Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Rector’s letter for November
Yesterday I was representing the Scottish Episcopal Church at a meeting of the Scottish Faiths’ Action for Refugees group. We met together at the Interfaith Scotland Offices in Springburn, Glasgow (Yes, I get to go to some glamorous places). As representatives of the main religions, we came together to discuss and explore what actions faith groups can do to support anyone who finds themselves in Scotland as an Asylum-seeker or a refugee, and included in that are Ukrainians and Afghans. As usual there were some reports of good work done across the country by faith groups, and some constructive discussions about strategic objectives and operational plans. We were briefed about the likely impact of the Illegal Migration Act and the number of asylum seekers who have crossed the English Channel so far this year. There are currently more than 5,000 asylum seekers in Scotland at present, and hotel accommodation is still be used to house them. The Home Office has not made any significant inroads into the backlog of claims, although staff are prioritising claims from countries where the genuine cases are over 95% of all cases from that country coming forward for consideration.
We had a presentation by the Chaplain at Dungavel (the Home Office’s detention centre in Scotland for people awaiting return to their home country) and a presentation about survivors of human trafficking in Scotland. It is estimated that there are circa 136,000 individuals in the UK who have been trafficked, i.e. are in the UK and are being exploited for profit or gain. The individuals are treated as commodities, held captive with threats of violence and keeping them in dire poverty. Currently about 10% of the total number of trafficked people are recovered every year. In Scotland the legislation relating to this is the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015. In England they use the phrase ‘modern slavery’ for the same crime.
I learned today that there is a Modern Slavery helpline where any suspicions can be reported, by calling 08000 121 700. And there is an App, ‘Unseen’ which helps you identify indicators of trafficking and can then be submitted via the App for investigation. The briefing was informative and also worrying, in that in every local authority area there has been evidence of trafficking. So, even in Midlothian and the Scottish Borders there will be individuals being exploited right now.
www.sohtis.org is a useful website with more information.
As people of different faiths, we were all conscious of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and we held a time of silence with our thoughts all focussed on peace in the Holy Land, a land deemed holy by Muslims, Jews, Baha’i and Christians.
The 7th October saw the murderous attack by Hamas on over 1,400 innocent Israelis. There can be no defence of this horrendous act. The week before I had been enjoying lunch with Rabbi David Rose and Jewish neighbours in our road, sitting in their ‘booth’, (set up in their garden for the seven-day long Festival of Sukkot). We were discussing a forthcoming meeting to discuss a glossary of Jewish terms that the Church of Scotland had been developing. Understandably, that meeting was cancelled as the Jewish community were focussing on other priorities. The response by the Israeli Defence Forces in their attack on Gaza has caused considerable disquiet across the world and was the subject of a debate in the UN. Whilst recognising the right to self-defence, the killing of innocent Palestinians, the mass bombing of homes, a university, UN relief facilities (killing 67 UN staff workers), schools, and churches, forcing people to move into an ever-smaller area of Gaza that was being bombed, can never be justified. The bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza yesterday, that killed many women and children, was just the latest killing of innocents. It appears to be a form of collective punishment, especially when coupled with the complete close down of electricity and water supplies. On a ‘normal day’ prior to 7th October about 500 lorries entered Gaza with supplies to enable the Palestinian in Gaza to survive. Cutting off that supply route is causing so much suffering. I know of one Palestinian man from Gaza, who spoke to a gathering in Iona Abbey in September who lost at least 20 members of his family in the bombing in the last week (the story was covered by the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-67266873) . It is heartbreaking to think of, just as it is thinking about the relatives of the Israelis who were killed on 7th October. From my perspective, each and every life is precious and was made in the image of God. One dead person, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is one person too many. Reports in the last few days of increased attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians living in the West Bank are also worrying and may lead to much wider acts of violence on innocent people who have lived and farmed that land for countless generations. Last year I contributed to a book (In God’s Time, An Advent Calendar, published by Wild Goose Publications) for Advent about the plight of Palestinians. Little did I realise how it may be even more pertinent to read it again this Advent.
