Prayer for 22 July

Hello, everyone

Once again, I’ve been fretting! I fret a lot; it’s the good old Presbyterian principle that if you worry enough, everything will be fine; it’s when you neglect the worrying that things go pear-shaped!

I’ll tell you why I was fretting. I’m always aware that what I am sharing each Wednesday, is to a large extent “the view from here”, and that each of you is in a different place. Inevitably, that’s how things are, and  I think that in some ways, that may have been intensified over the last few weeks, despite the increased closeness many of us feel this pandemic experience has brought us. 

Anyway, from where I am, it seems as though we are further into this strange stage of the journey, in which we are experiencing more freedom, and yet still aware of very significant restriction. I wonder if perhaps this registers in a particular way with us, Christ’s Church, because we are called to live in a freedom that isn’t yet realized in the life of the world. Yet we have been feeling the same confinement as everyone else. 

We seem to agree that our experience has been a very particular mix – of liberation into new forms of Church life combined with intense longing for the resumption of face-to-face community. And we all experience this mix differently! In that sense, there really is only “the view from here”. It really is different for all of us, and for each member of each congregation in the Presbytery. We need to remember this, as our congregations and their Sessions process this changing situation. 

This all makes demands on us, in terms of experiences, and ways of looking at them, that may be very different from our own. We have to work harder, to enter, empathically and imaginatively, into the experience of the other. All around, I seem to pick up signs that we’re doing that. 

But all this also reminds us that our life in the world as Christians, and as the Church, is very much betwixt and between, “this, but also that”.  We are simultaneously “sinners and justified” as Martin Luther says; the Kingdom is “already, and not yet”; and now, we are both captives of this situation, and liberated within it – prisoners, you might say, yet simultaneously free. 

That threw me back into thinking of one of my favourite passages from Sunday School on; Paul and Silas, in prison, when an earthquake rocks the jail, the doors of the cells are open – and they don’t move! Captives in a cell, they don’t need to stage a jail-break to gain their freedom. They were as free before the doors creaked open as they are now.

It’s been at the back of my mind since lockdown began. It isn’t a slick or easy story to interpret, though. So I thought I’d tackle it with you this week. This really is, then, “the view from here”. I hope, though, that you may find it useful, and that it works as a suggested focus for our shared prayer this week. 

Yours in the Adventure of Christ, 

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Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free. 

(Literally: “Out of a narrow place, I called on the Lord

The Lord responded to me, and put me in a wide place.”) Psalm 118 verse 5

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Acts 16:25-28

(i) 

Doors swing open,

And we realize that we were never constrained;

fetters fall away, 

and we grasp that we are not captive,

breadth and spaciousness invite us out,

In you, we are free. 

This is our faith. 

Yet, Lord, we confess,

that with us, things are never that simple. 

Over these days and months, 

our experience has been bafflingly many-sided, 

sometimes full of surprising reassurance, 

sometimes profoundly challenging. 

We have known your liberating presence,

yet we have not always felt free. 

We are uneasy, and we reproach ourselves. 

Should we not expect this, Lord?

In our lives in the world, hour by hour, day by day,

Do we not always know your freedom

Along with constraint? 

Do we not always know your liberation

as both present, and promised,

promised, yet present? 

(ii)

We reflect on Paul and Silas, 

And the pattern of faith in their story; 

how, no longer locked down, but set free, 

in the narrow confines of their cell,

they lived the unlimited breadth of faith. 

When the ground shook, and the doors opened,

they accepted the captivity of the prison, 

and stayed, and sat with the prisoners,

and sang. 

We ask: is this our task, Lord, 

our calling as Church and Presbytery, 

and in each congregation, 

in Argyll? 

Are we to rejoice, and sing our freedom, 

So that our neighbours can hear, and have hope? 

We live among people who need to hear 

our songs, and our singing. 

We live among people 

who will still live – as we will – in the aftermath of this,

when containment 

has become suppression, 

has become elimination,

and yet, the world will have changed. 

They will live with increased unemployment, 

insecurity in their businesses, 

stretched income, stretched resources,

unresolved grief, 

and the shock that this could happen

in a world they thought they knew. 

How shall we sing with them,

How shall we sing freedom, God’s liberation, to them, 

If we do not admit that we share their constraint?

