All posts by northknapdale

The last newsletter

Welcome to 2021!   A new year to look forward to, an opportunity to review our lives, and to consider our life’s journey.    Superficially, we make resolutions to “do better” or to “do more”, or to “do less”!   Whatever we think of, we look to change something.    At the end of 2020 there was much talk about a new beginning in 2021, throw off the disappointments and frustrations of Covid dominated 2020, and get on with our lives properly in 2021.   Well here we are – New Year, new lockdown – I have felt quite stunned at this reversion to our limited activities, our closed homes and so little social contacts.    But…. we have learned a little of how best to organise our lives in this “new normal”, we hear of the roll out of the vaccine, and the increased understanding of how best to treat those infected, so there is definite hope in our hearts for a better time ahead.  

One aspect of our situation which saddens me is the growing adoration of “science” as the saviour from our woes.  In the media, “Science” has taken on a personality – we trust in “the science” to get us out of trouble, to defeat the “virus”, to heal our people.   Now I agree – science is a wonderful system of research and study, many people have discovered thousands of amazing and life saving techniques by applying a scientific system to studying our world, but it is a system, not a “being”. 

It is people, not “the science”, who by applying their gifts of thinking and designing who are making the discoveries and inventions which we can use to overcome Covid and so many other terrible diseases.  

What wonderful abilities we have as people.   People mysteriously made in the image of God.  As we consider the clinicians and researchers who developed the Covid vaccines, as we give thanks for the new treatments and skills of our doctors, nurses, and other medics, remember to give the ultimate thanks to God, the ultimate clinician and technologist, who gave us the abilities and curiosity we have to learn through scientific systems, give thanks to Jesus Christ, whose life and love have opened the way for our lives to be complete and fulfilled with Him, and give thanks to the Holy Spirit whose inspiration and guidance have led into such an abundance of knowledge and discovery. 

I have been considering this weekly Newsletter for a few weeks now.   Should I restart as previously?   This was begun in March last year as a vehicle for communication to the congregation of North Knapdale, and I expected it to be for a month or two.   It has gone on a bit longer.   It was also something which I thought would keep things “ticking over” until we could get back to normal.   This was really a forlorn hope, and we can safely say now that North Knapdale Church, and all churches across Scotland and beyond, will never get “back to normal”.

If we can let this “normal” go, and look forward and trust that God is doing something more, something different with his people, if we can stand back and allow Jesus to build His church in His way and then join in, then I think we will see wonderful things happening in the Kingdom of God – here and elsewhere.

Twice this week I have been drawn to readings where God’s people are told to “be still” and let God get on with it.    Both are in times of trouble and anxiety, in times of fear and uncertainty. 

The first is in Exodus Ch 14 verse 13.   The Hebrews have escaped from Egypt, but their initial euphoria at freedom and victory has been dashed by the reality of coming up against a new challenge – the Red Sea.   The old enemy, the Egyptian army is pursuing them from behind, and ahead it looks like their freedom has been dashed by the barrier of the Red Sea.   Trapped between the army of their foes, and the impassable waters.    They are worried, and fearful and rushing about trying to do something, anything, to get out of their situation – go back to captivity, give in to Egypt, no apparent way ahead.   

This is what Moses says: 

 “Do not be afraid.   Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He shall accomplish for you today….”    

What a promise this is – and an instruction.  When we are uncertain, when we are anxious, when the past seems to be coming back to get us and the future is a big barrier – “Stand still”.    Stop rushing around, calm your activities, the situation is beyond you, but wait and see what God is going to do.    God opens up the sea, and they walk across in the dry land.  

How many Hebrews saw that coming!     There are times when standing still is all you can do – and trust in what our amazing God will accomplish.

