Male and female, she created them. . .

By Jo Clifford (From Seeds February 2022)

In every era there have been more than just two genders. G*d loves the diversity of the world and of people.’

These were the words introducing the main exhibition in Frankfurt’s Bible Museum, and I was hearing them in the company of a Christian youth group who were being shown round the museum, which was exploring gender diversity in the Old Testament.

The asterisk in the middle of Gd’s name indicated that, according to research, the Divinity themselves was gender diverse; and when Brix Schaumberg, the German Queen Jesus, and I performed a bit of the play and answered questions at the end, the young people proudly said: ‘Christian youth around here are all queer’.

And they all saw the copy of The Gospel According to Jesus Queen Of Heaven that I’d signed and which had been put in a display case next to the most amazingly beautiful illuminated medieval bibles illustrating the androgynous nature of the first human beings.

In the week I was there, I met schoolchildren, teacher training students, church groups, university chaplains, trans activists, confirmation classes. . . all being shown round this amazing, beautiful, visionary exhibition. I remembered my own confirmation classes and wondered what would have happened if this information about gender diversity
had been available to me. How many years and years of useless suffering I would have been spared.

Or what would happen if this information was available to every Christian church everywhere?

And how miraculous that this should all be emerging now. I wrote and performed a play about these questions way back in 2002 – God’s New Frock* – and by a strange coincidence it was being performed (in Italian) by an Italian theatre company in Berlin the same week I was in Frankfurt.

I never expected that to happen. . . nor that Queen Jesus would be translated into German, performed by a trans man, or that I would get to see the film of it being screened in a Women’s Centre to an audience of queer people so deeply moved by its message.

In the play, Queen Jesus talks of the unstoppable change that is coming. But actually, it is already here. And far deeper and more radical than anything I could ever have
imagined. . .

*God’s New Frock was first produced at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow. It introduces ‘a boy called Billie who really wants to be a girl’ but who isn’t allowed to show it, and ‘a god called Jehovah who’s got a wardrobe full of frocks. A closet he’s afraid to show anyone.’

A Bird’s Eye View of COP26

By Katrina Tweedie (From Seeds February 2022)

It was a cold, wet November day in Glasgow and Baby Pigeon was sleeping, cooried in to her mother’s soft downy feathers.
A loud noise woke her. She peeked out from under her mother’s wing.
‘What are all those humans doing?’ she asked.
‘They are marching to ask their leaders to save the planet.’
‘There are so many humans! I’ve never seen so many. . . but where are the pigeons?’
‘We weren’t invited.’
‘Where are the kingfishers, the spiders and the trees, the woodpeckers, the dormice and the bees?’
‘Where are the sticklebacks, the otters and the plants, the dandelions, lobsters and the ants?’
Where are the sparrowhawks, the badgers and the bats, the butterflies, the starlings
and the. . .’
‘None of us were invited’ Mother Pigeon interrupted. She sighed.
‘The mice have got in but they’re only interested in the food.’
Baby Pigeon nearly fell out of their nest. ‘NONE OF US WERE INVITED!
But the humans don’t own the planet. They share it with US! ALL of US!’
‘Ah, my beautiful little pigeon, you try telling THEM that!’
‘I will!’ Baby Pigeon exclaimed, and she was off!
Out from under Mother Pigeon’s wing, down onto the road into the midst of the marchers. Big shoes and boots all around her, the sound of thumping feet louder than the shouting and music.
She could no longer tell where she was. All she could see was legs, hundreds of legs. Suddenly, she was scooped up in soft woollen hands and looked up at kind eyes.
‘Baby Pigeon, if you walk here someone might stand on you by mistake. Fly to the very front where people can see you and you will be safe.’
And that is why Baby Pigeon became the star of the march. She flew to the front and took up her position a metre or two ahead of the humans.
Head held high and chest puffed out, she led the march all the way to the leaders’ building.
Inside the building, there were rows and rows of humans sitting wearing earphones. None of them even glanced up at the drumming and chanting just outside their window.
Baby Pigeon looked round at the procession. Everyone was chanting ‘Save our planet!’ Still nobody inside looked up. Then she looked again at the building. The window was open
and she would be able to fly through it.
A small boy was watching her and he, too, realised she could fly through. He wrote a message and offered it to her. She shook her head. ‘Not good enough,’ she thought.
He wrote another message but again she refused it.
But the third message, the third message was perfect. He popped it into her beak.
Baby Pigeon flew through the window and landed in front of the human speaking, who gasped.
There was a silence, then the speaker picked up the message and read it out.
Then one of the humans shouted, ‘Oui!’ And then other humans shouted,
‘Ja!’ ‘Ndio!’, ‘Na’am!’, ‘Yes!’ until they were all shouting.
Everyone leapt up, clapped and cheered Baby Pigeon.
Then they burst through the doors out to the marchers and started dancing and laughing with them.
Later, when Baby Pigeon was nestling into Mother Pigeon again, Mother Pigeon asked, ‘And what did the last message say?’
And Baby Pigeon replied, ‘We will just have to wait and see.’
And so will we.

