A new minister takes over the reins at St Mary’s church in Haddington following a unanimous vote of the congregation when she preached as sole nominee.
The Reverend Alison McDonald, who has served over twenty years as minister of Musselburgh: Northesk, will be inducted to the charge at a service in St Mary’s this evening (Thursday 1st August).
Alison says she was struck early on by the clear commitment of the congregation to build on its work with the wider community of the town.
“When I met the nominating committee,” says Alison, “I was impressed by their vision to be an even greater positive force at the heart of the community. I am excited by all the creative possibilities of worship in the beautiful church building itself, I am looking forward to progressing some of the ideas that the congregation have for the space, and to working in partnership across the town.
“When I preached as sole nominee, the people of St Mary’s couldn’t have been more genuine, warm, welcoming and friendly. I felt that they were looking forward to me beginning ministry with them as much as I am looking forward to becoming their minister.
Haddington St Mary’s has not had a permanent minister since the death of Jennifer Macrae, who served the congregation for ten years. Session Clerk, Alison Meikle, says their hope was to find someone who could continue to build on the work that Jennifer had been leading:
“During the vacancy it was a difficult time and it was a challenging time, but we didn’t stand still. There was a lot of moving forward.
“We’ve welcomed quite a few new members who have joined us in the last few months, both people moving into Haddington and others who have lived her for a while. We have ordained twelve new elders, many of them younger people in our congregation, some with school-age families. We’re looking at opening up the church for wider use by the community. We are very lucky that we have quite a thriving Young Church and we’d like to attract more young families to join us, perhaps also having somebody who can work with parents and children in our wider community. And, of course, we have just completed a project to completely overhaul the lighting within the building in the biggest programme of work we’ve undertaken since the restoration of the church nearly 50 years ago.
“We were delighted that Alison answered the Call to be our minister. She has so much experience both as a parish minister and in the wider church. Things that struck a chord with us included her interest in working with families and across our growing community, her deep interest in music – which is so much part of worship at St Mary’s – and her commitment to ecumenical relations: St Mary’s works closely day-to-day with all our neighbouring churches.
“Her interests and ambitions fitted perfectly with ours.”
Alison McDonald was ordained in 1991 in Budapest, Hungary, into a new post as Associate Minster at St Columba's Church of Scotland and Mission Partner with the Reformed Church of Hungary. She returned to Scotland in 1994 and became Associate Minister at Mayfield Salisbury Church in Edinburgh, where she had a particular remit to develop ministry among families. She was called to Northesk Parish Church, Musselburgh, in 1998.
Alison has been involved in the wider work of the Church both in the Presbytery of Lothian, where she was elected Moderator for a year in 2004; and at the Kirk’s General Assembly, as Convener of the Ecumenical Relations Committee from 2013 to 2018. She is on the Governing Board of the Conference of European Churches and a Trustee of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
She had got to know Jennifer Macrae well over many years working together in East Lothian.
“Jennifer was an excellent colleague for whom I had a high respect and regard,” says Alison. “She was a wise source of good advice. It is an honour to follow Jennifer. I know she has forged a good path and has left a strong legacy.”
In moving to Haddington, Alison McDonald steps down from being minister of Northesk in Musselburgh.
“It has been a privilege to serve as Minister of Northesk and the communities of Fisherrow and Musselburgh. I am grateful for their love and support and thankful for the journey of faith that we have been on together over the years.”
Alison’s husband, the Reverend Sandy Horsburgh, is minister of Dalkeith: St Nicholas Buccleuch. He too will be moving to Haddington so that, from today, the manse of St Mary’s will also be the manse of St Nicholas Buccleuch.
All are welcome at Alison's service of induction which begins at 7pm this evening (Thursday 1 August) in St Mary’s.
The congregation of Penicuik: North Parish Church have welcomed the Revered Graham Astles as their new minister.
Mr Astles, a former IT & management consultant who was previously minister of St Andrews Bo’ness and Jedburgh Old & Trinity, replaces the Reverend Ruth Halley who moved to a parish in Stirlingshire in October of 2017.
In their search for a new minister, the congregation of Penicuik North said they were seeking a collaborative leader to share and develop their visions of mission and outreach to the community and beyond.
Graham, who is married to Eunice with two adult sons, has been telling us how his life in ministry and beyond has equipped him to answer the Call to serve the congregation and wider Penicuik community.
“I grew up in a family that was at that time at least nominally Christian. We would go to church perhaps twice a year, if that, but no strong spiritual connection. Then, when I was 18, I moved to London to go to university to study electrical engineering and I must have gone through some sort of crisis of identity, as young people often do at that time, and really began searching for truth.
I suppose I had been searching for something for a few years even before then and was into all sorts of weird and wonderful things. But then I came to faith at university through a mission by a local evangelical church and, from very early on, felt the call into ministry.
When I set up my business the driving force was to provide some sort of funding to allow me to follow that call. But what you tend to find is that a business, particularly when you have staff, takes up so much time that the freedom that you hoped you would have had to do other things just isn’t there.
