The Mid Argyll Churches Malawi Twinning Group sent £4000 out to our friends in Kasamba Church to help them with protective supplies for the Covid Pandemic. The minister of their church, Rev. Custom Kapombe, whom some of you will have met, has sent this report on how the money was spent. There are lots of lovely pictures in the report and a breakdown of where the money was spent.
If “overthinking” were an Olympic event, I would have a gold medal in it! I’ve been thinking about overthinking (!) since a very pleasant conversation about it this week, with another person who self-describes as an “overthinker.” It’s made me think… (!!) In fact, it led me back to a word I’d encountered a while ago – a wonderful big conversation-stopping word.
This has been a period of much thinking, in congregations, Presbyteries and the General Assembly. Some of it has been – here’s the word – “metacognition”. It’s a concept that goes back to Aristotle – and that’s something the Wikipedia article “Metacognition” will tell you. In fact, Wikipedia gets quite uncharacteristically poetic! It describes metacognition as “”thinking about thinking”, “knowing about knowing”, becoming “aware of one’s awareness”. It’s an idea that leads us into a deep exploration of how we think, why we think as we do, how we plan and strategize – and how we might do these things differently and better.
We will need that, as a Presbytery. We are going to have to do a lot of thinking; in fact, we already are. And we will need to think about how we think. But reflection and introspection in the Christian spiritual tradition cover a vastly larger territory than mere thought.
I’ve loved the Book of Revelation since I read it in one go, from JB Phillips’ translation when I was a teenager. John, as he sat imprisoned on Patmos, was engaged in something other than just thinking, or even “metacognition.” He surveyed the Seven Churches from his isolation, and no doubt he did a lot of thinking. But his thinking was immersed in the mind of Christ. Without that, he would have had nothing to say.
The Greek Orthodox tradition teaches us, startlingly and straightforwardly, that “theology is prayer. Before it’s thought, and creeds, and weighty books, theology is prayer. The whole thinking of the Church is a prayerful seeking of the Mind of Christ. We must think. We must “think about our thinking.” But if we are truly to be the Church, and a Presbytery of the Church, our thinking must seek to be grounded in the mind of Christ. We know that.
But pausing to stock-take at this point in our strange journey across this pandemic landscape, I feel that our awareness of these things has been deepened by our experience.. That’s my own starting-point this week, and I hope it’s helpful.
Anyway, I won’t overthink my greeting this week!
Yours in Christ,
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:1-5
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per’gamum and to Thyati’ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice’a.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me… Revelation 1:9-12a
We start our prayers here, Lord.
We remember John, on Patmos,
staring at the walls of his cell –
physical, palpable, confinement and restriction –
yet in the Spirit, gazing out over the Seven Churches,
their life, their challenges, their troubles and joys.
Shut away, he was sundered from them.
Yet immersed in Christ, he was immersed in their life,
their situation, their reality –
given to see, in Christ,
even the things about themselves that they could not see.
That is not us, Lord, and we would never claim it!
We are not that sequestered saint on his rock in the sea.
But we have been shut away, cut off from each other,
and yet we have known the life of our congregations – of your church – in Argyll,
in new ways in these strange times.
For all that you have granted us to learn,
we give you thanks.
We have been led by the Spirit to imagine, with loving concern.
- how others are coping,
- how other congregations are doing things,
- what it must be like for them, in their settings, in their communities, among their folk.
We have seen each other anew, too.
We thank you for the still-percolating insights that we have
of seeing each other simultaneously
in meetings and at home!
Our eyes have been drawn from faces,
from the diverse room in which each of us made choice
to set up the laptop or the tablet,
and we have glimpsed windows,
and wondered what the view from each one is.
We have realized that each home is set
in a particular, different community,
served by a different, particular congregation
of different, particular, unique individuals.
That is our Presbytery!
Lord, never let us un-see these things.
We have sensed, Lord, that you have been inviting us
to new insights into our work,
and who we are, and what we are, as a Presbytery.
We sense that in ways we cannot imagine
you are equipping us for work we are barely beginning to imagine,
in a future we can for now only grasp under this rubric –
“Everything will be different…”
We pray that our knowledge
and our thinking
and our thinking-about-thinking
have become deeper set in love, and compassion, and prayer.
Consolidate this work in us, that we may better serve your Kingdom.
We ask to be led, loving God,
beyond thinking, and thinking-about-thinking,
ever nearer to the fusion
of thought and deed and work and prayer,
that our service to Christ, as his Presbytery,
may arise ever more out of our life in him.
Loving God, over these pandemic months,
you have sensitized us to each others’ lives.
you have given us insight and awareness, will we but accept it,
to inform our prayers for others.
“The nights,” we say, and smile as we say it, “are fair drawin’ in.”
We imagine you smile at us too:
wherever we were born, we say it like that,
with respect for the land and its people, the communities you have formed,
in which some of us were raised, and some ingrafted,
and in which we all seek to live out the Gospel.
“The nights are fair drawin’in.”
We say it, and smile wryly, for we know
That this is not a straightforward time,
And many wrestle with the encroaching darkness.
Many of us do.
You know it too, Lord.
We bring before you
Not merely the truncated wintry days,
The isolating cold, the seasonal challenge to affect and mood.
We know that this winter will be a prism
Through which the sombre rays of this pandemic will be refracted for many.
You call us to minister to unsettled people, in unsettled communities,
in an unsettled society in unsettled times.
Hear now the prayers your Spirit stirs up in us
For those whose needs we know, and for those we only know to be in need.
Lord you have set us in a darkening world
as people of the light,
as witnesses to your promise,
as signs of hope, as we turn to face the dawn.
