Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I write to you in difficult times.
“God is our strength and refuge, a present help in time of trouble,
therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way”
The Psalmist writes these words in the midst of war and trouble. I often sing the words of Psalm 46 on Remembrance Sunday which Richard Bewes, the rector of All Souls Langham Place, set to the stirring music of the Dambusters’ March. Those of us who have lived longest can give the most compelling testimony that “God, the Lord of hosts is with us, evermore,” that God’s faithfulness to us has carried us through all of life’s crises, our own personal crises, those of our families and friends, those of our nation and even our world. He is the one who “breaks the bow and shatters the spear” of the enemy that we face. He is our heavenly Father in times of peace and times of turmoil
Two things are clear. Never has a virus spread around the world so quickly, aided by the very transportation systems that have helped bring the world closer together. Yet never have we had such capable resources intellectually and practically to fight it. Our prayers are with all those who are suffering, particularly for those who have been bereaved and those on the frontline trying to help those who are most vulnerable and unwell. Our prayers are also with those whose decisions, research and wisdom will help stem the tide of infections and hold the promise of returning our world to a way of life that just weeks ago we could take for granted.
Rodney Stark writes in his book “The Rise of Christianity” how the early church did not follow the Roman tradition of leaving the sick and dying in a city on their own and wait elsewhere until the disease had subsided. Christians moved towards the sick and the dying, often at great personal risk, tending to the sick and helping many to recover who, without their help, would have died. Not only did the survivor’s have reasons to ponder why these followers of Jesus of Nazareth has stayed behind to help them but both they and their carers might now carry some immunity that would help them in future epidemics.
Perhaps during this time we might as a church rediscover something of their courage, even in the face of suffering and death. I have been reflecting in recent days on God’s protection of Israel. Did God protect Israel? Yes. Did Israel experience hardship? Yes, and often hardship that flowed from them being God’s chosen people. Did Israel always have a sense of God’s protection? Read the Psalms, often the lament goes up that the righteous suffer and wicked prosper. As it was with Israel so it is with us. As it was with Israel so it was with Jesus. In our mission to share the good news of Jesus’ love we are called to take up our cross daily. “Be still and know that I am God.” In the midst of the chaos we are called to turn aside for a moment and be refilled with the Holy Spirit, re-orientated to his love and purpose, reshaped into his likeness. Recently I have started using an app called Lectio 365. It is produced by the people behind 24-7 prayer and it has been a great help to me finding space between the bewildering change of every routine and the relentless torrent of news.
“There is a flowing river within God’s holy city, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”
In some ways our lives are unrecognisable as we come to terms with restrictions that we have not experienced in our lifetime. Yet in the midst of this enforced isolation for some and the daily confronting of risk and danger for others, God is still with us, Jesus is risen and his Holy Spirit has all the resources of love, courage and strength that we will need to face the days ahead.
As a Presbytery we are seeking God’s help as to how we respond. Church services have been cancelled but some of our congregations will be streaming and recording their services online. Graham Duffin and the Congregational Development Team have been working to make sure everyone knows what resources are available and to try and assist congregations to rethink how they continue their life and mission within the current restrictions. And though we will not meet as a Presbytery for the foreseeable future we will find ways of making sure the local church is resourced and supported through this time.
God is our strength and refuge, Jesus is risen and our hope is in him. Even in midst of this crisis. This is his church, we are his family and he will care for us,
yours in Jesus’ love,
Gorebridge Parish Church.
The Scottish Government has advised that because of the risk of infection with the coronavirus COVID-19, people should minimise social contact by avoiding crowded areas and large gatherings, including religious congregations, and most smaller gatherings.
In the light of this, the Church of Scotland has agreed to recommend that all gatherings for worship should cease until further notice. Other Scottish Churches are taking similar actions. This includes Easter services. This will include, but not be restricted to, house groups, meetings for youth work, and church cafes.
Click on the website of your local church to find out more. You'll find the link under the congregations tab above.
Some churches are able to offer a livestreaming of an act of worship and you will see that on their websites. We've publishing a list of online services and other opportunities to worship. We'll continue to add new opportunities as we go along.
