Minister’s Blog

22 March 2018

Perhaps our deepest fear is the fear of extinction, death or, to put it more simply, the fear that we will be  no more. Young people may not think so much about this but when you reach your sixties, it is never far away, ‘Every Third Thought’ as Robert McCrum entitled his recent memoire.

This fear also has a good and a bad outcome. The fear of extinction encourages us to make the most of the present moment. Life is precious. It’s too short for worry and revenge, jealousy and spite. ‘Live one day at a time!’ was Jesus’ answer to the things  which make our days so fearful.

On the other hand, the fear of extinction makes some people focus too readily on material things – the pursuit of wealth and eternal youth and all that strives to deny age, the dissolution of the body and the inevitability of death. ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God!’ says Jesus effectively realigning our priorities.

This fear is allayed by another promise. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from earth, will draw all people to myself.’ says Jesus. Our true life is to be found in the corporate life of those who are united together in  the risen Christ. This is both consoling and reassuring.

For in this place, we get the true measure of ourselves – creatures in relation to the Creator God and imperfect people along with everyone else. Illness does this most effectively, humiliating us and showing us our true humanity, a common humanity shared with all those who will one day die along with us!

Minister’s Blog

21 March 2018

People are afraid of change – they are afraid to change and to accept that things are changing. Change is probably  at the root of all our fear. We are afraid things will be different and the landscape will not be familiar. We will have to change our ways, accommodate other people,  think about  things differently.

We live in a very privileged place if we have been able to live a life in which there has been no change. For no-one ploughs with horses as my father did. Teachers don’t use chalk to illustrate their lessons. Ministers don’t conduct the service from the pulpit.

From the days of King Canute, people have stubbornly tried to resist change. But the trick is to anticipate it, prepare for it and celebrate it when it inevitably comes. As rocks erode, caterpillars take to flight and the human body ages, change cannot be stopped!

Moses was dead. A new leader had been appointed. How would he measure up to one who had brought the people through the Red Sea, the desert and the boundary of a new land where the people were going to be hostile to these new arrivals.

But it’s in this context that God says to the new leader, Joshua, ’Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Change is all about stepping out in faith and putting your trust in God!

Minister’s Blog

20 March 2018

There’s a lot of fear around these days. The Mental Health Foundation tells us that, ‘Fear is a feature of nearly all mental health.’ It causes us to worry, become anxious, limit our horizons, abhor change.

Apparently, more than a third of the population say that they get frightened or anxious more often than they used to. And almost a third say that fear and anxiety have stopped them doing things they wished they had done!

Why are people so afraid? The economy, terrorism, crime are obvious reasons. But one of the top reasons given is a loss of solidarity and community which clearly make people feel more isolated and therefore more vulnerable.

The church is an obvious antidote to these fears. In the first place, it encourages people to live together, to provide opportunities for people to give and to receive, to celebrate their value within the community.

In the second place, it encourages people to live with God, to look beyond themselves, to see their lives in the context of God’s love and to discover a bigger picture, a more fulfilling way of life.

Minister’s Blog

19 March 2018

Thrift is an old Scottish virtue whereby people are careful not to waste their resources. It has come into its own  with a sharper  awareness of ecology  and the need to conserve and recycle. A Thrift Shop is an integral part of this ministry.

But the word thrift is also the name of a Scottish wildflower which is commonly found by the seaside. Thrift has slender green leaves and lollipops of candy-pink flowers.

It is often to be found hanging on clifftops, between rocks and on boulders overlooking the sea. It provides a carpet of rich colour and loves to head bop in the sea wind.

Thrift grows where other flowers don’t grow. It is tenacious and resilient, adding beauty to the seascape, covering the rocks with its lollipop blossom. It exercises a hidden ministry for its nectar attracts bees and butterflies.

Through their creativity, the Auld Kirk at Cockenzie and Port Seton exercise a distinctive ministry in their Thrift Shop. They are like thrift in their  tenaciousness and resilience enabling us to rejoice and  catch a glimpse of  the glory of God!