We can feel helpless as we watch the news, and maybe feel guilty when we can’t face listening to yet another news report, whilst people are barely existing and cowering from explosions. I felt there were a few things I could do. Firstly, I emailed my MP and asked him to sign Early Day Motion 1685 (https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/61430 ). Secondly, I made a donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians. And thirdly, but by no means the last thing, was to continue to pray for peace. When words fail, and it is a struggle to formulate a prayer given the enormity of the suffering in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I turned to the Universal Prayer for Peace. You may wish to use this yourself.
Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our lives, our world, our universe.
Peace, peace, peace.
I try to follow some well-respected Christians in Palestine. Revd Dr Munther Isaac is one of these. His sermon on 22nd October, given in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour was powerful. see https://sojo.net/articles/god-under-rubble-gaza?s=03
You may also with to look at other Christian Palestinian theologians, such as Revd Dr. Mitri Raheb, and Rev Dr Naim Ateek, Dr Grace Zoughbi, Revd Dr Yohanna Katanacho, Jean Zaru, Revd Dr Niveen Sarras, Dr Rula Mansour, and Dr Viola Raheb.
There is an interesting article published by Chatham House, with a lot of useful links, for those who wish to understand more. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2023/10/ignoring-roots-violence-israel-palestine-conflict-challenges-any-future-peace
The Gospel readings over the last few weeks have focussed on the greatest commandments. Jesus commands us to love our God and to love our neighbour. As I have said before, ‘neighbour’ is not a geographical term, it applies to everyone on earth, all made in God’s image. In these times, showing that we love our neighbour seems even more important than ever.
The prayer for courage in my letter last month may also bear repeating, at this time.
Prayer for courage
Courage comes from the heart and we are always welcomed by God, the Croi (pronounced ‘cree’, meaning heart) of all being. We bear witness to our faith, knowing that we are called to live lives of courage, love and reconciliation in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of each day. We bear witness, too, to our failures and our complicity in the fractures of our world. May we be courageous today. May we learn today. May we love today. Amen
News and new things happening
Lest We Forget; 6pm, 12th November, at Sacred Heart Church, Penicuik
The annual service of remembering loved ones who have died takes place Sunday 12th November. If you wish to have a loved ones name read out in the service please let me know. It is always a lovely service, with some Taizé chants, and the congregation at Sacred Heart always put on a great spread of food afterwards.
St James’ Christmas Themed Coffee Morning, Saturday 25th November
There will be a coffee morning between 10 am and noon in Trinity Community Church Hall. This is the day of the Christmas lights switch on in Penicuik, so it will make a good start to the day’s events.
Revised Common Lectionary Year B – Reading the Gospel of Mark
The new liturgical year begins on Advent Sunday, 3rd December. We enter Year B in the three-year cycle, and this means we shall be focussing on the Gospel of Mark during the year. Mark is the shortest of the gospels and can be read in one sitting in less than two hours. With this in mind, we have decided to have a reading of the gospel of Mark at both churches. You are invited to come along, and to take a turn at reading a section of the Gospel in turn. We shall take the opportunity to relax with a cup of tea or coffee, or maybe soup, as we read it.
At St James, we shall do the reading at 2.30 pm on Tuesday 12th December.
At St Mungo’s, we have yet to set a date, I have sent an email consulting the congregation as to the best date to do this. I have suggested Sat 25th Nov at 10 or 12 o’clock or Thursday 30th November at 12 o’clock. If you are not on email, please phone me to advise of which date would suit you best.
The St James AGM is on Advent Sunday, 3rd December. Please can all written reports be submitted to Charlotte Kemp (Vestry Secretary) by 18th November.
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.
Sunday Evening Services in 2024
During 2023 I have run a few Sunday evening services at both St James and at St Mungo’s. They have mainly been services using some more modern songs published in Iona Community books, or services where we sing Taizé chants. The feedback from both has been positive, and so I am planning to do a few more of these in 2024.
Well Prepared Course
The six-week course that ran in September and October was well attended by members of St Mungo’s and St Andrew’s and also attracted a few people with no church affiliations. Feedback has been good, and during 2024 I will hold a few one-off sessions where people who have attended the course can come back together to continue conversations, and for others who could not make the course but are interested in ‘normalising’ conversations about our mortality and making practical plans to come along and join us. If there is sufficient interest I may run another course in Autumn 2024.
On Monday evenings on 27th November, 4th, 11th and 18th December, we shall use 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. This advance notice will give you ample time to buy the book and read the first four chapters.
