Rector’s Letter for December

It is 4 pm on the last day of November and darkness is descending and the streetlights are flickering on. Tonight, with a full moon and a promise of a cloudless sky we shall be bathed in gentle light. It brings to my mind the lovely hymn, ‘Christ Be Our Light’ by Bernadette Farrell.

Longing for light, we wait in darkness,
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.

Christ be our light.
Shine in our hearts,
Shine through the darkness.
Christ be our light,
Shine in your church, gathered today.

In this season of Advent we are called to wait, with hope, with peace, with joy and with love. Not passive waiting, but a constructive time of waiting, of praying, of reflecting on the coming birth of Jesus and of the promised second coming. This coming Advent and Christmas seasons will be unlike any we have experienced. For those who find the run up to Christmas and the period between Christmas and New Year a difficult time, when other people seem to be socialising and spending time with loved ones, it can bring home a sense of isolation and loneliness. This year it will be exacerbated by the COVID19 restrictions and the concerns for not unwittingly passing on the virus. However, as people called to hope through our faith, I believe it is challenging for us to hold on to hope and not rush to decide we should mix over the Christmas season just because the ‘rules’ are relaxed for a certain number of days. The desire to meet and socialise, to have a ‘normal Christmas’ with friends or relatives may be intense. However, I prefer the hope of a vaccine and having friends and relatives being able to enjoy a Christmas celebration next year over the hope that ‘it will be alright’ to mix with other households this Christmas. We each have to make our own decisions and reflect on the risks for ourselves and for others.

As congregations we can support each other and pray for a time when we can once again socialise and meet together, and can worship and sing together once more.

Services in Church

Both St James the Less and St Mungo’s are open on a Sunday for services of Holy Communion. Both churches offer an option to watch the service live via Zoom. Both churches now have working broadband connections and we live stream the services using Zoom.

Pre-registration to attend each service in church is required, and all registered attendees are allocated seating. Coming into the church people are legally required to wear a face mask and to use hand sanitiser. No singing is currently allowed during the service. At communion, individuals are invited up, household by household, use hand sanitiser before receiving bread, and are asked to use hand sanitised afterwards as well. Wine is not available during communion.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has produced a video describing the precautions and procedures to be followed in the services. You can find the video here.

Our Sunday evening services, which started at the beginning of November, are aimed at providing an opportunity to sing along to hymns with a choir. These services have short readings, four hymns (and carols when we get closer to Christmas) sung by choirs, so that we can join in singing alongside others. We use a number of different liturgies on a Sunday evening.

Mid-week Holy Communion services will re-start at St Mungo’s on 3rd December, and will pick up the previous pattern of being on the first and third Thursdays at 12.30 pm. There are no immediate plans to recommence the mid-week communion on a Wednesday at St James the Less.

Advent and Christmas Services

There will be an evening service on the four Sundays of Advent at 6.30 pm. In the week leading up to Christmas we shall also have an evening service at 7.30 pm on the Monday and Tuesday evening, so you can hear and sing along with Christmas carols. On Wednesday 23rd we shall have a service of nine lessons and carols at 7.30 pm in St James and on Zoom. These services won’t fully compensate for singing carols together in church and other community settings, but I hope it will help give us a sense of journeying together towards Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve there will be a crib service at St Mungo’s and Midnight Mass also at St Mungo’s. On Christmas Day there will be services at both churches.

Christmas Appeals

St Mungo’s had an appeal to collect 120 boxes of tea bags for the Peeblesshire Youth Trust to add to the hampers they hand out to families in need at Christmas. St Mungo’s achieved that target and the mountain of boxes was handed over today.

St James the Less is supporting two projects this Christmas. Following the excellent presentation on refugees given by Sabine Chalmers in October (see In Touch magazine), we were informed of two Sudanese teenage boys who have been resettled in to Penicuik. Vestry agreed that we would support their education by paying £500 for a specific course for them, on the basis that we felt confident the congregation would wish to support this and give generously. The second project was to support our local food banks. You can either donate food (usual non-perishable items) or make a financial donation.  If you wish to make a financial donation to these projects please make an online bank transfer wherever possible, to the St James the Less bank account, and add ‘Xmas Appeal’ in the remarks or comments section. Alternatively, a cheque or cash can be sent to the Treasurer.

Knitted Christmas Angels

Some of you have volunteered to knit angels this year.  The aim is to yarn bomb both Penicuik shopping precinct (on 11th December) and around the green in West Linton. We have got volunteers joining in the knitting from other churches. Please get in contact if you want the knitting pattern.  I already have a host (c. 130) of (knitted) angels from St James’ congregation ready to yarn bomb the town centre. Several knitters from St Mungo’s and also from St Andrew’s C of S have been knitting, although I don’t have a sense of how many have been completed just now.