Some church buildings are also being kept open as a place for people to come and pray. Visit the website of the church concerned to find out when its doors are open.
A series of proposals have been put forward by the Presbytery’s Strategic Planning and Mission committee that seek to allow the Church of Scotland in our area to continue to develop vibrant churches with reduced resources and fewer paid ministers.
Presbytery has asked that these proposals be shared with every local Kirk Session to seek their comments over the coming months.
It is important to state that, should these proposals be accepted, the plan would only kick in for a particular church or group of churches when a congregation became vacant through a minister retiring or moving to a new charge. Only at that stage would the Presbytery examine how best to take forward any proposed changes in the plan affecting that community.
A new minister and her family are beginning a new life this month in Bonnyrigg.
Louise Purden will be ordained and inducted into her first charge as Minster of Bonnyrigg Parish Church on Thursday 23rd February, succeeding Rev John Mitchell who retired in the autumn of 2018.
She will be joined in the manse by her husband Richard and their children, nine year old Ryan and seven year old Christina.
Louise has been telling John Macgill of her feelings as they join the family of Bonnyrigg Parish Church.
“I am excited. I have spent all this time preparing and getting as equipped for the challenges that lie ahead as possible: first the pressure of exams and challenges of essays at Edinburgh University, then really get my teeth into some of the aspects of ministry during my time as a probationer, including with Keith Mack at St John’s and King’s Park church in Dalkeith. But the reality is that you have just no idea what challenges are going to be thrown at you; you have no idea what life will really look like. It feels a bit like having children for the first time. You try to prepare yourself and you try to get ready, but there is no way that you can really prepare yourself for those sleepless nights and those demands that will be placed on you.
There is a sense of expectancy and hopefulness – for me and my whole family. My husband is enormously supportive and my children are completely on-board and ready for the move too. It feels like something that we are doing as a unit – it’s very much not just my thing. It is our thing.
I was born in Glasgow and my family moved to Edinburgh when I was seven. I have lived most of my life on the south side of Edinburgh. I began by life in youth and community work at the age of 18 when I joined the organisation Youth with a Mission, spending a year in Plymouth before returning to Scotland. Most recently, before I began my training for ministry, I was a family support worker for seven years in Gracemount in Edinburgh, which I absolutely loved.
In hindsight you can see the youth and community work as a springboard into ministry – but I didn’t see it that way at the time. Although my father became a minister – he was a little older than me when he trained for the ministry – I was adamant for a long time that I was definitely not going to follow in his footsteps.
Then, one day, Dr John Young, the minster at Liberton, who was my manager at Gracemount, asked me straight out whether I had ever thought properly about becoming a minister. I remember getting butterflies in my tummy when he asked and realised it was a question I needed to think about properly. At that point the children were quite young and Richard and everyone else I talked to were enormously supportive. So I started pushing doors to see if this was where God was leading me. It has been a rollercoaster ever since.
I suppose my original reluctance to become a minister was simply because I am not a fan of institutions and I wrestled with the feeling that I would become part of this massive institution and perhaps, along the way, lose sight of the grassroots stuff of engaging with people that I love so much. But my sense is that the Church of Scotland is at a point where it is ready for change and is recognising that it is all about engaging in that face-to-face, ground level ministry of connecting with communities and building relationships. There are very few other places where you can have that sort of intergenerational contact, where people can really truly care for each other and stand with each other and celebrate different achievements within their community – and I believe that is the real opportunity the Church has in our society.
When I was applying for the job at Bonnyrigg, the tagline for the church was that they wanted to be known as “a church of compassion”, which I really connected with. I want to be part of that compassionate voice within the community, and one that is relevant. Bonnyrigg has lots of community hubs and groups and the church is one of them. People have told me that they were baptised in the church, just like their parents, children and grandchildren. There is a strong legacy of community, and attachment to the church and the building. I want to keep making those attachments.”
Mark Nicholas is celebrating twenty years as minister at Gorebridge, his first charge. He has also started his year as Moderator of the Presbytery of Lothian. He has been telling John Macgill that challenges and enormous opportunities lie ahead for the Church of Scotland in Lothian and far further afield.