Informed About Dementia Course
On 2nd, 16th, and 30th November at 2pm in the Undercroft at St Mungo’s I shall be offering the above course. It is the first level of the Promoting Excellence Framework for Dementia Care. It covers some useful information about recognising the needs of people living with dementia, how to support people to enjoy as good a quality of life as possible and exploring the issues of rights, safety, risks and safeguarding. These sessions are suitable for anyone who wants to gain a basic understanding of caring for someone with dementia, or with encountering people with dementia in our everyday lives, which many of us do. Please let me know if you wish to come along. Each session will last no longer than an hour.
Monday Night Faith Development in 2024
The book we discussed on Monday 30th October, ‘God of Surprises’ by Gerard Hughes SJ, has whetted the appetite for knowing a bit more about the Ignatian approach to Bible study (including Lectio Divina) and personal prayer and the Daily Examen. In the New Year, our Monday evening Faith Development discussions will explore these subjects.
Fellowship Lunches at St James
The September lunch raised more than £650 after Gift Aid. The October lunch for REACH Bwindi (Hospital in Uganda) raised £251 including Gift Aid. An update on the Gift Day appeal to support the financing of net zero work will be given next month.
In Other News…
The Diocesan Clergy Conference takes place next week, at the Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry. There are two guest speakers this year. Steve Aisthorpe has written books on ‘Rewilding the Church’ and ‘The Invisible Church’, both of which I have read and enjoyed, and I have heard him talk about both books a few times. His latest book, ‘Knowing You, Jesus’, I have yet to read. He has just started a new job in Ardgour running a retreat centre. Fr. Gero McLoughlin SJ ministered in Edinburgh for 21 years and has led many retreats and offers spiritual guidance following the Ignatian tradition. Having heard them both talk quite a few times over the years, it will be interesting to see how they complement each other and help us reflect on our ministry and the context in 21st century Scotland. Both Peter and I will be attending.
I had a nice break away visiting my sisters in Derbyshire in October, and the weather was kind too. In Hathersage we had a lovely meal in a café owned by David Mellor, whose name meant nothing to me. However, he is a great designer, and we see his designs every day, even if, like me, you wouldn’t have known it. He designed the traffic lights used in the UK, and also the modular bus stops found in most cities, amongst other things. I didn’t bring home any of his lovely designer kitchen ware or cutlery. I did bring back some Swizzles Matlow sweets, made in New Mills. I have almost finished the Love Hearts and the Swizzlers… Who remembers sharing Love Hearts and reading the messages on them? Simple pleasures…
Penicuik Churches Together
We continue to support ‘Gather on the Green’ an initiative to have a visible presence in the new housing development above Mauricewood.
Ministry in Care and Nursing Homes
Cowan Court, Penicuik: We have been part of a rota with the other Penicuik churches, visiting Cowan Court on a Sunday afternoon for the last year. We visit Cowan Court about once every 5 or 6 weeks. Our next visit is on 26th November.
Aaron House, Penicuik: We are part of a rota with the other Penicuik churches, visiting Aaron House on a Wednesday afternoon at 2pm. As with Cowan Court we will visit once every 5 or 6 weeks. Our next visit is on 6th December.
Whim Hall, Lamancha: We visit Whim Hall Care Centre on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month. Our next visit is on 9th November.
If you are interested in supporting this rewarding ministry by being part of the visiting teams then please let me know. Normally three of us attend each time, so we can support and guide people through the service and have a chat afterwards with whoever attends. We use a simplified form of the Liturgy for Reserved Sacrament and sing a few well-known hymns. Your prayers are welcome for this increased activity in and for members of our local communities.
Faith Development for all
We hold our weekly Bible study at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, online, for up to an hour and a half. We are currently studying chapters 55-66 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. We do not hold a Bible study in December.
We come together with the common aim of exploring the texts, understanding their context, and just as importantly, exploring how it speaks to us and how it informs us today. We enjoy exploring our different understandings and learning from each other. Please do join us, we are always happy to include more people.
Monday Study Night
Our current study uses David Runcorn’s book, ‘Spirituality Workbook: A Guide for Explorers, Pilgrims and Seekers’, published by SPCK in 2006. We will be discussing chapter 21 on 6th November. It won’t matter if you haven’t read previous chapters, each chapter is standalone.
