Rector’s Weekly Letter – 28th May 2020

Dear friends,

How are you doing? Have you noticed how this common greeting has become more meaningful in recent weeks? In these days of lockdown, we really want to know how our friends, family and neighbours are — and not just physically. We want to know how they are coping. We are concerned about their wellbeing in a new way. My hope is that this concern will be one of the things that we carry with us into the future.

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Some of you may have seen contributions from Prince William and a host of sports, music and TV stars. You may think that only a few people are affected but the truth is that in Scotland as many as one in four people will experience mental health problems in any year. This means that all of us know someone who has personal experience of mental health problems although we might not be aware of it.

Most of us know very little about mental health. For many centuries, mental illness and distress has been a taboo subject in our society due to the stigma that surrounds it, often based on myths and false assumptions. Two thirds of employers in Scotland, when asked, said that they did not feel comfortable employing a person with mental health issues. Yet, it is a fact that most people recover from mental health problems and go on to live fulfilling lives. Those with enduring mental illness do not lose their personality or intelligence, and many are able to work and enjoy positive relationships and activities.

The Mental Health Foundation changed the theme of this year’s campaign to kindness in the light of the pandemic which has caused many people to struggle emotionally and has provided additional challenges to those with existing problems. Each one of us can help people experiencing mental health problems and make a real difference to their recovery. All we need to do is to be ready to listen and respond with kindness.

Remember that I am always at the end of my mobile phone. If you wish to be in touch with another member of the congregation but don’t have their phone number or email address, please contact me and I can arrange it with their permission.

With love,
Nerys

Material for Worship on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Revd. Moira Jamieson for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church this morning.   Nerys

In these times of uncertainty and isolation from our families, friends and our church family, it has been a comfort to me, as I am sure it has been for you also, to know that our Rector Nerys has been in the church building on Sundays at the same time as we would all have been gathering for worship and that we have been able to join with her in worship from our own homes.  Our College of Bishop’s have also offered worship online for those of us who have access to the internet, and they have sent messages of hope through the church Facebook page and on the Scottish Episcopal Church website. All of these things help to keep our spirits up and remind us that we are so loved by God, no matter where we are, and they help us to get through each day and to live in hope—hope for a time when we can once again hug our loved ones, hope that when it is safe to come out of isolation we will find ourselves living in a better world, and hope that all we have been through has strengthened and renewed our faith and the faith of people who have perhaps over the years lost sight of God.

As we light our candles and prepare for worship this morning, let us listen to David and Hazel Faunce Smith singing ‘There is a Redeemer’ by Melody Green:

In this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1. 6-14), the disciples were becoming a little impatient to know just when God’s kingdom would be restored and I expect they were impatient to know when the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit would descend on them. Jesus reminded the disciples that it was not for them to know these things, but they would happen in God’s own time. Many people throughout the world are becoming impatient with being in lockdown in their homes during this Corona Virus epidemic. Like the disciples they are questioning the decisions of our governments and want to know when this will all end, forgetting that we cannot possibly rush things when human lives are at risk, and no one knows when the virus will be able to be controlled.

The disciples were looking to the future instead of living in the here and now. Then before their eyes, Jesus was carried up on a cloud as they looked on, and two figures, robed in white, spoke to the disciples saying, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?   This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’. Thinking about the future is something we just can’t help doing.    We have an inherent need to know what is going to happen to us in certain situations, or perhaps we are simply curious to know what our lives will be like after COVID-19. We know that it is probably better if we try to live in the here and now, difficult though that is, but if we do, maybe we can keep ourselves safe and well.

In the first letter of Peter (1 Peter 4. 12-14; 5. 6-11) we are reminded that we should cast all our cares and anxieties on God, because he cares for us. Very appropriate for this anxious time as we wait for a vaccine to be found for COVID-19.  We are to be disciplined and keep alert, words we have been hearing throughout this trying time. I always find it amazing when the words of scripture reflect the times we are living in and offer us good advice.  In this passage God promises that after we have suffered for a short time, he will restore, support, strengthen and establish us once again.  These are not just words, they are promises, reassuring promises of God’s love for all his people. That reassuring promise from God helps us through all sorts of difficult times in our lives and we can be sure that, no matter what we go through, no matter when we might go astray, God our Father is ready to embrace us with his love.

