Minister’s Blog

25 April 2019

A member of the congregation drew my attention to an initiative at St. Leonard’s Church, Herefordshire. Twenty-five people worshipped there on a regular basis. When a shop was installed at the west end of the nave things began to change.

The shop in the church is open seven days a week and includes a post office, with a café in the gallery. Obviously, more people were making a connection with the church building and this seemed to draw them into the life of what happened there.

People started to light candles and to pray. Christmas was very popular. Conversations began to happen and people were asking questions about the church and the faith. It all happened in a natural and spontaneous way.

It seems to stabilise congregation numbers and weddings and baptisms go up.’ said Becky Payne who has advised the local diocese about turning churches into community hubs. ’People start to see the church as part of their lives.’

Minister’s Blog

24 April 2019

Anonymous letters should be consigned to the waste paper basket immediately. Whilst the one I received through the post on Tuesday was anonymous, it had no letter attached. It was an A5 leaflet folded into A6 and entitled, ‘Believe it or not God hates Easter!’

It began, ‘The Christian Church should not be keeping Easter. It is not biblically commanded as a holy convocation. Its observance comes from paganism. It is not valid!’ The paganism is a reference to Eostre, the goddess of Spring and the attack is on syncretism.

However, two things contributed to the establishment of Easter as a major festival within the Church. The first was the spontaneous way in which the first Christians not only continued to observe the Jewish Sabbath but also gathered together to remember Jesus on the Sunday.

Sunday, of course, was the day of resurrection and that’s  why it was chosen as a special day for meeting. By the end of the first century, this became an established pattern and differentiated Christian from Jew. It was and is and always shall be a little Easter.

The second was the connection between Passover and Easter. The Passover is an annual festival which is determined by the Spring Equinox and the full moon. It cannot be changed. The resurrection of Christ was celebrated on the Sunday after Passover and  that’s when we celebrate it now.

This celebration of the resurrection was established at least by the middle of the second century. The name, ‘Easter’, may not be Biblical but the resurrection most certainly is and unlike Christmas the day of resurrection cannot be disputed! And if you believe that this is the most momentous event in the history of the world, why not celebrate it?

Minister’s Blog

23 April 2019

In one of his poems, RS Thomas talks about meeting a man on a journey ‘whose eyes declare: /There is no God.’ He encourages the traveller to pay no attention because there are others on the journey:

With the same creed, whose lips yet utter

Friendlier greeting, men who have learned

To pack a little of the sun’s light

In their cold eyes, whose hands are waiting

For your hand.

We have met them too – nameless strangers who radiate a little warmth, a little sunshine and who welcome us into their presence. They have discovered that there is something more important than religion and that’s our common humanity.

The poet advises us not to linger. ‘A smile is payment.’ He says. ‘The road runs on.’ He continues. ‘With many turnings towards the tall Tree to which the believer is nailed.’

There is a more eloquent witness to the power of love than the words of the evangelist and that’s the tall tree – the cross bearing, the forgetting of self, the suffering for the good of another!

Love is what unites. Love is not the preserve of Christians nor Muslims nor Jews but our common humanity. But the Tall Tree reminds us that Christianity has something deeper to offer in the one who suffers and dies for the other.

Minister’s Blog

22 April 2019 – Easter Monday

First Up!

With Easter being later, our Easter Rising was always going to be in daylight and with the change in the weather from the beginning to the end of the week, we had it made. Around 85 people of all ages climbed Traprain Law at 6-30am and joined in the service at the top. The large wooden cross had already been carried up the Law on Thursday and was still in situ.

Liz, who looks after the thirteen Exmoors, was one of the first to arrive. She brought news of the ponies. They  were on the far side of the Law and wouldn’t be joining  us. Not to be disappointed, she brought a bag of Easter Eggs for the children – one from each of the ponies, one from herself and one from  her dog! I hope he gave permission!

It was a very swift climb. The dry paths and the warming sun helped. But once you have carried up a wooden cross, nothing ever seems as challenging! The worship benefitted from the calm weather. Whilst we didn’t see the ponies, we did hear the lark ascending as the sun was rising over nearby Dunbar. People were reluctant to leave this peaceful sanctuary!

I spoke briefly about Notre Dame making a connection with our ancient kirks. The chancel at Prestonkirk was built at the same time as Notre Dame. In its constancy, it bears eloquent witness to the Easter Gospel to more people outside than ever enter its ancient walls just like the cathedral whose congregation on Monday night  included people of all faiths and none.

The kirk should never forget this for  Easter is almost exclusively  an outdoor event, celebrated in the garden, at  the beach, on  the road and up the hill  where borders and boundaries are replaced by the free air, the birdsong and the sunlight  and  we can rise together in unity because the love of the crucified Christ has already  risen within us!

