Services this Weekend

We do not have a local Sunday morning service this week (20th)

Barbara & Norma will be recording a service for Sunday 27th which will be available on the church YouTube channel. More details and service sheets will be issued next week.

A live-streamed service from the Cathedral at 10am on Sunday should be available on Cathedral’s YouTube channel. :-

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRl4KxLkXdyq7U2SgRm_UTw

For those interested in attending :-

There are still a few spaces for in person worship at @invcathedral

Links to information about the Provincial Sunday service and other online services offered in the Province can also be found on the Worship Page.

Services this weekend.

We do not have a local Sunday morning service this week but we do have a cornucopia of other possibilities for you!

Firstly Barbara has recorded a Compline service with can be viewed on Saturday or Sunday evening according to your availability. It has been uploaded to the Worship page of the website & can be found on our YouTube channel here:-

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt0ySQS3x3luJe6tO2ECNgQ

Secondly there is a live-streamed service from the Cathedral at 10am on Sunday and in addition there is a Gaelic Eucharist live from the Cathedral at 5.30pm. Both can be found on the Cathedral’s YouTube channel. :-

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRl4KxLkXdyq7U2SgRm_UTw

Links to information about the Provincial Sunday service and other online services offered in the Province can also be found on the Worship Page.

How can we sing the Lord’s song is a strange land? (Ps 137v4)

A reflection from Gordon

Before moving to Dingwall, we lived in Assynt a little over a mile from where this classic view of Suilven was taken. During that time, I was a member of St Gilberts Episcopal Church which had a regular congregation of around 20-25 although in the summer numbers were boosted by holidaymakers and other visitors.

It was unlike any other church I had belonged to because services were only monthly (plus a few extra ones for some festivals) and we had no church buildings.  Over the years we used a variety of venues for services – the Fishermen’s Mission building (now a café and bunkhouse), Village Hall and Assynt Centre all in Lochinver, Stoer Hall and occasionally the redundant Old Church of Scotland Parish Kirk at Inchnadamph now owned by Historic Assynt, the local historical and archaeological society which I chaired for several years.

Using a range of buildings occasionally was something I had already experienced to a limited extent.  The theological training course I worked with on a part time basis worshipped in university lecture rooms, conference and retreat centres and sometimes outdoors and I’d taken part in a range of other events with worship in locations never designed for that kind of occasion. But they were always exceptional occasions, not the norm.  But adjusting to that aspect of the St Gilbert’s experience proved relatively easy for me.  But not having services every Sunday, and at least some weekdays, as well as the full round of extra services for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter, I found much more difficult.  In the first year I drove all over the highlands to attend Holy Week services in other places.  But that proved tiring and expensive and soon I found I was adjusting to once a month. 

In time I came to value a number of aspects of both of these novel aspects of St Gilberts.  

Less frequent worship made it a little more special and a little less routine. The members made a real effort to be there every month in a way that doesn’t always happen if services are more frequent.   

Not having church buildings meant that no one had to spend time worrying about repairs and maintenance, remodelling schemes, ever increasing maintenance costs, meetings with architects and engineers and difficult church council and congregational meetings to discuss what to do about the buildings. 

But it was not all positive and there were also some distinct disadvantages.

Finding a really good alternative building for worship can be difficult and some of the places we used were inconvenient, awkward and full of the clutter of other user groups.  Everything required for a service had to be kept in members’ homes, packed into cars and then set up in the temporary worship space only to be cleared away and taken back to be stored again afterwards, whereas a purpose-built church building with all the furnishings and fittings provides a home for the congregation and it provides clear focus for the wider community.

St Gilberts Lochinver shared one priest, supposedly part time with other small congregations scattered along 100miles of the NW coast in Ullapool, Achiltibuie, Kinlochbervie and Tonque.  Opportunities for those other important aspects of active church life like prayer or study groups, social events and the sorts of round of policy meetings than can give a church a focus for its work and engagement with others were all limited.

But the St Gilbert’s experience reminded me that there is no one way to be church, that church buildings, weekly worship and established patterns of being the church are not essential. We can change and adjust and find different ways than those we are used to.  And the lockdown and continued restrictions associated with Coronavirus has only served to reinforces everything I learned there. 

Interestingly Jesus said virtually nothing about the practical patterns of church life let alone church buildings – which only emerge hundreds of years later.  Jesus’s dominant images of the church are much more open-ended and fluid.  The church, the fellowship of those who claim to be his followers, are to be disciples, in other words students and learners, called to become salt and yeast and light in the world.  

An interesting collection of images.

  • Disciples are those who learn and discover.
  • Salt and yeast work away largely unnoticed and unremarked but can have a big effect.
  • Light shines out but is of most value in gloom and darkness. 

That’s as near to a blueprint as we get from Jesus, and what has perhaps become the most frequently used image of the church – the body of Christ – doesn’t come from Jesus but St Paul who used it specifically to counter competing factions in Corinth who claimed that their spiritual qualities were better than those of others!

When some of the leaders of the ancient Israelites were dragged off to exile in Babylon they wondered ‘how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’.  For us the question is how can we continue to be church (disciples who are salt, yeast and light in the wider community) in an emerging, but still unknown, new post-coronavirus normal, whilst also honouring what is good and of value from the old normal?

A reflection for today from Norma.

This text was shared with me recently by one of my dear friends who knew I was tired and feeling a bit down about how things were going, feeling the pressure of the stress and anxiety around me from folk who were working hard through this pandemic and suddenly feeling that there was no end in sight, in fact things were getting more intense every day with additional screens, mask and procedures to be followed at a time when things seemed to be improving and when certainly the number of cases in our hospitals had fallen. She knew that I needed support and encouragement and a quiet reminder that there is strength within all of us, the strength that comes from knowing our Lord and Saviour and the love that he has for us through all the trials that life throws at us.

She also reminded me that in order to support others we all need to find some time for ourselves, time to spend with God, time to spend reflecting, time to spend with our families and friends, time we find it so hard to set aside when life is busy.  We find so many excuses for not spending time on ourselves, for ourselves so that we can refresh our souls and bodies.  We become so bowed down with work, worries and stress that we forget the one who is there walking alongside us, offering love and support, we forget to ask for his help but when we are reminded what a blessing it is.  Those thoughts reminded me of the Psalm Barbara finished her reflection on Sunday with: 

12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labour;
    they fell down, with no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
    and broke their bonds asunder.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind
. Amen

So let us always remember that we are not alone, that God is with us and provides us with the strength within to cope with the challenges without and that his steadfast love is present with us.

To all those of you who are tired and fed-up, just remember that message of hope contained in the psalm – God will save us from our distress and bring us out of this darkness and gloom and help us to break free of our chains.  God’s love is eternal and is peace and love are always with us.  Amen

Barbara’s Reflection from this morning’s service (30/8)

Appraisal                                               

Revelation 3:14-22

In many professions there will be a process of appraisal. Within medicine all doctors have an annual appraisal which provides an opportunity to reflect back on the year that has been and look forward to the year ahead. In educational supervision, a similar process takes place and there is much written about how to give feedback in a supportive manner. Reading the messages to the 7 churches is very like reviewing 7 appraisals or 7 supervision sessions. Most of the feedback is given in a well-established manner:  something good, whatever is not so good and then something positive to finish, often described using a sandwich metaphor the bread being good, the filling not so good; e.g. I can see you have worked really hard at this – it’s rubbish – but it’s beautifully presented. The work is then to explore how to move things forward. 

Although our reading this morning just focusses on Laodicea, it is worthwhile looking at the messages to the other churches. In the message to Ephesus John is told to write “I know your works, your toil and patient endurance…” but he later says, “but I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” and then further on he gives a positive example, “Yet this is to your credit…”. Having challenged them to correct the area that is going astray, Jesus then says, “to everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” A review of what’s going well, a review of what’s not going well; a challenge to get it right and a promise of what results from that reframing of purpose. And because we are talking about God’s plan, that promise is eternal and everlasting. 

