can see that there is hope that defies all distress and danger.

I hope you can join us as we gather not in fear but in triumph and joy.

Love and blessings,

Nick.

Rector’s Letter – May 2017

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you… I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
[John 17:20-23]

Dear folks,

Have you ever caught yourself telling someone that you know or are related to a person of notoriety, or at least suggesting that your connection with them is more direct and personal than it really is?

It’s because ordinary folk like me subconsciously ascribe greater worth to noble, famous, wealthy, accomplished, and clever people, perceiving them as of greater value than I am, and that being associated with them might elevate my own sense of self-worth. That’s partly about insecurity and partly about pride. The truth is however that we all like to feel important and valued – it’s a basic human need.

When overseas, visiting and working with churches, people like to talk about where I am from. When asked this when in North America in 2000, I was telling the person that I’m from the UK, they asked, “So have you met the Queen?”. Now I know the UK is comparatively small, but there are sixty-five million of us and I found it irritating that they think we’re so small that we all know Her Majesty (I don’t of course – the picture above is fake!). It’s like living in Dunblane, we all know Andy Murray don’t we? (lots do of course but others might imply they are friends when in fact they greeted him in the street one day).

But you may be better connected than you think… Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized in an eponymous 1990 play written by John Guare. [i]

This means that you can probably discover that you have a connection of six stages or less with any dignitary, celebrity, or nobody, anywhere on earth. It’s a fascinating theory and I’d love to hear what you discover if you explore your own links and connections.

It is widely understood that success in almost any sphere, whether commerce and industry, charity, church, or social life, depends on our ability to form relationships and establish links with others. The contemporary word for this is ‘networking’ – people and organisations that are good at networking generally get along very well and are productive. Those that are insular and don’t relate well to others, not so much.

The church is about relationships; genuine, sincere relationships, built on trust, integrity, affirmation, tolerance, grace, respect, vulnerability, and love.
People are separated from each other by so many things, cultures, rights, ideologies, religion, and also mountains and seas. But what ties us together is our need for love, family, need for purpose and meaning, and of course the image of our Creator (from whom we also separate ourselves).

What caused our separation from God anyway? Simply this; that the pursuit of our own ambitions, impulses, and status became more important to us than our relationship with and love for God and each other.

But every Easter the church is freshly inspired to share with everyone the wonderful news that there need be no degrees of separation between any individual and the God of all creation. And through that connection we are linked to everything else. By the death and Resurrection, every believer is connected directly to the life of God in Jesus, and consequently reconciled to each other as sisters and brothers.

So whether at home or overseas, when someone asks me, “Do you know Jesus?”, with that prayer of Jesus in my heart I can say with integrity and confidence, “Yes, He is my closest friend”. You too can say that, not because of your prestige or high connections, but because of the unconditional and unbiased love of God which invites you through the Cross of Jesus into intimate and eternal relationship with Him.

And that’s the Easter joy that should fill every human heart all year round.

Love and blessings,

Nick.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation

Young Church – Good Friday Service

At the all age Good Friday service, members of our Young Church took part in an interactive Stations of the Cross around the hall, church and graveyard exploring the events of Good Friday. Edible Easter gardens and hot cross buns were also enjoyed as part of the service.

Rector’s Letter – April 2017

Dear folks,

I write this having just returned from visiting our friends at St James Church Kolkata. We enjoyed a wonderful time and later this month the team and I will hold a presentation evening to tell you all about it.

While there I invited Rev Shreeraj, Vicar of St James, whom many of you met when he visited us here in Dunblane last summer, to write the opening letter to our April magazine…

Nick

My dear Rev. Nick and friends at St. Mary’s,

I greet you with joy in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Saviour.

Thank you Rev. Nick for asking me to write an Open Letter for your magazine, I am truly honoured and humbled.