If we do not sit with them in their imprisonment? 

We pray for them. 

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We keep a time of silent prayer

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(iii)

We pray for our Presbytery:

for each other simply as sisters and brothers in Christ;

for our office-bearers, and conveners, and the ongoing work of committees;

for those areas of the life of our Court – your Court –

which are frustrated and frustrating in this strangeness. 

(iv)

We pray for our congregations. 

We shall not sing together for a while. 

For now we must sing in the safety of our homes.  

How symbolic this is, Lord. 

We pray, each of us, for our own congregations, 

the faces we know, the presences we miss 

As a Presbytery, we pray 

For our congregations, all of them, together.

We pray for them in the frustrations they feel, 

and the anxieties they have,

the longing to return, and the trepidation at the thought. 

We pray for Ministers, Interim Moderators, Sessions, 

ministering, mediating, listening and leading. 

We pray that your people may know

the breadth of life that is ours, in you,

amid the still narrow living of pandemic caution. 

We pray for our church, for all the churches, and the whole Church on earth. 

We pray with the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

Together, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father…

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We emerge. We are brought out. 

And this is our experience of you, 

God of the Exodus, God of the Exiles, 

God of the Resurrection,

God of our liberation, in Christ. 

This is what you do. This is how we know you. 

You set us free. 

Is this not what Paul and Silas sang 

to the prisoners in their captivity, 

And made it no captivity at all? 

AMEN

Prayer for 15 July

Hello everyone,

It’s odd the things that suddenly strike you, and lodge in your thoughts.

I’m going to have to begin poignantly. This week, along with cautious, and sometimes incautious, hope as the pandemic regimes have begun to change and ease, I have been beginning to hear the stories of the hardships ahead for local businesses, of the blows that are only now falling on some of them, and of the deep anxieties of their owners and employees. Some of these businesses will not survive.

We need to put that in context, of course; communities are certainly rallying round “their” businesses in a way that is touching, but also, for us, a concern and – let’s use the word! – love, that reflects the love of God.

But all the context in the world doesn’t take away the fact that this is an area in which people are deeply anxious, and suffering, within our pastoral sphere, and that of our congregations. Some worst fears will inevitably be borne out. How can we be there for these folk, our neighbours, our sisters and brothers in Christ? The only starting-point I can think to offer is that we need to be radically sensitized to their circumstances – to what it’s like to be them.

The second thing that struck me was the news that Alison Hay is back from furlough, which inevitably had me thinking of Kenny Wilson, whose furlough is continuing. We give thanks for them both.

However, that word “furlough” also prompted me to think.

A Presbytery isn’t a business. I’ve always felt very blessed to be in a Presbytery that has such a firm grasp of its spiritual function, the service of the Body of Christ. Before anything else, that’s what we are called to do, and be.

That said, much of what we do, we actually call “business”. We plan, we strategize – we agonize! We have multiple responsibilities, we have big challenges, which are much bigger now. We don’t know what the future holds. We know that next year will be much more daunting than this.

I’m not going to tell you that nevertheless, we are full of hope, and joy, and a sense of facing all this in the strength that God gives. You already know that! (Actually, as you see, I did mention it, and I hope that cheers you!)

I want, instead, to suggest that our challenges, the pressures and uncertainties we are coping with, the way we have to respond to our calling – to enable the witness of the Church to continue and flourish in Argyll in the face of increasingly materially adverse conditions – might just be a point of contact with the shops, guest-houses, small businesses, employees and employers of Argyll.

Maybe it’s this dimension of our life and work, where the pressures on us are most like the pressures on them, that we can imagine, and be sensitized to, the anxieties and worries they have. Maybe it’s by dwelling on these things that we can come closer to them in prayer and service.

That’s what suggested to me the focus of our prayers this week.

I digress to remark that I’d wondered about experimenting with the way I sign off; I picked up “Yours in the Adventure of Christ” from an acquaintance I admired, and it’s  a formulation I liked – but I wondered if some of you found it a bit twee! I cast about a bit, but thought “Your Moderator and Friend” sounded like a wind-up! In any case, our journey with Christ is, and should be, an adventure, so I’ll keep it the way it is! I just wanted you to know that I do think about these things…

Yours in the Adventure of Christ,


Owain


I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock… Amos 7:14-15

And because he was of the same trade he stayed with them, and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers. Acts.18: 3

Is not this the carpenter…? Mark.6:3

[T]he members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it 1 Corinthians 12:25-7

Sensitize us to our calling, Lord of wholeness, Lord of shalom.
Sensitize us to our calling to be the sensitive Body of Christ,
Full of feeling, each for the other,
With love the nerves and synapses of our belonging
As members of each other
As members of the Body.