Desmond Tutu – Faith and Anger

From Seeds February 2022

Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on 26 December 2021 aged 90. However, he was already half that age before he became widely known as a fearless voice for justice and reconciliation.

He is remembered as a campaigner whose infectious laughter sometimes belied the steely faith and righteous anger that drove his words and actions. As a young teacher, he had
quit teaching in protest against a policy of segregated schools in South Africa. This decision, and the sense of freedom experienced while later studying in London, was instrumental
in grafting political and social activism onto the core of his faith.

It was the revolt and massacre of Soweto students in 1976 that finally drew him into the public sphere, aged ‘There comes a point where we need to stop pulling people out of the river’, he once wrote. ‘We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.’

Stepping out of familiar places

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds February 2022)

The year ahead, 2022, looks to be a year of commemorative celebration.

On 30 May we will mark the fact that the congregation of Augustine United (then the North Square Chapel) is 220 years old and, on 5 October, the United Reformed Church is 50 years old.

The early story of the North Square Chapel links directly with the Haldane brothers, who are credited for being unintentional founding movers in what became the Congregational Union of Scotland.

John Aikman worked alongside the brothers. Taking a group of people from their first community, he then built the North Square Chapel. What motivated this movement was not the idea of setting up a church but a desire to see people more alive in their faith and keen to share the Gospel.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the agrarian and industrial revolutions were happening. People were moving to towns and cities, and the French Revolution was making people in power in the UK anxious of similar uprisings here. Change was in the air, which would have excited some and terrified others.

In his book The Strength to Love (1963), Martin Luther King Jr said: ‘The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.’

Our founding congregation will have been made up of people with a diversity of life experiences, feelings and motives, but they were people who in a time of change tried to do something different for the sake of the Gospel.

Their stepping out of familiar places and habits created a community which has evolved hugely over 200 years and yet is still, in our own context, trying to enable ourselves and
all people to be alive in our faith and to share the Gospel today.

I hope, over this commemorative year, that insights from our heritage both in AUC and the URC might equip and empower us to step out of our familiar places and habits, and to create new places of love, justice and hope in our world today.

Bi-lence in the Church

By Dr Carol Shepherd (From Seeds December 21 / January 22)

Back in February, Dr Carol Shepherd gave a presentation to Our Tribe about her research on bisexuality. Now she shares some of her findings with Seeds.

 LGBT and Christianity are not easy bedfellows, and bisexuality and Christianity even less so. Even the most affirming of LGBT Churches struggle to acknowledge, let alone address, the issue of bisexuality within teaching and pastoral resources. This is curious, since a 2015 study by GLAAD (originally the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) showed that over half (52%) of the LGB community identified as bi, three times as many as identified as lesbian (17%) and about a third more than identified as gay (31%).

What is it about bisexuality that makes it so difficult to talk about in a church that increasingly engages, however positively, with same sex marriage and transgender issues? It is almost as if there is a kind of conspiracy of silence around the orientation. And this silence can be deadly, as I have discovered in my body of research on the bisexual Christian intersectional identity.

There is a good reason for this ‘bi-lence’ – why bisexuality and Christianity remain almost invisible. As in the secular world, this silence is largely due to the twin aspects of ‘biphobia’ (fear of bisexual people) and ‘bi-erasure’ (ignoring bisexual experiences or conflating them with homosexuality). But there are other aspects peculiar to religious environments which exacerbate the silence on bisexuality, even when the church purports to be affirming.

Bi-erasure via cultural appropriation takes place in queer theology and church life, just as in the secular world. For example, a number of well-known works of gay theology promote King David and his close buddy Jonathan as gay icons. Yet David sees a naked woman sunbathing in 2 Samuel in the Old Testament and is overcome by lust – hardly the act of a gay man. David is either heterosexual with an intense friendship with Jonathan or, more likely, is bisexual, but certainly not homosexual.

