Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
February! A month when we still expect cold and possibly snowy weather. However, also a month that starts with 8 hours 40 minutes of daylight, with sunrise at just after 8 am. That’s a whole one hour 40 minutes more daylight than on 21st December. There are other signs of the slow and steady changes in God’s creation. I have some green shoots breaking through the snow in my flower beds, probably snowdrops but maybe early daffodils too.
February carries childhood memories for me of pancake parties, sour lemon juice from a squeezy plastic lemon and brown sugar. I can’t recall knowing the connection between having a feast of pancakes and the start of Lent the following day, but I hope we were taught that (I did go to a C of E school after all!). Maybe my memory is just a bit shaky? More recent memories of Shrove Tuesday are of cooking hundreds of pancakes when I was a warden in university halls of residents, and seeing hours of work, and large piles of pancakes being consumed at an astonishingly fast rate by hungry students.
The season of Lent is normally a time to reflect on something in our lives which we have come to depend on or may have become a false idol to us. By choosing to abstain from whatever that thing is for forty days, we are able to focus more fully on God and Jesus’ journey towards his passion. We may also be able to not just forgo something for forty days, but continue the discipline after Lent as we have broken the habit during those forty days of whatever we have forgone. In this last year we have all voluntarily given up things for the good of each other, so it feels inappropriate for Lent in 2021 to double-down on forgoing something. Therefore, I suggest that this year’s Lent discipline should not be to focus on giving up something.
The time of trial we have endured since the first lockdown started in March 2020 will have taught us things. I hope it may have sharpened our focus on what we can appreciate in our lives and be thankful for. It will have undoubtedly helped us identify what we appreciate and value that we are unable to experience just now. It may have helped us in developing our faith. There may be things we have had to give up that we won’t want to return to after this pandemic is over.
The 2021 season of Lent can usefully be one of reflection and thanksgiving, and a time to set intentions for how we wish to live our lives after the pandemic is over.
Online services again
We recommenced our joint online services on Sunday 3rd January, and we will continue with these for the foreseeable future. If the prevalence of COVID19 reduces considerably in February we might be able to hold Easter Day services in church on Sunday 4th April. It would certainly make for an extra special celebration of the light returning into our churches. However, we shall act cautiously as our first and foremost concern is for the welfare of the congregations, and the new more easily transmittable strain of the COVID19 virus is worrying.
Our on-line Sunday morning services include a few songs and hymns prior to the start of the service. I normally try to plan it so that we have a few different songs and then three minutes of the bells from Taizé, finishing about two or three minutes before we start the service at 10.30. I have often played some of my favourites (eg ‘De Colores’ sung by Joan Baez, ‘40’ sung by U2) and some hymns and songs fairly new to me (eg ‘Who You Say I Am’ by Hillsong). It has been enjoyable finding appropriate songs for this pre-service time, and I was reminded of one as the snow descended early in January; ‘Soft Falls The Snow’ with both the tune and words by John Bell, from the CD ‘The Truth That Sets Us Free’.
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 sung by choirs or congregations, so that we can join in singing alongside others. We use a number of different liturgies on a Sunday evening. Please do consider joining us. I have also enjoyed researching a piece of music to play after the service. I can warmly recommend ‘(I Wish You) Peace In Your Heart’ by Blue Rose Code as song to listen to and let it enfold you.
Social Connections – Tea and Cake on Zoom and by phone
Since mid-October 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.
To phone in, the phone number to call is 0208 080 6592, and then follow the instructions to enter the meeting ID 628 956 1588 followed by # and then when prompted enter the passcode 040775 followed by #. The Zoom meeting ID and other details are given at the end of this letter.
Ash Wednesday is on 17th February this year and marks the start of Lent. There will be an on-line service at 7.30 pm on Ash Wednesday, and clearly the imposition of ashes will not be possible. The liturgical season of Lent is traditionally seen as a penitential season, when we each make an intentional commitment to an action of way of being that brings us closer to God and helps us change our habits for the better. This year, we shall be offering a range of activities to engage with.
They will include:
- Our usual Monday evening study night. We shall have a short session (no longer than an hour) at 7.30 pm exploring a different psalm each week of Lent prior to Holy Week. Psalms to be explored are: 85, 88, 121, 27, and 22.