Minister’s Blog

18 March 2018

Yesterday, I was invited by the congregation at the Auld Kirk in Cockenzie and Port Seton to put on my Moderator’s hat and rededicate their refurbished Thrift Shop down by the harbour.

The congregation has been running this shop entirely by volunteers for the past twenty years. The shop is presently in premises leased to them by the Harbour Trust. They have just raised funds to refurbish it.

It raises £18,000 per annum for the congregation and this is likely to increase with the refurbishment. They have built up valuable connections with others – people in need of food, refugees, people suffering in Eastern Europe.

What is so surprising about this initiative is that it belongs to one of the smallest congregations in our Presbytery and one which hasn’t had a minister for many years. It is under the Guardianship of the Presbytery.

They are working with minimal resources – an interim-moderator and a locum who works two days a week plus Sunday. It is a remarkable achievement demonstrating real faith, stepping out with God and real service, walking hand in hand with the community.

Minister’s Blog

17 March 2018

By any standards, Stephen Hawking has lived a remarkable life. When he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 1963, the twenty-one year old was given only two years to live. He has confounded the medics and lived for another fifty-five!

Confined to a wheel chair, communicating with a voice synthesiser, unable to move all but one muscle in his face, he has become a legend in his time, recognised throughout the world, a celebrity scientist.

Two things have contributed to this. Firstly, his brilliant mind which was able to communicate complex ideas to ordinary people. His exploration of black holes was enhanced by a brilliant piece of lateral thinking whereby he used the science of the small to explore the very large!

Secondly, his triumph over a disastrous diagnosis which would have crushed lesser mortals. Somehow, he was able to retain his own unique character throughout a life of disability and win an affectionate place in the heart of the nation.

Although he made no confession of faith and was often styled as an atheist, the science correspondent of the Los Angeles Times described him as, ‘A high-priest of physics, one of a handful of theorists who may be on the verge of reading God’s mind.’

In her account of their marriage, his first wife, Jane, wrote, ‘Stephen usually grinned at the mention of religious faith and belief, although on one historic occasion, he actually made the startling concession that, like religion, his own science of the universe required such a leap.’

Science and religion – two sides of the same coin? Certainly the scientist is only as good as his last theorem. Jokingly, Hawking said that if his theorem about black holes had been proved with hard evidence, he would have been awarded the Nobel Prize. As for God’s existence, it remains an act of faith for us but for him, it is now a certainty!

Minister’s Blog

16 March 2018

On Wednesday, the Primary 2 Class at East Linton invited me to come and answer some questions about my work in the village. They were alert, engaged and enthusiastic. For half an hour, they fired questions at me!

At the end of the interview, it was clear that their primary fascination was the kirkyard at Prestonkirk and, in particular, the gravestones – their origin, construction, engraving, symbolism and so on.

The children pass through the kirkyard every time they come to Prestonkirk for their assemblies and I suppose we never have the opportunity to talk about what they see on their arrival.

‘In the midst of life we are in death.’ says the Prayer Book. It is never far away. Two people within the community have brought this to my attention with public displays of flowers. The one is on Preston Road near the community orchard and the other is by the mill pond.

One is a bunch of flowers and a paper note remembering Aunt Margaret. The other is a small pot of narcissi beside a wooden cross-shaped plaque which reads, ‘In Loving Memory of Mabel. She came here to feed the ducks.’

Two things have happened. We are reminded of our own mortality. Life doesn’t go on forever! But we are also reminded that other people are mourning behind closed doors and curtains, remembering someone they love very much.

We don’t know who they are but we share a little of their fond remembrance and their grief in these touching but transient memorials. As the Preacher, Ecclesiastes, says, ‘There is a time to be born and a time to die.’ Both are  quite natural as the Primary 2 Class clearly recognised.

Minister’s Blog

15 March 2018

Recently, I read an interview with a centenarian. She ate porridge for breakfast. She didn’t smoke and drank modestly. She remained connected to family, friends and charitable organisations. She bakes regularly, does the crossword and reads adventure stories. By her own admission, she is ‘resilient’ and ‘a free soul’.