In a similar way, Ruth in the Old Testament is either portrayed as loyal friend to Naomi or her lesbian lover, while the notion that she could be attracted to Boaz and Naomi is rarely entertained. And then there is Jesus and ‘the Beloved Disciple’ (commonly identified as John the Evangelist) and Jesus and his close friend Lazarus, yet also Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Clearly, we don’t really know for sure about the sexual orientation of any of these figures from Scripture, and it is arguably anachronistic to attempt to do so. But if we are going to ascribe sexual orientations to such figures, let us at least do so with integrity and an open mind, and accept that David, Ruth and Jesus might just be bisexual!

Queer theologians are particularly guilty of bi-erasure, either through this kind of cultural appropriation of potentially bisexual role models, or by ignoring the subject altogether. Most affirming LGBT Christian books I have encountered usually do little more than include ‘B’ nominally in the title. There is almost never any content on bisexuality.

Sexual identity politics also play a role in the stigmatisation and erasure of bisexual Christians. Many gay and lesbian Christians have fought hard to have their rights recognised, culminating in the achievement of marriage equality in many countries of the world, including the UK. Bisexual people are seen to be flies in the ointment of sexual identity politics as they are perceived as diluting what I call the Lady Gaga argument, that ‘I was born that way’ i.e. born lesbian or gay. Bisexuality indicates an element of fluidity, which is not part of the lesbian and gay politic.

In addition, bisexuality carries the stigma of promiscuity, which is even more taboo within Church circles. Lesbian and gay Christians do not want their image tainted by ‘dirty bisexuals’ when they are trying to achieve moral parity with heterosexual Christians. As with their heterosexual counterparts, this is the result of ignorance of the bisexual orientation and the true lived experiences of bisexual Christians.

There are many more reasons why bisexuality is erased and stigmatised, and you may wish to read some of my own work on the subject to find out more. The sad reality, which I must highlight here though, is that bisexual people suffer from extremely poor mental health. This is magnified several times over in the Church, where attitudes are even more judgemental and less informed than in secular society.

A Canadian Health Survey from 2010 showed that bisexual people are six times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people, and twice as likely as their lesbian and gay counterparts. And these are ‘secular’ figures. In my own research in the UK and US, I found an 88% overall rate of depression and suicide ideation among bisexual Christians. This is hardly surprising, when bisexual people face prejudice from both the straight and LGBT communities.

These figures are horrifying and should alone galvanise pastors and supporters of LGBT folk into action.

Dr Carol Shepherd is a global expert on bisexual Christian identities and a Social Sciences Lecturer at University of Highlands & Islands. She is the author of The Damage of Silence: Bisexuality and the Western Christian Church (Palgrave, 2018) and Bi: the Way, Pastoring Bisexual Christians in Europe (EYP, 2020).

Saying no to cynicism

By Rev David Coleman (From Seeds December 21 / January 22)

COP26 is over. The work is not. What are we learning?

The Revd David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain for Eco Congregation Scotland (and a member of AUC), has reflected on the Glasgow gathering in his blog. Here are just a few of his thoughts.

In the midst of a Blue Zone session on the role of parliamentarians, things are happening, a surprising togetherness with those who are charged with holding governments to account. . .

The Blue Zone is an amazing place. . . so many disciplines, expertises, coming together.

I’m therefore coming down so far well outside any obligatory narrative that COP will ‘fail’. The cynicism which characterises the whole thing as a waste of time should be devoutly resisted.

There is a remarkably widespread recognition in what I’m hearing, that the job of government will be in engagement with the public. Ignorance is a liability; informed and functional democracy, like spirituality, assumes the role I perhaps always hoped it might.

The old mantra of ‘education, education, education’ has a continued or recycled place in every nation.

The UN is taking the empowerment and education of women and girls with an unprecedented seriousness, which does not allow for the separation of climate justice and gender justice.

All the undeniable scientific and statistical evidence was there in your face that the marginalisation, exclusion and condescension to women, children, and the indigenous peoples of the Earth who live close to God’s Creation, is a dire and manifest liability.

Injustice – as the prophets prayed and hoped – always does come back to bite the unjust in the bum. The well-meaning suspicion that the empowerment and education of women was a plus for climate action is now well-established.

To hound a species to extinction is, objectively, to hasten our own. The strongest terms in which I have ever expressed that treasure of our faith, have this week begun to look decidedly half-hearted.

And this chastening comes more often than not, not from elders and hoary old COP regulars, but young indigenous women who, without artifice, take your breath away.

