Freeing Jesus

By David Townsend (From Seeds June 2022)

Do you ever read a book that resonates with your own experience? Freeing Jesus by Diana Butler Bass is, for me, just such a book.

“the book is a rediscovery of Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Saviour, Lord, Way, and Presence”

Freeing Jesus is strongly autobiographical whilst, at the same time, presenting a clear articulation of a renewed faith and theology that has moved away from fundamentalist evangelical notions of ‘salvation’.

Like me, Diana Butler Bass discovered fundamentalist evangelicalism in Providence Doucet on Unsplash her teens but, after giving it her all, found herself in mid-life questioning the journey she’d undertaken thus far. As the subtitle suggests, the book is a rediscovery of Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Saviour, Lord, Way, and Presence.

I know that I am not alone in having moved beyond the fundamentalism of my earlier years and, if that is your journey too, I think you will also find that this book resonates. On the other hand, if you never experienced aspects of evangelical fundamentalism, this book will help you to understand the faith journey of those of us who have.

And I suspect that it may help all of us to better articulate aspects of our own faith journey and understanding. As writer Anne Lamott says in her commendation: ‘Diana Butler Bass is one of only a few modern Christian writers who can absolutely blow me away with both spiritual insight and beautiful writing.’

2022: a patchwork legacy

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds June 2022)

The 2’s seem quite significant in AUC’s history.

2022 marks 220 years since the congregation of what was then called the North College Street Chapel was founded in 1802.

2022 marks 30 years since this congregation became part of the URC, through its union with Dalkeith Road URC. The name Augustine United Church was born in 1992 through this union – so we have been ‘AUC’ for 30 years.

2022 also marks 50 years of the wider United Reformed Church, which was formed in 1972 when the Congregational Churches in Wales and England united with the Presbyterian Church in England.

Both the URC and AUC are patchwork quilts composed of the legacies of several denominations and local churches.

For AUC, apart from Dalkeith Rd URC, there were joinings with Bristo Place church in 1941; Hope Park and Buccleuch Congregational church in 1979; Dalry Congregational in 2005; and the Metropolitan Community Church of Edinburgh in 2009. Of course, each of these local churches also has their own patchwork legacy of congregations who have been birthed from, or who have joined with, them.

It is sometimes cleaner to think about our patchwork heritage through the structure of organisation, but that’s like looking at a photo of a quilt rather than feeling it around you or hearing what other people felt when they had that quilt around them.

People: the Church is about a community of people supporting and challenging each other to live Jesus’ good news and to share it with the world. AUC itself is full of people who are wrestling with how to build bridges and community throughout our society and world. I wonder, as you think back over your time in AUC, or as part of other churches, who are the people and the stories that have stuck with you and shaped you? Who has supported and challenged you to live out and share the message of acceptance, abundance and hope which Jesus came to bring?

“AUC is still full of people wrestling with how to build bridges and community”

These people are the many threads that make up the patches in the quilt of our history.

As we celebrate many 2’s in 2022, I would encourage us to remember and share these thread stories of people and the legacy they have left us.

Friendship in plain sight

From Seeds June 2022

The United Reformed Church was formed 50 years ago with a passion for ecumenical conversation and church union.

Some hoped that the fledgling denomination would itself only have a shelf life long enough to see the union of multiple Churches across the UK. That vision hasn’t yet come to pass, but during the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May commissioners welcomed the second historic agreement with a sister denomination in six months.

The Saint Margaret Declaration is a declaration of friendship between the Kirk and the Catholic Church in Scotland, offering ‘a decisive and irrevocable statement of our friendship with one another, based on our shared faith in Christ’.

It has been described as ‘the culmination of more than 100 years of dialogue, [emphasising] the shared faith and common ground that unites the Churches’.