The second reading is in 2 Chronicles Ch 20 vs 15 to 22, and it is too long to write here so look it up to read yourselves.   Again the Hebrews are stuck with an overwhelming enemy army coming to get them.   They don’t know what to do or where to go – and the Spirit of the Lord says through one of the leaders: 

“Do not be afraid or dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s……..you will not need to fight in this battle…”

This is a time, I think, for us to “Stand still” to wait to see what God is doing.   To recognise that the battle is not ours, but God’s.   No rushing about, or bright ideas, or quick solutions, for us and our church.     

We wait, and pray, and praise, for we do know that God is working and will bless us, as we wait.

Sometimes it is difficult to stand still, but let’s do that and see the amazing work of God for his Kingdom.

As part of that standing still I am going to stop this newsletter as a regular item.   I will send out important information, and items of interest when they come in, but for the moment I will be silent, and I would ask that we all, together, listen and look out for, and welcome the ways that we see God working as we stand waiting – who knows how we will see the Red Sea parting!

Cheers

David

A first footing prayer

This day is a new day That has never been before. This year is a new year The opening door. Enter, Lord Christ – We have joy in your coming. You have given us life And we welcome your coming.

I turn now to face you,

I lift up my eyes.

Be blessing my face, Lord

Be blessing my eyes.

May all my eye look on

Be blessed and be bright,

My neighbours, my loved ones

Be blessed in Your sight.

You have given us life

And we welcome your coming.

Be with us Lord

We have joy, we have joy.

This year is a new year,

The opening door.

Be with us Lord,

We have joy we have joy.

May we all know the blessing of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we move into a new year – 2021.

Presbytery prayer 4 nov

Hello, everyone

I’ve really been quite impressionistic in my approach to the Presbytery Prayers since I inherited them from Douglas! I’ve worried a bit about that, but it seems to have been necessary, given what we’re all passing through. 

I think that ties in with the experience of the team of us at UCB, produce our online services.  At  various points we’ve suddenly become aware that the tenor of the worship had changed, without us realizing it.  Initially, everything was to do with COVID – this was worship being conducted in a situation of pandemic, and it was the all-consuming backdrop, and often foreground, of our lives. It was the thing that kept us from going shopping without thinking seriously about it, from seeing the people we love, from going out unless it was necessary, from meeting as a Presbytery, from going to church. 

Then, at some point, it changed. I know that for us at the UCB it was after Pentecost, because our service then was a panoply of pentecosts, pandemics, plosives, plays-on-words and other things beginning with p… Then it all seemed to subside. Our worship wasn’t about COVID any more. It was back to being “just worship”, in strange times, using media we were now used to. Things started to ease, to change – and then they started to go in reverse. That’s the phase – the dreaded winter phase – we’ve now entered.

But our worship is still now “just worship” – the ongoing life of the Church on earth. I would imagine that many, perhaps most, of you will have the same sense about the life of your congregations. This is where we are, this is what we do, this is how we do it – and this is how we are the Church. The world hasn’t just changed overnight – it continues to change overnight. But God is here with us, and we are who we are. We are Christ’s folk. 

We don’t know what the world will be like weeks hence; but we seem to have adapted to that. Is this perhaps the biggest gain of all in a period which has seen such loss?  This is no longer all about COVID. This is, gloriously, about how we are to live, in faith, in the world.

You know the passage in Exodus 3? Of course you do! We’re Presbyterians! The Burning Bush,. “Shoes off, Moses!” And the voice that says – well, what DOES it say? “’ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh…” “I AM THAT I AM!” Or – an intriguing and plausible alternative translation from one Scandinavian scholar:  “I am he who will be there…”  The God whose promise, in a present that is all flux, is that he will be with us in the unknowable future, weeks, days, hours – and certainly months, years – ahead.

We look at the timeline of Presbytery work, congregational work, preparation, radical rethinking, dates in church diaries that already have a radically different significance to the meaning they had when we wrote in what we expected to happen then. That’s the condition of our living, now. We won’t know what it will be like until we get there…. But then, we never did! It’s perhaps just that we understand it so much better now. 

