Rector’s letter for December 2023

St Andrew’s Day, 30th November 2023

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Rector’s letter for December

Personal Notes

I am writing this as the snow is falling in the gloom of a late November afternoon, after sunset at 3.46 pm, although it would have been hard to judge when the sun set due to the snow clouds. Whilst it may be pretty to have snow on the ground, it does mean that conditions for the homeless will be really bad. One of my previous employer’s, Bethany Christian Trust, works to get people off the streets, to help them transition into tenancies, and turn the accommodation they are allocated into a home. Home is the critical word. It has to be somewhere that feels right for the person, where they can feel safe and not be lonely and isolated. If their accommodation does not feel like home, then tenants feel isolated and quite a few end back out on the streets.

One way of supporting their work is to buy your Christmas tree from Bethany Christian Trust. See for more information on buying and collecting your tree.

The diocesan clergy conference from 6th to 9th November was a good time to connect with fellow clergy and the guest speakers, Steve Aisthorpe (author of two books on modern day aspects of faith, ‘Rewilding the Church’ and ‘The Invisible Church’) and Fr Gero McLoughlin (a Jesuit, who for many years was based in Edinburgh and leads retreats and offers spiritual guidance rooted in the Ignatian Spiritual exercises). The theme of the conference was ‘Faithfulness in the day of small things’, and in their own ways Steve and Gero explored the themes. We also had two clergy from the Diocese of Espoo in Finland join us. Espoo is a diocese Edinburgh is twinned with. A communion service in Finnish was lovely to hear. I came a way feeling fairly refreshed and I dug out Steve’s books from my bookcase to remind myself of them. In ‘Rewilding the Church’ Steve says:

“The Church has got to love again… It is as we ask God for more love for those we encounter and find to be our neighbours that missional imagination is triggered and opportunities for expressing the love of Christ emerge. When we read the Gospels we find that God’s masterplan for redeeming creation is marked by vulnerability, it is intensely personal, it is enacted through encounters and words and actions of Jesus and then his followers, each unique and each manifesting love… Re-envisioning the Church for mission is no more and no less than growing in love… Love for others is a gift from God, one that is freely given, the fruit of the Spirit’s work within us… Where love grows there is a desire to do something. Love is a noun that longs to be a verb. It needs to find expression. Where love grows innovation is prompted, as people seek ways to express that love in action… The Church demands bold, persistent experimentation. Try something. Not any old thing, but what is inspired by this Spirit-led journey of lament and prayer. Try something. Then celebrate and build on what goes well. And celebrate too all that does not go as hoped – because it is there we’ll find a source of rich learning and a springboard for what comes next. ” Pages 194-6.

 “People thrive when they find opportunities to exercise their God-given talents and they wither when they find themselves squeezed into roles for which they are ill suited or burdened with responsibilities for which they have no sense of calling; all kinds of expressions of the Church flourish when they discard pre-existing blueprints and are shaped by the gifts of their members.” Page 201


I seldom write in or underline text in books, but these sections must have spoken to me when I read them, as I underlined them with my trusty 2B pencil! What do you make of these texts? How do they speak and challenge you?


 News and new things happening

 Happy New Year!

Our new liturgical year starts on Advent Sunday. We start Year B in our three-year cycle of readings. The gospel readings for this year focus on the Gospel of Mark. Advent feels a bit strange this year because the fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. So, in the morning we shall use the Advent 4 lectionary readings, and at midnight use one of the three Christmas readings. Each Christmas season we must use the gospel of John chapter 1 verses 1-14, and we also use Luke 2: 1-20.

 AGM Season

The St James AGM is on Advent Sunday, 3rd December. The AGM report and audited accounts have been circulated. The St Mungo’s AGM will be held on 14th January. Please can all written reports of activities be submitted to Ian Kerry by 2nd January.

Advent Study

On Monday evenings on 4th, 11th and 18th December, we shall be continuing our discussions on the first four chapters of ‘The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth’ by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, (published by SPCK, ISBN 978-0-281-06004-7) as our resource. The remaining chapters of the book will form our discussion in our ‘Faith Books’ series on 29th January 2024.


Informed About Dementia Course

We held two sessions on 2nd and 16th November in the Undercroft at St Mungo’s utilising the videos available online as part of the ‘Promoting Excellence Framework for Dementia Care’ resources hosted by the SSSC. I may re-run this during 2024, as a useful starting point for understanding the subject.

Christmas Fayre on Saturday 25th November

A big thank you to all who contributed to the St James’ Christmas Fayre. A massive £955 was raised for church funds.