Named after the 11th century Scottish Queen, the Saint Margaret Declaration follows on from a similar statement of understanding signed last November between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church: the Saint Andrew Declaration. The Revd Alexander Horsburgh, Convener of the Kirk’s Ecumenical Relations Committee, said that ‘we are declaring a friendship which already exists, which has existed for a long time, and we want everyone to know about it and understand it’.

He described this as a friendship ‘in which individuality is respected and there is room for disagreement, but a relationship in which we stand alongside one another, support one another, rejoice together and weep together, pray for and with each other, and do things together.

‘By saying out loud that the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland are friends, we contribute to changing not only the narrative of our churches but the narrative of our country too.’

In these days of multiple pressures on all our mainstream Christian denominations, ecumenical friendships have pragmatic value. However, they also reflect gospel values.

‘Do I expect our two old institutions to be perfectly aligned and united any time soon?’, Mr Horsburgh asked. ‘I suspect that may be a task for another generation. Nevertheless, I believe that by acknowledging all the good that we hold in common, we can walk and pray together as friends, deepen our affective unity, and be a more authentic Christian witness in the land. The rest will come in God’s good time.’

Refugees – Ukraine and beyond

From Seeds June 2022

The lead image for this year’s Refugee Week has been inspired by the theme of ‘Healing’.

Pictured above, the image was commissioned from Nima Javan, a painter specialising in traditional Persian art and contemporary abstract art. Originally from Quchan in North East Iran, Nima sought refuge in the UK in 2019.


In response to government plans to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda, and its refusal to implement changes to the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, issued a statement, saying: ‘to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling’.

Ms Downing said: ‘Church leaders have been criticised for joining the debate about asylum and immigration plans. But in the face of unfair and cruel proposals, to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling. The Biblical mandate is that righteous nations “welcome the stranger”.

‘. . . We are clear that every individual, whatever their status, should be treated by the state with humanity, dignity, respect and fairness . . . To export some of those seeking asylum to Rwanda is a denial of the UK’s responsibilities and of the rights and dignity of refugees. Questions have rightly been raised about Rwanda’s record on human rights and the treatment of LGBT people in particular.

‘There are many more suitable options open to the government that would save lives in the Channel and tackle people-smuggling, including the establishment of new safe and legal routes for people to come to the UK, allowing refugees to reunite with their families, and providing increased international development assistance to countries that neighbour conflict and crisis.’


‘Ukraine is undoubtably diverting attention from others who need help – geographically distant, but in equally dire straits.’

“to fail to speak out would be a denial of our gospel calling. The Biblical mandate is that righteous nations ‘welcome the stranger’”

In a recent Guardian editorial, Global development editor Tracy McVeigh noted ‘a feeling that people and politicians show support for only the “right” type of refugee. A European with pets that could be our pets and children who wear similar clothes to ours. More neighbour than stranger. More white than black.’

A recent study by Christian Aid revealed that 91% of Britons knew about Vladimir Putin’s war, but only 23% knew of drought and impending famine in east Africa. Christian Aid said the finding is ‘deeply concerning’. In another recent press release, Oxfam and Save the Children have estimated that someone died of hunger in East Africa every 48 seconds. Tracy McVeigh calls this ‘an overwhelming statistic. But people can’t put a face to that one person.’ Compare that to Ukraine news coverage in which reporters have given voice to refugees themselves, making the resultant stories particularly resonant.

Distance disconnects us, she writes, and there is a ‘reluctance to feel the weight of our impotence in the face of disaster. But there is also the issue of understanding. . . ‘No one need feel angry that Britain is “too focused” on Ukrainians – we just need to recognise ourselves in east Africans too.’


Down the road run refugees, a child and father and mother; scared by what they’ve left behind and what they fear to discover.

John Bell and Graham Maule wrote this ‘carol is in the form of a protestsong’ in 1992. Thirty years on, the anger and shame they expressed are as precisely relevant today. Their words sit in the tradition of songs that not only protest but make us ask ourselves questions. We don’t let ourselves off the hook when we sing these words:

Who will help the refugees to cease their endless walking, while the ones who claim to care continue endless talking?