But that’s OK. God speaks to us out of that which is unconsumed and unconsumable; “I am He who will be there….” 

The God-who-will-be-there be with you,

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Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:16-17

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses… Exodus 3:13-14a

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” John 13:36

1) Invocation, Confession, Grace, Consolation

Jesus  Lord of Grace,

you summon us, each and together,

on a journey of discipleship,

strung out from point to point, place to place –

places we have never been before. 

All we know is this:
“We’ll know what it’s like when we get there.” 

And this: 

You will be there with us. 

Loving God, who destines us for himself,

and creation to the fulfilment of his purpose, 

forgive us the smallness of our faith. 

We become so preoccupied with our own questions

“Where are we going?”
“What will it be like when we get there?” 

Our fears eclipse your promise:

“I am he who will be there.” 

Holy Spirit of God, 

Open our eyes to see where you have already brought us,

What you have already brought us through, 

The unimaginable, that you have already resolved into the liveable-with

For we had wondered anxiously

About this moment, too – this “today”, in which we pray: 

“What will it be like when we get there?” 

And here we are. 

And this is what it is like,

And God fills it, as God promised:
“I am he who will be there…” 

2) Intercessions for our Communities

We pray for the community of communities which Argyll is –

Argyll, which you have placed in our care; 

and we ask you to help us imagine 

in how many ways, how many different contexts, 

and with how many different overtones, and inflexions, and anxieties

people will be asking, as they try to look ahead:

“What will it be like for my job, or my job-hunting?” 

 “What will it be like for my business?” 

“What will it be like for my family?”

“What will my child’s wedding be like?” 

“How will my grief evolve; what lies beyond where I now am?” 

“What will it be like, if it’s like this for a long time?”
“What will next year be like?” – or even, for some – 

“What will next month be like?” 

“What will it be like when we get there?”

Lord you have gifted us with imagination,

and you can banish our self-centredness and introspection;

help us to imagine, envision, 

and as far as we can, understand

the anxieties in our communities, 

where our congregations minister, among people we know. 

Help us to sit with their fears, as well as we can imagine them. 

Help us to draw back from our arrogant “I know how you feel!” 

Teach us that our deepest consolation

 is not an answer we possess, and offer unthinkingly, and unhelpfully: 

“We know that God will be there!” 

but is, rather, the assurance you give – 

which we are blessed to be able to trust –  

“I am he who will be there…” 

Help us to  live out our trust in you

luminously, word-sparingly, lovingly and supportively, 

so that, as individuals and congregations, 

our solidarity with our communities

preaches the presence and promise 

of the God who always will be there. 

3) Prayers for the Church

We pray for all our congregations,

and we each pray for our own congregation, 

as, in each context, each setting we ask

“What comes next?” “Where are we going?”
“Where will Christ call us to go from here?”
“What will it be like when we get there?” 

We pray for our Kirk Sessions, as they try to map a road

across unexplored lands that we know only through rumour. 

We pray for our congregational treasurers, 

Stewardship Conveners, Property Conveners, financial courts, 

who must look out on the months ahead, 

over the demands they must seek to meet, 

and wonder, at each point that punctuates the 

what it will be like, when they get there. 

We pray for those in our congregations

who offer their imaginations to the work of planning

for Christmas as a season of outreach, and wonder,

what it will be like when we get there. 

We pray for this Presbytery.

We pray for those among us with special responsibility

for planning, strategizing, imagining, and asking

on behalf of all of us , and with all of us,

“What will it be like when we get there?” 

This we surely know:

“You are the God who will be there.” 

We repose our trust in you.

We bring our prayers to you for all those whom we know, 

Who look at their lives, their circumstances, their situations, and what lies ahead, and ask

“What will it be like when I get there?” 

Hear us in the silence:

[SILENCE]

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father… 

Help for malawi

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.

presbytery prayer 21 Oct

Hello, everyone,

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, 

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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

1

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. 

2

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. 

3

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. 

4

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. 