Board Games Afternoons

Some of you may remember that between Christmas and New Year in 2019 we held a social afternoon in the hall at St James, where we set out a variety of games (Monopoly, Scrabble, Qwirkle, Backgammon, Draughts, Chess, and a range of card games such as Cribbage and Rummy) and had an enjoyable afternoon of games and conversation. I am planning to repeat it this year, on 29th December at St James, and on 4th January at St Mungo’s, both starting at 2pm. Do come along and invite friends and neighbours. Bring your left-over Christmas cake and mince pies as well.


Sunday Evening Services in 2024

Inspired by the clergy conference to keep trying and experimenting, I shall continue to offer Taizé services on a Sunday evening once a month and will also explore what other themes and styles of service may appeal to those for whom Sunday morning worship is not their thing, or who currently don’t attend any church.


Faith Development for All – 7.30 pm Monday Evenings online

Following on from reading Gerard Hughes’ book, ‘God of Surprises’ this year, there was an interest in exploring Ignatian Spirituality in some more detail. To this end, from Monday 15th January we shall use Margaret Silf’s book, ‘Landmarks: An Ignatian Journey’ (Published by Darton, Longman, Todd, ISBN 9780232522549) as our guide, and work our way through it. There are plenty of second-hand copies available. I use to find second-hand books, using the ISBN number as the easiest way to search for the book I want.


Faith Development for All – Tuesday Afternoons online

We hold our weekly Bible study at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, online, for up to an hour and a half. We shall try something new from January. We shall alternate week by week between:

  • Discussing and reflecting on the previous Sunday’s scripture readings and the sermon (a traditional Bible Study, engaging our head probably more than our heart), and
  • Using the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina to experience the scriptures in a different way. We listen to the scripture, often more than once, read by different voices, and we then contemplate in a time of silence what word or phrase speaks to each one of us, and then, if we wish, we share it with others in the group with no explanation. We then listen to the scripture again and ponder on why that word or phrase means something to me today and why I connected with it. There is an opportunity to share your reflections if you wish, but equally remaining silent is fine. We may read the passage through once more before we finish with a prayer where we ask what Christ is calling us to do, or perhaps stop doing, in response to this spiritual exercise, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance so we can carry into the rest of the week what God is asking of us. This a much more heart-led session than a normal Bible study. For more information on Lectio Divina see


Mothers’ Union – RISE UP Against Domestic Abuse

The Mothers’ Union have launched a campaign to ensure activism against domestic abuse and gender-based violence is year-round and not just during the 16 days of Activism campaign (25th November to 10th December).

RISE UP stands for:

  • Respond – to a disclosure of abuse with compassion and calm
  • Inform – the person where they can get help from
  • Support – them appropriately and in a safe manner
  • Empower – them to grow and heal
  • Unite – with other members of Mothers’ Union
  • Pray – for an end to domestic abuse in the UK and throughout the world.

There are posters now up in both our churches with information about this campaign and with the contact numbers (local and national) that anyone can use to seek help.

We shall be partaking in the Red Chair project. From time to time in church we shall set aside a chair with a red covering and a sign highlighting facts about domestic violence. The empty chair serves as a visual symbol of the lives lost to gender-based violence.

From the Registers


Poppy Antonia Beatrix Kennedy on 18th November.


Kenneth Hoyland, on 30th November


In Other News…

I am now starting to plan my adventures for 2024. In May I plan to walk 260 km of el Camino del Norte from the French/Spanish border on the Atlantic coast at Irun, through the Pais Vasco (Basque Country) and finish at Santander. I will need to get fit to meet the challenge of this quite hilly route, with many days of 500m of ascent and quite a few days walking 26 km (16 miles).

I am also planning to go to Erfurt in Germany in August. This was where Martin Luther was a monk and priest before he started pinning 95 bits of paper to the church door in Wittenburg in his reforming zeal. It is where the Iona Community is holding its Community Week in 2024. A bit different from Iona Abbey. I am researching taking the ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden, then a couple of trains to get from Amsterdam to Erfurt. Probably far more expensive than flying but treating the overland travel as part of a holiday is all part of the fun.

Christmas will be spent at home, with my family. I am looking forward to spending time with them, and possibly not having to do the washing up. And I hope to get through some of the books on my ‘to be read’ pile after Christmas. I shall take some time off and spend a few days preparing services for the forthcoming weeks and return fully to work on 3rd January.

It seems far too early to wish you a Happy Christmas, so for now I wish you Advent blessings.

Nick Bowry