(From the Wild Goose publication Innkeepers & Light Sleepers)

“no one need feel angry that Britain is ‘too focused’ on Ukrainians – we just need to recognise ourselves in East Africans too.”


There are dangers in drawing too close parallels between what we read in the Bible about refugees and those we read about in our newspapers. Each person’s story is different. Nevertheless, the lessons that people of Biblical times learnt from their ancestors’ experiences are an important thread through the teaching of their community leaders, prophets, and of Jesus himself. The histories of Abraham, Jacob and Moses hold powerful memories and the people of Israel are often reminded that, with God, ‘you are but aliens and tenants’. From their own experience, in other words, they should know how to treat strangers.

It wasn’t always that simple – but the theme continues in the New Testament where, as one writer puts it, we continue to ‘find God amidst those who are uprooted’. As a small child, this was Jesus’ own experience, as we are reminded every Christmas, and we have to wonder whether the formative escape into Egypt, away from the despotic King Herod, helped inform his message of good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed.

Journalist and Baptist minister Mark Woods writes: ‘Christians have no special insight into the details of security, immigration and asylum policies.’ He says ‘We have a duty to call those responsible for these policies to account: to tell them when not just their actions, but the fundamental attitudes that guide those attitudes are wrong.’

More about Refugee Week at

Resurrection Hope

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds April 2022)

We are about to move from the Season of Lent into the Season of Easter.

Easter is the time we celebrate that from death, new life is born; that from suffering, goodness can emerge; that hope cannot be ended.

It may seem, though, that at times reality has not caught up with the calendar. Just as in Narnia there was a time of winter but never Christmas, so the suffering and injustice in our lives and world may seem like Lent and never Easter.

In those times, this song from Natalie Sleeth holds hope for us, reminding us that every moment and situation in life contains potential for new life. It may not follow the shape or timing we think is a good idea, but it is there in God’s mind, unshakably real, shaped in love
and for love.

Throughout Jesus’ life many things did not turn out to be smooth, comfortable or pain free, but through it all he showed us what it is, in the midst of challenges and suffering, to trust in
God and to have faith in God’s justice and love.

This Easter, whether it brings experiences of new life or experiences which seem stuck in Lent, may we too find strength and courage in the hope of resurrection.

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see

Hymn by Natalie Sleeth, an American composer and hymn writer, Church Hymnary 4 #727

Our Tribe, breaking the bias

From Seeds March 2022

The next Our Tribe online gathering will be on Thursday 3 March, 7.30pm, where Carol will lead a session inspired by International Women’s Day. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March 2022) is ‘Break the Bias’.

In Our Tribe, we’ll be considering some of the biases around what it means to be a woman. We’ll be looking at the horizontal oppression experienced by LGBT+ women from their own gender and deciding what a truly inclusive Bias-busting International Women’s Day might look like!

Lent Reflections

From Seeds March 2022

A range of opportunities are being made available to spend time in quiet reflection and discussion with
others during Lent.


St Columba’s by the Castle, one of AUC’s ecumenical partners, is going to be running a Lent course on the theme of pilgrimage (6, 13, 20 & 27 March; 3 & 10 April). It will be based around relatively local Scottish destinations, scripture and our own experiences of the journey.

The series is going to be on Zoom on Sunday nights, 7-8pm, and will be followed (for those who wish) by a short service of Compline.

We have been invited to join in. The Zoom details are available in AUC’s regular Friday email.


Junior Church is bringing an outdoor ‘Time for All Ages’ to our worship during Lent. Susan Murray explains. ‘This year in that time we are using material from “Sparkhouse” in which we journey from the Wilderness to a Garden, by building a garden from a tray of sand. The material is designed so families can do it over 12 stages as set out in 12 cards but we are adapting it somewhat.’


David Townsend is offering to run an online Lent Group using material produced by the Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Glasgow. David has done their training and would offer a weekly online group (probably early Sunday evenings starting 6 March) to share insights from the daily reflections, which are all available online.

