3rd January 2022,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Rector’s letter for January
I wish you a happy and peaceful New Year; a year which as we cross the threshold we can try to imagine as well as hope what the year ahead may have in store for each one of us.
The emergence and rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has had an impact on our lives. The response from most people, prior to any announcements by the government of changes to rules and guidelines, was for people to reduce their in-person social contacts. An interesting programme on the radio about the behaviour of people as the pandemic has continued indicated that most people were now acting ahead of announcements about changes to rules and guidelines being made by the government. More than one of the specialists being interviewed said that they had not always predicted and modelled this behaviour, and especially when we are nearly two years into this pandemic. The sense of communal benefit, of the greater good being met by early behavioural change, was a pleasant surprise to some who thought our sense of communal wellbeing, looking out for one another, for a sense of ‘society’, had been lost.
From personal experience, I know that people chose to forgo social gatherings, not out of a fear of catching the Omicron variant themselves, but because they may then either pass it on to someone who would need hospital treatment, or because it would stop them from being able to meet up with other members of their family.
Sometimes it feels counter-cultural to talk about the Christian concept of sacrifice, or else for a sacrifice to only be spoken about when it is at the ultimate level, of dying to let someone else live. However, across our whole community, across our nation, people are daily making small but significant sacrificial acts by reducing their social contact with others; acts of love for others with whom we have no personal relationship but who are made in God’s image, and whose life has as much worth as our own. These small every-day acts of sacrificial love and kindness are, according to the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, what we are able to do, and which amass to make a big difference in the lives of others.
The coverage of Desmond Tutu’s funeral, and particularly the wonderful sermon cum eulogy by the retired Bishop of Natal, The Rt Revd Michael Nuttall, was a reminder of Tutu’s impact not just on South Africa (particularly at a crucial time in its transition to a democracy accessible by all its citizens), but also on the world stage. I have included the text of Bishop Nuttall’s sermon at the end of my letter, for those who may wish to read it. Desmond Tutu preached some uncompromising sermons in his time; they were uncompromising in terms of love and respect, and of truth and restorative justice, not like a grumpy Old Testament prophet, but as a prophet who danced, smiled, and loved, a prophet who wept as well as laughed. Like other prophets, do we like the idea of this lovely man but don’t want to be confronted and made to feel uncomfortable by some of what he said? Without fear or favour he spoke out against the various conflicts waged over the last thirty years by the western powers and was critical of the Israeli Zionist movement and its oppression of Palestinians, likening the treatment as akin to the era of apartheid in South Africa. He also challenged people who did nothing in the face of oppression, saying to be neutral was to side with the oppressor. He challenged all of us to live an intentional life of faith.
I can certainly recommend books written by Desmond Tutu; they are full of love and compassion, explore truth and justice, and help us see the world through his eyes. The Book of Joy, which he wrote with the Dalai Lama, is a delight. I have a suspicion that Desmond Tutu’s death will give me an impetus to go back and read his books again, to learn from them, and be nourished by them, and no doubt to be confronted and challenged once more. Desmond Tutu was honest about his own failings and weaknesses, struggled to contain them, but ultimately, through his disciplined prayer-life knew that as a whole person he was loved by God, and could act with humility because of God’s graciousness.
We held services in both churches at 11.30pm on Christmas Eve, at 10.30am on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day. The Crib Service at St Mungo’s at 4pm on Christmas Eve was the first service that we limited attendance by using the Eventbrite booking system. In 2019 we crammed over 90 people into St Mungo’s. In 2020 we did not hold the service. This year we decided to go ahead and hold it but to limit numbers attending so we could maintain 1m distancing between families. It was lovely to have young families join in with carols and with an interactive story, led by Revd Tony Foley, the new Church of Scotland minister covering 6 churches including St Andrew’s West Linton.
Learning New Worship Songs at St Mungo’s
In November Chris Shaw led the first of what may hopefully become a regular event. Chris introduced some relatively new worship songs, and those gathered sang them through a couple of times. Watch out for further dates to learn some new songs.
Diocesan Communications re COVID
Revised COVID regulations came into effect from 26th December for churches. The only significant change is that 1m physical distancing between households must be maintained. In addition, anyone speaking or singing unmasked must be 2m distanced from other people. For now, we have, again, suspended tea and coffee after services.
Bishop John at St Mungo’s on Sunday 16th January
As St Kentigern/Mungo’s Day is 13th January, St Mungo’s will hold a special service the following Sunday, 16th January, when Bishop John will preach and preside. The plans for a social gathering in the undercroft afterwards will have to be cancelled I am sorry to say. I will send an email out about this service to ask people to register to attend, so we can ensure we have seats set out to meet the 1m physical distancing requirements.