My dear friends, we cannot celebrate Easter, without reminding ourselves of the sacrifice made by our Lord, Jesus Christ for us. Here I would like to share a short story with you:

Isaac lived near his sister Ruth. While Isaac was a bachelor, Ruth was married and had three children. Ruth always worried about her brother as he lived alone. “Winter is around the corner and my brother will not think of keeping enough grain in his barn,” thought Ruth. So she decided to help. Knowing her brother would not willingly accept help, she sneaked out at night with a sack of grain and carried it across to Isaac’s barn and put it in a corner.

In the meantime, Isaac was worrying about his sister Ruth. “Winter is coming and my dear sister has so many mouths to feed, I must help her, but without her knowledge. She is so stubborn when it comes to accepting help.” thought Isaac. So, he sneaked out at night with a sack of grain and carried it across to Ruth’s barn and put it in a corner. This went on for quite a few days, until it so happened that one day they met on the way to each other’s houses with the sacks of grain on their backs. Explanations and laughter followed. Isaac and Ruth put their arms around each other and with tears in her eyes, Ruth said “My dear Isaac this is truly a blessing from God that we love and care for each other so much that we want to share what we have. Let us see who needs help in our village and share our grain with them”. Isaac willingly agreed.

Yes my dear Friends, Easter is a time when we, with joy, celebrate the Risen Lord Jesus. However, this only became possible because God our Father, shared His Son, Jesus with us, gave His Son, Jesus to be a living sacrifice and because Jesus gave His life for us. It is only through this sharing and giving that we have been offered the gift of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]

During the three years Jesus worked on this earth, He time and again reminded us how important it is to give to those in need. Mark 10:21 is a perfect example “Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Jesus conquered death on that Easter morn, thousands of years ago and today we all share in the good news of eternal life, news that we must share with others. I pray that more and more people become lights shining out through the darkness of sin, need and despair by giving love, hope through Jesus Christ, a sympathetic ear, a comforting arm, a warm meal, to those in need, not just during Easter, but the year round.

I am personally filled with joy as I spent a few days in Dunblane last Summer and was truly overwhelmed by the way you shared God’s love with me and the team through the various wings of your Church, all the other activities and finally, by choosing St. James’ Church as your friend to expand God’s love.

May the Lord fill you and your families with a joy that nothing in the world can give.

I sign off by wishing each one of you and your families a very Happy and blessed Easter.

Rev. Shreeraj Mohanty

Confirmation Service with the Bishop

Today we celebrated the Confirmation of Hazel and Ruth at the 10.30am service with Bishop David – Here are some photos from the “bring and share” lunch following the service:

Rector’s Letter – March 2017

Dear folks,

Although the 1st of the month introduces a solemn season of prayer and reflection, March is set to be quite an eventful month.

Since establishing our link with St James Church Kolkata last year and receiving guests in the summer, we have been talking about taking a group over there. At first the uptake was slow for all kinds of legitimate reasons, and a few weeks ago I wondered whether it would ever even happen. But having been inspired by Les and Margaret Slater who offered to represent us by visiting St James during a month long trip that they had been planning, I decided to take a step of faith and book my flight and rendezvous with them. So then there were three of us going! However… I’m delighted to be able to share with you that now a total of seven from St Mary’s (including me) ranging from young teens to retired adults will be there this month.

Noel Boyd, Pippa and Hazel Faunce Smith, our Emilie, and myself fly out on Sunday 12th to return on Tuesday 21st. Several of the group have been assisted with the costs by generous benefactors among the congregation, to whom we are deeply grateful. For the three youngest members of the group as well as for the adults it will be a wonderful experience. The excitement and apprehension are building with every passing day! Please keep the group in your prayers.

Our friends in Kolkata are also looking forward to our arrival and are excitedly preparing accommodation and a full itinerary. As well as meeting members of St James’ church and Young Church, we are looking forward to being actively involved on many levels, and have been asked to prepare and lead an all age midweek service, as well as go with them on their wonderful medical mission to Ramnagar Abad, a remote rural village three hours south of Kolkata that St James have adopted.

Bishop David is thrilled about this link and trip as he is keen to see the link between the two diocese develop into something that is mutually beneficial and encouraging. Our growing relationship with St James church is a significant and positive part of that.