Behind the interview, there was a barely concealed assumption that this centenarian provided a blue-print for those who aspire to a qualitative old age. And a judgement that those who didn’t attain such birthday honours had been deficient in one department or another.

The media is obsessed with finding the elixir which will secure immortality. Eat porridge. Lose weight. Exercise regularly. Keep connected. Live by faith. Remain resilient. Never sacrifice your freedom or whatever! And we readily buy into it!

Sadly or perhaps hopefully, we all know people who followed this kind of formula for a long and fulfilled life but never made it! For there’s more to us than the fulfilment of a few short sharp commands!

What is so attractive about length of days in the future when we cannot enjoy being in the present because of our need to follow the formula! Our world is such an interesting place precisely because so many of us don’t manage to live these formulaic lives and get distracted daily by human need, the demands of other people, the stirrings of the imagination or even love in the heart!

Minister’s Blog

14 March 2018

Although we have a head of state who is neither elected nor limited in her period of office, Queen Elizabeth’s reign bears little comparison with the rule of President Xi Jinping. The former is a constitutional monarchy, the latter is a political presidency.

Amazingly enough, 2,958 delegates at the National People’s Congress voted to scrap any time limits on the presidential office and to endorse Xi Jinping’s continued presidency. Only two voted against him and three people abstained!

There is opposition in the country to concentrating power in the hands of one person. However, social media is being censored of opposing voices and some prominent Chinese figures have made protest.

At 64, Xi Jinping might have thought longingly of retirement next year instead he has concentrated power into his own hands albeit in an attempt to bring forward universal legislation which some consider may be a more effective methodology!

It contrasts sharply with the shape of Christian leadership kneeling down to wash feet, submitting to public humiliation with a crown of thorns upon your head, dying to self and the conceit of our own indispensability!

Minister’s Blog

13 March 2018

On Sunday, we celebrated Mothers’ Day in both kirks. There were lots of children from the Cradle Roll at Stenton and the older children had prepared bags of sweeties for every mother’s daughter in the kirk.

At Prestonkirk, the children from the Sunday School had made cards for every mother’s daughter and some of them participated in the service – reading a prayer, reciting a poem, playing the piano and the bagpipes and singing a song. It was delightful.

One older member of the congregation started clapping during one of the livelier hymns. She had been inspired by a recent video celebrating the life of the Naxalbari Pastorate in North India with which we are twinned.

In their worship, a lot of different musical instruments are played and there is a lot of clapping. It is something which everyone can do and it has the effect of binding people together. In discussion, people felt that this was joyful and uplifting.

We can learn a lot from our Indian brothers and sisters – the transitory nature of their buildings, their ability to minister to seven worship centres with one pastor and their primary focus not on one age group but on families.

This is how they measure their membership. It’s not a list of individuals but a list of families. Our membership list is forensic. This list is holistic. It allows for the heart to do its work in equal measure to the head.

Minister’s Blog

12 March 2018

Deborah Doane was writing recently in the Observer in response to the crisis in Oxfam’s leadership. She was arguing that the charitable sector ‘remains vulnerable because its culture is deeply rooted in privilege, protection and defence of the status quo.’

Instead of measuring success in terms of numbers – quantities of food distributed or girls educated, ‘a new model would redefine success and be based on capacity, empowerment and voice.’

Of course, the former is much easier to measure than the latter but it’s clear that whilst the former has immediate impact it doesn’t change the status quo. I suppose it’s scary to follow the latter path. It might even put charity workers out of a job!

I see a similar dilemma in the church where we are happier measuring things like membership statistics and financial contributions but not so quick to measure how much people have changed and grown under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acknowledging how much more difficult this is to measure should not prevent us from struggling to do the sums. For if we stop thinking along those lines, we reduce the kirk and our life together to a project for civil servants rather than servants of the living God!