[Silence]

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…

Presbytery prayer 7 oct

Hello, everyone. 

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!

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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. 

John 5:3-9

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. 

(i)

Lord, we confess it!
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,

as optionlessness, as powerlessness,

as elements-not-in-place, 

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,

and understand,

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…” 

(ii)

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. 

[SILENCE]

(iii)

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. 

(iv)

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.

(v)

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

into life. 

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:

[SILENCE]

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…

Prayer 16 september

Hello, everyone.

Next month, I celebrate a melancholy anniversary. It’ll be a year since I saw my father. He celebrated his 94th birthday at the end of last month, and shortly afterwards he met his great-granddaughter. I have no real idea when I shall see either of them.  I speak to Dad every day, and my brother’s family keep me in touch with Eira-Lily’s rapid development. And yet… 

Realizing I’d miss Dad’s birthday got to me. Realizing it will shortly be a year since I saw him got to me. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the anniversaries would. I would imagine you’re having similar experiences. 

“We should have been…” One of the team who offer the worship we upload weekly to the UCB YouTube channel asked me yesterday “What’s happening with Harvest this year?” – and I was stunned. I hadn’t given any thought to it! It wasn’t on my radar despite the fact that it recurs every year. It’s in that sense an “anniversary”. 

And I was surprised at the emotions this stirred in me. We decorate the Communion Table rather than the church nowadays, but in a way, that has let us bring out the global and pan-human themes much more strongly. 

And we last did this a year ago., The anniversary is upon us. We’ll be celebrating harvest home the Sunday after next – and I’m not sure how to do it yet! But what felt like shock and disappointment – and “We should have been…” suddenly feels like a liberation into new possibilities of thought, and symbolization, and thanksgiving.  

But it also weighs heavily. “We should have been…” “A year ago, we were…” The anniversaries are painful, and as a winter second wave seems to grow in likelihood, and the virus finds ways of asserting that we aren’t on top of it yet, we see some of the really significant Christian anniversaries coming. Christmas. “We should have been…” 

As Christians, we must, of course, “rejoice in all things” as Paul tells the Philippians. But was there ever a more challengingly honest thinker in the Christian tradition than Paul. From him we learn that rejoicing must never become denial, or we let our refusal-to-look-at-things-as-they-are steamroller, and hurt, people who are hard-put to find things in which to rejoice. And maybe, each one of us is sometimes among such people.  If you are finding the times difficult, especially as the anniversaries come round, you are in all our prayers, as I always know I am.  

Blessings, and the strength God gives in Christ, 

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When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, and have taken possession of it, and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him… Deuteronomy 26:1-3

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8: 10-12

For no such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josi’ah this passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. 2 Kings 23:22-23

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

We sometimes forget, Holiest God,

To marvel. 

More than that, we often cannot rise

to the heights of living

from which we can look out and marvel – 

marvel at creation, 

and, utterly inadequately,

at the Creator who sustains all things. 

Time runs away with us, 

events press in on us, 

our time for prayer is compressed and constrained,

or sapped by the day we have had, 

or the day ahead, and its duties and difficulties. 

And we have been sapped by the strangeness of these times. 

And then we grasp it:

  • the things we forgot to look at – and the strength we could have drawn from them;
  • the things that do not change, which are reassuring, and point to you; 
  • the things we did not, do not, cannot acknowledge, because it is painful to do so, in times like these.

What shall we confess before you, loving Lord? 

You do not wish us to “confess” our pain – you wish only to salve and heal it. 

You do not wish us to “confess” our smallness, in a huge, challenging landscape of challenge – 

Because you know our smallness, and wish only to call us into the largeness of life in Christ. 

You do not wish us to confess the littleness of our faith – because you know we have faith; it is your gift.

So we confess our denial,

Our resistance to the idea that “things get to us”,

And above all, our insistence to others

That they should not let things “get to” them. 

Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Especially now, as the anniversaries come around, 

As our congregations approach them in radically different ways –

Distanced, some even (necessarily, we know) denied attendance on that Sunday,

No singing of harvest hymns

Perhaps no singing of carols,

Your apostle tells us “rejoice in all things – again I say, rejoice!”
We thank you for the Paul who looks at things as they are,

at hard, bruising reality for the congregations he knows so well, 

and then tells them “in all these things, we are more than conquerors,

through the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” –

and tells us exactly the same thing!

Help us in these unsettling times

To acknowledge the impulse to say

“We should have been…” 

Help us to respond with compassion and understanding when our members say it – 

Help us to own their sadness. 

And then let us bear witness to them,

By grasping for ourselves, 

That the strangeness strips away the peripheral things,

And lets us penetrate to the heart of what we celebrate, and remember

In the recurrent things – the anniversaries. 

“We should have been…” 

and we cannot – 

but you, Lord, open to us this possibility, 

truer to the times,

authentic, and full of hope, 

not looking back to last year, and every year before, 

but forward into a changed world,

in which, in Jesus Christ, we shall still be 

more than conquerors.

So let us approach Harvest Thanksgiving,

for there is a harvest, 

there is food, even abundance. 

there is consoling reference 

to the regularity beyond this intrusive strangeness. 

And there are the urgent themes

that command us, we know, to look beyond COVID:

what we have done, what we are doing, 

what we must as a human family do,

to save and protect our blue, orbiting home. 

There is the irony, we know, 

that we have collectively lost sight of these things, 

distracted by a serious virus which, it seems, 

may have arisen from the way the human species has been feeding itself, 

and farming its animals. 

Father, forgive. 

In the midst of this strangeness, 

Let our Harvest Thanksgivings this year

Be grounded in truth, 

Joyous in celebrating your creation,

Honest and penitent in contemplating what we have done to it,

And bracing, consoling, energizing and full of hope

In inviting our folk to keep the feast.

Let our strange, honest, faith-filled Harvest

presage the strange, honest and faith-filled feasts

which may lie ahead this winter.

In the holy silence, we bring our prayers

For those whose needs we know

Or think we glimpse, or can guess at. 

Open our minds in this silence

To possibilities of prayer which can only come from the Spirit’s work within us…

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WE KEEP SILENCE                                                        . .

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father… 

Prayer for 9 september

Hello again, everyone

I’m writing this on a bitterly cold November day. It’s a pity it’s the eighth of September! I’ve been thinking a lot about the weather lately – well, we all have, and one of the things we’ve perhaps missed without noticing it has been the casual conversing with strangers about the weather which is such a deep cultural thing with all the people of this archipelago! 

Jesus taught us to look at the weather. More specifically, he urged his disciples to read the times as they were accustomed to reading the weather. Anyone knows that weather forecasting is not a form of prophecy! But weather forecasting, like prophecy, is immersed in present realities, in the flux of change, in the pointing-out of trends and tendencies – and how the pre-exilic prophets indicted the trends of their times! 

In a September that feels positively Novemberish, except for the days that feel like a late-delivered parcel of tepid summer, maybe it doesn’t seem odd to dwell on a thaw, when the winter is before us. In a sense, that’s precisely where we are as a society. 

As I write, lockdowns are occurring and spreading – Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, East Rernfrewshire, and, now Renfrewshire. As the First Minister reminded us, these things are not happening in the same context as they were in May; we have moved on. But we are justifiably anxious about the winter. 

Yet there is a sense of a thaw. In a sense, it’s the privilege of the Church to be a marker of that. Cautiously, and with model care and responsibility, we are reopening. As we are called always to be, we are a sign that there is a “beyond” to this. 

But then, our calling is to be a sign that there is always a “beyond” to things as they are. That’s the shape of the hope of the Kingdom. You can’t get as far into the Christian faith as the end of the Lord’s Prayer without discovering that! 

So the focus of our prayers this week is the “Thaw.” In a sense, hope always makes things more complicated! Hopelessness is, at least, as simple as food in the freezer – nothing is happening, and nothing will happen until someone defrosts something. God is the God who defrosts the hopelessness of the world, and we are God’s witnesses to this, in Jesus Christ. 

Yours in our shared calling, 

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He gives snow like wool;

he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

He casts forth his ice like morsels;

who can stand before his cold?

He sends forth his word, and melts them;

he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow. Psalm 147: 16-18

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, `It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. Matthew 16:1-3

Jesus taught us to seek

to read the signs of the times, Father,

as farmers and fisherfolk read the mornings, the evenings, the seasons.

We have come to an early thaw, 

though there is still more winter before us, 

and our apprehension is

that the winter may be hard. 

Yet we are joyous, and our hope is in you.

Lord, teach us the lessons of these times, 

that we may bring forward the things we have learned, 

the things we have gained, the things we have been given,

that we shall need for what lies ahead. 

Why is it, Lord, that the thaw is so much colder 

than what we call “freezing cold”?

Why is the hope of a beyond to the winter

so damp, and half-lit, and uncertain? 

Remind us that hope is real, 

and that hope and faith pull us into the future.

Warm us against the chill of change

with the constancy of your love.

Our churches and congregations are emerging,

bringing with them the lessons they have learned. 

We must learn new lessons now,

not least How To Do This –

and how to do it safely. 

Ropes across pews, 

A4 notices with instructions

where and were not to sit, 

masks, sanitizers, one-way systems – 

these are the signs of love in loving churches,

along with the cheery, encouraging faces 

of teams trained to welcome and care

as well as to regulate, with meticulous love. 

We pray, in love, 

for the world you love,

which Jesus loved unto death, 

even death on a cross. 

We pray for a world so often love-lacking,

In which frustration leads easily to foolish defiance, 

pride to the repudiation of protective masks – 

protective of the other, whose needs are forgotten – 

in which contempt for expert knowledge,

arrogance, and self-assertion fed by fear

lead the easily led, 

like sheep gone astray. 

We seek to pray lovingly

Through our own frustration

for those who see the thaw

as a return to what was, previously. 

Things as they were

were not as you willed them to be.

Things as they were before –

you have given us to see more clearly, 

and many to see for the first time – 

could not, we know, be sustained. 

The other side of this pandemic winter,

give our world to understand, 

they are no more sustainable. 

We take so much forward with us

as your people always do, when you liberate them:

Teach us that newness of thought, 

burnished vision,  a sense that losing things we loved can be, 

sad but not tragedy, not deprivation but disencumbering, 

a lightening of burden for the road ahead. 

Remind us, in this week

that the lectionary invites us, if we use it,

to reflect on the Exodus,

that greater than the treasure the Israelites grabbed

as they left Egypt 

(none of which served them in the desert, 

save providing the gold for the Golden Calf!)

was and is the knowledge gained of you, Lord God:

  • God who sets us free, 
  • God who brings us through all things,
  • God of the Exodus,

and, as you have revealed, 

  • God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. 

Now we await our liberation.

Now we read the signs, and feel the thaw; 

Lord, let prudence be the sign of our hope,

Caution, our confidence

As we embrace what now begins. 

We know that, for all the raw, chill, exciting thaw

we are not done with this winter yet, 

and what lies ahead will not be simple. 

We pray for our congregations, as their lives unlock

We pray for our communities, as they take stock of what has happened,

And prepare for what lies ahead

We pray for our society, 

amid changes barely known, not understood,

wrought by the times we are passing through.

We pray for Argyll. 

We pray for those whose needs we know…

And those whose needs we cannot know… 

Hear us in the Holy Silence, grounded in the peace the world cannot give…

[Silence] 

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father… 

Lord, let the chill of the times brace us!
Let the rawness of this thawing fill us with hope! 

Energize us to plunge into cold reality,

warmed by the warmth of your love to share!  AMEN