Contact him direct at, or the church office, if you are interested.


For those currently joining David for the study on Julian of Norwich, the final session will take place on 7 March.

Following on from the Julian explorations, the group has discussed exploring The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr, beginning those sessions in May (16 May, continuing on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month).

As a ‘bridge’ between these two studies, David is offering a reflection on Rublev’s Icon of The Trinity on 4 April. Contact him direct at, or the church office, if you are interested in the Book Group or simply to attend the evening reflecting on Rublev’s icon.

Apologies, reparations, awareness


By Kathleen Ziffo (From Seeds March 2022)

In November 2019 the URC Global and Intercultural Ministries set up a Task Group to consider the involvement of our churches and individuals in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They explored its past and current effects and what we might do to counter any perceived white privilege now.

This followed a 2017 Council for World Mission ‘Legacy of Slavery’ Project in which the URC was involved. The URC’s own group is coordinating four ‘hearings’ in those four areas mainly involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade: the UK, Ghana, Jamaica and the USA.

At our own recent Church Meeting, our minister played a video in which the URC’s Secretary of Global and Intercultural Ministries, Karen Campbell (pictured right), told us about the work and findings so far. Since 2019 investigations and recommendations have taken place in three areas, though progress has been slowed by the Covid Pandemic.


Firstly it was recognised that (despite misgivings by some people that it might not be possible to apologise for something committed by antecedents) there should be Confession and sincere Apology for the movement of over 800,000 people across the Atlantic into slavery (for those who managed to survive the appalling sea crossings). An apology should also be made for our continuing complicity in racial injustice to this day.


It might surprise and horrify you (it did me) that payments made in 1833 to slave owners for the loss of their ’property’ – i.e. slaves – which ‘completely damaged’ their trade amounted at the time to £20 million (valued today at £30 billion). This resulted in repayments of loans made in 1833 continuing until 2015! Slaves, on their eventual release, received no apology, no monetary help to establish their lives, no reparations, or for any of their ancestors and home countries. How could and should we make reparation now?


How can we put things right today, as there is surely ongoing discrimination by many (most?) and a culture of white privilege? Any dispute about this can be ‘put to bed’ as this can be measured – seen – by the fact that such an unequally high proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK have poorer education and live with fewer jobs and less advancement, poorer pay, worse housing, and worse health (obviously seen in the Covid Pandemic) than their white counterparts. The hurt has always been there for BAME people but they could no longer keep quiet, especially since 2019 and following the global pandemic, George Floyd’s death in May 2020, and the Black Lives Matter campaign. The URC has heard that pain!

There are to be further consultations for churches in our synods, before the group makes recommendations and concrete proposals at General Assembly in July 2022. The Church should be seen as a mirror of what is right, but too often in the past it has been a mirror of society.

Please look out for these discussions and help us make our contributions.

The challenge of ‘ubuntu’

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds March 2022)

Over the last few months, I feel I have come across the word ‘ubuntu’ many times. Ubuntu is a word which appears in varied forms in several African languages. I have read it translated to mean ‘a person is a person through other people’.

One of the places I came across this word was reading The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. They understand that seeing ourselves and others from the perspective of ubuntu is part of what can enable the winding process of forgiveness. Indeed, the concept was used in South Africa in the 1990s as a guiding ideal for the transition from apartheid, in which Desmond Tutu took a leading role.

Ubuntu even appears in the epilogue of the Interim Constitution of South Africa (1993): ‘there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation’.

Ubuntu is a way of seeing ourselves not as autonomous isolated units, but recognising that our very humanity comes from our connection with others. I think, in a culture such as ours, where a lot of emphasis is placed on our individual responsibility and perhaps even entitlement, this concept is alien and challenging. But could it be living water offered from African wisdom to very dry European souls?