Minister’s Blog

11 March 2018

When I was at the Nursery on Thursday, I read the children a book by Chris Haughton entitled, ‘Oh No, George!’ It’s a delightful book about a dog called George who wants to be good but with the best will in the world, he always seems to give in to temptation.

It was the perfect book for Lent, full of humour and resonating within our own lives. For, as St. Paul says to the Romans, ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’

It turns out that George is both charming and insightful. He is able to say sorry for the things he has done wrong and makes a sacrifice to redeem the situation. He offers to hand over his favourite toy!

The children were engaged and got the message. ‘Will you read it again?’ asked one of them. Clearly, she didn’t want this experience to end. Perhaps she wanted to hear more about George or just to hear about his mischief again. A good story bears repeating!

It’s quite a feat to create such an engaging character in so few words. But the last page of the book is the best of all. For it leaves us on a cliff-hanger with a big question. ‘George?’ Is he going to give in to this final temptation or not?  The children have to guess. What about you?

Minister’s Blog

10 March 2018

Stan Blackley lectures about the food system at Queen Margaret University. He wrote a short but brilliant article recently about the ‘Beast from the East’ which has exposed the fragility of what he calls ‘the supermarket just-in-time model’.

The images of long, empty supermarket shelves was fearful and puzzling. There were warnings that the wintry weather was going to be disruptive and yet no provision seems to have been made to compensate for human need.

He argues that we have not only become too dependent on a few mega-companies but that we have become disempowered. We simply put up with the situation and hope it will sort itself out soon.

He illustrates this with the instore-bakeries which cannot produce any bread because the premade dough has been held up in the snow storm! And yet, sitting beside the bakery are shelves of flour, salt and yeast, all the ingredients to bake a loaf of bread! But no one can do it!

And what is true for the in-store bakeries is true for a lot of our own kitchens. We have become so dependent on the supermarket making all our choices, doing all our work that we have forgotten how to bake a loaf of bread and create a meal out of nothing!

My granny was great at this. How many meals did she prepare using up the left overs from previous dinners. Hers was a resilient generation who would never starve because they took responsibility for their own survival. We need to do the same – pretty quickly!

Minister’s Blog

9 March 2018

Doug Gay has just written an interesting book entitled, ‘Reforming the Kirk’. It’s quite an ambitious project, better on how we got to where we are than on how to move on. This isn’t an enterprise for one lone voice. It is a corporate endeavour.

In the middle of the book, he makes an excellent point about Presbyterianism. ‘My sense is that in Scotland today, fewer and fewer people know why they are Presbyterian, and hardly anyone thinks of reasons why they might want to become one.’ he argues.

As a cradle Presbyterian, it is probably more difficult for me to answer this for whilst I was attracted to the liturgical clarity of the Anglican Church and the mystery of the Orthodox, I have never wanted to give up the simplicity and even austerity of our tradition.

There are at least three things which commend Presbyterianism to me. The first is the corporate leadership which is manifest in the courts of the Church. Authority is not vested in individuals and preferment is limited to a few glittering prizes. Christ is the great King and Head of the Kirk.

The second is the composition of the courts. Despite the debate about the Biblical authority for the eldership and the wisdom of ordaining elders for life, when elders take their responsibilities seriously, the kirk flourishes. The Session becomes a vital team when everyone plays their part.

The third is the theological breadth of the Kirk. Debate in the courts of the Church has produced these beautiful checks and balances. Of the Word of God, we say that it is ‘contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments’. We eschew fundamentalism.

And of the subordinate standard, we say that there is ‘liberty of opinion on such points of doctrine that do not enter into the substance of the faith’ but we very wisely don’t define what is ‘the substance of the faith’. In this way we exercise the grace of hospitality, making room for many including ordained women and ministers in same-sex marriages!

Minister’s Blog

8 March 2018

The manse garden is surrounded by trees. As such it provides an hospitable environment for the birds – robin, blackbird, thrush, goldfinch, blue-tit, pigeon, crow etc. And Mary-Catherine’s bird table enhances the whole.