- Our usual Tuesday afternoon Bible study (of the Book of James).
- A course based on six ‘Carbon Conversations’, on Tuesdays at 10 am that looks at how we can reduce the harm we do to God’s creation through exploring how we can reduce our carbon footprint.
- A weekly reflection using art. This is based on Sister Wendy Beckett’s book, ‘The Art of Lent’.
If you wish to join the carbon conversation course and have not yet done so, please get in touch with me as quickly as possible. I have four places left available and have publicised these to others through Penicuik Churches Together.
Eco-congregation Membership – Volunteers Wanted
I am repeating my request from last month. 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
We now have a small project team to help investigate the best option for replacing the ancient gas boiler at St James. If you meant to volunteer for this project but never got round to it, it isn’t too late. If you wish to discuss any aspects of this project before offering to help speak with myself or Ian Fuge.
St James’ Treasurer – Volunteer Wanted
I am repeating this request as we have yet to have anyone come forward to take on this critical role for St James. 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
The order for trees for the Community Orchard was made in November 2020, and at very short notice, the trees were delivered on 18th January, and were planted out the following day. Miraculously it was a fairly dry day and the ground wasn’t too wet or frozen over. The Vestry of St Mungo’s agreed to sponsor the purchase of an apple tree and although no one tree is identified as being ‘the one’ paid for by the congregation, it is good to know we have contributed to this developing orchard. Another forty fruit trees have been ordered (eating and cooking apples, plus some damsons and plums I think) and should arrive in March.
The group is also involved in a project to encourage residents in West Linton to install 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, which are held on the last Thursday of each month at 8 pm.
We hold our weekly Bible study at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon. In early February, we shall study the Book of Malachi. In Lent we shall study the Epistle of St James. In the Easter season we plan to study the Book of Zechariah, and from June we plan to study Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and then the Book of Nehemiah. That should see us into October 2021!
These may be our current plans, but in the light of living through the year, the Holy Spirit may nudge us to throw these plans out and read something different. 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?
The ‘Monday Study Night’ sessions are normally split between two main themes. In Lent we suspend our normal pattern; these sessions will be used to explore fivee psalms (psalms 85, 88, 121, 27 and 22). Our normal pattern is given below.
On the first and third Mondays I am leading a discussion group looking at The Beatitudes, over six sessions. In May we shall then move on to looking at The Creeds.
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 at 7.30 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 first 5th Monday in 2021 is in March, but as it is in 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 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.
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. The latest assembly, for West Linton Primary School, for 21st January was based around the topic, ‘Expect the Unexpected’.
Continuing our Mission: Inviting Someone to ‘Come to Zoom 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 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 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 all of our 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 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.
In Touch Magazine for St James the Less and St Mungo’s
The next issue is due out later in February. 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 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 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 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.
Morning and Evening Prayer and the Wednesday evening services continue to be led from my study. Sharing the Daily Offices each weekday 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.
The joint service between St Mungo’s and St Andrew’s West Linton on 17th January, at the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, seemed to go well and we had good feedback. I am liaising with Revd Nancy Norman who is covering at during their vacancy about further joint services.
The EH26 Resilience Group continues to meet regularly on line. 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…
I have used January as an opportunity to get back into the habit of reading, partly allowed by a less intensive preaching schedule whilst we are back doing shared services. I have just finished reading ‘Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being’ by Alastair McIntosh. It lived up to the recommendations I had heard about it. It covers the science and latest findings
in accessible language, explains the main issues and without hyperbole or being doom-laden it explores the ‘survival of being’ in a sobering manner. I can highly recommend it. It has helped me think further on how I contribute to carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. I am now half-way through ‘Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision’ by John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Crossan. It explores the different perspectives on the resurrection through art work and literature. I bought it a year ago and never got round to reading I before Easter 2020, so I thought I should make a serious attempt to complete it before Easter 2021. I have also started (but haven’t got very far with) ‘Doughnut Economics; Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’ by Kate Raworth.
I am enjoying a course studying the Psalms, as part of my own continuing development. Those attending are mainly from the UK, but some are from Europe and a sizeable number of attendees are from the States. Attendees represent a wide variety of denominations. All this adds a richness to the discussions.
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.