This reassuring unconditional love of God reminds me of the well-known Rembrandt portrait of the Prodigal Son. It’s an amazing revealing portrait of a father’s love for his wayward son, and each time I see the father’s hand on his son’s shoulder, especially that delicate almost female right hand, it reminds me that God’s love for us is unconditional, and that he will always welcome us with open arms. Of course, this amazing work of art has much more to reveal than this, but for today’s reflection, I think it speaks of love and hope in the here and now. I wonder if you have ever felt that gentle hand of the Father on your shoulder. Some years ago, at a time of great sadness when I was alone in church praying and lighting a candle, I felt a touch on my shoulder and when I turned around there was no one there. I knew there and then that it was a touch from God, a reassuring touch, telling me that I was not alone.

At first glance, the Gospel passage (John 17.1-11) seems out of place. This is the prayer that Jesus prayed before his crucifixion, so why is it placed here in the lectionary? If we merely heard this prayer before Good Friday, we might think it was for that day alone, for that appointed time. But hearing the prayer, on the seventh Sunday after Easter day, we can hear the whole prayer and realize that what starts as Christ’s obedience to change, (in his death and resurrection), brings about our obedience to change, to become ‘one with the Father’. The point of Jesus’s plea today is not his obedience to the past; the point is Jesus’s obedience for our future. This is not merely a prayer that Jesus throws up into the heavens so that his work on the cross might be fulfilled. No, this prayer, heard on this side of Easter, is a prayer for you and me, and for the Church, that we might realize the faith Christ has in us, the faith Christ has in our call to obedience.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, he leaves behind that prayer for his disciples and for all his followers, ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’. In this time of uncertainty, we can be reassured that we are united in God’s love for us, knowing that we are one in Christ and one in the Father. As you reflect on today’s passages from scripture, may God bless you and reassure you of his love and protection.

Let us pray,

Lord God, the only true God, in your care for us, you invite us to cast all our anxiety upon you. Protect us by the power of your name, that we may be one, in and between ourselves, as you are one, and to be your people, with you as our only God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (from Psalm 46)

Heavenly Father, we pray for all those who are struggling in this time of lockdown. We pray for all who have contracted the Corona Virus, especially those in hospital. Be with them and surround them with your love. Give strength and courage to all who are fearful and hold them in the palm of your hand.

God our help and hope when waters rise, you brought Israel safely through the sea.   Sustain all those who seek to save others, so that they may repair the ruined cities, raise up the former devastations, and be the restorers of streets to live in; through Jesus Christ, our eternal saviour.  (based on Isaiah 58, 61)

Heavenly Father, in these times when the tide of corona Virus is all around us, bless and protect all frontline workers who risk their lives daily to serve others.

Living God, our refuge and strength, even the wind and sea obey your voice.   Put the wind back in its place, and say to the sea: Peace! Be still!  Fill us with great faith, and save us from the surging water, so that we may tell the good news of your saving love; through Jesus Christ, our hope in the storm.  (based on Mark 4)

Heavenly Father, we pray for the people of Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, Myanmar, Kashmir, and all areas where there is conflict and unrest. We pray for all innocent victims of violence and ask that you would protect them and bring them peace.

God of wind and water, stillness and storm, your Spirit sweeps over the surface of the sea.  Give us faith to seek you in times of trouble.  Reach out your hand to us when we are sinking so that we may believe and worship you; through Jesus Christ, Sovereign and Saviour.

(based on Matthew 14:22-33)

Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless our Primus Mark and the College of Bishops as they provide love and support through their words of encouragement and celebrations of the Eucharist each Sunday. Bless all clergy as they seek to support the church family during lockdown and especially Nerys our Rector.

Holy One, you are our comfort and strength in times of sudden disaster, crisis, or chaos.  Surround us now with your grace and peace through storm or earthquake, fire or flood.

Heavenly Father, bless all at St.  Mary’s for whom prayers have been asked. We take a moment to remember those we pray for daily and to lift them up to you. (Moment of silence)

Bless the dying and comfort those who mourn. Be with those who are remembering an anniversary of death at this time and surround them with your love.

Lord God, as we face the uncertainties of this time, by your Spirit, lift up those who have fallen, sustain those who work to rescue or rebuild, and fill us with the hope of your new creation; through Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 21st May 2020

Dear friends,

Today the first summer rose has bloomed at the Rectory window. As I paused to admire it and take a photo, I noticed a last tiny flower of the winter jasmine nearby reminding me that we are in a time of transition. Despite the occasional sunny day, there are still patches of snow on the hills and the potatoes I planted in containers for Young Church still need to be brought in at night. Winter has not yet loosened its grip and yet we are surrounded by signs of the approach of summer.