After the snow was washed away by the rain, calm descended upon the garden and to my delight I caught sight of a female blackbird building her nest. As I stood at the kitchen window, I saw her pick up moss and grasses on six consecutive occasions.

She flew into the bushes using an interesting stratagem to conceal her chosen nesting place.. She always made a detour and hopped her way through the bushes to her nest building. She left by the same circuitous route.

The female blackbird builds a beautiful nest on her own. She has only one instrument – her beak. She is very dextrous weaving the materials together around her body. After laying her eggs, she incubates them. But dad helps with the feeding and the protecting.

The psalmist sees a swallow making a nest in the Temple. She lays her young near the altar of God. ‘Happy are those who live in your house,’ he says, ‘ever singing your praise.’ Our blackbird is nesting just outside the temple but  sings God’s praises nonetheless!

Minister’s Blog

7 March 2018

Recently, we received an e-mail from Erella telling us about the difficulties which the Villages Group have witnessed in Susya on the West Bank. Erella is a Jew working ecumenically with Moslems to support young people and bring peace.

She calls her newsletter ‘Certain Uncertainty’ which describes very well the conditions under which the villagers live. They are waiting for the Jewish settlers to come and demolish their homes.

Erella and Nadav went to visit the night before this was due to happen. It had happened before to Abu Sadam. His home was demolished in 2011 and rebuilt. It happened again in 2012 and he rebuilt his home yet again.

Abu Sadam now has cancer but is still determined to rebuild his home if it is demolished this winter. On the day of demolition, they rise, feed the sheep and have breakfast together.

As they eat their food waiting for the demolishers, Abu Sadam looks up to the road and asks, ‘So why aren’t they here? We wanted to invite them for breakfast!’ Erella adds the words of a sage, ‘Humour is the highest spiritual level man can reach …

Erella signs off before anything happens but we know that Abu Sadam and his family will not be defeated by such illegal cruelty. In between his jokes, he says, ‘The worst pressure for me is that I must accept this.’

Minister’s Blog

6 March 2018

One of the most beautiful things about wintry weather is that it makes us stop and rest. We cannot always do what we want to do. Oh, it can be very frustrating when plans have to be changed but it can also be very refreshing.

To be like the tree in winter, resting in the snow, waiting for the thaw, silently trusting in the Creator is to be in the spirit of one who prays not for answers but for silent, refreshing communion with God.

I only want myself to be

as silent as a winter tree

to hear the swirling stillness grow

when all the world is full of snow.

Minister’s Blog

5 March 2018

We haven’t had snow like this since 2010. Last year, we only had a couple of days frost. So what has happened in 2018? Has something disturbed the ‘Beast of the East’ to make it so angry.

There has been some talk in the press about the effect of global warming. It seems a bit contrary to talk about things in these terms when temperatures have been so low. But some scientists have asked us to look at the rising temperatures in the Arctic.

Although the cause is not yet understood, the fear is that global warming may have been eroding the polar vortex – powerful winds which insulate the Arctic Circle.’ said a specialist at Oxford  University.

In other words, what happens at one side of the planet will affect what happens at the other. There may not be physical warming here but the warming elsewhere will cause other things to happen like these fierce wintry storms!

I love this area of science not because I understand it but because no-one fully understands it. Nor can they predict with certainty how the weather patterns are going to change in the years to come.

Weather forecasting itself is the only worthwhile attempt to determine what’s going to happen in the future. It’s helpful to farmers and fishermen and even mountaineers and ministers to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow.

Because no one can predict the future and weather forecasting can never be  an exact science, it helps to put science and religion on a better footing. Neither can say with certainty what is going to happen next. Both enfold mystery and require faith!

Minister’s Blog

4 March 2018

So many things have had to be cancelled this week – and yet, there has been much enrichment without them. With the release of time, I have had to consider my priorities again. Two things happened.

Firstly, I did much more visiting than I had originally planned – and really enjoyed it. Most of the people I visited were older members of the congregation. Because of the severe winter weather, there was almost a celebratory aspect to these visits.

