Lent at St Mary’s

 

Something for everyone during the season of Lent …

Pancake Events Tuesday 13th February

Everyone is invited to our Shrove Tuesday events. Please get in touch on rector @stmarys.org or sign up at the back of church if you would like to attend.

Rector’s Letter

A Happy New Year to you all! Since this is the first magazine of 2024, I assume that it is not too late to use this greeting. I hope that it is not too late either to encourage you to make one more New Year’s resolution and to join me in seeking to try new things this year. I read an article recently claiming that trying new things can transform our lives for the better. It can help us discover our strengths and weaknesses, overcome our fears, build our confidence, boost our creativity and grow as people.

Here at St Mary’s we aim to offer a variety of Sunday services. If you have been attending the morning services regularly for a number of years, the liturgy will be comfortingly familiar. We also seek to provide services that are different and new, particularly at Night Church. We hope that these might teach us new ways of approaching prayer and worship and challenge us to think afresh about our faith and the way we live it out.

This month at Night Church, Ruth Burgess will lead us in a celebration of the ancient festival of Candlemas, Iain Goring, inspired by the author Richard Foster, will reflect on spiritual disciplines, and Kate Sainsbury will share with us a year in the life of the Appletree Community which she has founded to support her son Louis. This month also, we will mark the beginning of Lent with services in the morning and the evening of Ash Wednesday, 14th February. If you haven’t observed Lent before, what about coming to one of these or to the whole church service on the first Sunday of the season to find out more?

You are also invited to come together to mark Shrove Tuesday with pancake events in the church hall on the afternoon or evening of 13th February. These will be the first in a series of social events to which you are encouraged to invite relatives, friends or neighbours. Please consider who you might ask to come with you either to the afternoon gathering or to the supper – details below.

The Gospel we’ll be using in our eucharistic services during 2024 is the Gospel of Mark, the earliest and probably the most puzzling of the four Gospels. It is also the shortest, possibly designed to be read aloud in one sitting of a church community. Some of you have already agreed to meet this month to read the whole of this Gospel together. It is not too late to sign up for a morning, afternoon or evening session in the Rectory or in someone’s home. Hearing the Gospel in this new way can be a powerful experience. It may lead to further gatherings to look in detail at various aspects of Mark and explore its themes. We’ll have to wait and see!

At St Mary’s we also offer opportunities to meet regularly in groups during the week to discuss and pray together and get to know each other. If you would like to find out about the Monday Gathering, the Men’s Group, the Young Adults Group, the Prayer Group, Sensible Shoes and The Chosen, please get in touch with the organisers, some of whose contact details are at the back of the magazine, or with me. A new home group will soon be launched which will hopefully bring together Christians from different churches in Dunblane to pray and learn together and provide support for one another. This may be the new thing for you to try this year! If so, I urge you to come to the introductory meeting or failing that, to contact Martin or Jill Wisher to find out more.

Meeting to worship and to work for good causes along with members of other local churches has always been an important part of the life of St Mary’s. This year, it’s our turn to host the World Day of Prayer in Dunblane. If you haven’t attended this service before, what about coming along to join in the world-wide wave of prayer and to hear a powerful message from the Christian women of Palestine?


St Mary’s is also part of the Diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, a group of about 50 churches under the authority of Bishop Ian Paton. During the year there will be opportunities to meet with members of our sister churches for services and for other activities like the walks detailed below, organised by our Pilgrim Pastor, Duncan Weaver, along the Fife Pilgrim Way.

This month also, there will be a special Diocesan Evensong to welcome Bishop Marinez of Amazonia and celebrate our new link with her diocese in Brazil. This will be a great opportunity for some of you to visit our cathedral in Perth for the first time and to find out about what may turn out to be an exciting new project for our church.


In the meantime, please consider what other new things we could offer this year to build up our church community and strengthen our links with the wider world. I would be delighted to hear from you!
with love,
Nerys

World Day of Prayer

St Mary’s is hosting the World Day of Prayer for Dunblane this year.

 

Materials for Worship on the Third Sunday of Advent

Rachael writes: “Who am I?” A philosophical and existential question – one that many of us will have asked ourselves at some point in our lives – that in each of our passages today, receives a concrete answer.

Hearing our passage from Isaiah (61.1-4, 8-11) we might find ourselves transported to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day, when Jesus is handed a scroll of scripture and opens it to this passage, reading it before the gathered crowds and essentially saying to them, “This is me”. So, of course, when we read the text in Isaiah we can’t help but think of the narrator as Christ and, in the midst of advent, as we await his arrival, of ourselves as the audience. Jesus is coming to bring me comfort and to turn my mourning into joy.

In the second half of the reading in, this first person speaker takes on another role, becoming an agent for justice. The audience for the speech disappears, and the focus turns to the exaltation of the this paragon of righteousness. The target audience in the final verse is no longer the restored community, but the foreign nations – that is, outsiders.

Our context gives us fixed ideas about where we stand in the text but on its own it doesn’t really lend itself to that. Is the speaker, the “I” of the poem, our avatar, or are we “they” whom the “I” addresses? At first glance, it might seem obvious. The speaker cannot be me, because I could not do the things that God commands the speaker to do. I cannot declare release from suffering or change mourning into joy. It is much easier to be “them,” part of the passive recipients of God’s blessings. My life is hard, I want to yell. I am mourning! I am imprisoned by poverty/poor health/addiction/anxiety. God must surely have finally heard my prayer and come to bring me my just reward!

 

 

But note that the workers, the “they” of verse 4, are the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn. That is, the subjects and agents of the promised rebuilding are those who have been defeated. It is the “they” who were defeated who will rebuild. The people will take part in their own restoration.

 

John the Baptist (John 1.6-8, 19-28) is essentially asked three times, “Who are you?”. He begins by making it very clear who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. It’s an important reminder to us, that we are not God. We are not Christ. John says that he is one called to testify to the light. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. And similarly, the actions that we take and the words that we speak, the restoration that we participate in, must point back toward the light and avoid being so heavily associated with us that the primary star is miscast. In community also, the action that we take as a body of believers must point back toward the light, lest “St Mary’s” become more noteworthy than the Jesus we profess to profess.

But how do we do that? Well, once again Saint Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians (one of the earliest Christian texts to be written, around 52AD) (1 Thessalonians 5.16-24), gives us a little gem of a mandate. These are the final lines of his letter, his last charge to the church in Thessalonica. His little ten point plan for them – you can feel the urgency! It actually immediately follows verses about Christ coming like a thief in the night, an allegory which we’ve heard twice already this advent. So it’s an answer to the question of, who are we as we await Christ’s return?

We are a people who rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances – not because there are no hardships but because even in the midst of them, God is with us. We are a people who do not quench but rather listen to the Spirit by paying attention to the prophetic, to wisdom and teaching, testing them together and holding onto what is good. In doing so, we abstain from the evil of falsehoods and those who wish to prey on a vibrant community of faith. Then our spirits, souls, and bodies, will be sound and blameless when Jesus gets here. We cannot do this on our own – God will do it in us.

Who are we? Ultimately, we, like the Thessalonians before us, are to live joyfully. Not closed off from the world but part of it, transformed by Christ. We are to be voices in the wilderness, witnesses who testify to the light, bringers of good news, proclaimers of liberty, displaying God’s glory, and building up and repairing the devastations.

And note that the question has changed. Not “who am I?” but “who are we?” for we can do none of this alone, we are united to one another through Christ, and together we joyfully serve him.

Our whole beings shall exult in our God.

Here this verse from Isaiah again:

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

We wear all of this joy like our best loved outfit. I’m sure you know the one. You can remember the day you bought it – browsing the rails, spotting it and wondering if it might be the one you’ve been looking for. Pulling it out and looking it up and down, trying to picture it on. Getting to the changing room and not daring to hope that your search is over. A quick look over your shoulder in the mirror as you do it up. Do you remember the way the fabric felt, the vibrancy of the colour? Do you remember how you stood when you wore it, the little turn you did to feel the movement of it? Remember how it made you feel, the confidence it gave you – shoulders back, head high, knowing you were beautiful and handsome. And that was before you even got out the door. Then you met with friends or family and, after that initial angst that others wouldn’t see it like you do, your confidence returned and you would tell anyone and everyone that it was a new outfit, from such and such a shop, that you got at this extortionate or bargain price. Everyone, even without you having to say anything can tell that you feel glorious. There’s a light radiating from you. You emanate joy.

If we wear God’s love in the same way, who will ever need to ask, “who are you?”

Christmas Services 2023

From Hurt to Hope

Advent and Christmas Services

All Souls Commemoration

This Sunday evening at 6 p.m. we remember those we have loved and lost and pray for those who grieve.

 

Quiet Afternoon

All are welcome to a quiet afternoon to explore ways of prayerfully engaging with art and the natural world.

 

Mary Undoer of Knots

I want to tell you the story of this picture which I first saw on the front cover of my father in law’s Church Times when I was on holiday in Aboyne this summer. I think it was the colours, the rich red and the blue, that first caught my eye, and then I was drawn to the female figure doing something that was very familiar to me – untangling yarn. I liked the way the flowing fabrics loop around the woman, and the way words and little creatures are woven into the pattern. It was clear to me that this was an image that had emerged from prayer but the idea of Mary as an undoer of knots was something I hadn’t heard of before. Intrigued, I quickly turned to the article it referred to, hoping to learn more about it. You can imagine my disappointment when I realised that there was nothing in it about the picture except that the person who created it was a Church of England priest who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD and autism at the age of 42 and was seeking to find a way to be herself in her role. With my father-in-law’s permission I cut out the image and tucked it in my diary with a note of the artist’s name, Rachel Noel.

I would probably have forgotten about it if it wasn’t for the fact that later that day it rained and as we were unable to go out walking, I picked out a paperback from among the books I’d hastily thrown into a bag in case I had time to read. It was a biography of Pope Francis by the journalist Paul Vallely. I don’t remember where or when I had acquired it and until then I hadn’t noticed its full title, Pope Francis: untying the knots. My curiosity aroused, I started reading and to my surprise, I almost immediately came across the story of another, much older painting of Mary Undoer of Knots. This one was commissioned over 300 years ago for a German church, and had been barely known in its own country until it was discovered in 1986 by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who was to be Pope Francis.

It isn’t hard to understand why this painting spoke so powerfully at that time to the fifty year-old priest. He had been sent to Germany because his superiors wanted him out of his post and out of Argentina. His leadership of the Jesuits there had caused deep and bitter divisions in the Order at a time of political oppression in his country. He must have been a very hurt and disappointed man with many knots in his soul when he first came across the image of Mary surrounded by angels unravelling a long ribbon while her foot rests on a snake curled in knots.

The story goes that the painting was commissioned around the year 1700 by the grandson of a Bavarian nobleman whose marriage was in difficulties. Wolfgang Langenmantel and his wife Sophia were on the brink of separating, which would have been a huge scandal in those times when he sought the advice of a Jesuit, Jakob Rem, who was known for his wisdom. The priest had asked him to bring to their meeting the long white ribbon used in the celebration of the couple’s wedding. Holding the ribbon he prayed for the two of them through the intercession of the Virgin Mary that all the knots in their relationship would be untied and made smooth. Tradition holds that this prayer was answered. The couple reconciled and remained together for the rest of their lives. Decades later their grandson, a monk in the monastery in Augsburg, apparently commissioned the painting in thanksgiving for the miracle which saved the reputation of his family.