When we reach Laodicea its straight to the sandwich filling and not a very palatable one! Best practice is always to make feedback specific and the messages to these churches is accurate and meaningful to each of them, although as is true of all Jesus’ teaching, there is truth for us centuries later as well. “I know your works” says the Lord and there is nothing good to say about them, “you are lukewarm”. Now this imagery would have meant so much to the Laodiceans. Laodicea was in an area that is now Turkey. To the north there were hot springs with rich minerals, but the water that ran from there to Laodicea gradually cooled en route, much of it evaporating and by the time it arrived it was lukewarm and unpalatably full of chemicals. To the south were high mountains, from where sparkling, clear, icy water ran down to the valley, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea it was similarly lukewarm and the supply was not good. So this image of foul, tepid water that sometimes dried up is a powerful metaphor indicating that something is badly awry. If this was the feedback you were giving to someone in your organisation, I think you might be considering a further discussion along the lines of “I don’t think this type of work is quite right for you, have you thought of looking elsewhere and if not, now is the time!” But this is Jesus the Son of God, who loves us and who seeks to bring all of us into the love of the Father.

Laodicea was a rich city with a lot of trade, a lot of material wealth, a rich wool industry and it had a medical school specialising in the treatment of ocular conditions. Jesus uses this as he works with the Laodiceans to help them move forward – see verse 18 where he says “come and clothe yourself not in the cloth produced in your city but in pure holy robes, not in the wealth of materialism”, and “come and receive salve to heal not simply your eyes but salve to heal your blindness”. Jesus does not want to send them away; he says in verse 19 “I reprove and discipline those whom I love” and goes on to say, “look I am here beside you, I am at the door of your heart, just open and let me come in to where I should be and then live with me and I will live with you”. 

Jesus seeks to call these Christians back to himself, to help them find that vibrancy that was central to the early church and should be central to the church today; to find again that passionate love of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord and redeemer. 

         It’s quite a supervision session. What would my appraisal be like, what would your appraisal be like? 

Firstly, God loves each one of us, not because of what we do, but because he made us to love us. I wonder if this is a good time, in this peculiar year of 2020, to look back at how it has been and what we may have learnt about ourselves and then look forward, acknowledging our hopes and fears. As a church family we face questions about the opening of our church building for worship and about the future of our church buildings. I know that being a dispersed community has been and remains so very difficult, but let’s seek God’s guiding hand to take us into the weeks and months ahead. What can we do within the current guidelines to find that vibrancy of our church life together again? Can we meet in small groups, worship in a new more intimate way, study scripture together, break bread together. Let’s really pray for guidance especially for the vestry as they discuss the options for our church buildings. Let’s ask the Spirit to give us that passion to follow Christ, even if the future looks a bit scary and unfamiliar. 

         Although we have heard again and again the term “unprecedented” in fact God’s people have struggled like this before and cried out as reflected in the words of the psalmists. Have another look at our psalm this morning and find comfort and constancy in God’s word, 

12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labour;
    they fell down, with no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the
 Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
    and broke their bonds asunder.
15 Let them thank the
 Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind. Amen

Today’s Reflection from Revd Norma Higgott

In her reflection on Revelation 1 this Sunday Barbara said: The world has changed, how we perceive church has changed this year, but God is central and Jesus’s love is eternal and the Spirit will lead us. I invite you to have a go at reading chapter 1 in the week ahead and let’s see what God teaches us all through His word. So that’s what I have done and I want to offer you my own short reflection on what God might be teaching us through his word.

This is such an unusual time for us all, life is not easy, constantly changing as the rules we live by are changing, and challenging in how we can try to be alongside one another, without being alongside.  So where does Revelation speak to us in this?  For me Revelation gives a sense of hope even in our despair, a sense of comfort in our sadness and a sense of love in knowing  that the Lord is there with us in every step we take, in every fear we have and in every doubt we feel. The Lord has promised us that he is the living one, alive for ever and ever and that even in death he will be there for us:  “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and of death’s domain.