Forgive us, where we have not felt,
Forgive us where our self-centredness
Our concentration on what touches us alone
Has rendered us numb and unfeeling.

We seek to be your Church.
We seek to be a Presbytery bound together in belonging, in supporting, sustaining,
feeling, understanding, anticipating;
we thank you for all those ways in which you have grown these things
among us.
You are at work, within us and among us;
We are a work-in-progress,
But we are the Spirit’s work in progress.

Sensitize us to our calling, Lord of wholeness, Lord of shalom.
Sensitize us to our calling to be the sensitive Body of Christ.

Sensitize us to each other, but sensitize us, too,
to the flock Christ has given to us to shepherd and call,
within and beyond the Church, but not beyond our bounds,
and never beyond the bounds of God’s love.

We pray for the working life of our communities, and the economy of Argyll,
And we ask, make our microcosmic prayers, for what and whom we know
Into macrocosmic prayer for a world in pandemic crisis.

Silence

We pray for those whose livelihoods lie in welcoming,
Who wait to see if guests, visitors, holiday-makers
Will come.
We pray for those whose working lives
are in hosting, entertaining, catering for those who celebrate –
or just say, on a whim, “Let’s eat out this evening…”
We warm to the solidarity of those who will now do that
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray for shops and outlets
Kept going by home deliveries,
and the new loyalties, and old loyalties
expressed in new ways
“To support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray in gratitude for all those
who will now buy their groceries lovingly, caringly,
Locally…
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
To support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray for all those whose businesses,
Supported in this way,
Will pull through.
We pray for those whose businesses will not.

Silence

And we pray for the congregations within the bounds – our congregations –
whose life is not bounded by the walls of the kirk,
As they, too, strive
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We are your Church,
and pointing to that love which is the sign of your presence
where people live their lives,
is our business.

You make our business, Lord, to be
The business of real life, in the real world.
We are the living body of Christ.
but we are also, incidentally – and not so incidentally –
an institution.
we, your Presbytery of Argyll, know this so well.

As we cope with the challenges yet to come,
And come they will, down the road we must now travel,
Let our experiences sensitize us to theirs –
The people in the communities within our bounds,
Who must make their living by organising, managing, planning,
Coping where plans are mocked by COVID-19,
Employing, and caring about those they employ,
seeing and feeling and sharing their humanity…

The very things we do…

We pray for ourselves as on organization, as part of an institution,
a Court of decision, and planning, and strategic responsibility,
And we pray:
that these dimensions of our life and work be always in the service of the Body- that we always “discern the Body” –
and that we understand it all as a spiritual task, and rejoice in the business you give us.

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray:

Our Father…

Prayer for 1 July

Hello, everyone

Once again, we come to our shared time of prayer, and we come with a palpable sense of movement, which we share with the whole of Scottish society, as the regulation, discipline and expectations placed on every individual begin to change, and – it’s difficult to escape icy metaphors, isn’t it? – a thaw sets in. 

As I finish this note to you off, a virtual – and very real – meeting of the Business Committee is about to start. The work of processing and applying the information and advice on emerging into new phases of this evolving pandemic – the collective leadership we offer – is  already begun, and being shaped.

Our congregations, and especially their Sessions, within the bounds look to the Presbytery both for guidance and also for reinforcement. Decisions they will take, framed by our own decisions as a court, will be grounded in their own perceptions of where their members, and their communities are – and will inevitably be second-guessed! We will need to “have their backs”, as the Americans say. 

We have reached a point when the demands and expectations on us are about to multiply, whether what lies ahead of us is a best-case or worst-case scenario, or, more likely, something in between. And we know what we pray for! It seems to me that our job, now, is to nurture hope, to bind wounds, to shape expectations, and to be realistic and responsible. And yet again, I’m aware that I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. 