"This is a time of great change for our presbyteries, for the wider church and for our congregations and how people relate to them.
It appears to me that we are seeing the last days of religious observance. The congregations we grew up with were central to the life of our towns and villages, central to our families. But since the peak of Church of Scotland membership in the 1950s, many of our members have witnessed six straight decades of decline in numbers. It has been demoralising. We wonder if it is still possible to introduce people to Jesus Christ, to engage in mission. Many young people have no church background at all. Many others in our communities have some historic connection to church but don’t engage with the life of their local congregation anymore. The inherited faith that our children and our children’s children received from us is not being turned into an owned faith of their own.
Historically, the religious observance we grew up with was the result of mission. Yet I think many of us have forgotten how to do mission; we have lost the confidence to share our faith. But this has not changed: God’s plan to reach people with his love, to rescue them, is the local church. This means presbytery’s primary task must be to support, equip and enable our local congregations in their life and mission. We need to shape our church life nationally and regionally around the mission of the local church.
I was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Dalkeith, so I have not strayed far!
I wanted to be an engineer like my father. But at the age of 16 I came to the realisation that Jesus was risen from the dead and he had a claim on my life. One December day I fell to my bedroom floor and asked Jesus into my life. That one decision profoundly changed the direction of my life. The faith I had inherited from my parents, Clive and Iris (who both served as presbytery elders), became an owned faith. I started praying and, right from the start, wondering if my heavenly Father was calling me to a life of full-time Christian work. I was also praying whether Diane, who was a leader at the Scripture Union at Dalkeith High, was to be my wife. I am delighted and privileged that both these things came to pass.
Over the next few years, I sensed a call to stay in Scotland and then more specifically to ministry in the Church of Scotland. I was a probationer at Penicuik South and Howgate before moving to Gorebridge 20 years ago. We arrived with three children and now have eight. My family have been integral to the life and mission of Gorebridge Parish along with its members and elders. I am so thankful for them all!
So this presbytery is dear to my heart and, indeed, the only presbytery that I have served. It is privilege and a joy to be asked to be its moderator.
One of the things that we say here at Gorebridge is that the primary task of an elder is discernment: is it good with God, is it good with us? As we gather as a presbytery, ordained as elders, ministers and deacons, we are all called to discern God’s guidance together.
I know that God has a vision and purpose for Lothian Presbytery, and we can discern what it is when we work together. I would use the example of our Congregational Development Team. Initially it was established as part of our response to planning for a future with fewer ministers. It has become far more: a visionary response that asks how we seed best practise across the presbytery and how we help congregations to ask those bigger questions of themselves.
I believe we have lost confidence as a Church which, ultimately, expresses itself in a form of unbelief: we imagine that culture, society and public thought have moved away from us, especially our younger people, the three generations who are largely absent from our congregations. We fear we have little to offer. My experience is that nothing could be further from the truth. As I engage with younger people, they want to explore first order questions, they want to know about God, life and death, good and evil, and they are captivated by Jesus. I would love us to regain a humble confidence, a boldness, in sharing what we have in Jesus. We are the bearers of genuine good news, good news they need to hear.
If we take the risk of moving our churches onto a mission footing then we will see fruit. The decline that we are currently going through will not only arrest, but it will reverse, because we will be fulfilling the great commission faithfully.
If we are prepared to reach out and serve the people in our communities who need help, if we can do evangelism alongside that broader mission of bringing the love of Jesus practically to people in need, then again the Church will turn around because we are fulfilling the greatest commandment faithfully.
If we are prayerful and visionary as a presbytery we can, by God’s grace, do extraordinary things together. The blueprint for church is right there in Acts 2. Every year I return to this passage encouraging our congregation to be fully devoted to Jesus, to be a loving family for one another and to dedicate their lives to reaching those who don’t know his love for themselves. What would it look like to have a presbytery full of congregations dedicated to an Acts 2 vision of church, gathering together to love, encourage and support one another in pursuit of our callings? That would be the Kingdom come here on Earth as it is in Heaven. I am absolutely convinced that if we let him, he will show us how, we will discern it together."
Part time Youth Worker Wanted