Reassuring words when we are faced with so much sadness and fear but how many actually hear and accept those words of comfort today.  How many are afraid of living because they fear death, how many are now afraid to go out and live because of the sense of vulnerability they feel, the sense of fear of what they will encounter no matter how careful they are, the sense that they are not ready to die, the fear that they have not lived the life they planned and will not be forgiven for some of the things they have said or done.  

How do we reassure people that God is there for them that he loves us all, that the love which Jesus showed us is eternal and that the guidance of the Holy Spirit will help us on our journey?  How do we reach out to folk with those words of hope and comfort?  Surely it is by doing as John does in this first chapter of Revelation, by sharing the message we have been given, by shouting from the rooftops or through our websites and on Facebook that message of blessing, the gift of eternal love and hope that is contained in those first few verses.  God is with us, for ever and ever, he gave us the gift of Jesus to share our life, our sorrows and our joys, and the power of the Spirit to guide us so that we can know that we are loved and cared for and that even in death will be comforted, supported and loved into eternity.

A wonderful revelation which we need to hold with us through all our doubts and fears, a revelation which assures us of forgiveness and offers us hope, no matter what life may hold.  A revelation which can take away our fears, our vulnerabilities and offer us joy, love and peace.  A revelation that asks us to have faith in even the most desperate of times: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches – are we listening to what the Spirit is saying to us or are we too afraid to hear what might be asked of us.  Let’s all open our ears to the words of revelation so that we can live out what it is that God is asking of us for the good of all.  Amen

A reflection from Gordon

I always feel a tinge of sadness at this time of year when the darkening evenings remind me that we’re already a couple of months beyond the summer solstice and heading towards the autumn and winter.  I get over it fairly quickly by reminding myself of how lovely autumn can be and the various things I tend to do during the winter months when I spend more time indoors. One of those, and it’s something that also played a part in the most restrictive spells of the lockdown, is family history research.  I’ve been doing it on and off for several years and although I have been able to trace a variety of ancestral lines back several centuries, all too often I’ve been unable to discover much about most of my ancestor’s lives.  But there have been some exceptions.

In 1802 the poem ‘The Caledonian Herd-Boy’ was published and David Service who was born and grew on a farm west of Dumbarton, achieved overnight success and everyone who was anyone wanted to meet him.  Like many others who become suddenly famous he struggled to cope and became alcoholic.  He was very devout and among his collected papers are prayers which reveal the depths of his shame, his desperation and feelings of wretchedness as he castigated himself for his weakness, begged God’s forgiveness and promised amendment of his ways.  Again and again he tried, sometimes regaining some stability and occasionally further success as a poet, but all in the end to no avail.  Increasingly desperate he wrote vindictive (though often very funny) rhymes about those who refused him drinks, hauled him off to jail or simply refused his requests for help. He became almost totally estranged from his wife and children who had long since given up believing his promises of reform and eventually died in poverty.  My grandmother, his great, great granddaughter, carried on and sustained a long family tradition of absolute hostility, and spoke of him with anger, contempt and loathing 130 years after his death! 

David grew up to the simple life of a herd-boy on the hills overlooking the Clyde, but had both ambition and ability, trained as a cobbler and moved south. He found the fame he sought, climbed the social ladder and sampled the adulation of the rich and powerful in London society, but the experience was damaging.  It exposed his anxieties and fears of failure and inadequacy, and he found that drinking helped him cope. But the drinking became unmanageable, family impatience turned to hostility and his stern religious background and his own personal faith condemned him.  This created a deep sense of shame and self-loathing that only served to drive him into deeper despair and an even more serious dependency on alcohol.  Sadly, his religious background and his personal version of faith estranged him from God.  Reading through his prayers leaves a vivid picture of someone unable to forgive himself, unable to accept forgiveness or to believe that he was forgivable. Time and again he tried to reform himself but failed, and every failure intensified his tendency to beat himself up. 

Another more recent poet, Ann Lewin, wrote about this behavioural cycle.  Some of you may have heard me quote it before, but it’s worth repeating

Love your neighbour as yourself.

The trouble is we do.