It seems appropriate to use our time in shared prayer (about eight and a half minutes, on average, according to YouTube!) this week reflecting on the work before us, and asking for strength and vision to do it. 

Yet again, these prayers are offered to gather together what we know and offer that to God, to draw us into shared and individual reflection on where we are, what it means, and where we may be being called to go. They reflect my own uncertainty, and need.

And they are to enable us to pray for each other, and know that we are prayed for by each other. Use the time – mid-day on Wednesday; use the words if they help – if not, use others! But pray…

Yours in the adventure of Christ, 

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But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is thy faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26) 

Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. (Isaiah 55:33) 

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-5)

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed… (Romans 13:11) 

i) Our Calling

Loving God, 

we are your Church, to your glory, and for the world! 

That is our calling, nothing less.

There is the shape of our faith – 

that Jesus calls us to live in the world: 

  • that where we cannot see, we ask, and are guided; 
  • that where we do not know the day, or the hour, we know you, and trust in you, and have hope;

So we, your Church wait: 

  • patiently, with an impatient world
  • impatiently and actively for the coming of your kingdom 
  • waiting for the doing of your loving will

on earth, as it is in heaven.

ii) Our Situation and Society’s

And we have waited, with our communities, and our whole, impatient society.

and there are those who have found this waiting hard, 

and waiting like this – this lockdown – almost unendurable. 

For those shielding, and those shielding them; 

For those who have found it so difficult to go out 

When going out, for them, was always with friends,,

Or to go to friends or family, 

Or to go out, and away from the regularity of life

For a day out. 

For those who long to worship in the community of their congregation again…

Lord, hear our prayer.

For our society, in its duress and frustration,

its anticipation of the easing of restrictions, 

and its impetuous urge, not  always mastered

to push ahead, seeking something that might be normal,

terrified of the certainty that things will be different,

yet perhaps ready to embrace radical change to its life,

Lord of hope, let us offer your hope.

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iii) For the Church in the World

This week, we pray for ourselves,

not in selfish preoccupation, 

but because we are a Presbytery, with work to do,

leadership to offer, and support and help expected of us. 

We have guidance to assimilate, and to process.

Sessions and congregations looking to us, 

The expectations and apprehensions of our flock – your flock – 

to listen to, attentively and lovingly, 

and shape, according to what we know, 

And what we can only guess at. 

We pray for them… 

We thank you for the work of co-ordinating work of the Business Committee, 

for the work of the Presbytery’s Committees, 

creative and responsive, responsible and expert; 

for Conveners and members, 

for those who offer pastoral care in our name.

We cannot pray for ourselves without praying for each other;

for we together are this Presbytery.

We pray for each other and ourselves

In our shared calling.  

We have in our prayers the churches in the communities within our bounds, 

delighting in their calling, local and universal, 

To be outcrops of the Great Church in the places you have put them, 

and unsure of how to do it in this alien timescape. 

As we ask you to empower us, they seek us to empower them, 

We pray for them…

We have the national leadership of the Church to uphold in prayer, 

the expertise they consult and disseminate to attend to, 

their duty, like ours, of planning for a future different to any we had planned for, 

and which we still cannot imagine. 

We hold them in our prayers. 

And we have the public witness of the Church 

to the Gospel and its hope – 

ourselves, and the congregations 

of all the other traditions within our bounds, all together – 

to attend to: this above all. 

We pray for the unity of our shared witness. 

And we have our pastoral care of each other laid upon us,

the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus, 

in which we delight – for we delight in each other.

We hold each other in our prayers. 

Our prayers for ourselves are prayers for these others. 

Our high privilege is to serve, to enable, to mediate, to lead, to listen.

How can we do any of this without your patient, gentle strength,

the vision you inculcate, 

the impossible possibilities you alone can open? 

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.

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iv) From Today Into Tomorrow

As the frozenness of lockdown yields to a thaw,

hope lightens our hearts in new ways. 

“At some point…” has given way to “Soon…” 

And stages and timetables seem now to map our way

And measure society’s journey beyond this strangeness. 

But ours is the responsibility of charting

The Kirk’s journey into Argyll’s altered future. 

We need your wisdom, 

guiding God, pioneering Christ, chaos-shaping Spirit. 

We look always and only to you. 

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray…