Category Archives: Exceptional Circumstances

Ash Wednesday prayer

Hello everyone. 

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A few miles from Rhyl, where I grew up, is the picturesque, and by now quite sizeable, village of Dyserth. The name is the clue that its existence is rooted in Celtic Christianity. Like Dysart, in Fife, it’s an invocation of the desert in which so much of Christian contemplative practice emerged, and of course this goes back to Jesus himself, and his forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Even in well-irrigated (!) Celtic landscapes, the desert isn’t far away. 

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Our Presbytery Prayers this week fall on Ash Wednesday. It’s a day we Presbyterians are aware of sometimes just as the day after the pancakes, sometimes when we see faint marks on the foreheads of friends and neighbours and say “Of course! They’re Catholic/Episcopalian…” (and probably reflect on the austere beauty of practices in other traditions) or if we choose – and as Presbyterians, we have the option – the beginning of our own disciplined pilgrimage towards Easter. 

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When we think of Jesus in the desert, a particular resonance exists this year; I’d imagine that most people have experienced the pandemic as a wilderness of sorts, and I know many people who have actually called it that. But again, we remember that Jesus’ time in the desert was sandwiched between his baptism and the start of his ministry. It had a beginning and an end. 

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The water, the dove, the voice; Jesus’ baptism was the threshold at the entrance to the forty days. The temptations – according to Matthew and Luke, anyway; Mark is ambivalent – mark the exit from the experience. 

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The water, the dove, the voice – there’s an old tendency to represent these things at his baptism as the moment Jesus understood the scope of his mission, and fully grasped who he was and what he was to do. That makes me very uneasy; the Gospels don’t invite us to imagine Jesus’ states of mind, and when we need to know them – the anger in the Temple, the grief at Lazarus’ grave, the agony in the garden – they show us, and tell us, unambiguously. There’s no hint in the Gospels that his baptism was a moment of insight for Jesus. But affirmation, yes, that’s certainly there and the audible proclamation of the Father’s good pleasure, the proclamation that Jesus has, and is, everything he needs and needs to be, to do this. 

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And if we have reflected on that during our extended stay in the pandemic wilderness, haven’t we also discovered this  – that we, in our perplexity and apprehension at what lies ahead,  are sufficient for the work God has given us, in ways we hadn’t imagined? 

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Whether we observe Lent as a discipline or not, forty days of reflecting on who we are, what we have and how we shall approach the work and ministry before us now, is surely no bad thing for us in our lives and congregations, and maybe no bad thing for us as a Presbytery either.
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Yours in our shared work

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Owain 

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In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1: 9-15

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1) Jesus Christ, our Starting-Point

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Lord Jesus, 

your ministry before you, 

your baptism – the voice, the dove, all that, behind you now – 

you went into the wilderness. 

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We cannot imagine how he felt, Lord –

that distant Jesus, then, looking out beyond the wilderness

and over what he could see of his ministry – 

but we know how we feel, looking out over this wilderness,

and over our ministry, individual and shared. 

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We cannot presume to guess

what you thought, what you felt, what you imagined.

but we can trust the humanity of these things, Incarnate Son – 

because of your solidarity with us

in incarnation. 

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“We cannot presume to guess,” we say – 

and yet, we do. 

We seek reassurance, in our perplexity.

We know how we feel – 

and all the things we feel – 

and we need to know that you understand,

and that we are understood.  

Assure us that, in your humanity,

our humanity, 

is known from within, brought to God, loved, and understood. 

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2) Where we are starting from… 

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We come to you as your Presbytery in prayer. 

We come to you with, and from, your congregations in Argyll. 

We come to you examining our lives as individuals

and our shared life as your Church. 

We are filled with apprehension, 

as we prepare to emerge from our wilderness

into a challenging, challenged world. 

Were you, too, Lord? 

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We are filled with anticipation

of the work that lies ahead.

Were you, too, Lord? 

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In ways of being and staying together,

of worshipping and witnessing and sharing the Gospel amid challenge and strangeness, 

we have discovered that we have what we need. 

Is that what you encountered in your baptism

when the dove came and the voice spoke,

and the Father pronounced himself well-pleased in his Son? 

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What we are, where we are, how we are, in the midst of all of this –

reassure us that you understand. 

Our reassurance is that you have been here,

that you understand, 

and that you will bring us through. 

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3) For access to the true wilderness 

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Desert, Dysart, Dyserth;

our forebears turned aside from life and its patterns, 

to seek the healing, repairing peace of the wilderness,

as Jesus sought you, and found you there.

They simply called these spaces “desert”

and came to seek you in them. 

The desert is not far away. 

God is close. 

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Yet we have lived these months in another desert. 

Around us is the disruption, hard and hurtful

Of life’s patterns, of relationships and expectations,

in this wilderness that we did not choose.

But we can turn aside from this, too, 

to seek you, and be found by you

in the desert-place of prayer.

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Spirit of God, who led Jesus into the wilderness, 

lead us now. 

Give us forty serious days,

to turn the lessons of COVID’s wilderness

into renewed understanding of your presence with us, 

new preparedness for the ministry ahead of us, 

a deepened understanding that where we are

Jesus has been.

Turn our pandemic wilderness into the wilderness of Lent.

Make this time a strangeness our space of contemplation. 

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4) Prayers for others

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We withdraw from the flux and flow and noise of life, to pray;

but we, like Jesus, are immersed in the world, for the world. 

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We pray for the world. 

Our experience is so limited, our imagination so constrained; 

we easily reduce the whole world’s experience to our own. 

Forgive us where the immediacy of our experience has denied us perspective,

and we have forgotten that this is a global pandemic. 

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We pray for the dedicated work which has produced vaccines, 

and which will be required to meet the virus’ new mutations. 

We pray for the ongoing work of vaccination, 

giving thanks for the skill and stamina of those who organize and execute it. 

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We pray for our society, frozen in lockdown,

anxious about what thawing circumstances may reveal, 

the stresses and fractures that may emerge,

the damage to economic, artistic, productive life. 

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We thank you for glimmers of hope, intimations of resilience, 

manifestations of kindness and care,.

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We pray for our communities, our congregations, 

And all those lives directly in contact with ours. 

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We pray for those whose needs we especially know, 

and those around us, whose needs we have not seen – 

especially where we might have, and should have.

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[SILENCE] 

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

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

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.

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

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. 

________________________________________________________________

We keep a time of silent prayer

________________________________________________________________

(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…

_______________________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________

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… 

Prayer for 24 June

Hello again, everyone.

As I promised last week, the focus of these prayers will be mental health. I’ve wrestled with them, I can tell you! 

Every Minister, every preacher, with a grain of sense (and even I rise over that very low bar occasionally!) knows that a lot of what he says to a congregation – real or virtual – will be things they already know.

There are, however, bits of what follow that you won’t know – quite a lot of them, actually. 

They’re to do with the thoughts I’ve had, and the places I’ve been, over the last three months, mostly without leaving the Manse! They’re to do with the many conversations I’ve had, and the conversations you’ve had won’t have been the same. 

They’re my thoughts on my experience of others, and what they’ve shared of their experiences, joy and anxiety and pain, consolation and faith and hope. Darkness and light. Light, and, we must also admit, darkness. 

I offer them as my thoughts, so that in agreement, hesitation or disagreement, you can join me in bringing our thoughts, all together, to God. 

I hope that all is well with you; I rejoice and am grateful for, everything I hear of people’s wellness and resilience. But I don’t presume; these things aren’t virtues, as much unfortunate talk (“He’s a battler! He’ll come through!” implying that perhaps those who didn’t, weren’t – which is profoundly untrue and hurtful.) 

I don’t presume. So if you’d like to talk, then, like so many others in your lives I hope, I’m here. 

And I know you’re there, and that I’m in your prayers, as you are in mine. 

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PS Once again, I have to conduct a funeral tomorrow, so I shall have record this.

You’ll see the preview of it at 11.45  on the United Church of Bute YouTube Channel. 12 o’clock is still the hour of Presbytery Prayers, of course, and I shall be thinking of you at that point. I will actually be watching, but I can’t guarantee being able to conduct. 

So – another of our COVID-19 virtual ironies – I’ll be in exactly the same position as anyone else using YouTube to frame their prayers!

Leading myself in prayer will be a new experience for me. It’s yet more food for thought…

…and when he came near, he asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
(Luke 18:40-41)

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?” (John 5:6)

When Jesus heard this, he marvelled at him… (Luke 7:9)

Judge not… (Matthew 7:1)

Even Jesus did not presume.

Even Jesus asked, and attended to what was said,

And what was not… 

Even Jesus listened.

Especially – Jesus listened. 

————————————————-

On the cusp of change,

Possible, actual and prospective,

We take stock of what we have seen,

What we have learned, 

What we may have missed…

In this eerie strangeness, 

you have given your Church so much in which to rejoice. 

There have been good things, wonderful things – 

but things have not “been wonderful.”

We have been surprised by joy – 

but all has not been joy. 

You are the God of Truth, ALL truth

and we are chronic simplifiers.

Shrinking complexity to comfortable size. 

Have we denied parts of our own experience,

so that we cannot now see the complexity of others’ experience? 

We think on this.

————————————————-

We pray for our own congregations, our communities, and the people we know, or imagine we do:

  • for those who are faring well, and finding new things to do, and rediscovering old projects and pleasures, and doing well in this; 
  • for those whose isolation is unprepared-for, new and unsettling;
  • for those whose old isolation has been deepened;
  • for those cut off from the sources of strength embedded in routines now disrupted;
  • for those who mourn.

We pray for those who wrestle with things we cannot imagine,

situations expertly hidden through long practice,

whose lives are complicated by these times in ways we cannot imagine,

And who will live with these intensifications now.

We pray for those who have been thrown into strange, difficult places

by these strange, difficult times, 

and for those who sit with them and live with them. 

————————————————-

We pray for our communities,

Always, but especially now. 

and especially those who attend to their mental health: 

psychiatrists, psychologists and Community Psychiatric Nurses, 

and especially, within our bounds,

Argyll and Bute Council Social Work Department,

the Mental Health team, 

counsellors, GPs, volunteers, friends and neighbours –

us, if you open our minds and souls… 

Loving God, we come with a list!

  • Not a list of demands; 
  • Not a tick-list to simplify prayer;
  • Not, certainly, an exhaustive list;
  • Not a list to run through, once.

A tally of care, and also of need. 

We pray for those who work for, and whose lives are touched by: 

  • The Scottish Association for Mental Health
  • Support in Mind Scotland
  • Penumbra – Supporting Scotland’s Mental Health
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
  • National Schizophrenic Fellowship (Scotland)
  • Bipolar Fellowship Scotland
  • Action on Depression
  • The Samaritans
  • The Listening Service
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • SFAD – Scottish Families affected by Alcohol and Drugs
  • Mind Infoline
  • Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Scottish Women’s Aid
  • SANE
  • No Panic
  • Anxiety UK
  • OCD Action
  • Hearing Voices

Where these have been just names for us –

Lead us into deeper understanding;

Let Google inform us

Compassion drive us,

And our prayers support them. 

————————————————-

And we pray: 

Keep us from feeling sympathy for others. 

Guard us from “imagining how they feel”

And above all, imagining that we know – 

so that we can listen 

           to the voice beneath the voice,

                   attend to the subtle, contradicting signals –

be truly present to them,

         as Jesus was truly present to the needs

                 of those among whom he walked:

as Christ is truly present to our needs, 

           among whom, and with whom, he stands. 

Take away our sympathy. Give us empathy, 

the attuned, enfleshed, 

incarnate knowing – 

not “what it’s like for them”

but what it’s like, to be like them.

Remind us that this is what Jesus knew.

Even Jesus did not presume.

Even Jesus asked, and attended to what was said,

And what was not… 

Even Jesus listened.

Especially – Jesus listened. 

Teach us to ask, to listen and to learn,

As Jesus did.

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