Eventually I reached the point of saying: “Okay Lord, maybe I’m not called to ministry. Maybe my role in the church is to give money to help other people in ministry instead.”
At that point the country went into a bit of a recession. It was the early 2000s, clients lost confidence and stopped commissioning work from us and, in the end, the business had to close.
Ironically, that freed me up to begin to pray about whether I should go into ministry. I remember distinctly praying one Friday evening: “God, is it right that I begin to pray about going into ministry.” I was seeing whether I had permission to even begin to look at it. I asked God to somehow give me a plain, clear answer.
As a family, we were worshiping then in Gorebridge church with Mark Nicholas. I was the treasurer there and an elder. The following Sunday both the clerk to the board and the session clerk came to me separately and asked if I had thought about going into ministry. For me, that was the very clear permission that this was something that I could run with and that the time was right.
So it was gradual and it was long planned. When I began studying for the ministry, it was at the end of a cycle that had included laying it down before God. And He allowed me to take it up again.
I was ordained into Jedburgh Parish Church in the Borders in 2007. I spent many happy years there and my children grew up there. I enjoyed being involved in the community, it life, festivals and Common Riding. Three years ago, we were called to St Andrews in Bo’ness, a busy parish with lots of different things going on, lots of management of others and pastoral work.
I had got to know the people of Penicuik North when I spent some time with the congregation during my enquiry and assessment, now called ‘discernment’, period. They are forward-looking and very lovely and kind, and Eunice and I felt that this was a church where we could help, and could get really involved in pastoral ministry. We simply felt it was worth pushing the door to see if it opened up.
I see my role as being to help the congregation discern what shape the church should be moving towards in the future, particularly in the light of the challenges that we face as a Church nationally and the decisions of this year’s General Assembly. How can we reach the community with the Gospel of Jesus as part of the local church within the town and as part of the national Church across Scotland?
It is early days yet to talk about where we will go together. The people of Penicuik North are keen to reach out to the community and to bring something of the Kingdom of God into the town. How that shapes up, and what form that takes, we can work out together.”
People have been looking for information about what is being developed in other churches to help them think through what they might do.
Below is a link to something which is very much a work in progress but which we hope will be helpful in this. Further information will be added in time and if you have anything to add to this please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev David D. Scott, minister of the Parish of Traprain, stood down as Moderator of Lothian Presbytery after leading a service of communion in Prestonkirk, East Linton, at the end of September. Here are his reflections on a year at the helm.
I have to say that I enjoyed being Moderator and, compared with some of my predecessors, I’ve had an easier time in terms of moderating the meetings because there weren’t any really big, controversial issues under debate.
The biggest joy has been to be able to offer what I would call “the Ministry of Encouragement”. Because the Moderator leads the devotions before meetings, there is an opportunity to encourage presbyters and I really tried, in particular, to focus on encouraging those delivering a ministry of Word of Sacrament by what I said in the devotions.
As well as welcoming and supporting people presented to the Presbytery at its meetings, the Moderator also gets the opportunity to give charges to new ministers and congregations. During my time, we had two inductions and an ordination, as well the admission of a Reader, and in of each of these services my role was to give a ‘charge’ the person and their new congregation: advice and guidance, encouraging them in their new work. It was a great opportunity to really think about their work, to make visible what they were embarking on, explain it and, perhaps by articulating how important it is, allow everyone to see its true value.
So, I think, perhaps, what I enjoyed most was that Ministry of Encouragement, being in a position where you could be able to encourage other people in their ministry because those with jobs to do within the Church sometimes don't hear enough words of encouragement because they are busy encouraging others.
Being Moderator was a bit of a double-edged sword. The opportunities to encourage and support others was one edge. But the other is that Moderators are a bit like farmers. Farmers work under the scrutiny of their peers. Everybody sees what is happening in the fields around them and in their neighbours’ fields – everyone can judge how well a farmer is doing. The Moderator has to preach, for example, to his or her peers – which is quite nerve-wracking because you know that you are preaching to people who are themselves preachers, who know what it's all about and can make a judgement on how well you are fulfilling the task. Luckily, a number of my fellow presbyters are very good at being supportive in their comments and saying words of thanks.
I suppose I am glad that the year is over. Being the Moderator is extra work and it is also hard work because you want to do it diligently. But I'm also glad that it's over because it underlines what I said at the beginning of my year: that in the Church of Scotland we value corporate leadership. The world doesn't understand that, but we do. So, the mouthpiece of the Presbytery, the Moderator, the person who chairs the Presbytery meetings and leads their services, changes because he or she is a corporate leader and not an individual spokesperson as, for instance, a bishop is. In this way we avoid creating celebrities!
I have to acknowledge that it was an honour to be called to do it because, although every presbyter could be the Moderator, there aren't enough opportunities for that to happen. So, above all, it is an honour, and also very humbling, that the Presbytery should have put its trust in me to do the task.
The Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of Lothian has chosen the Minister at Newton Parish Church, Danderhall, as its Moderator for the coming year.
Rev Andrew Don, 62, who lives in Penicuik, takes over leadership of the Presbytery, which brings together ministers and elders from the church’s congregations across Mid and East Lothian, at a service in East Linton on 27 September.