We are in a time of transition also as a nation. Today we learned of the measures our government has devised to ease us out of lockdown. We can start to look forward to more freedom and to an eventual return to normal life but at the moment, the threat of the virus is still lurking in our communities and the death toll is still rising. How appropriate it is that today is Ascension Day, the day when we celebrate the most important transition in the story of our faith. It marks the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth and points towards the great hand-over when we, his followers, take on the responsibility of continuing his work, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious feast, full of paradoxes. Christ leaves us, and yet he is now even closer to us; he is hidden from our eyes and yet revealed through us to the whole of humankind.

The following days, as they hid in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, must have difficult for the first followers. The days ahead, as some of us start to emerge from our homes, won’t be easy either but we have a choice how to respond. We could succumb to anxiety and fear or we could spend the time as the disciples did, in prayer. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is a movement that invites Christians around the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. What started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. There is a whole range of resources on https://www.thykingdomcome.global/ for all ages. I would encourage you to get involved.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Material for Worship on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is reported that there has been a surge in people of all ages engaging with online religious activities since our places of worship have been closed. A recent survey found that a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service during the crisis and that one in twenty have started praying. One in five of these have never attended church.

I wonder what your response is to these findings. As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about those in our lives who may not know God but who perhaps sense that there is more to life than what they experience.

The people of Athens in our reading from the Book of Acts today (Acts 17.23-31) were seeking something more, but they didn’t know what they were looking for. As you read, imagine what it was like for Paul as he looked across to the Acropolis with its spectacular temples representing all kinds of ideas and religious cults. As a devout Jew, the thought of idol worship must have horrified him but at the same time, he realized that the many buildings dedicated to worship were a sign that this city was full people looking for God.

So he takes the Athenian custom of dedicating altars to unknown gods as a starting point to expand the minds of his listeners. ‘I’m not talking about just any old unknown god’, he says. ‘I’m talking about the God behind the gods, the Creator of the universe. This is a God none of us can claim to fully know because God is beyond even the most beautiful visual images, the most elaborate rituals, the most venerable traditions. This God can’t be contained in a temple, he doesn’t belong to a particular nation or culture, he is beyond ethnic divisions, he is beyond religion, he is beyond the grasp of our intellect, beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination. And yet this God is also unimaginably close to us, closer than our own breathing, for in him we live and move and have our being’.

Paul creates a picture of a God who can be known and wants to be known and yet remains hidden from so many. As you read our Gospel reading today (John 14.15-21), you’ll see a similar picture. Jesus at the Last Supper is responding to the anxious questions of his disciples about their future and his. No, they will not be left like orphaned children, he says. The risen Christ will make his presence known to them through the Spirit. They will know that they are loved by God but other people will be oblivious to him.

Often, what we see depends on what we bring to that experience of seeing. When I look at a Scottish mountainscape, I see wonderful scenery but I am unable to identify the individual peaks because, unlike some of you, I haven’t studied them on a map, I haven’t read about them, I haven’t spent enough time amongst them, climbing them, getting to know them.

A person needs to get to know God to be able to identify his presence in their lives and in the world around them. And the way to get to know God is by learning about Jesus. Through reading the Gospels and through living in his company every day, we can have a very clear idea of what God is like. We can see that God is compassionate and forgiving, totally honest and good, that God stands up for what is right. We can see that God looks for the good in us and doesn’t condemn us or give up on us. We can see in the cross and resurrection that God will love us to the end of our lives and beyond.

If we put our faith in that God, the God that Jesus revealed to us, if we trust his promises and respond to his love, then our lives will be shaped by his presence within us. In response to our prayers, God’s spirit will work through us, giving us the resources to continue Jesus’ mission in the world, enabling us to do what he has done and more. We will live out God’s love every day of our lives even when obedience is difficult and we are called in directions we may not have taken by comfortable choice.

And other people will take notice—especially those in our lives who have kept the windows of their hearts open to the possibility of God, hoping one day to find him. What Paul does in Athens is to throw some light into those open windows. We are called to do the same. We are called to live in such a way that enables the hidden God to reveal himself through us. This week my prayer is that through our words and actions, through the way we respond to situations in lockdown, we can be used as a means for those who are seeking God to find him.

Collect for today God, from whom all good thing arise; grant such grace to those who call on you, that by your inspiration, we may ponder those things that are right, and by your guidance, do them; through, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

[Our intercessions have been prepared by John Hamilton who is a scientist and our Christian Aid representative. They have been inspired by Christian Aid Week resources and New Scientist Value of Vaccines supplement.]