Minister’s Blog

21 April 2019 – Easter Day

Three things  impressed me about the fire at Notre Dame de Paris. Firstly, the opportunity. Although some stained glass will never be replaced because the techniques are lost to humanity, the fire does provide an opportunity for young people to learn the ancient skills required for the rebuilding. Here’s the phoenix!

Secondly, the people.  It  was  remarkable that so many people gathered in the streets of Paris to watch the conflagration. They were certainly not all Christian but two things were said about them. They were united in grief  and their unity was enveloped  in a worshipful silence. Here’s the true congregation!

Thirdly, the building.  This great House of God  bears eloquent witness to more people outside  than ever enter its ancient walls. For over eight hundred years, it has spoken to a community about Christ’s victory over sin and death! ‘Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!’ Here’s our hidden and most effective evangel!

Minister’s Blog

20 April 2019 – Holy Saturday

One of the most spectacular events ever to take place at Notre Dame de Paris was the wedding of our Mary, Queen of Scots to Francis, the Dauphin, the heir apparent to the French throne.

It happened on Thursday, 24 April 1558, the second week of Eastertide. The crowds flocked to the square. Others hung out of windows to catch a glimpse of the tall, slender beauty who was marrying their short, weedy Dauphin as John Guy describes him.

Mary did two unusual things. Firstly, she let her hair fall down her back. It wasn’t tied up upon her head. This is what was expected. But in this way, its glory shone and her beauty was greatly enhanced.

Secondly, she wore white. This was very controversial. At the French court, white was the colour of mourning. Disregarding the convention, Mary chose it for her bridal gown.  White for purity, new life and Eastertide.

The young bride was not only Queen of Scotland but also heir to the throne of England. Her cousin, Elizabeth, was considered to be illegitimate issue. In the marriage, three kingdoms were potentially united under Mary and the Dauphin.

It wasn’t to be but on her  wedding day, Mary chose to wear the colour of mourning and gave it new life. She challenged the conventions and suffered for it. The people loved her vitality. It was like another Easter where mourning was turned into dancing. As the Psalmist says:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;

you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy! (Psalm 30;11)

Minister’s Blog

19 April 2019 – Good Friday

Among the treasures which were saved from the flames which destroyed the roof of Notre Dame de Paris was the ‘Crown of Thorns’. Apparently, it was retrieved by the Chaplain to the Paris Fire Service.

The relic was given to King Louis IX by the Emperor of Constantinople to secure his alliance.  The King built a special chapel to hold it. However, after the French Revolution, it was removed and eventually deposited in the Cathedral.

It is brought out of the treasury on the first Friday of the month and on every Friday during Lent for a special veneration mass. Many people have seen it and maybe they have been surprised for there are no thorns on the crown.

Apparently, it was spontaneously made by the soldiers. They wove a circlet of rushes together and embedded sixty or seventy crowns from the jujube tree. They were removed by the King and distributed to his allies who preserved them in other beautiful reliquaries.

There is no  way of telling that this was the actual crown of thorns. There may be other contenders. In a way, it doesn’t really matter for a crown of thorns sat upon the head of Jesus just before his crucifixion and today we remember it in the prayer of Father Andrew:

O Dearest Lord, they sacred head

With thorns was pierced for me;

O pour thy blessing on my head,

That I may think for thee.

Minister’s Blog

18 April 2019

Strange as it may seem, the screensaver on my laptop is a beautiful photograph of Notre Dame de Paris. It was taken by my elder son on his honeymoon. Unlike him, I have never been to Notre Dame but like Chartres and Rouen, it has been on my wish list for ages.

Notre Dame has been around for a long time. Building began in 1160 and was largely completed a century later. As such, it has witnessed many national and ecclesiastical events. Mary Queen of Scots was married in this kirk. Napoleon was crowned. Joan of Arc beatified.

Because of its ancient and constant presence, it is a building which has grown in the affection and esteem of the nation. But there’s more. Despite the strong communities of Jews and Muslims in France, the cathedral is a symbol of something much deeper.

Notre Dame is literally ‘Our Lady’ and refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the one who gives birth to a Saviour and offers protection to a nation, uniting a city and a people in their grief for what was lost in the fire.

When the embers were finally extinguished and the smoke lifted, among the treasures which remained in Notre Dame was a gold cross and a sculpture of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus. The survival of this  ‘Descent from the Cross’ during Holy Week is surely prophetic.

The gold cross standing amidst the wreckage of the fire  is a strong symbol of hope. The ministry of Mary, our Lady, lovingly embracing the dead child born from her womb, has already inspired many people to embrace this great House of God not for burial alone but for resurrection!