We were battling the elements together – talking about basic things like milk and bread and the availability of carers. Neighbours have kept an eye out for older people in the community and they have been grateful for extra visits and attention from family and friend.

Secondly, I did much more telephoning. Most of our communication is done by e-mail but there is nothing like the personal interaction facilitated by the ‘phone. The e-mail is focused on a particular issue but the telephone call gives room for unforeseen communication.

And so I picked up that one of our members was about to go into hospital for an operation. Another was struggling with a traumatic experience. A third had just heard about a relative who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

The full gamut of pastoral care was laid bare through this means of communication. There was more personal engagement and freedom for the Spirit to open a different door, look out of a different window and discover a new vista where love enfolds and makes new.

Minister’s Blog

3 March 2018

It wasn’t called ‘The Beast from the East’ for nothing. It has caused havoc in our parish not least with the closure of roads and the impossibility of going anywhere. The beast’s worst characteristic was its bad breath!

On two occasions, I was stymied in my early morning walk. One day, I discovered that the road to Binning Wood was impassable and on another, the road to Knowes Mill. The Beast’s mischievous blown snow caused four foot drifts in the middle of the road and forced me to turn back!

Farmers have been out with their snow-ploughs trying to clear the snow from the minor roads, sometimes getting stuck in it themselves. And one of our retained fire-fighters was seen clearing the paths around the sheltered housing complex.

The Lynton Day Centre was closed to members but when I popped in to see if anything was happening, I found the cook busy making soup and macaroni cheese to supply their members at home. If they couldn’t  come to the centre, the centre would  go to them!

All this industry and generosity of spirit puts everything into perspective. The Golden Rule is celebrated. A simpler lifestyle centred on basic necessities is achieved. Harmony is created by a common enemy, ‘The Beast from the East’.

Minister’s Blog

2 March 2018

In last week’s edition of the ‘Church Times’, I read a summary of a speech given by Bishop North, Bishop of Burnley. In it, he was being critical of the Church of England’s ‘Renewal and Reform’ programme.

He felt it was driven by a fear of decline and a desire ‘to cling on to the institutional church in the way we know it now’. He thought that the best corrective to an obsession with growth was a focus on the poor.

I applaud this perspective for two reasons. The first is that Jesus aligns himself with the poor and says that we will find him whenever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and so on.

The second is that this is in tune with our historic perspective on the relationship between the congregation and the parish. In the Kirk, we exist not only to serve our members but to reach out and serve those who do not belong not because they do not belong and should but because they too are children of God!

Minister’s Blog

1 March 2018

Claude Debussy wrote a sequence of pieces under the general heading, ‘Children’s Corner’. One of my favourites is ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’. I am glad it has not yet been removed from the repertoire because of perceived racism.

But the golliwog has had a bad press. Some have considered it a racist caricature of black people. And so the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh recently discussed whether or not the two golliwogs, which had been an integral part of the display since 1955, should be removed.

Fortunately common sense prevailed and they can still be seen in the museum. To remove them would have done two things. Firstly, it would have deprived visitors of an opportunity to discuss the value of the toy and its place in the history of childhood.

Secondly, and most importantly, it would have hidden any racism which was latent in the conception of the golliwog doll. Having the doll on view acknowledges that this was part of our past but is viewed quite differently in the present.

Removing the doll would have been a patronising response to the potential audience who is quite capable of understanding historical context and making a critical assessment of the rights and wrongs of certain toys. There is a real education here!

Minister’s Blog

28 February 2018

The razzmatazz of the evangelical rally can never be replicated in our parish churches where resources are limited. There are no mass choirs. There is no highly charged emotion. There is not the energy and confidence created by very large numbers.

What we have is something quite different but of lasting value. For when Jesus asked Philip to ‘Follow me!’, he found Nathaniel and told him about  the one whom Moses talked about. He was Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.

Nathaniel was sceptical. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ How often have we heard that before – for people are readily sceptical about spiritual matters. Philip is not put off. He doesn’t argue but simply says, ‘Come and see!’