Meanwhile, if you would like to correspond with members of St James church, or would like to send words of encouragement, please email or write to me. Some members of St Mary’s and Mums from Tea and Toast have given us small gifts to take over with us, which we are happy to do. Pencils, pads, rubbers, etc especially colourful ones, are all good things to be able to give out.

I am hoping that the next issue of our magazine will feature an opening letter from Rev Shreeraj as I am going to invite him to address you for Easter. We will of course hold a presentation and share all about our experiences with you after we return.

A few days after we return, it will be the last Sunday in March upon which we have a double celebration as we give thanks for those who nurture us with Motherly love, and baptise a baby.

In the Catholic tradition the Church has been referred to as Mater Ecclesiae (Latin for Mother church), because she nourishes and protects her off-spring. I like that as long as it can accommodate the understanding of helping prepare the beloved children to go out into the world as balanced, compassionate, and confident adults who will increase the family.

And that is what makes the other celebration that we will share in during the main service more special as also this Mothering Sunday I will baptise the youngest member of St Mary’s, wee Salesha Simpson. We look forward very much to being part of that special occasion with Salesha and her Mum and Dad and brothers and other members of her family, as we pledge to help them nurture and protect Salesha and prepare her to live her life in the knowledge of God’s love and as a disciple of Jesus.

It sounds like there is much to think about for the season of Lent, but certainly there will be much opportunity for prayer and reflection, and I am glad that the Dunblane Council of Churches has arranged a Lent Course which I would encourage you to attend if you can (see details in this issue).

With love and blessings,

Nick

Rector’s Letter – February 2017

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3.5-6 (NLT)

Dear folks,

I’m acutely aware that in the SEC and other churches, in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, being incumbent of just one charge is something of a luxury these days for both congregations and their pastor. Further, even incumbents with responsibility for several churches are doing significant roles within the diocese and province. I’m pleased that now that I am fully settled, and we have completed the bulk of our buildings project, I am now able to take on my fair share of responsibility in the diocese, and have recently been appointed convenor of the Congregational Growth Group. The group oversees the Growing Congregations process (replacing the clunky Mission Action Planning process), and the annual Gathering, among other things. It’s a commitment of a few hours a month that will hopefully make a helpful contribution to the life of the diocesan family of which we are part.

On the 26th of this month I will reach a personal milestone having been at St Mary’s for 4 years! That’s not normally a big anniversary or significant birthday for anyone else, but it’s rather special to me because I have now been with you longer than I have been in any previous post since leaving my home town in 1998 to prepare for full time ministry. You may well think you understand why I have never achieved 4 years previously, but actually it’s mostly been due to the way that the unusual types of posts I have held are often funded, and developments in my vocational path.

My first post was a 3 year appointment with the Church Army bus project. Although the following post was a 5 year post, my vocation as a pioneer priest was affirmed just 3 years into it and I was quickly deployed in my new context and ordained soon after. So although I was not serving in a church under an incumbent my next post following ordination was technically a curacy and so was 3 years. The final post before I came to St Mary’s was only a 2 year appointment due to imminent reordering of parishes in that area that was scheduled to take place in 2013.

Despite my sense of achievement at reaching it, 4 years does seem rather pathetic in contrast to Canon Malcolm’s 50 year long incumbency, (a record I am not aiming to break!). I occasionally look back over the portraits in the priest’s Vestry which provide an interesting historical visual record of former incumbents of St Mary’s and wonder what their vocational pathway were that brought them here and took them away, what ministry with St Mary’s was like then, and what their legacies might have been. Among them I note there are several who were around much less than Canon Malcolm, some only 2 or 3 years. I am sure as I did in previous posts they had their reasons, but that seems short to me. My own policy is to have no plans for how long I might remain in any post, but to simply always be open to the prompting of the Lord to explore opening doors.

I was approached recently to consider an exciting new post which was very much the kind of post I would normally be keen to pursue. I was a bit taken back and rather intrigued. As with any important matter like this Andrea and I prayerfully brought the invitation to God and took time to reflect before giving my answer. But I really didn’t need long to respond – I know where I am meant to be for the time being.