We hold our weekly Bible study at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, online. Our Bible Study starts again on 4th January at 2pm, commencing with a study of the Book of Genesis chapters 12-28, which will take us through to 15th February. We shall then start a study of the Book of Hebrews. Why don’t you join us to explore the texts, understand their context, and just as importantly, explore how they speak to us and how they inform us today?
Monday Study Night: ‘Expecting Christ’, and ‘The Meaning of Jesus’
Starting on 10th January 2022 at 7 pm and going through to 7th February Joy will lead a four-week programme following the York Course ‘Expecting Jesus’.
Starting on 14th and going through to 28th February 2022, we shall explore in detail three of the chapters of ‘The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions’ by Marcus Borg and Tom Wright, the book that we will have reviewed two weeks earlier.
Faith Development ‘Faith Books’
When we have a fifth Monday in the month I lead a discussion at 7.00 pm about a book as a way of introducing people to different authors which may pique an interest to read more of their work (or not!).
The next 5th Monday is on 31st January 2022. The book to be discussed is ‘The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions’ by Marcus Borg and Prof N T Wright. The books for the rest of 2022 are listed below. That should leave plenty of time to get the books or borrow them from someone (including me) or from the library.
- Monday 30th May 2022: ‘Generous Justice, How God’s Grace Makes Us Just’, by Timothy Keller.
- Monday 29th August 2022: ‘In The Shelter: Finding a Home in the World’, by Patrick O’ Tuama
- Monday 31st October 2022: ‘Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi’, by Ami-Jill Levine.
In looking for new or used books, I have often used www.bookfinder.com I am sure there are other search sites that will help people find the above books.
Diocesan Pilgrimage Conference – Saturday 26 February 2022 – a series of talks online during the week beginning 21 February, culminating with an in-person conference at Holy Trinity, Haddington, covering the historical, scriptural and spiritual sides of pilgrimage. I will provide more details when I have them. Details will also be on the Diocesan website.
Diocesan Big Walk – On Saturday 28th May people will walk from various starting points in the Diocese to St Mary’s cathedral. There is a ‘Big Walk’ starting from Roslin – a distance of about 8 miles. It would be good if we had representation from both congregations. Let me know if you are interested in joining the Big Walk.
Mid-week Services on Zoom
Our services on a Wednesday evening at 7.30 pm follow the regular pattern of services set out below. They are all on Zoom.
- 1st Wed of the month: Healing service (if you wish someone or a situation to be prayed for send an email to me or Marion Mather)
- 2nd Wed of the month: Christian Meditation (a time to settle, a short line of scripture, 15 minutes of silence, and a closing prayer).
- 3rd Wed of the month: Iona Abbey evening service liturgy
- 4th Wed of the month: service in the style of Taizé
If you would be interested in helping with these services, please let me know.
At 9pm every Wednesday evening we hold the service of Compline. Please do join us for this short service of calm and settling prayers before sleep. This service continues throughout August.
The Midlothian Care for People meetings I attend is where discussions about supporting Afghan families being settled in the EH26 area take place. The first two families have been resettled into Midlothian, one of them in Penicuik.
Continuing our Mission: Inviting Someone to ‘Come to Church’
As mentioned before, I would like to encourage you to invite a neighbour or someone from within our communities to join us for a service or one of our group sessions. It could not be easier to invite someone you know locally to join us at a one of our Zoom-based services, or to join us in person in church. You can send them an email if you want or pass them the Zoom meeting information. If you invite them to attend an online Sunday service, then do please give them a copy of the liturgy. Let me know their name, so we know to admit them to the service from the virtual waiting room.
In these times, when people may well be considering their life’s purpose and meaning, an invitation to attend a church service or to join a group may be well received.
Continuing our Mission: Leading Your Church Into Growth Prayer
Each weekday morning we pray for growth in our church. If you are not able to join us online for Morning Prayer at 9 am, can I encourage you to pray this once a day. The prayer is given below.
God of Mission, who alone brings growth to your Church,
send your Holy Spirit to give:
vision to our planning, wisdom to our actions, and power to our witness.
Help our church to grow:
in numbers, in spiritual commitment to you, and in service to our local
community, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Maintaining Contact – Email, Social media, YouTube, Zoom, In Touch.
If you receive this as a physical letter through the post but you have an email address, please can you send an email to me, so I can add it to our contact records. In that way you will get more frequent communications and reduce our postage costs.