And since we do not always love ourselves,

Our neighbour suffers from our handicap.

Strange feelings come from depths we don’t

Control, causing us to react, and not respond.

How can we learn to love our dark unknown,

Embrace, accept, forgive what lies within?

Can we believe it is already done?

We are profoundly loved, both in our depths

And to the limit of his love, which knows no end.

A starting place, with time and eternity

To learn its truth. And in the meantime,

What a blessing for our neighbour, to be

Loved as we are (learning to) love ourselves.

Gordon.

Barbara’s Reflection from this morning’s service

Reflection on Revelation Chapter 1 from Morning Prayer 23rd August 2020

I have a confession to make, I am a great fan of crime fiction. I love a good mystery and of course in Scotland we have some of the best crime writers although my favourite detective remains Hercules Poirot, played of course by David Suchet. Mysteries that involve code breaking are always good fun and provide a bit of cognitive exercise – could I have worked at Bletchley Park – sadly no, I’m really not very good at it!

Our reading this morning opens the book of Revelation, often viewed as one of the most mysterious, disturbing and impenetrable books of Scripture. It has been viewed as a code that is there to be broken leading to much manipulation of the numbers and words with the aim of rewarding the code breaker with the answer – to what? The answer of course depends on when it is being read – medieval, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th or 21st century – current events can be linked to the revelation in the book. John, however, was writing in a particular style of his day and would be understood by the people who heard it at that time. The writing is in part prophetic, but that is not to be understood as simply predicting what is to come. Prophesy encompasses close observation of what is happening today whenever that “today” is! It provides a commentary on what is happening and can open the eyes of the listeners and readers to the challenges around them. The style of writing is apocalyptic meaning revelation. It does deal with the end of times and the return of Christ and the last judgement, but it does not provide a detailed timetable of future events, as one commentator states, “rather it affirms, in powerful poetic and pictorial language, that the final victory of God is indeed coming… and calls the church to live in the light of Christ”(1).

John shares with us and with the Church in the first century and down the ages his visions which he has reflected upon in the light of a rich knowledge of Old Testament Scripture and in the love of God through Christ Jesus. 

Another commentator explains that at its heart this book is about something that God has revealed to Jesus, verse 1 “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him”, which Jesus passes on to John through an angel and John passes on to the church of his day and through the Bible to the Church down the ages and in the future (2). God reveals to Jesus who is himself one with God; the word is given to John, the Word who is Jesus. This word is shared with the church, the body of Christ in the world.

Revelation is often that book at the end that of the bible that we never quite get round to looking at because it’s too difficult, it’s all in code, it’s weird and doesn’t fit in our 21st century rational life. But here in the first chapter, indeed even in the first verse, we see that John shares with us an understanding of God. As we read these verses we are there in the presence of God. We move from our limited knowledge and experience, our linear sense of time into the great mystery of the love of God ,who was and is and is to come. Jesus is revealed to us interceding with the Father on our behalf, but not as the priests of the old testament would intercede because the sacrifice that Jesus makes on our behalf is the sacrifice of himself made once and for all. Like Moses Jesus speaks God’s word, but unlike Moses, Jesus is the living Word.

I am no biblical scholar and I confess to being somewhat daunted by Revelation and I have often tried and failed to work with the text, but sitting down with it today, I have found great words of comfort right at the start in chapter 1, verse 17, “…Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last and the living one”.

There is a vibrancy and immediacy in the writing. There is a timelessness with the images from past millennia, the observation of today (first century and 24th august 2021) and the contemplation of the end of time. There is huge comfort that God in Jesus Christ was there, is here and will be there. The world has changed, how we perceive church has changed this year, but God is central and Jesus love is eternal and the Spirit will lead us. I invite you to have a go at reading chapter 1 in the week ahead and let’s see what God teaches us all through His word.

Father, as you speak to us through your word, give us grace to understand it, to live by it and to share it with others, Amen 

References

  1. Revelation: the people’s Bible commentary. Marcus Maxwell BRF 2005
  2. Revelation for everyone Tom Wright SPCK 2011