‘We are not “part” of nature. We ARE nature.’

‘I was writing a job application, and spoke in it of my animal relatives. My father became terribly anxious and said “you must never dare tell that truth to the others: they will make you suffer for it”.’ I know our churches have come some distance in this time of crisis, which is also a time of spiritual healing. Great. That’s what we now need, with the greatest urgency, to build on.

Our friend James Baghwan, from the Pacific Council of Churches, has pointed out how the traditions and spirituality of his own people are not in conflict, but enhanced by Christianity.

Ours, can I suggest, have been cowed and manipulated by other forces, but – since you’re reading this – not wounded beyond healing.

Read more at:

Augustine Tartan Launch Planned

From Seeds December 21 / January 22

In the summer, AUC members voted on a range of designs and the winning tartan has now been forwarded for registration with the Scottish Register of Tartans.

AUC Tartan

Pat Tweedie, who has guided the process, says she hopes that registration will be complete by the end of the year and that the tartan can be launched at AUC’s Burns meal in January.

The colours of our new tartan were prompted by the church’s only stained glass windows, created by ‘the other’ Robert Burns, a noted glass designer and artist who lived from 1869 to 1941. These colours, which can be found in the windows at the front of the sanctuary, interweave over a rich green background, representing the congregation’s commitment to raising environmental concerns (we are an eco-congregation) and justice issues more broadly.

Our motto is ‘Growing seeds of justice and joy’, which we believe encapsulates the Christian task of establishing God’s Commonwealth on earth. It is no coincidence that Christian Aid Scotland has its offices at AUC and that the congregation has partnered with other justice organisations over the years.

The tartan has been created in a year when we have marked 160 years since our building on George IV Bridge was opened.

Because we are a congregation that has formed over the years from congregations and traditions worshipping in different parts of Edinburgh, some of us trace our roots to other buildings and religious experiences. We link our current building with the congregation that moved here from a chapel that stood where the National Museum of Scotland now dominates Chambers Street.

That congregation saw itself as part of the “radical” Scottish Reformation that extended across Scotland in the closing years of the 18th century, led by James and Robert Haldane. Their supporters included John Aikman, who built (with his own money) the chapel in North College Street.

When the site was bought up in order to build what is now the National Museum, the congregation moved to George IV Bridge, led by the Revd Lindsay Alexander, one of Edinburgh’s foremost preachers of the day. It was in his honour and that of his wife, Mary, that the two windows were gifted by their son, and it is the vivid colours and design of these windows that have inspired our new tartan.

Planting hope -tree by tree

By Rev Fiona Bennet (From Seeds December 21 / January 22)

Advent is a season of waiting, and the hymn “When out of poverty was born” by Kathy Galloway invites us to listen and to learn from people who really know what waiting in hope is all about.

When out of poverty is born a dream that will not die, and landless, weary folk find strength to stand with heads held high, it’s then we learn from those who wait to greet the promised day, ‘The Lord is coming; don’t lose heart. Be blest: prepare the way!’

Kathy Galloway

When the Youth Climate Change Network visited AUC on their walk to COP26 they invited us to watch the film Thank you for the Rain, a documentary about the Kenyan farmer, Kisilu.

Kisilu recognised that much of the arable land around him was turning to dust with too little rain and flash flooding. He recognised that planting trees helped to regulate the land more effectively and spent much energy encouraging all his neighbours to plant trees; but his efforts were not enough to overcome flash floods.

Kisilu went to COP21 in Paris, where he was very encouraged that people were moved to hear his story. However, when it came to significant decisions to lower carbon emissions and address the climate change destroying the food from his family’s table, he was despairing at the lack of willingness of powerful nations to act to help him and all his neighbours.

It seemed Kisilu’s hope in humanity’s willingness to stand by each other was misplaced. He felt that he and his community were condemned to suffer due to climate change, which they did not contribute to, nor had any control over. What would he do?

Kisilu left COP21 headed back to his farm and community in Kenya and increased his efforts to plant trees.

“When out of poverty is born a dream that will not die” speaks to me of Kisilu and all like him who teach us of Advent waiting: waiting that is actively working for the dream of wholeness and justice, even when it seems overwhelmingly difficult, trusting that “The Lord is coming; don’t lose heart. Be blest: prepare the way!”

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:


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 ( Christian Aid supports emergency relief across the world, including refugees.


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 ( or Kathleen ( Alternatively, you can make a financial donation through their website (


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. clearly marking that your donation is for the REH.


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 ( or Kathleen (


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 (