Lord God, as support for Christian Aid Week reaches out and protects our neighbours in the world today, unite us with love as corona virus is still spreading across our communities, protect us as we show kindness to our neighbours, help us provide soap, clean water and medical supplies to our neighbours in the developing world, encourage responsible consumption and production of staple foodstuffs.
With people of all faiths and none, we stand up for dignity, equality and justice for our neighbours near and far.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Loving Lord, as debates are ongoing about the recovery from Covid-19, encourage cooperation in the development of vaccines, keep the cost of vaccines affordable in all countries, facilitate the high uptake of vaccines, to provide community immunity.
Vaccines have the incredible superpower of protecting whole communities rather than just the individual.
God is good, all of the time. All of the time, God is good.

Heavenly Father, as we approach Ascension Day, allow us to rest in your grace and seek your vision, love us as we follow your commandments, lead us as your children, to new ways to worship you, the one God, with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 14th May 2020

Dear friends,

I’m so grateful to Liz for choosing the theme of Peace for Messy Church this month. It has made me realise that for the last eight weeks I have been so engrossed by the crisis caused by Covid 19 here in Scotland that the focus of my prayers has become very narrow. Stories from trouble-spots in other parts of the world have largely disappeared from our news bulletins and as a result, I for one had started to forget about the suffering in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Chechnya, Myanmar. Despite the UN Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire in March, fighting continues in most of these areas. Messy families were encouraged, as we marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of hostilities in Europe, to pray for those countries still at war.

Among the activities on offer to help us with our prayers was the West African symbol for peace and harmony, Bi-nka-bi. The image is based on two fish biting each other tails and it literally means ‘no one should bite the other’. Here is Laura’s interpretation of it, filled with patterns of doves, the Christian symbol of peace.

In Japan, children write their prayers and hopes for peace on paper cranes they have made. You may be familiar with the story behind this tradition which was started by Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl, badly affected by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. In hospital, Sadako passed the time making origami figures. Here favourite was the crane. An old Japanese legend stated that anyone who faithfully folded a thousand cranes would have her wish fulfilled.

As Sadako began folding cranes, her wish was, of course, that she would recover. However, when she sensed that she was not going to get better from the effects of the radiation, she changed her wish and prayed instead for peace between the countries of the world. With every crane that she folded, she whispered, ‘I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.’ She had folded 664 cranes when sadly she died. The children of Japan learned of Sadako’s wish and they too began folding cranes. Every year on Hiroshima Day (6 August), you can see thousands of paper cranes suspended from the tower in Hiroshima Peace Park.

Messy families have been invited to hang the cranes they have made on the oak tree on the Rectory lawn when they come by on their daily walk or bike ride. I wonder if we could all make a crane as a symbol of our desire for peace in the world. All you need is a square of paper and some patience! Here are some instructions. Anyone in our community is welcome to join in with this activity. It would be lovely if the tree was full of cranes by 1st June, International Peace Tree Day.

I leave you with a poem by Ann Lewin which my friend, Hugh Donald shared with me today which challenges each one of us to allow God to help us grow into a Peace Tree. (It is best read aloud.)

Peace Trees

To be in the presence of trees

is to know peace.

The silent rhythm of their life,

bringing maturity in due time,

without anxiety or haste,

calms our impatience;

their solid strength, derived from

hidden roots spreading much further

than we ever know, gives us security;

grace, beauty, shapeliness and form,

delight our senses, soothe our

fragile nerves, and bring refreshment.

Let us in turn be trees,

growing in God’s time to maturity,

spreading our roots deep into springs of life,

opening branches wide to all who come

offering strength and healing through our

Peace.

God’s peace be with you all,

Nerys

Click below for instructions about how to fold a simple crane from a square of paper:

https://www.origami-fun.com/origami-crane.html

Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am grateful to the Ven. Peter Potter for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church this morning.
Nerys

When asked how they are managing, several people have replied ‘Same old, same old’ and indeed it’s a phrase I have also used to describe each day’s fairly unchanging routine. Then, like the proverbial London buses, we have three things happening all at once – possible government announcements about easing the lockdown, the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday and the start of Christian Aid Week today.

For obvious reasons Christian Aid Week won’t be following the same pattern as previous years. There will not be a house-to-house collection and we are invited to donate online by visiting https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/CAWeek2020. Their work will be all the more needed as conditions in poor counties mean that the impact of corona virus will be even more devastating than in this country and the others that feature in the news.