So I am delighted to reach this milestone with you, and God willing, perhaps several more yet. And I’m very much looking forward to the 26th February, not just because it is the actual anniversary day of my institution as your rector, but also because Bishop David will be with us to confirm members of our Young Church. Hazel is one of them and there may be another yet which we will know closer to the time. There will be a bring-and-share lunch in the hall after the service to celebrate. Please keep the candidates in your prayers as they prepare to take this significant step in their journey of faith.

Yours,

Nick

Rector’s Letter – December 2016

Dear folks,

Here we are again at the beginning of a new liturgical year (year ‘A’ in the 3 year cycle for anyone interested in the lectionary), and approaching a new calendar year. So it’s our traditional double festive issue of the magazine packed with lots of good things about upcoming festivals, events and celebrations.

Of the plethora of festivals that lie ahead the most significant during the period that this issue covers is one of the two major events celebrated by the church, the birth of the promised Messiah, known to all as ‘Christmas’. So I’m guessing that you won’t mind me focussing on it again!

I have a question for you to ponder… If you could give the world anything at all for Christmas, but just one thing, what would it be? Healing? Tolerance? Peace? Hope? A future? Love? Joy? A new beginning? Spend a few moments quietly to contemplate that…

…When it comes to trying to decide what to give your friends and family members, retailers are only too happy to spend a lot of money on expensive advertising designed to persuade you that they have all your loved ones could need or want. Each year the John Lewis advert is looked forward to with great anticipation by many excited shoppers. I have to admit that this year’s is quite entertaining, with the excited boxer dog, having watched the wildlife out of the window having fun all night, bounding down the garden on Christmas morning to play on the trampoline that has been built by Dad for the little girl of the family after she had gone to bed.

Another one which is something of a production is the animated Sainsbury advert (full version can be seen on Youtube – search for ‘Sainsbury’s official Christmas advert 2016’). I don’t particularly like it, but when pondering what to write in my letter this month it occurred to me that there is a good message in there.

The scenario it depicts is one of a loving but very busy working Dad, who is very much aware that he isn’t able to spend quality time with his family. In a reflective moment he finds himself pondering the question, ‘What is the greatest gift I can give my family?’ Having further reflected and concluded, ‘I’d like to spend the time with the ones I love so dear’, he comes up with an ingenious way of being able to give them himself.

Festive bells chimed in my head at that wonderful summary of the Christmas message and reminded me of this verse in John’s Gospel, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.” [John 3.16a – The Message]

Perhaps God, thinking of his beloved children, wondered, “What is the greatest gift I can give my family?”, and concluded that He would give Himself.

It is a brilliant, radiant truth that in Jesus, God gave himself so that we would receive many, many wonderful good things, not least the hope of unending life. That is the powerfully transformative Christmas message; the hope for all humankind that brings great joy and hope to all who take hold of it.

May your contemplations of what you might give this world inspire you to petition God in prayer. May He stir each of us to give more of ourselves to love and to serve. And may the approaching season be a time of great joy for you and all you love.

 

Have a wonderful Christmas,

 

Nick

 

Shoe Box Appeal

Thanks very much to everyone who filled shoe boxes for the annual shoe box appeal! The shoe boxes are now (or will be) on their way to the charity Blythswood Care for distribution.img_1115r

Young Church Mini-Fete

Young Church held a Mini-Fete in the hall after the 10.30am service this morning to raise funds for Christian Aid’s appeal to help crisis-stricken Haiti – Well done to Young Church and all who helped organise this event. The total raised so far is £301, which is just over the average annual income in Haiti.

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Rector’s Letter – November 2016

Dear folks,

This month begins with a Messy Bonfire on Tuesday 1st, and concludes with Advent Sunday on 27th.

In the middle of that we pause to refresh our memory of precious lives that have been and still are being laid down for our safety and security.
The feast of St Martin of Tours is celebrated on 11th November. The Hungarian born reluctant 4th century bishop and modern patron saint of beggars had an influence that reached as far as Scotland and Ireland.