Teach us the lessons of these changing times,
that we may be full of the Love of Christ,
and live faithfully our calling to live the life of the Kingdom,
for we ask it in Jesus’ name, who taught us, when we pray, to say: Our Father…
I suppose this is me “reporting diligence”! I love the story, told me by the late Rev Isobel Brain, generous, gracious servant of Christ, and a wonderful raconteuse, of the Glasgow Elder who loved attending General Assemblies, back in the day when you could pick up spare commissions from far-flung presbyteries simply by writing to the Clerk and asking were there vacancies. One year, he picked up a commission from the Presbytery of Sutherland, and off he went to have a rerr terr to himself for a week at our Supreme Court. And a few weeks later came the letter, telling him that he was expected to report diligence – to said Presbytery of Sutherland, which in those days was a much more formidable excursion than it is now! This seems to have taken the gloss off that year’s Assembly for him…
Diligence is the thing! Application to the work of the week. Or weekend…
There are (were!) the other things that positively reinforce the life of the Church: meeting friends, and making new ones, from congregations far away; memorable conversations which show us how much we have in common, how similar the challenges are that we face – and how diverse and imaginative others’ responses can be; informal discussions which then feed into formal debate and decisions; fringe events which reinforce networking. And of course, there are the bookstalls, and the clerical outfitters. “Seventeen pounds for preaching bands? I only paid 85p for my last set!!” “When was that, sir?” “Well, 1982…”
For those of us who took part in it as old hands at weeks on the Mound, this year’s Assembly was both much less and much more than its predecessors. It was less, because the pattern had been stripped bare of things that had been rich and reinforcing experiences, but it was more, and for the same reasons.
Pride is a terrible thing – but it’s still gratifying to hear people from other presbyteries talk about having to embrace things that Argyll has been practising for quite a while now! It’s not easy to challenge us on forward-thinking! Yet a challenge – Christ’s challenge – has been articulated to us this year. We know that our task now is to embrace that. Inevitably, perhaps, my thoughts this week moved to the place in Scripture where Jesus comes closest to saying these very words: “You can’t stay here. Come with me.” I haven’t signed off this way for a while, but…
Yours in the Adventure of Christ!
In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.
Let us pray:
We commend our General Assembly to you
as work done in Christ’s name –
but also as symbol of these last months of learning
how to be the Church anew.
We ask, as this Presbytery of your Church –
help us to embrace these lessons,
and be braced to the task you have set before us.
Lord, we confess it!
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,
as optionlessness, as powerlessness,
the wrong place, the wrong time:
there may be a better time,
not now, maybe next time…
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,
even when it isn’t all that comfortable,
even when it is no more than familiarity,
and trepidation before the unfamiliar option
we fear to take.
We know and trust that you know this about us,
even when we can’t understand it in ourselves.
We languish, if we do not hear your voice:
“Do you want to be healed?”
We need you to invite us to our feet.
We need to hear you say
“Come with me…”
Help us to contemplate the courage in that story;
thirty-eight years amid the colonnades, the five Mosaic porticoes,
in splendid despair,
sustained by the hope, offered by the occasional flurry,
unrealized yet again;
a life familiar, well-understood, by the poolside –
when a figure offers the terrifying thrill of an invitation
and the invitation is accepted.
We have seen your General Assembly prised this year
- out of beloved tradition,
- out of commodious time-frame,
- out of the reassurance of tradition;
and as with congregations, and Presbyteries,
accepting your invitation to follow you
out of the familiar,
through this, whatever it is –
and into whatever comes next.
We look at our shared journey, Lord,
through the last months, to here –
the adaptations and experiments –
and we smile!
It didn’t seem to need much courage,
for we didn’t have much choice!
In the strength you give, we did what we had to –
what the times demanded.
Yet the times still demand.
The realities with which we wrestled have not gone away;
they still press on us,
and we may be tempted to imagine
that we have choices that we do not.
Take us back to that poolside,
where salvation came, and said
“Do you really want what I offer?”
Let us reflect, now, on salvation’s demand,
And on Christ’s invitation, and all that is implicit in it:
“In here is existence – enough, for now,
but not life in its fullness.
The life to which I call you is out there –
shorn of this comfort and security,
these familiar patterns.
Come out from what has been familiar!
Leave, with me.”
Let us hear your Assembly’s challenge
to embrace the thrill –
even in its discomfort –
of rising at Christ’s call,
and leaving our comfortable colonnades – whatever they are.
Let us gently, pastorally,
but with the urgency of those who know the truth of it,
transmit to our congregations and their people
Jesus’ own challenge:
“You can’t stay here…”
For we are all his pilgrim people,
his disciples, following him through the world –
the real world;
through time, and space, and history,
and through our present, difficult moment.
We can’t stay here.
Life is out there.
Life is with him, and in him.
Make us sensitive to whom
all of this seems like loss and grief,
whose anxiety issues in fear, and anger.
Show us our own anxiety and grief –
which, so often we deny –
at losing and leaving things we have loved
Fill our urging, our inviting-forward
and, when we must take them, our difficult decisions
with compassion and love.
Remind us of the courage it takes
to arise, after decades, a lifetime, amid the familiar,
and follow Jesus out of security
Take us back to that poolside, in imagination and prayer,
and remind us that the source of that courage is not within us.
Remind us that it derives from our trust and faith
In the one who asks “Do you want to be healed?”
Hear our prayer now, as this virtual congregation which your Presbytery is, in this act of worship, for those whose needs we know, or can intuit, or may have missed – where you have not:
And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…