A Week at Bishop’s House, Iona: 8th to 15th May 2021

There are four spaces left for this week on Iona. The cost (full-board) is £540. The spaces left are in two twin rooms. If you or anyone you know would like to join us, please let me know as soon as possible. The week will be offered by the warden to the first group able to reserve it by paying the deposit.

Social Connections – Tea and Cake on Zoom and by phone

For the last two months, on a Thursday afternoon at 3.30 pm a group of folk have been enjoying a social time together, online and by phoning in. We have had some interesting discussions on a range of subjects. I hope we can encourage those who do not have a computer to phone in and enjoy a conversation with a group of other people. I’m sorry we can’t provide you with the tea and cake, but you can always make yourself a cup of tea and get a slice of cake and draw up a chair for a chat.

For joining details, please contact me.

Eco-congregation Membership – Volunteers Wanted

Arising from our Creation-tide services, both Vestries agreed to signing up to become a member of the Eco-congregation movement in Scotland. This enables us to connect with like-minded churches, access interesting resources and networks, and apply for awards for activities that enable the church and all its members to take steps towards a carbon-neutral future.

I am looking for a volunteer from St James the Less and from St Mungo’s to take on the role of our eco-congregation leads, one for each church. The individual would be willing to look into the award scheme, to assess what the church and congregation could engage in to achieve an award, and help me enlist people to live a greener lifestyle, and make permanent changes for the better, including leading services during Creationtide and for other specific services. The individuals may also work with the other church’s eco-congregation lead to help support and lead projects. The eco-congregation lead role could be shared by more than one volunteer from each congregation.

St James’ Church Heating System Project – Volunteers Wanted

The gas boiler at St James is approximately 40 years old, and it is time to seek to replace it. Over the next six months, the Fabric Committee is going to investigate a range of options for heating the church, including: a straight replacement gas boiler; air-source heat pumps; ground-source heat pumps, solar assisted heat pumps and infra-red heating systems. It is desirable to critically examine zero-carbon solutions and explore the whole life costs of various options. If, as part of a team, you are able to offer to do one or more of the following, let me know:

  • assist in critically assessing the various options;
  • able to network with other churches in Scotland who have installed new systems to learn from their experiences and present your findings;
  • help write a report to the Vestry.

If you wish to discuss any aspects of this project before offering to help speak with myself or Ian Fuge.

The Rectory Upgrade Project – Volunteer Wanted

On the theme of energy conservation, a recent review of the structure of the Rectory has identified that the level of insulation is well below the current standards for residential housing. Our architect has identified a number of options for making improvements. If, as part of a small project team, you would be interested in supporting the work on identifying the best solution (currently two options have been suggested), liaising with the architect and quantity surveyor, assessing the whole-life benefits of the options, and helping write a report to the Vestry so that decisions can be taken, please let me know. If you wish to discuss any aspects of this project before offering to help please speak with myself or Ian Fuge.

St James’ Treasurer – Volunteer Wanted

Graham Smith has indicated that he will be demitting office as Treasurer at the AGM in November 2021. Vestry is now looking for a volunteer willing to take on this critical role for the church. You will have a basic understanding of accounts, and be a competent user of Excel spreadsheets, and be willing to use internet banking to make payments to suppliers and process the payment of stipend. Ideally, you will be happy to start working alongside Graham during this year, so as to ensure a smooth transition.

If you are interested in this role, please speak with Graham in the first instance to find out more.

 Sustainable West Linton and District

An order for trees for the Community Orchard has been made, and planting by West Linton Primary School children is planned for early December. The Vestry of St Mungo’s agreed to sponsor the purchase of an apple tree. The group is also involved in a project to encourage residents in West Linton to instal air-source heat pumps – replacing oil-fired central heating.  Look for more information and minutes of the meetings on their Facebook page. Anyone can attend the meetings.

Faith Development

We hold our weekly Bible study at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon. During Advent we are looking at the birth narratives in Matthew (1:1 to 2:15) and Luke (1:1 to 2:40). On 5th January we shall commence our study of the Old Testament Book of Ruth.

The ‘Monday Night at St James’ sessions (7pm each Monday evening) are split between two main themes.

  • On the first and third Mondays I am leading a discussion group looking at The Commandments, over six sessions. The sixth session is on 7th Starting on the 4th January we shall start six sessions on the Beatitudes.
  • On the second and fourth Mondays Joy Middleton leads a discussion on a booklet or course. The group is currently discussing the York Course, ‘Daring to See God Now’. Contact Joy for further details.