Facebook and Websites
Information is put on our Facebook pages and is a place to share information too. The St James website now holds the sermon texts and audio recordings of the bible readings and the sermon from each of the recent Sunday services. The St Mungo website is getting a facelift and we hope to launch it later this month.
We now have our very own YouTube channel. If you search for ‘St James and St Mungo’, you will find a number of videos. It includes the playlists for our services, so you can go back and listen to the hymns at a later date. Please do visit it and subscribe to it. With 100 subscriptions we get a formal channel name rather than an anonymous url link below. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuxnmfrlY0Xl2KRduLummsg
In Touch Magazine for St James the Less and St Mungo’s
The deadline for content to be submitted for the next issue is 6th February 2022. I would like to encourage you to submit something for inclusion in the magazine; a poem, a review of a book or a film, an article on a subject of interest? If you wish to submit an article please send them to email@example.com
Financial giving to St James the Less or to St Mungo’s
Church finances are feeling the effects of the lockdown, as the amounts normally collected in the offertory plate are obviously not currently being collected. If you are able, can I ask you to prayerfully consider setting up a recurring monthly payment to the church via on-line banking, to contribute financially on a regular basis. Details of the bank accounts are given below for each of the churches.
St James the Less:
Monthly donation by bank transfer (include your name in the reference line when setting this up – only the Treasurer knows the name of the donor). Bank details are: St James Episcopal Church Penicuik, acct no 17117264, sort code 80-22-60.
Monthly donation by bank transfer (include your name in the reference line when setting this up – only the Treasurer knows the name of the donor). Bank details are: St Mungo’s Vestry, acct no 00817851, sort code 80-09-39.
Praying the Daily Offices
In the Daily Offices prayer booklet circulated in July 2020 there are specific prayers for each day of the month. I recommend these to you, as an aid to your prayer life. If you can’t lay your hands on your prayer diary let me know and I will email out or post another one to you. A revised version will be emailed out in February.
Morning and Evening Prayer and the Wednesday evening services continue to be online using Zoom. Sharing the Daily Offices each weekday with others is a wonderful way of connecting, praying and praising together with a natural rhythm of the week. It is also one of the few times we can hear the psalms being read in more than just a few verses at a time. Please do consider joining us at 9 am and or 5.30 pm for about half an hour, whenever you are able.
Ecumenical Relations and Community Involvement Work
The Penicuik Ministers continue to meet on Zoom for coffee and chat and supportive prayers on a roughly monthly basis.
Once a month the Penicuik Churches Together (PCT) has a joint Sunday evening service. On that Sunday our usual schedule will be adapted so that members can attend the PCT service. St James the Less hosted the service on 28th November (Advent Sunday).
The EH26 Resilience Group continues to meet occasionally. It remains a good way to connect in with the needs of our community and support how those needs are met. I am also still attending the Midlothian Health and Social Care Partnership ‘Care for People Planning Group’ Zoom meetings, and the Afghan Resettlement Programme meetings.
The Ministry Team
This year our team of Chris, Joy, Neville and Peter has worked together with members of both congregations, and with those with the gifts of playing for us and leading our singing, to deliver services every week. I want to place on record my thanks to all of you who support our worship and other activities, whether ‘up front’ or behind the scenes to make sure our churches are clean, safe, and (relatively) warm. The prayers of our intercessors, the flowers, the music, the singing, the readers of scripture, the sacristans, all contribute so much to the life of our churches. Thank you all.
In Other News…
After Boxing Day I took the week off, and managed to read a few books, and get one longer walk done on the one really sunny day we had. Not enough exercise to improve my fitness ahead of the Camino Ingles walk in May, but hopefully as the weather improves and the days lengthen, I will get out for some longer and more frequent walks. I read Adam Nicolson’s book, ‘The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Penguins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers’ and ‘Absolute Friends’ by John le Carre. I also indulged myself, getting the Dunedin Consort’s version of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
I succumbed and bought ‘Sunrise of Wonder’ by Michael Mayne recently, to add to my ever-growing theology reading pile.
I have the possibility of meeting up with my daughters in Washington DC in March, but it all depends on whether a film festival takes place as planned or not. So, I won’t be booking anything until I know for certain it is going ahead. The last time I was in Washington it was hot and sticky – if I go in March it certainly won’t be. It is nice to make some plans, but with the proviso that everything is provisional and subject to change or cancellation.
I wish you peace and joy, and that you will know the love of Christ this New Year.