He extends an invitation. He exercises a ministry of friendship and hospitality. He creates an opportunity for Nathaniel to find out for himself. He does not force the issue nor impose his own beliefs, he simply says, ‘Come and see!’

This is the approach which we adopt in our parish churches but it depends on two things. Firstly, members taking the initiative to extend the open invitation without any strings attached. Secondly, the person taking responsibility for their own spiritual being.

Minister’s Blog

27 February 2018

Stone walls do not … a  prison make.

We may be physically imprisoned within the stone walls of a prison but the life within us, the inner life, the spiritual life, is just as free as it ever was. There’s more to us than the physical body. There is our eternal spirit!

If you have found that inner freedom to be yourself, maintain your integrity, hold onto your beliefs, rise above the things which seek to undermine you then nowhere will become for you a prison made of stone or anything else.

When Richard Lovelace wrote these lines, he was a political prisoner in seventeenth century Gateshead. The inner freedom which he enjoyed was the fruit of a rich inner life which he considered belonged to the angels dancing on that ladder between earth and heaven.

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.

If I have freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free;

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.

Minister’s Blog

26 February 2018

On Sunday we read about ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. It should really be ‘Jacob’s Stone’ for it’s the stone which is celebrated at the end of the story. It’s turned on its side and stands as a pillar before being anointed with oil.

Jacob calls the place Bethel which in Hebrew is two words. Beth means house and El means God. This is Bethel, the House of God for here God spoke to him and he had a vision of heaven.

There is a lovely legend associated with this stone which unites our nation to Jacob, Bethel and the dream. It is said that the prophet Jeremiah took Jacob’s stone to Ireland and from there it was transported to Scotland.

It was considered so sacred that it was used in the coronation of our kings on Iona, Dunadd and latterly Scone. Its name changed to the ‘Stone of Scone’ and alternatively the ‘Stone of Destiny’.

It was carried off to England by the Hammer of the Scots  in 1296 where it remained for seven hundred years until it was stolen in 1950 and returned to Scotland on St. Andrew’s Day 1996! It is now in Edinburgh Castle with the Honours of Scotland.

Whereas the legend may not be true, the longing to associate the stone where monarchs are crowned with Bethel, the House of God, a very holy place, is true. The stone is an auspicious place to be, linking earth to heaven and monarch to the King of Kings!

Minister’s Blog

25 February 2018

Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border was established in 1984. There are 40,000 people living there in bamboo-constructed huts. Some have lived there all their lives and have no birth certificates nor passports.

Catriona Stewart visited recently and interviewed two teenagers – Marjoy and Loyal. Their parents are Burmese but they were born in Thailand. However, because they are refugees they don’t have Thai nationality!

Catriona Stewart asked the teenagers how they got a sense of the outside world. They looked askance. ‘Facebook!’ they replied. She wasn’t expecting this and chided herself for thinking that just because they were refugees they would not be like other teenagers.

In the camp, she found schools, churches, mosques and temples, a restaurant, a hairdresser’s and a hardware shop. Entrepreneurs are not slow to make the most of their situation even if they are refugees in a foreign land.

‘I had expected to feel motivated by a sense of pity but it became more a sense of familiarity.’ she wrote. ‘There is no such thing as ‘our own’. Refugees are not just like us, they are us and in need of our help.’

Minister’s Blog

24 February 2018

Billy Graham, the dairy farmer’s son from North Carolina, is dead. Amazingly, the superstar evangelist was 99 years old. Although he exuded good health throughout his working life, he did suffer from Parkinson’s Disease.

He is well-remembered for the All Scotland Crusade of 1955 where an estimated 50,000 people were converted to Christianity. I have met some in every parish who remember the mass choir, the emotional altar call and the carefully honed strategy involving local churches.

Some have criticised him for courting the powerful – most famously Nixon. But I think it important that the church produces people who are gifted in communicating the gospel with those who exercise power.

I am more in tune with those who criticised his judgement on some political and moral issues and the high salary which his global ministry still generated for himself at well over half a million dollars and his son, Franklin at almost a million.