Martin became a Roman Soldier as a teenager and experienced a strong sense of vocation as a young adult, which became more real when in the army. One day while out on patrol he came across a beggar without adequate clothing. Legend has it that he impulsively cut his military cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” (Sulpicius, ch 2).

Centuries later the remnant of the cloak had become a holy relic and was carried around by kings and even into battle. The clergyman who carried the remnant became known as a cappellanu… ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani, the French translation of which is ‘chapelains’, from which the English word chaplain is derived. Small temporary churches were built for the relic and became known as “capella”, the word for a little cloak. Eventually, such small churches lost their association with the cloak and began to be referred to
as “chapels”.

Reflecting the Eden family ancestry the beautiful wee Chapel at Cromlix house has a strong military influence with its regimental drums, flags, and stained glass windows (no remnant of St Martin’s cloak though!) This is not unusual of course as historically the Church and military services have enjoyed a close relationship and military chaplains are still in service today.
But it was during his time in the army that St Martin faced his greatest faith dilemma – Just before a battle in the Gallic provinces at Borbetomagus (now Worms, Germany), Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service. *

Perhaps it is no co-incidence that St Martin’s feast is shared with Armistice Day.

Our service men and women, some of whom are teenagers, indeed have great courage. While we remember the sacrifice made by those who paid the great cost for our freedom, and the willingness of all who take the same risk today, let us commit to pursuing international policies that require courage to be put in the forefront of bringing peace to the world without fighting.

We will observe an act of remembrance in both our morning services on 13th November. At the 10:30am service I am delighted to welcome the Explorer Scouts who will share in our service and act of remembrance. I hope you can make it too.

With every blessing,

Nick

* Read more about St Martin at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_of_Tours

Harvest Meal

A big thank you to everyone who helped with the Harvest Meal yesterday, particularly those who prepared and cooked the delicious shepherds/cottage pies, red cabbage, apple pies and trifle – We all had a very enjoyable evening.

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Rector’s Letter – October 2016

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

Dear folk,

It seems a long time ago now when as growing up you could walk to a friend or neighbour’s house and go straight in. That was socially acceptable (within reason) when I was young and few people locked their doors.

On mission in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, when doing home visits one day I got to one parishioner’s door to discover keys in the yale lock, on the outside! I rang the doorbell and when the lady of the house greeted me I handed them to her. She promptly put them back in the outside reassuring me that she wouldn’t lose them there. “Why does she even have keys?”, I wondered!
Keys on the outside might give a strong message of trust and welcome. Keeping our church doors open is important because it gives that same message to the communities and visitors.

Another thing that gives a welcoming message is our new glass door. It has caused quite a stir since being fitted; there has been a stream of interested school parents popping into the church to admire it. I don’t think anything else so far has yielded such an instant and positive response from people who don’t come to St Mary’s.

Doors enable us to have access to environments of security, warmth, quiet. They provide a way into and out of walled areas or buildings/places of containment. Since we were back in the church building early in June many commented that they liked the open aspect with no inner doors, but not having doors on the church caused some real frustration with noise from the street, and cold draughts and wind, even though it was supposed to be summer!

Missionally, there is much to be said for open air worship, or at least worship outside the walls of our buildings. We are not a secret society, or the persecuted church in a hostile land. We do want people to be able to see us and worship and join in. But as worshipers in Scotland, we need walls and roofs to protect us from the elements. But roofs and walls do not a church make!
The reason for our having a glass door is to improve accessibility and visibility, so that the life of the real church, the gathered Jesus-people, can be seen by all who pass by. It’s also about reducing obstacles and barriers that make the metaphorically steep steps into any church, flatter and more inviting.

That same challenge is also true of the gospel that is preached to all who enter our lovely building. For those yet outside, walls stand in the way of them being able to see the risen Lord alive and present among his people. That’s where things like our new Life Groups come into play. You can read about them in this issue. Also too about the recent Men’s retreat to the Isle of Cumbrae.
To turn the Revelation of John around for a moment, imagine Jesus standing on the inside of a church building, knocking and asking to be let out, shut in by his people? Certainly not a sound interpretation of this text, but arguably a very true picture of ways of doing church that confine God to buildings and sacraments. Not just a picture of corporate worship either but perhaps also of personal faith; keep the walls up and the doors shut, not allowing the radical life of Jesus to be seen in us.

