St Andrew: rediscover a networker


By Laurence Waring
(From Seeds November 2021)

Of Great Britain’s patron saints, Scotland’s St Andrew is the only first-generation apostle. The gospel writers tell us he was a fisherman, but is there much else we can say about him?

Like Saint George, Andrew’s legacy is emphatically international. Not only is he the patron saint of Scotland, but also (out a long list) of Russia, Romania, Amalfi in Italy, Patras in Greece, and Barbados (where Saint Andrew’s Day is celebrated as the national day of independence).

In Scotland, 30 November is designated Andrew’s day because he is said to have died on that day, crucified on a Saltire-shaped cross rather than on the T-shaped cross of Jesus.

Legend has it that Saints Mirin and Relugas brought the bones of St Andrew to Scotland. (To St Andrew’s of course.) That’s an unlikely connection but, even though Andrew’s relics were certainly a European import, Scotland’s claim on him was formalised in one of the nation’s key historical documents, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath. It argues that the Scots were a distinct people (from the English) who had long enjoyed the protection of “our patron or protector” Saint Andrew.

That protection was said to go back as far as the year 832 when the pictish King Óengus saw Andrew’s diagonal cross revealed in the sky (this in the days before criss-crossing jet trails): a portent of victory over King Athelstan’s Northumbrian army of Angles.

What else?

Andrew the traveller is said to have survived many acts of aggression – an arson attack, for example, in the city of Sinope (in modern day Turkey). Here, too, it is said that the devil incited a mob to drag him through the streets, tearing off pieces of his body and shedding his blood. But he contrived to escape and fruit trees later grew on the spot where his blood had been spilled.

He is a disciple, it seems, who not only networks but is prepared to ‘think out of the box’

We might also say that Andrew appears to have been someone who took the initiative. In the Gospel of John, it is Andrew, influenced by the preaching of John the Baptist, who introduces Simon (Peter) to Jesus.

It is also Andrew, faced with the prospect of feeding a huge and hungry crowd, who tells Jesus about a boy who has just a few loaves and fishes. Anna Briggs picks up on this in her hymn ‘The crowd has listened to your word’. She makes of Andrew a model of the Christian seeker who looks for ways to express God’s love even from the smallest opportunities:

Use us, your friends, to seek and trace

the gift that seems the smallest worth,

to shape the miracle of grace,

the love to feed a hungry earth.

St John, who thinks highly of Andrew (over and against St Peter, some would argue), appears to give Andrew a position authority amongst the disciples and it’s he who first introduces Gentiles to Jesus. He is a disciple, it seems, who not only networks but is prepared to ‘think out of the box’.

Doesn’t that make him an excellent choice for Scotland’s patron saint? And doesn’t that also make him an inspiration for AUC’s little Christian community here in Edinburgh?

Christmas Giving at AUC

From Seeds November 2021

Each year at AUC, between October and December, we make a number of collections to support organisations who are seeking to build justice and kindness in our world.

We then dedicate these as our offering at the December Gift Service. The Gift Service this year is on Sunday 12 December at 11am, online and in the building.

Fiona writes: “I am hoping that all of our gifts will have been made and distributed before the 12th and will NOT be brought to the building that day…”

Our 2021 gifts will be for:

CHRISTIAN AID

We would invite all AUC members to consider making a donation to Christian Aid this year in place of sending each other Christmas cards. Please donate to Christian Aid directly online (christianaid.org.uk). Christian Aid supports emergency relief across the world, including refugees.

FRESHSTART

If you have household items you would like to donate to Freshstart to support people moving from homelessness into their own home, please take them directly to the warehouse (22-24 Ferry Rd Drive, EH4 4BR: Mon—Thurs, 9-4pm). If you have challenges with transportation, contact Fiona (minister@augustine.org.uk) or Kathleen (Kathleen.ziffo@augustine.org.uk). Alternatively, you can make a financial donation through their website (freshstartweb.org.uk/donate).

ROYAL EDINBURGH HOSPITAL (REH)

We are collecting money to buy small Christmas presents which will be distributed by the chaplains to people who find themselves in the REH over Christmas. If you would like to make a donation please hand in a cheque / cash to the church office, or pay online to Augustine (www.augustine. org.uk) clearly marking that your donation is for the REH.

EDINBURGH DIRECT AID (EDA)

EDA supports Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the people of Lebanon. Along with some of the Syrian refugees, EDA is continuing to help rebuild parts of Beirut damaged in last year’s devastating explosion; they are working with a German NGO to do this and gain access for occasional lorry loads of supplies.