“It is an honour and privilege to be invited to Moderate the Presbytery of Lothian for the coming year,” said Andrew.
“One of the strengths of the Presbyterian system is that the Moderator changes every year, each bring his or her unique style and personality to the role and, in doing so, adds to the richness and diversity of our Church.”
Andrew is an Ordained Local Minister, an unpaid minister who for nearly ten years until his retirement in 2016 combined ministry in the Tyne Valley Parish of Borthwick, Cranstoun and Fala, with working in the head office of a bank in Edinburgh. He was a locum minister at Penicuik St Mungo’s before moving to serve at Newton in 2013.
“I learned my trade in a number of bank branches within the central belt, Glasgow and Edinburgh, before moving into ‘Head Office’.
“During the early 1990’s, I sensed God’s calling to further service in his Church. I was already an elder in the Kirk and had led services at a local community centre. Rev John Fraser of Penicuik North Kirk was very encouraging and, over a number of years of practical assessment and study at Aberdeen University, I gained the necessary experience and qualifications to allow me to be ordained in Fala Church in October 2006.
Matthew says: “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Matthew 11: 28-29
Through this period, I really did learn the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’. If the day job was busier than normal, I found the course work light; and when the course work demanded more attention, the day job seemed quieter. To me it looked like God was arranging my diary, but the simple truth is that if God is calling you to do something for Him, He also provided the time and opportunities to make it happen.
“I am what some of my colleagues in the ministry refer to as a tentmaker. Like Paul the Apostle, who made tents for a living and shared the Gospel of Jesus, I was able to combine going to work every day with serving God in my community.”
Andrew recently celebrated his 35th Wedding Anniversary with wife Fiona.
As Moderator of the Presbytery, his duties will include leading services of ordination and induction of ministers into new parishes and chairing meetings of the Presbytery.
Jennifer Macrae was a very diligent member of Lothian Presbytery. During her ministry at St. Mary’s, she was elected Moderator of the Presbytery and, more recently, had been the Convener of the Ministry Committee. She was particularly skilled at mentoring students and probationers, building their confidence and bringing their vocation to fruition.
Jennifer’s great gift was one of friendship – getting alongside others, building bridges, encouraging the less able and the more able in equal measure, sharing her life and love honestly and humbly with charm and good humour. We have lost a hardworking presbyter, an excellent parish minister and a delightful friend.
David D. Scott
Congregations fear poorest and elderly will be hit hardest
Church of Scotland congregations across Midlothian are calling on Midlothian Council to step back from making cuts in education, housing, library services and transport that they say will hurt disproportionately the poor and the elderly.
In a written response to the Council’s consultation Addressing Midlothian Council’s Financial Challenge to 2021/22, The Presbytery of Lothian asks the Council to look again at those proposed cuts that would limit the health and education opportunities for disadvantaged young people, impact the quality of housing enjoyed by Council tenants, lead to more homelessness, and impose greater limits on what older people are able to do.
The Church has also written to all MSPs and MPs serving Midlothian asking each to ‘to do all in your power to bring pressure to bear on those who are ultimately responsible for allocating finance to Local Authorities’.
The letter on behalf of the Presbytery of Lothian, which brings together all Church of Scotland congregations across Midlothian and East Lothian, is signed by Moderator of the Presbytery, Rev. David D Scott, and Presbytery Clerk, John McCulloch.
The decision to write to Midlothian Council was taken after Presbytery received a report from its Church and Society Committee. Committee Convener, Rev Sandy Horsburgh, says everyone realises that Councillors and their staff do not want to make any of the proposed cuts:
“Midlothian Council simply shouldn’t have been placed in the situation of having to consider cuts of this scale. The county is experiencing particular pressures from the rapid increase in its population. It seems unjust that so many jobs are projected to be lost and so many vital services cut in an area which should be seeing greater investment in order to meet real needs.
Mr Horsburgh adds: “Our hearts go out to the people who fear for their jobs and livelihoods, and also those bearing the heavy responsibility of making decisions to deal with a problem they didn’t create. The Presbytery and its congregations in Midlothian offer our renewed commitment to prayer for all those who work in Midlothian Council, our appreciation for the unstinting service offered to the community by the Council, and a commitment to work in partnership with the Council in whatever ways are possible.”
John McCulloch says saving money by moving more services online will hit some groups disproportionately:
“While there is a clear benefit in terms of cost and convenience of moving more council services online, those predominantly older people without the skills and equipment necessary, and those without an adequate broadband connection, because they live in a rural community, will be left behind.
“At the same time, everyone’s safety could be compromised if proposals to reduce regular maintenance of roads, cutting back on winter gritting, ceasing open space CCTV maintenance activity and potentially reducing street lighting are taken forward.”
In its submission and its letters to politicians, The Presbytery commends Midlothian Council for the open consultation process it has initiated and has encouraged congregations and church members to attend meetings and submit their own responses. It offers to explore whether congregations might take over some of the maintenance of church yards, and says it supports those proposals that will raise additional funds from those who can afford to pay.