Notwithstanding all of this, there were three things that I admired about him. Firstly, his boldness in proclaiming the gospel and the expectation he created amongst people that he was unafraid to talk about Jesus.

Secondly, his refusal to preach to segregated audiences and his support of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Thirdly, and most convincingly, his personal integrity which was examined at every stage of his life  by excessive media scrutiny and never found wanting.

As it happened, 1955 was a key year in the life of the Kirk for its membership never soared to such heights again. Numerical decline followed. But within its active membership, there remain many who will be forever grateful for the ministry of Billy Graham.

Minister’s Blog

23 February 2018

I have never been a strict Sabbatarian. It would be difficult for a minister to preach too strenuously about this because he is someone who cannot help break the Sabbath by working on it!

However, I do remember a day when Sunday was very special not simply because we went to worship God at the kirk but because it was a day freed from frenetic activity. Not many shops were open. People visited their relatives. Different generations went out walking en famille.

In some parts of the world, the church is still trying to hold on to this day of rest. And you’ve got to admire them! Recently, the Free Church on the Isle of Lewis made protest about the opening of a cinema in Stornoway on a Sunday.

Although I have no objection to people going to the cinema on a Sunday, I secretly admire our Free Kirk brothers and sisters because I think they are not only trying to hold onto a valuable piece of their culture but to celebrate the benefits to our well-being of resting on the Sabbath.

Writing about it in the Observer, Kevin McKenna says, ‘When you have all the choices in the world at your disposal but refuse to cede one of them out of respect for the beliefs of another then that isn’t choice – it’s intolerance and betrays an absence of common humanity.’

I’m not sure what the Council thought of this in opening the cinema on a Sunday but its sentiments ring true with me. In Kirk Session, we are very careful not to organise events which would clash with the Stenton Flower Show or the East Linton Christmas Market and so on.

Living harmoniously in a diverse community requires some restraint and humility. Just because you can organise something for a particular time or on a particular day  doesn’t mean to say it is good for the health and well-being of the whole community for you to do so.

And if you have a choice …. why choose to do it when other people’s lives are going to be compromised? There is much more to community than our rights and our freedom to do what we like when we fancy it! Maturity doesn’t need to force the issue to prove its worth!

Minister’s Blog

22 February 2018

Lothian Broadband has been investigating the possibility of using the Church Tower at Stenton to increase access to the internet within our parish. They have passed the first test – aesthetics.

Unconnected equipment was placed on the Tower for an experimental period to see if it would be obtrusive. There was very little to see and no-one objected. Other hurdles have to be passed now like Planning Permission from the East Lothian Council.

Because of our involvement, I was interested to read an article by Harriet Sherwood entitled, ‘Church Spires set to spread digital word’. It referred to an agreement between the Church of England and the UK Government to facilitate faster broadband for a million rural properties.

The Church of England has 10,000 rural churches and as a national network itself is well placed to offer such a facility to the most isolated communities. So medieval buildings dating from the twelfth century will help to connect people to a richer future in the twenty-first!

Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, is enthusiastic about the agreement. ‘’Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability.’

Minister’s Blog

21 February 2018

A piece of legislation in Poland has caused a stir in other parts of the world amongst the Jewish community. According to Christian Davies, ‘It criminalises any attribution to the Polish state or nation of complicity in the crimes committed by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.’

Even if it were true that there was no complicity, why would you want to pass a piece of legislation to cover this if your intention wasn’t to diminish the Holocaust and shut the door on free speech?

According to the Chief Rabbi, some young people are asking, ‘Rabbi, is it time to leave?’ The Rabbi is concerned. He is encouraging people to stay and fight. ‘But if it comes a time in this country where I cannot say what the truth is without fear of being imprisoned, I will leave.’ he concludes.

The legislation hardly makes it easier for Polish Jews to talk about the Holocaust and the involvement of the Polish state in its implementation. We should learn a lesson from history. You cannot silence a people forever not even by implementing another Holocaust.