When we have a fifth Monday I lead a discussion 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 first 5th Monday in 2021 is in March, but as it is Holy Week we shall not be reviewing a book on that day. The next 5th Monday is on 31st May 2021. The book to be discussed is ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’ by W.H. Vanstone. It was first published in 1977, and the latest edition was published in 2007. It is still seen as a ‘classic’. The other books for 2021 are listed below. That should leave plenty of time to get the books or borrow them from someone or from the library.

  • Monday 30th August: ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell
  • Monday 29th November: ‘Cranky, Beautiful Faith’, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • Monday 30th January 2022: ‘The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions’ by Marcus Borg and NT Wright.

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)
  • 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.

We shall review them in the New Year. Constructive feedback is always welcomed.

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.

 Primary School Assemblies

As visitors are not allowed into schools at the moment, I have provided some short videos that the schools can use. I have now done videos for Cornbank St James in Penicuik and West Linton Primary School.

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. You can send them an email if you want, or pass them the Zoom meeting information.  If you invite them to attend a 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 of lockdown, 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: Walking a Labyrinth

The labyrinth in the St James the Less church garden, on the south side of the church has been quite well used during lockdown. Please do consider using it, even during autumn and winter, and do let others know that it is there for people to enjoy. You can’t get physically lost in a labyrinth; there is one way in and out. You can walk slowly, reflectively towards the centre and stay there a while in prayerful peace.

St Mungo’s has a wonderful cloth labyrinth, and we shall arrange a time for St Mungo’s to be open for people to use it once regulations allow – and with suitable physical distancing, of course.

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 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 have not received an email from me and 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.


At present we are holding a range of services using Zoom. It is easy to set up on computer, tablet or smart phone. Even if you don’t have a smart phone, you can phone in and listen to a service. Details of the Zoom-based services and activities are towards the end of this letter. Zoom enables the active participation by members of the congregation, and it is great to be able to see each other’s faces.

Facebook and Website

Information is put on our Facebook pages and is a place to share information too. The new and improved St James website now holds the sermon texts and will eventually hold some audio recordings of the bible readings and the sermon from each of the recent Sunday services.

We now have our very own YouTube channel. If you search for ‘St James the Less & St Mungo’, you will find a number of videos. It includes the playlists for our Sunday evening services, so you can go back and listen to the hymns at a later date.

In Touch Magazine for St James the Less and St Mungo’s

The new quarterly magazine for both St James the Less and St Mungo’s was sent out in November. Thank you for all the positive comments. Also thanks are due to all who contributed to the edition and to Sue Owen for acting as editor. 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 by 7th February.

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 available on request.

Prayer Points

In the Daily Offices prayer booklet circulated in July with my letter 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.

Regular Services

Morning and Evening Prayer and the Wednesday evening services continue to be led from my study. Sharing the Daily Offices with up to a dozen people is a wonderful way of connecting, praying and praising together with a natural rhythm of the week. Please do consider joining us at 9 am and or 5.30 pm for about half an hour.

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. I am liaising with Revd Nancy Norman who is covering at St Andrew’s West Linton during their vacancy.

As mentioned above, Sustainable West Linton and District is meeting monthly on line.

I am still attending the Zoom meetings of the Penicuik Resilience Group, now called the EH26 Resilience Group. 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. They have been a useful forum to know what is going on and how to access resources, and the longer-term strategic planning for the community around Penicuik.

 In Other News…

By the Rector

Rectory and Garden:

The raised vegetable beds in the Rectory garden are still producing vegetables. Carrots are surprisingly still growing; winter greens, onions and parsnips are also continuing to grow. I look forward to lifting some parsnips after there has been a few frosts and making some curried parsnip soup, and setting some aside for Christmas dinner.

The four new fruit trees I have ordered for the Rectory garden and dues in the next week or so. I look forward to planting them out and pray the ground isn’t rock hard when they arrive. The trees are:

  • Apple – White Melrose, Egremont Russet and Lass O’ Gowrie.
  • Pear – Jargonelle.


Some people have been asking after Jep. She has noticeably slowed up this last year, but still enjoys her strolls every day and likes attending church services. Her propensity to snore during my sermons can be a tad disconcerting though. Her hearing and eyesight are not so good; that doesn’t stop her from wanting to go out for walks even if her pace is slower these days. She stops me sitting down all day in my study, which can only be a good thing. I am sure she doesn’t miss running after sheep up and down the hills around Balquidder and having to sleep in an outdoor kennel. In February I will celebrate the 3rd anniversary since I got her, and I combine that day as her birthday, not that I have a clue what that actual date is. The best estimate is that she is around 14 years old.

This completes the round up for now. Do get in contact if you have any comments and remember to consider offering articles etc. for the In Touch magazine.


Nick Bowry