Deeply moved by this very unusual image of Mary, Padre Bergoglio prayed that the knots of doubt and disappointment within him may be untied and that he would experience peace in his heart and mind. His prayers were answered and within months he was back in Argentina. He had prayer cards made from a postcard of the painting and for many years when he was Bishop to Buenos Aires, he would hand them out to anyone he met. Devotion to our Lady, Undoer of Knots, took hold in Argentina and continues to spread throughout South America and beyond.

It was at a retreat at St Beuno’s in Wales just two years ago that Rachel Noel was introduced to Mary Undoer of Knots. She had arrived totally exhausted by the pandemic, struggling to live with her mental condition, unsure if she could continue as a parish priest. In a blog, Mary, Undoer of Knots – thepinkvicar.com, she recalls that in order to slow down her troubled mind, she began to draw. She first created the little characters you see in the painting which represent all the different lenses through which she is seen and sees herself. And as she sat with them, it seemed to her that there were so many tangled threads in her life She scribbled out of frustration feeling, she said, ‘like someone overwhelmed with a box of old jewellery with the chains all knotted together or with a basket of knitting wool which has gone out of hand and the yarns have tangled together’. When she shared her drawings and her feelings, her retreat guide gave her a copy of the painting of Mary, Undoer of Knots and suggested she sat with it for the next few days.

‘It unlocked something for me’, she wrote. ‘This is a way that I can be with the mess, with the tangles that face me’. She hadn’t prayed with images of Mary before – it wasn’t part of her tradition – but she could accept that Mary is alongside us as we pray to God. So she doodled her own Mary Undoer of Knots and wrote a prayer to go with it: Our Lady, undoer of knots, unlock the knots that bind us. Connect us to the joy of God’s light and hope.

Over the following days and then months when she got home, she continued to work on the image and to let the painting be her prayer for peace and courage to face the knots in her life and to allow the light of God’s love to shine within her.

In the weeks since my holiday, I also have made the image a focus of my prayers. It has enabled me to become aware of the knots in my life and to ask God to help to smooth them out so that love can flow through me into the world. It has also helped me to pray for the knotty issues we have been exploring in Night Church during the summer: Climate Change, the Israel/Palestine conflict, the war in Ukraine and the Refugee Crisis to name but a few.

So now, I invite you in turn to sit with the painting, aware of God’s love within and around you as you pray.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me:
you know when I sit down, and when I rise up,
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You know my journeys and the places where I rest:
you are acquainted with all my ways.
You are behind me and before me:
you have laid your hand upon me. (Psalm 139)

Living with Loss regular meeting

Our Bereavement Support Group is now meeting on the second Saturday of every month. Please contact our co-ordinator if you’d like to attend or want more information.

Water Wonderful World

An after-school event for families with children on an eco theme, this Monday at St Mary’s Church Hall. Contact events@stmarysdunblane.org for more information

 

Season of Creation 2023

For the next month we join with Christians around the globe to focus on our relationship with our Creator God and with our common home considering how we put our faith into action.

 

Materials for Worship at Home on Sunday 13th August

Rachael writes: Many of us will know the trials and tribulations of sibling rivalry. Even last Sunday afternoon, as my brother and I (30 and 32 years old respectively) were taking some things from the rectory to the church hall, my dad walked off saying “I’ll leave you two to it, you get on better without us around anyway!”. It is simply an accepted fact in our family now, after years – decades even – of childhood squabbles, and teenage stand offs, that if we’re not vying for mum and dad’s attention, my brother and I can actually get on quite well. So, forgive me if I am projecting my personal experience too far but I do believe we’re not the only ones and that many, if not most, families experience this kind of tension between siblings for their parents’ attention and affection.

Joseph and his brothers, however, take it to another level (Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28). I can’t say I’ve ever actually thrown my brother into a pit, nor sold him to passing traders, though the thought may have crossed my mind at times. But such is the brothers’ animosity towards Joseph that they want to kill him and end up selling him off as a slave!