There is still difficulty accessing Lebanon, despite the government reducing tariffs on imported goods (including aid) and Beirut port partially functioning again. Lebanon has a refugee population (Syrian, Palestinian and others) of almost half of the existing ‘native’ population. (Imagine the UK taking in 25 million refugees!!)

EDA are looking for goods and financial support. We would encourage you to make donations of goods directly to their warehouse (29 Starbank Rd, Edinburgh, EH5 3BY. 11.30-2.30pm Wed & Sun) If you have challenges with transportation contact Fiona (minister@augustine.org.uk) or Kathleen (Kathleen.ziffo@augustine.org.uk)

FOOD BANKS

We would encourage everyone to consider putting some goods into the baskets at supermarkets that collect for local food banks, or to make a financial donation online (trusselltrust.org/make-a-donation/).

Beauty in Brokeness

By Maxwell Reay (From Seeds November 2021)

On Mental Health Sunday (17 October), Maxwell Reay was our preacher. He spoke about the impact of social inequality worldwide on the care (or lack of it) for those living with challenging mental health.

He also showed us an image of a broken and restored bowl, and explained to us about the Japanese art of kintsugi.

Kintsugi means something like ‘golden joinery’. It is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. For some, the restored item is found to be more beautiful than in its original form. The visible gold lines suggest the idea of breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

Maxwell suggested that we all have to deal with some kind of mental health difficulty in our lives, and that being able to share these experiences can be helpful for others as well as for ourselves.

It also turns out that, for some who have dealt with loss, sickness, trauma, and the disruption of daily life during the Covid pandemic, the ideas and practice of kintsugi have emerged as sources of comfort. There have even been articles written in newspapers and academic journals about this.

In a short piece in the online British Medical Journal, Dr Amy Price (a medical scientist at Stanford University who lost her own husband to Covid) suggests that grief is an opportunity to offer empathy by honouring brokenness to support healing.

She writes that “kintsugi represents healing, resilience, and restoration” and that our cracks and flaws help us see ourselves more fully.

(Amy Price’s article was published on the BMJ website on 10 August 2021: www.bmj.com/content/374/bmj.n1906)

Here comes COP

From Seeds November 2021

A quick reminder: the United Nations COP26 climate summit, which runs from 31 October to 12 November in Glasgow (‘the Dear Green Place’), has been described as a “turning point for humanity” and “the most consequential summit… ever”. ‘COP’ stands for ‘Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change’.

Getting up to speed

Whether you believe the hype or have more grounded hopes and prayers for the gathering, take some time to get up to speed, if you haven’t already, with what COP26 is and what churches worldwide hope will happen there.

Got 3 minutes?

Watch a short video from the ecumenical Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) on what COP26 is and why churches are getting involved. It’s on the JPIT website at www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/cop26.

Got 10 minutes?

Read the JPIT briefing on what is happening at COP26 and the key issues on which they think world leaders and the UK should take action. (Same web page as above.)

Global Day of Action

On Saturday 6 November, join people from around the world, marching through major cities, gathering in their local communities, and making their voices heard online for climate justice. In Glasgow, Christian Aid supporters will walk together with partner faith organisations, meeting at Kelvingrove Park from 11.30am. The demonstration will then march to Glasgow Green for a rally at 3pm. If you’re planning to join, click ‘going’ on the Christian Aid Facebook event.

A prayer for real partnership

The Revd David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain for Eco Congregation Scotland, has written a prayer we can all use, whether we’re marching or not.

Sustaining God:
as our species gathers

in your Dear Green Place,
constrained by the damage injustice has wrought:
so strengthen our hope;
our resilience to disappointment.
Move us on from ‘stewardship’ to partnership
with the Life of the world,
giving thanks for every small step;
stirring our impatience for more.
Show us your way of hospitality:
of warning and encouragement
for those who come and those left far behind:
Christ, in the stranger’s guise.
Amen.

What Next?

When all the politicians, negotiators, decision makers, NGOs, lobbyists, protestors, journalists, caterers, entertainers, hopers and prayers have gone home – whatever is decided, whatever is kicked into the long grass, whatever hopes are raised, whichever cynics are vindicated. . . there will be so much work still to do.

What will that work look like for us?

In his presentation on our own Climate Sunday, Alex Peden gathered suggestions from those participating in the discussion. Lest we forget, here they are!

Lest we forget, here they are!

Question: Can you think of one thing individuals can do to tackle climate change that you think more people should know about?