During and after the Second World War people and governments realised that the end of the conflict would not mean that everything could go back to how it was before. In this country welfare reforms led to the creation of the NHS, which has proved its worth many times over in recent weeks. Internationally the UN was founded and in Europe old enemies learnt to keep the peace.

So the lesson as we look forward to the ending of restrictions, would seem to be that we cannot go back to ‘same old, same old’ ways, whether in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods and indeed in the Church.

The picture is from the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, a town that went back and forth between France and Germany between 1870 and 1945. It shows Jesus on the first Easter morning telling Mary Magdelene ‘Do not touch me’ or, more accurately, ‘Do not hold on to me’. Easter marks the beginning of a new creation in which many of the old ways are no longer appropriate and new lessons must be learnt.

What do we have to let go of and what have we learnt in these weeks of lockdown that will help us move from ‘same old, same old’ to embrace the new life of the resurrection?

Notes on today’s readings
Acts 7.55-60 The martyrdom of Stephen is brought about by those who do not want to receive the Good News of Jesus because they prefer the ways of the old dispensation – ‘they covered their ears’. What is it that holds them back?
Stephen prays, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’, an echo of Jesus’s words on the cross. Such radical forgiveness is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed and for which Stephen is being killed.
1 Peter 2.2-10 Various mixed metaphors here but with a common theme of growth and moving on; from infancy to childhood, from separate stones to a building, from individual believers to members of a priestly body and from darkness to light. Peter’s message can give us joy and confidence, for he is telling us that God can use us in his building project. Our rough edges and odd shapes do not matter to him, for he can find a place for each of us. If we allow it (and many don’t, as Peter says), God will fashion these stones, just as children change as they mature – the mixed metaphor again – so that they will fit perfectly into the temple. But, although we may need to move on from ‘same old, same old’, we cannot travel aimlessly but must have a firm orientation point – the corner stone on which the whole edifice depends, Jesus Christ himself.

John 14.1-14 Belief is a key concept in John’s Gospel. Through believing in Jesus we become like him and ‘becoming’ implies growth and change. Jesus says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. The words ‘go’ and ‘prepare’ signify that we are not meant to stay as we are and carry on in the same old ways. The saying ‘No one comes to the father except through me’ often causes difficulty in an age when all faiths and none are accepted. But I think it does not have to be interpreted in an exclusive way. The Church has always believed that Christ died for the sins of the whole world and we who believe can see the Holy Spirit at work in those who do not believe. Surely Jesus has prepared a place for them too.

Intercessions for times of change and uncertainty
God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be shielding and defending us each step of this stormy world.
For all suffering from the corona virus.
For those whose treatment and tests for other illnesses have been disrupted.
For all who are grieving or anxious.

Be a star, a helm, a compass from our lying down to our rising anew.
For all who have the responsibility of gradually lifting the lockdown.
For all whose livelihoods are at risk.
For all of us in the adaptions we must make to our routines.

You are the gracious red rowan that subdues the ire and anger of men.
For the trouble spots in the world that have been pushed out of the news.
For the UN and all who work for peace.
For the victims of violence.

The guarding of the God of life be upon us to aid and enfold us each day and each night.
For the work of Christian Aid.
For the WHO and other agencies combatting the spread of corona virus in poor countries.
For carers in the community and in care homes.

Love towards God, the grace of God and the will of God
to do on earth as Angels and saints do in heaven.
For all who have been good neighbours in these days.
For all who have kept in touch.
For all who have lightened our burdens.
For these and all your many gifts, we thank you, O Lord.

(Adapted from prayers in Carmina Gadelica)

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 7th May 2020

Dear friends,

It was Jeanette who shared this image with me last week, just a few days after she had lost her beloved dog, Bella. A friend had sent it to her with a verse from Isaiah:

Don’t worry. I’m beside you.

There’s no need to be afraid. I’m looking after you.

I’ll give you the strength and help you need.

I’ll hold you firmly and safely in my hand.

(Isaiah 41.10)

When my Sean was a baby he would often only fall asleep in the evening when his father picked him up and held him in his arms. I can still see his whole body relaxing as he snuggled into Davie’s chest, his anxiety melting away. This is what it’s like, in my experience, when we put our lives into the hands of Christ. A sense of peace and security enters our hearts. Our worries and fears are put into perspective. We relax knowing that we’re not alone. We don’t need to fight to stay in control any longer. We can lay down whatever it is that is troubling us and let it go. We can find rest.