As we emerge from the pandemic, in which were periods where there was a great emphasis on supporting each other and getting through it together, we seem to be slipping into a time where my right to choose if I wear a mask is outweighing my responsibility to protect the vulnerable.

Ubuntu challenges us to recognise that how we behave, how we perceive the world, even who we are, is bigger than individual choice, and yet our individual choices can play key parts in the whole.

The concept of ubuntu changed the course of history in how it shaped the transition in South Africa. What could it bring to our world today if we allow it to shape us, our church, our society and our world?

New Year – new ‘care-fulness’

From Seeds February 2022

There has been much discussion around how to approach this new year – as a society, as communities, as individuals. People have spoke about New Year ‘intentions’ rather than ‘promises’.
Many have spoken about trying to be kind to ourselves. There has also been mention of grace – grace towards others and grace towards ourselves. What might intentions – kindness – grace look like for you or your families, friends, and communities?
Here are one or two ideas and prompts.

Showing self-compassion

Ruth Allen is CEO of the British Association of Social Workers. She recently shared the following thoughts, which are relevant well beyond the social work profession.

We have had nearly two years living and working with the pandemic. Like many of you I expect, I started the year taking stock of the impact on me, personally and professionally.

I have been trying to focus on what I need to recover from what has been a tough time, and to thrive in the year ahead. This has meant time spent:

  • Applying critical reflection andunconditional, positive regard to myself.
  • Recognising and celebrating my strengths and accepting ‘human failings’ is just another term for chances to learn.
  • Listening to what my mind, emotions and body are telling me they need.
  • Consciously changing the balance of how I use time and effort between looking after myself and taking up challenges – recognising none of us can carry heavy loads, make good decisions and support others without really good recovery time and nourishment
  • Feeling and showing gratitude to others and for all that I have

This is just my way of showing self-compassion – everyone is different and needs to find their own way. . . finding time to reflect and look after yourself and decide what is right for you can be hard.

We are living through times when worsening inequalities and social need have been exposed. We may have been exposed to health, bereavement, financial difficulties and other challenges ourselves. . . A paradox of coming through this phase of the pandemic, when there is so much to do for others, is that to keep making a difference we have to look after ourselves first.

Dear Tomorrow

Send your promise to the future. Dear Tomorrow is an award-winning climate storytelling project where people write messages to loved ones living in the future. Messages are shared now at and through social media, public talks, community events, and public art to inspire deep thinking and bold action on climate.

At you can think of a person important in your life – a friend, a family member, your child or your future self. Imagine it is 2050 and they receive a message from you written today.
What would it say? About climate change and your promise to take action to ensure they have a safe and healthy world?

Nurture connections offline

‘One thousand hours outside’ promotes ‘digital detox’. Getting beyond our screens.

It describes itself as ‘a global movement designed for any age child (or adult) and any environment’ and takes its name from an estimate that the average American child spends
1,200 hours a year in front of screens.

So – the organisers say – it’s not as if the time isn’t available to spend a 1,000 hours outside!
The 1,000 hours outside website and downloadable pack offers all sorts of prompts and strategies for reconnecting with the world around us.
It does have a US-focus, but all the ideas are transferrable to our own situations. It only takes a spark of an idea to set imaginations going.

An angry prayer

Whoever said anger couldn’t have positive outcomes? Just ask Moses or pretty much any of the Old Testament prophets.

Remember Jesus overturning the traders’ stalls in the precincts of the Jerusalem Temple. Think about Martin Luther King or Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Do we have an anger that we can turn to good use?

God, I am angry
at the loss of innocent lives;
that people don’t have enough to eat;
at the police for not executing justice;
with the very rich for hoarding wealth and then oppressing the helpless;
at the stupid military forces for making people homeless.
I am angry with the unequal distribution of resources around the world.
God, this is damn unfa
ir! Amen.

Edited from Liturgies from Below: praying with peoples at the ends of the world by Claudio Carvalhaes (2020: Abingdon) and included in the January Commitment to Life newsletter.