  • “Think about cooking equipment e.g. buy a steamer; keep the lid on the saucepan; a flask by the kettle would allow you to keep any unused boiled water hot (and only boil what you need!)“
  • “Switch your gas/electric account to a Green provider”
  • “Enjoy the journey when travelling on public transport”
  • “Turn down the thermostats”
  • “Have a kitchen garden”
  • “Cut your use of single-use plastics”
  • “Plant more trees”
  • “Use peat free compost”
  • “Instead of taking a plane to go on holiday, make the journey by train or ferry and enjoy that as part of the holiday”

It was also observed that –

  • “We should be aware of the numbers of children we have worldwide, particularly in developed countries – each child carries a carbon footprint”
  • “Tighter government regulation on house building would help, ensuring that all new homes are carbon neutral right from the start”
  • “Nuclear fusion may be a future option for heating”

Question: What action would you most want your church / council/ government to take in response to climate change?

Comments included –

  • “Government should value people’s lives over profit”
  • “Continuing meetings via Zoom will reduce travel”
  • “Issues/solutions can be different for individuals depending where they live, e.g. in a block of flats”
  • “Tidal energy is not given enough recognition”
  • “AUC may need to give serious consideration to the suitability of its building (though recognising the listing of buildings brings its own issues)”
  • “There is a case for much stronger regulation, particularly on business, for energy disclosure; and for a price on carbon usage that is high enough ‘to hurt’ e.g. charging a much higher price for fuel – £5/litre?”
  • “Governments should be held to account

Alex ended his presentation by asking us to:

  • Be educated on the subject
  • Remember that every little helps
  • Be aware things are happening
  • Never give up

In praise of letting go

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds November 2021)

 I feel very lucky to live in a country which experiences seasons so starkly. I am sure there could be bonuses living in a country which was always warm, but I do really appreciate our seasonal change.

The leaves turn and drop. The trees send their energy to the roots warmly buried under the soil. Geese fly south and other creatures prepare for hibernation. I have always seen autumn and winter as holding some form of welcome lockdown, though wonder if the Covid pandemic has perhaps soured that concept.

I find the changing of the seasons especially useful because they serve as a reminder that life has seasons. There are winters when we dream and prepare, or sometimes just survive; springs when new things start; summers when we feel productive; and autumns when we begin to let things go. We cannot live in a constant state of any one season; to be constantly only dreaming, or only starting new things.

Only producing or only letting go not only feels unhealthy but is unimaginable. Yet so often as humans, I wonder if in some ways we only really value the springs and summers?

I wonder if we value time to dream and prepare? If we honour the days we only survive? If we value the letting go as much as the productivity?

Perhaps it is human nature to aspire to be spring/summer active and productive beings, or perhaps there is a wisdom in learning to deeply appreciate each season of life as it sweeps us along: to savour the letting goes as well as the new beginnings, trusting that all the seasons are a perpetual movement of divine creation in which God is present and waiting to be encountered.

May the autumn of the earth and the autumns in our lives be a time of blessing and grace.

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, And a time to die;

A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;

A time to kill, And a time to heal;

A time to break down, And a time to build up

(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-3,

New King James Version)

A case for tradition

By Denis Mallon (From Seeds October 2021)

Since the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, Western society has dreamt of unfettered libertarianism.

But with a mental health crisis, increasing inequality, and over-consumption – that drives debt and fuels the climate emergency – is a focus on individual freedom a blessing or a curse?

The Unbroken Thread sees Sohrab Ahmiri, opinions editor for the New York Post, making the case that our search for meaning should come from traditional ideals. An Iranian-American and recent convert from atheism to Catholicism, Ahmiri certainly has a unique perspective.

Ahmiri starts by focusing on his young son, and pictures the kind of world that he might grow into, complete with fears for him and his generation.

Taking 12 big questions, from ‘Can you be spiritual without being religious?’ to ‘Is sex a private matter?’, The Unbroken Thread explores areas where seekers from non-faith backgrounds are often looking for answers.

Each chapter features a deep dive into the life of a historical figure, and discusses the question in the context of that person’s life and work. As an example of ‘How do you justify your life?’, we hear the story of writer CS Lewis. ‘Does God need politics?’ is explored through a certain Augustine of Hippo (who our own church is named after).

Ahmiri has a flair for bringing these stories to life, and they are an effective way to frame the topics of discussion. The chapter ‘Is God reasonable?’, introducing us to the Italian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, made me examine my opinion of faith and reason in a whole new way.