Faith Development ‘Faith Books’
When we have a fifth Monday in the month, we hold 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!). In looking for new or used books, I have often used www.bookfinder.com I am sure there are other search sites that will help people find the books on our reading list.
In 2024 we shall be discussing:
29th January: ‘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)
29th April: ‘An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture’ by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight, (published by Wiley, ISBN978-1-119-19472-9)
29th July: ‘Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World’, by Henri Nouwen (published by Crossroad Pub Co., ISBN978-0-8245-1986-5)
30th Sept: ‘Grounded: Finding God in the World, a Spiritual Revolution’, by Diana Butler Bass (published by Harper One, ISBN 978-0-06-232856-4)
Morning and Evening Prayer
We meet online Monday to Friday at 9.00 am and at 5.30 pm. It is a good way to start and end our day, coming together for worship, with daily readings including the psalms; a good rhythm for worship in the Anglican tradition of saying the Daily Offices.
If you wish to access the Daily Office liturgy with the daily scripture readings, go to the Provincial Website, www.scotland.anglican.org and place your cursor on the ‘Spirituality’ heading. A submenu appears and you can select the appropriate Daily Office from the right-hand side of the page.
Mid-week evening services on Zoom
On the first Wednesday of each month, at 7.30 pm, we hold a service of Prayers for healing online. If you wish someone or a situation to be prayed for, send an email to me or Marion Mather.
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.
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.
In Touch Magazine for St James the Less and St Mungo’s
In Touch is circulated to all on email and is issued in paper format to those who do not have email. The cost of a paper copy is £2 for an A4 version, and about £1.50 for an A5 version. We print a very limited number of paper copies to keep out costs down, and to reduce our consumption of paper. If you receive an email version but would also like a paper copy, please let Sue Owen know and we invite you to make a suitable donation (preferably by bank transfer rather than in cash) to cover the cost. The deadline for content to be submitted for the next issue is 6th November 2023.
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
Financial giving to St James the Less or to St Mungo’s
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. If you wish to make a donation by cheque, please make out the cheque to ‘St James Episcopal Church Penicuik’.
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.
Ecumenical Relations and Community Involvement Work
The Penicuik Ministers continue to meet every month in the Storehouse for a chat. I am sure you will all welcome Fr Kevin Okpala, who has been appointed to be priest at the Sacred Heart Church in Penicuik. Once a month the Penicuik Churches Together (PCT) has a joint Sunday evening service. The schedule detailing where the services are each month is on the PCT website. http://penicuikchurchestogether.org.uk/
Diocesan and Provincial Activities
I attended a meeting of the Provincial Inter-Faith Relations Committee on 24th October, via Zoom, to save travelling in to Edinburgh. As mentioned earlier in my letter I also attended a meeting of SFAR yesterday.
The Ministry Team
We continue to meet monthly to plan for the coming months; planning services and faith development activities as well as exploring other aspects of what is offered to the congregations and to our local communities.
Zoom Links for Services
We have a regular pattern of services. Details of these are set out below. You can access them using the Zoom links.
Morning Prayer at 9 am, and Evening Prayer at 5.30 pm, Monday to Friday. (Zoom only)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 628 956 1588 Password: 040775
St Mungo, Holy Communion at 10.30 am on Sunday.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 934 1719 0423 Passcode: 062021
St James the Less, Holy Communion at 10.30 am on Sunday.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 920 0219 7798 Passcode: 040775
1st Wednesday Evening Service at 7.30 pm (not July or August) (Zoom only)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 963 0384 1875 Password: 040775
Wednesday Evening Compline at 9 pm (all year) (Zoom only)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 953 4545 7224 Password: 040775
Zoom Links for Activities
‘Monday Evening Studies’ at 7.30 pm (Zoom only)
Meeting ID: 976 7040 6222 Passcode: 202101
Use this link for Monday Evening Studies and the ‘Faith Book’ discussions.
Weekly Bible Study: Tuesdays at 2pm
Meeting ID: 925 1096 2481 Passcode: 040775
St Mungo’s House Group: Thursdays at 7.30 pm
Contact Markie Woodifield for further information.
Monthly Book Group: The fourth Monday of each month at 2 pm
Contact Angela Sibley for further information.
Meeting ID: 669 139 189 Passcode: 040775