The same thoughtful friend subsequently sent Jeanette the following words by the French philosopher and priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

‘I’ve come to think that the only, the supreme, prayer we can offer up, during these hours when the road before us is shrouded in darkness, is that of our master on the cross, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (into your hands I commend my spirit). To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread, that blessed and caressed, that were pierced . . . to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down to the very marrow of the soul, which mould and create; to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted. It is to these that it is good to surrender our soul, and above all when we suffer or are afraid. In doing so there is great happiness and consolation.’

My prayer for each one of us during these troubling times has been that we feel held in the hands of the One who will never let go of us. In God’s keeping we are set free to be ourselves more truly than ever before and to be a blessing for others. We are enabled to respond in the midst of a storm with a strength and a wisdom that is not our own. As we are held, we in turn are empowered to reach out and hold those in need of our support and prayers.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Material for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good morning! As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, take a moment to listen to any sounds you can hear. Sounds, especially the sounds of voices, have become very important to many of us, deprived of seeing and touching others in the way we used to. In a few years’ time, I wonder what voices we will remember from this period. Will it be the urgent voices on TV telling us to ‘Stay at home’, the cheering voices in the streets on Thursday evenings, the welcome voices of family and friends on the phone or other voices? And what about our inner voices? What have they been saying to us during this last week?

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the Gospel is always taken from the tenth chapter of John where Jesus reveals his identity to the Pharisees who oppose him, by using parables about shepherds and sheep. As you read John 10.1-10, listen to the contrasting messages of the good shepherd and the thieves.

The sheep that belong to the good shepherd follow him because they know his voice. We can recognise the good shepherd’s voice within us because it leads to life. Christ offers us a life full to overflowing, a life better than we ever dreamed of, but he doesn’t force himself on us. Every evening on the farm, my uncle would walk around his fields to check his stock as his father and his grandfather had done before him. As he came to a gate, he would whistle gently to set the sheep at ease and they would run towards him, knowing that he had some feed in his pocket for them. Christ stands at the gate of our lives, gently and graciously waiting for us to come to him. And when we do, he greets us with the words ‘Peace be with you’, ‘Do not be afraid’. We may indeed be afraid that if we turn to him enormous demands will be made on us or that we will be worn down by guilt. We may have been exploited in the past by people who were only interested in their own good. But Christ is not in the business of destructive behaviour, he is not out to get us, to steal from us or put us down. His love is a self-giving love, he seeks only to enrich our lives by sharing his life with ours. In his keeping we are set free to be ourselves more truly than ever before and to be a blessing for others. He will not force himself upon us. It is up to us to respond to him.

We can use the psalm set for today as our response. Read it very slowly pausing at the end of each line.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;

for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

 

Our prayers of intercession today have been prepared by the leaders of thirteen Christian churches and organisations across Scotland. We are invited to join with many thousands of people to pray them again tonight at 7 p.m.

Good Shepherd, watch over us today in all we face and experience.
Never leave us or forsake us and journey with us always.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us as no-one else knows us.
Guard us and keep us, as you guard and keep those whom we love.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the sick and the lonely;
for the anxious and the bereaved;
for those whose pain is beyond our comprehension.
We stand with them and commend them to your care.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, we pray for the carers in hospitals and in homes
and for all who serve the needs of others.
May their example of living compassion inspire us in our care for others.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know the depths of our heart
and the fears which are ours.
Speak into the depths of our heart and calm our fears.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good Shepherd, you know us by our name
and our identity is not hidden from you.
Gather us to yourself as a Shepherd gathers the sheep,
that we might know your Name.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Amen

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 30th April 2020

Dear friends,

A close encounter with a wren through the glass of the Rectory bay window the other day made me realise how much my life has changed since lockdown began. As I gazed in delight at the tiny bird, noticing the intricate patterns on its wings and upright tail, the white stripe above its eye, its fine bill and delicate legs, I gave thanks for that moment — a moment which I probably wouldn’t have experienced in the busyness of ‘normal’ life.

If you had asked me two months ago about the birds which visit the grounds of St Mary’s, I would have spoken about the four pairs of magpies, the crows who nest in neighbouring trees and the greedy wood pigeons. I couldn’t have told you about the smaller birds because I hadn’t noticed them. Over the last few weeks, I have become aware of the robins, the sparrows, the finches and the wrens and more attuned to their calls. The lack of cars and school children has probably made them bolder and their songs easier for me to hear but also, stripped of the many meetings, events and activities which filled my days, I now have had the time and freedom to watch and listen to them as I used to do as a child on my grandmother’s farm.