Although the author offers a multicultural and metropolitan outlook, there are some areas where his traditional views will not connect with many liberal thinkers. To pick just one example, in the chapter ‘What do you owe your body?’, Ahmari takes aim at gender ideology in a way that reads as out-and-out transphobia.

This book is a well written, engaging read, helping to fill in gaps I have with theological heavyweights, as well as introducing me to new thinkers from history. A shame, then, that the author’s particular worldview will feel a little too traditional to many.

Fiona as Moderator

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds October 2021)

Much to my surprise, I have been elected to serve as the Moderator of the URC General Assembly, 2022 to 2023, beginning in July next year.

This will involve moderating the meetings of the General Assembly and Assembly Executive, visiting local churches across Wales, England and Scotland, representing the URC on some occasions and being available to committees and people within the URC to offer support where it is useful.

I feel very privileged to be offered the opportunity to meet such a broad range of people across the URC and beyond, and to hear their stories of joy and challenge as disciples and pilgrims in our time. I hope to particularly meet communities who celebrate the experience of people who are LGBTQI+, black and people of colour, and those who are adventuring into the new world of being church digitally.

This year (July 2021—2022) I am Moderator Elect, which means I have a year to try and get up to speed on the URC and work out what I will be doing next year. And from July 2023, I will be the immediate past General Assembly Moderator for a year, and so available to support the new Moderator for that year.

This means that to varying extents, for the next three years my calling is to serve our broad URC community in a new way alongside serving the communities of AUC and the Synod of Scotland. A significant part of the planning which I am involved with now is to work out with AUC what support needs to be in place so that the next three years are enriching for the whole AUC community.

There will undoubtedly be change, but life is always a constant process of change. The gift we have to face change in the church and in life is the knowledge that we are surrounded and supported by a living God of love who can turn each change into an experience of new and abundant life. All we have to do is open our minds and hearts to perceive it and trust in our very creative God.

Journeys with God

By Tamsin Kilgour (From Seeds October 2021)

Since the start of the school year, Junior Church and Crèche have been mirroring the congregation’s gradual return to the church building for Sunday worship.

On weeks where the congregation are gathering in AUC, we are providing Junior Church activities in the building; when the service is online, we will provide materials for the children to use at home. In response to parent preference, Junior Church leaders will be doing a lateral flow test before leading the group.

As another step back towards our previous pattern, we have an overarching theme for the year, alongside monthly topics. For the first few months, we’re choosing activities that will give the children (and leaders) time to reconnect after 18 months spent mainly apart.

Our theme for this year is ‘Journeying with God’. In September we focussed on Creation. The children designed and made a panel for the ‘Art for the Planet’ banner, which will be displayed on the front of New College on the Mound during COP26. Everything used was gathered from homes, not bought.

After celebrating Harvest on 3 October, our theme for the rest of October will be ‘Leaders/people in the Old Testament’.

Holiness is all around us

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds October 2021)

 The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything, wrote Julian of Norwich.

The periodic table is a wondrous thing; a picture of all the elements from which everything is made. The tree by the road and the bike leaned up against it are made up of elements in the periodic table.

The pigeon on the wall and the stones which make up the wall, the air and the stars, my computer and my body are all made up of elements named in the periodic table. All of matter is connected, a type of kin, sharing the same broad range of elements.

When St Francis of Assisi talked about ‘Sister Moon and Brother Sun’, he was not aware of the periodic table and yet he was expressing something he sensed: that everything which exists is all part of the creation and kin of God.

Julian of Norwich expressed this in a similar but different way; she understood that all things exist and are held in existence by God’s love. She lived in hard and challenging times and yet she came to understand that: ‘The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. God is the ground, the substance, the teaching, the teacher, the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labours.’

To know the fullness of joy is not to live in luxury, nor to escape the challenges of life; it is to discipline ourselves to perceive and appreciate the intimate, infinite, accepting, loving Holy One in every moment and everything.

“The pigeon on the wall and the stones which make up the wall are all made up of elements named in the periodic table”

Learning to open our minds and hearts to this transforms our perception. The everyday reveals holiness. The hard things (conflicts, challenges, pain, loss, fear) do not become less hard, but opportunities to know more deeply God’s creative Spirit and the kinship of all life.

As we move in our worship from the Season of Creationtide (September) to the Season of Wholeness (October), may our experience of the fullness of joy deepen as we perceive and appreciate God in everything.