I know that’s not the St Mary’s way, and pray that all who pass by or visit us continue to see and be attracted by the life of Christ in us and in all we do, inside and outside of our lovely building.

Yours,

Nick

Rector’s Letter – September 2016

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8.3-4 (NLT)

Dear folks,

Who doesn’t like colour and light? That’s one reason why ecclesial buildings are so beautiful with brilliant sunshine splashing vibrant colours through stained glass onto beautiful stone architecture, moving around and lighting different features and corners as the day goes by.

I recall being given a Kaleidoscope as a birthday gift when I was a boy. Perhaps you had one too? It was exciting to look through the eyepiece and feel as if you had entered into a world of patterns and colours and light. Then I was shown to turn the end of it while looking through, and the patterns changed and changed, never once repeating the past.

As an adult I became interested in astronomical telescopes and star-gazing. The thrill of astronomical telescopes is that they transport us beyond the constraints of our world and allow us to venture into a universe that is beyond comprehension and filled with vivid colour and celestial beauty. We see amazing deep space objects such as nebulae, exploding stars, galaxies, and planets, brought near by this wonderfully simple piece of technology.

As I look forward through the lens of faith into the future of St Mary’s Church, I see beautiful patterns of worship, vivid colours of a vibrant and diverse community, bathed in and aglow with divine light.

Once every few months I look at the St Mary’s Church Profile document that was sent to me when I first enquired about coming to you. It was foundational in my process of discernment because it painted a picture of St Mary’s, set out who you were looking for, and how you hoped that person would lead. It was a picture of colour and of light. Page 3 is where the profile gets into that, talking first about the desired attributes of the new Rector, and then reveals some of your hopes of what their ministry at St Mary’s will include…

  • Continuing to build a diverse community into an integrated family whose members value each other’s gifts and differences.
  • Helping to develop our worship in diverse forms which will express and enhance a sense of oneness in nurturing and nourishing our faith together.
  • Developing lay ministry by moving beyond delegation to empowerment – becoming a community which ministers rather than a community which waits to be ministered to.
  • Supporting and developing ministry with children and young adults.
  • Promoting outreach to young families moving to Dunblane and to those who are already here.
  • Inspiring confident and sensitive evangelism, developing an openness to God, one another, and the community.
  • Reaching out in mission and service to the wider community in partnership with other churches.
  • Working with the congregation to develop a vision for the future, based on a prayerful discernment of God’s purpose for St Mary’s.

There may be diversity of opinion as to what degree they are being fulfilled but I’m pleased that we can see several of these things happening or in the process of emerging. I don’t see the list as exhaustive, nor restrictive so there are things I have brought that weren’t there, but it is entirely consistent with my understanding of the ministry of the priest and pastor and finds resonance in my heart. That’s why I applied for the post. Further, I think I was appointed because this church was ready for new direction, vision, and all that those things will bring.

I aim to continue to lead you to reach for all that together we prayerfully discern that God has planned for St Mary’s, not so I can put it on my CV, but that you can become all that God has planned for you to be, and be effective and blessed.

Assuming that the basic competences are present to whatever degree (I know my own shortcomings!), I think the most important requirements of any church leader/pastor/priest is that they have a sincere and open love for God, for the flock they are called to shepherd, and for those outside the fold, in that order. It has to begin with love for God, the model and depth of which will determine how deeply and selflessly we can love and lead others. I hope that above all else you can see that threefold love in me as I continue to serve you as faithfully as I am able.

But without focus the patterns in the kaleidoscope would be a blur. Without focus the view through the telescope is indistinguishable. Without focus, our vision for St Mary’s is incomprehensible. Let’s pray for greater focus that the patterns and colours that emerge will be beautiful to behold, and irresistible to all who observe them.

Yours,

Nick