In the same way, with more space in my day to reflect and pray, I feel that I’m becoming more attuned to God’s whispering and aware of little movements of God’s spirit within me and around me, noticing small blessings that I would have missed before. It is not surprising that I have been drawn this week to the contemplative writings of Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk who wrote of the rush and pressure of modern life as ‘a form of violence, which destroys our inner capacity for peace and also destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful’. I have certainly learnt during the last few weeks to value living at a slower pace with fewer distractions so that I can focus on what is life-giving for me in order to better share that life with others.

I’m sure that you also have had all sorts of unexpected experiences and realizations. I wonder what we will take with us from this as we look forward to life after lockdown? Can I encourage you to write down your thoughts so that the valuable lessons we are learning in this challenging time are not lost.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Exploring Prayer
We will have an initial meeting on Zoom on Friday 8th May at 7 p.m. to reflect on the second of Archbishop Justin Welby’s videos, ‘Learning to Lament’ which can be found on https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/exploring-prayer. Please get in touch with Nerys on rector @ stmarysdunblane.org if you’d like to give it a go. This group is not limited to members of St Mary’s.

Material for Worship on the Third Sunday of Easter

When you walk through a storm,
hold your head up high
and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm
there’s a golden sky
and the sweet, silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
walk on through the rain
though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
with hope in your heart
and you’ll never walk alone,
you’ll never walk alone.

I suppose that it is not surprising that ‘You’ll never walk alone’ has reached the top of the charts this week. A song of hope and solidarity, it has long been used not only as an anthem for the football terraces but also to bring comfort and encouragement in difficult times. It is particularly appropriate at the moment when so many people are in isolation and feeling very alone.

As you light your candle and prepare to join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, let us take a moment to think about our St Mary’s family. You may wish to bring before God those who usually sit with you in the pews and imagine us walking through this storm together.

Our Gospel reading this week, Luke 24.13-35, takes us on a journey with two of Jesus’ disciples. Some scholars think that they were husband and wife, others that Luke deliberately left one of them unnamed to make it easier for his readers to identify with them and join them on the way. As you read the passage, you may want to name some of the emotions you are carrying today.

The disciples share their story of confusion, dismay, fear and sorrow with the stranger who walks alongside them. Notice how he draws them into his story – a story of fulfilment through suffering – by guiding them through the Scriptures. This has such an effect on them that even before they understand who he is, they plead with him to stay with them. I invite you to bring to mind stories of God’s faithfulness to his people through the ages, culminating in the story of the first Easter. Do you also have a story of his faithfulness to you?

Notice the way Luke describes the simple meal and allow your mind to return to the upper room and to many other meals Jesus had shared. The meal also points forward to our own experiences of meeting Christ in the breaking of the bread. In the passage, the moment of revelation is gentle and brief but it shines a light for us on the past, present and future. The story has not finished at the cross or even at the empty tomb. The Emmaus experience happens again and again and brings us encouragement to walk on with hope in our hearts, knowing that we will, indeed, never walk alone.

As you prepare to turn to God in prayer, you may want to take a moment to read the words of the song again and reflect on the painting below by Daniel Bonnell.

Walk with us, Lord, through this time of fear and uncertainty throughout the world.

Walk with those in positions of authority and influence …

Walk with those who are risking their lives to serve others …

Walk with those who are suffering …

Walk with those who anxious …

Walk with those who are grieving …

Walk with those who feel they are alone …

Walk with your Church in Dunblane and across the world …

Help us to know your presence with us and to be your presence to others.
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rector’s Weekly Letter

Dear friends,

Many of you have said to me that you’re glad that it is during the Spring that this terrible crisis has hit us and I agree. For me, though, this is not only because this season brings better weather, longer days, birdsong and blossom to lift our hearts. It is because Spring is the traditional time for giving the home a thorough clean. This means that I can justify to my family all the hoovering and dusting, emptying out of drawers and cupboards, I’ve been doing during the last few weeks! I can’t deceive myself, however. I know that cleaning and sorting is an activity I turn to when I need to feel in control of my life. We all respond to uncertainty and danger in different ways but we can choose not to allow fear to possess us, driving us into the darkness of anger or despair. Henri Nouwen wrote about the way faith in God enabled him at difficult times in his life to move from the House of Fear to the House of Love. God doesn’t keep danger from us, he says, but knowing that we are loved and are called to love can make us unafraid and enables us to live life to the full no matter what our circumstances may be. When Jesus says, ‘Make your home in me, as I make mine in you’, he is offering us is a place right in the midst of our anxious world where we can be free to notice the suffering of other people and to respond with compassion.