Through the barred windows

By Alex Peden (From Seeds October 2021)

Prisons are a blind spot for many churches: a window that’s just too difficult to look into.

On the one hand, being a Christian is all about forgiveness and fresh starts. On the other, we can all think of terrible crimes which we ourselves may feel demand punishment. We wouldn’t want to be vengeful, nor fall into the trap of being over-sentimental and naïve. However, by ignoring the issue, might we be tacitly accepting the ‘who cares, just lock ‘em up’ overtures of some sections of our society? It seems to me that we have a responsibility to know more about our prisons.

Very recently at a Zoom social, I learnt that my assumption, that our own church had nothing to do with prisons, is wrong. Members of our church, not long ago, had volunteered to serve refreshments to prisoners and to be visitors at Saughton prison (HMP Edinburgh). Others have served as prison chaplains.

I wanted to bust other assumptions I may have made about prisons. That’s why I was glad to speak to John Nonhebel, the newly appointed Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Scotland. PF Scotland is a non-denominational charity that works alongside prison chaplains to provide opportunities for prisoners to discover the Christian faith, as well as reflecting on the impacts of their crimes on individuals and communities, through a process of ‘restorative justice’. ‘It involves Bible study and exploring faith with the prisoners… it’s good fun,’ John told me.

A little to my dismay, soon into our conversation John was confirming some things I had feared were true: Firstly, Scottish prisons are ‘bursting’, currently with around 7,000 people. ‘We lock up more people than any other country in Western Europe,’ John said. I checked this fact and indeed Scotland appears to have a higher rate of incarceration per capita than any other Western European country.

He also confirmed that serious mental health issues are rife amongst prisoners. Prison chaplains are having to work hard on suicide prevention, with an increasing number of deaths in custody. The problem is compounded by drugs: large numbers of inmates are there for drug-related offences, and the infiltration of drugs into prisons is an increasing problem.

Although all this was difficult to hear, I was at least very glad to be speaking to someone with first-hand knowledge of the system. John has devoted his life to working in the charitable sector, being strongly motivated by Jesus’ example of bringing good news to the poor and exploited, something he did for 20 years in India.

Frustratingly for him, he came into his current role at PF Scotland just three months before the first Covid lockdown, which severely limited contact with prisoners (as well as cutting off inmates from a raft of support services). However, he is greatly looking forward to getting back ‘behind the walls’ very soon.

Why is our imprisonment rate so high, I wanted to know? Is it tougher sentencing? His belief was that the Scottish Government is not properly looking at alternative solutions which he believes are ‘way more successful’. According to him, other European countries are achieving more by treating crime as a public health issue, with low crime and decreasing rates of imprisonment in Portugal being just one example.

The vast majority of prisoner are men, but something I learnt from John was how much harder prison life can be for women. ‘They are very isolated, and they have very few visits. The mental health issues are worse for women.’ For one thing, the pain of separation from their children and families can be more acute.

Many have spent their lives against a backdrop of physical and mental abuse. A recent study showed that 80 per cent of female prisoners had a history of serious head injury. ‘There are too many women in the prison system at the moment. It’s about 400 whereas it should be 40,’ John said.

John is hopeful about an initiative of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) for Custodial Care Units in which groups of no more than around 30 women are housed together in a supportive open prison environment.

“some prisoners have done horrendous things, but the majority are people who have maybe made just one mistake”

I wanted to know what ordinary people can do to help. ‘Educate yourself, find out more,’ he said. Also ask your MSPs ‘why they aren’t looking at alternative solutions’. However, John’s own focus is to get back working with prisoners and running courses. That’s where he feels he can do his best work.

PF Scotland recruits new volunteers every year, who often come from churches in the local areas of many of Scotland’s 15 prisons. PF Scotland provides volunteers with opportunities for exploring faith with small groups of prisoners or helping to run a course called ‘Sycamore Tree’ on restorative justice (named for the tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus coming), where prisoners reflect on the suffering their crimes have caused others. This is a scheme the SPS is keen to expand. Full training is provided for all programmes by PF Scotland, even for letter writing to prisoners, where a balance is needed between safety, anonymity, and keeping the communication meaningful for the prisoners.

John was upbeat in his message that ‘God is at work’ in Scottish prisons, and lives are genuinely ‘being transformed’. And as we finished our interview, John said something to make me think: ‘They’re just like us you know.’ Yes, some prisoners have done horrendous things, but the majority are people ‘who have maybe made just one mistake’.

Focussing on prisons might be more like looking into a mirror than a window – but having started to look, I want to find out more.