The lectionary means that we are going to cut thirteen chapters of Genesis, and a two-hour Andrew Lloyd Webber musical mega-hit, into two brief readings. We’re going to miss out the baker and the butler, potipher’s wife, dreams of famine and plenty, and next week jump straight to the brothers standing before Joseph, begging for food and their lives. We miss out decades of his life, decades that he spends in a kind of wilderness, as a foreigner with no status, cast out from his family and away from his land. Remember, he is seventeen when his own brothers fake his death and sell him as a slave.

I see some similarities between Joseph and Peter (Matthew 14.22-33). They’re both gifted, though perhaps not always wise. They are both destined for great things but need a little refinement before they get there. And in both stories that we hear about them today, they end up in the wilderness.

We often admire Peter, first because he has the faith to get out of the boat and then because he falters and starts to sink. We take comfort from “The Rock” on whom Christ will build his Church having a moment of weakness, knowing that we would likely go the same way.

Often, we skim over the fact that Peter steps out on the water while the storm is still raging around him. Sunday school pictures of a serene, lightly glowing Jesus, gliding like one of Dr Who’s daleks don’t help. Peter gets out of the boat into a wild sea. Into a literal wilderness.

I suspect that, like sibling rivalries, I’m not overstretching when I suggest that most of us know what it is to experience a personal wilderness. Whether it’s a bleak and inhospitable period, or a time of turbulence and disorder, like Joseph and Peter most of us have had to go there at some point, perhaps frequently, perhaps we find ourselves there now.

Eugene Peterson, pastor, author, and bible translator, calls his own experience of this “the Badlands”. He describes it as a kind of malaise, a featureless aridity, as if the colour had drained out of the vocation he had been so passionate about and the congregation that had been so full of life. But as he comes to terms with this period in his life and ministry, he says of it “there is a Badlands beauty that can only be perceived in the bad lands”.

The over arching theme of our readings at the moment is getting involved in God’s work in the world, in being part of the growth of the Kingdom, the transformation of all things, the redemptive work of the Spirit. But sometimes, especially if you’ve been working hard at it for a while, the fire within you which once spurred you on, can become dim – it may even flicker out. Sometimes we can identify why we end up in the wilderness, and sometimes the Badlands feel as though they’ve crept up on us. And we can be frustrated by that, even having a sense that this is somehow unjust. Surely our faith should exclude us from the wilderness experience. Surely if we’re just good enough, faithful enough, holy enough, we shouldn’t have to face suffering or danger or challenge.

But life with Christ cannot be reduced to “protection from danger” nor is faithfulness to God a religion of guaranteed happy ending (at least, certainly not in this life). Rather, if we look at the bible as a whole – the story of the people of Israel, the ministry of Jesus, and the life of the early church – we see the co-existence of danger and promise. We see wilderness: the wide open space of possibility and the desolate place of pain and darkness. And there, the people are continually brought back to relationship with God.

Joseph goes into the pit and then the hands of slave-traders: danger. He goes with a gift of interpretation and dreams of his future status: promise. Peter steps out into the storm: danger. Jesus is there on the water with him: promise. God is in the wilderness too, calling us to relationship, and asking us to trust.

At the start of our gospel passage, Jesus shows us something of how we can handle the Badlands. Matthew 14.23: “he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone”. I find that the wilds usually force us to slow down: they’re like quicksand or a good Scottish peat bog. There’s no rushing to the other side. If you push, you sink further. But, if we give time to contemplation and prayer. And if we accept, welcome even, the opportunity to slow down, then we might find that we are indeed walking with God and learning that in danger and promise, there is love.

I wonder what that looks like for each of us? What does it look like to slow down? To meet God in the in the desert, or on the waves, of the wilderness?

And how might doing so transform our relationship with God and change the way that we share God’s love in the world?

Open your merciful ears, O Lord,
to the prayers of your humble servants:
and, that you would graciously grant what we ask,
make us desire what is pleasing in your sight;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, world without end. Amen.