It’s not easy stay close to the One who said ‘Do not be afraid’ in difficult times such as these when our regular pattern of worship is broken. But we can still pray for each other and encourage one another. If any of you would like to meet on-line to reflect on Archbishop Justin Welby’s excellent series of short videos, Exploring Prayer, please let me know on rector @ stmarysdunblane.org . They can be found at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/exploring-prayer. You don’t need to be a regular member of St Mary’s to be involved. Everyone will be made welcome.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Material for Worship on the Second Sunday of Easter

Dear friends,

I will be celebrating the Eucharist in the church tomorrow at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. Here is some material to enable to you to join in with worship and prayers:

Easter_2_Material_for_Worship

Don’t forget that churches across Scotland are joining together to light a candle and pray at 7 p.m. every Sunday evening.

Please be assured of my prayers for you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch on 824225 or rector @ stmarysdunblane.org

With love to you all,
Nerys

Rector’s Letter – from April 2020 Magazine

Dear friends,

I’m sure that none of us would have imagined as we read last month’s magazine that a few weeks later all our services would be cancelled, our church doors would be shut and almost every aspect of our present and future lives disrupted. This is a very confusing and draining time for us all. We feel that our whole world has changed. Although we know this is temporary, it doesn’t feel that way. We view the future differently now. Our general sense of safety feels threatened. Many of us are disoriented and are feeling bewilderment, anxiety, loss and many different kinds of grief. Our grief is individual and collective and we are reacting to it in different ways, ranging through a host of different emotions and ways of thinking.

How are we to manage all this grief as individuals and as a community? There is no easy answer, but according to David Kessler who has written extensively in this field, understanding the stages of grief is a start. He emphasises in an article I read recently, that this is not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There was denial early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Ok, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, won’t it? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance: This is happening; I have to work out how to proceed.

It is important to name these feelings to ourselves and others in order to let go of them. Holy Week will give us an opportunity to do that as we accompany Jesus and his disciples on that final journey to Jerusalem. My aim, with the support of Peter and Jeanette, is to provide materials which may help us all to acknowledge our sadness, fear and anger in the presence of our loving God and come to a place of acceptance.

In a book published last year, David Kessler has added a sixth stage to grief – Meaning. Even now we are finding the light of meaning in the midst of this crisis. There are many small resurrection moments. We are appreciating the simpler things of life. We are seeing the importance of our friends and family. We are learning that loving kindness is what counts. And we are finding that we can do church in a completely different way, that we can stay connected and grow in faith. We will not celebrate Easter in the usual way this year but I hope that each one of us, in the midst of our grief, will feel the joy of the Resurrection and continue to walk in the light of Christ.

With love to you all,

Nerys

No Congregation

No Sunday congregations. We are living in strange times.

Yet, we have been here before, in Scotland at least. After the Jacobite risings in the 18th century, which many Episcopalians had supported, the Episcopal Church faced many restrictions. One was that it was illegal for more than five church members to be in the same room as their priest. So they had to find imaginative solutions. Sometimes the priest would stand in the hallway and say the liturgy while members of the congregation would be in separate rooms off the hallway but still in earshot. There were also instances when the congregation would stand outside and parents would pass their babies in through the window for the priest to baptise them. Incidentally my son in Canada told me he did something similar recently. A friend was getting married and the guests stayed in their cars in the car park and honked their horns when the couple emerged.

So, with today’s live-streamed services we are following the example of our forebears. And let’s remember that these difficult years in the 18th century were a period of spiritual growth in the Episcopal Church. They produced an order of service for Holy Communion that subsequently paved the way for liturgical across the Anglican Communion and in 1784 the Scottish bishops consecrated Samuel Seabury, the first bishop for the newly-independent United States (the English bishops wouldn’t do it because Seabury couldn’t swear allegiance to George III), a move that would eventually lead to the formation of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Where there’s a will there’s a way and who knows what the outcome could be.

Peter M. Potter

News Update

Sunday Services at St Mary’s are suspended until further notice.

You are welcome to come into the church to pray or be still. It will be open as usual every day during daylight hours. Please use the back door and wash your hands thoroughly before entering the body of the church.

If you wish to speak to a priest or ask for prayers, please phone 01786 824225.

The congregation of St Mary’s is continuing to share in worship and prayer from their own homes. If you wish to join with us, please contact Nerys at rector @ stmarysdunblane.org and you will be added to our email group.