The unconditional love that surrounds us

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds July/August 2021)

Ancient Greek had a number of different words which we translate into English today as “love”, but they all had slightly different meanings.

One of those words was “Agape”. (It’s pronounced “a-ga-pay”.) This is the love God has for us and which God desires we have for each other – or so it suggests in 1 John 4:7 (“let us love (agape) one another for love (agape) is of God”).

This agape love is an unconditional love; it persists regardless of all circumstance, and is more than a feeling – it is an utter commitment to seek the best for another. No matter what we do or feel, God’s agape love for us and for each and all life is unshakable, beyond breakable.

Agape love is also more than a benign affirmation; it is an active state in which the Spirit moves and works. Sometimes, truly seeking the best for ourselves or another in the sense of agape love, can be pretty tough, but it is the foundation of being and building God’s Realm on earth.

Coming out of lockdown is hitting many people hard. We battled through the pandemic, but the new normal is still shifting.

 We are all changed people, and many are weary. Just as people who travel in countries with great poverty often find their biggest culture shock is coming home (to wasted clean water and supermarkets full of food), so our arrival back into the new normal may well be trickier and more traumatic than girding ourselves to cope with the crisis.

Whatever is going on in our lives and world, it is helpful to remember and trust that whatever we feel and worry about, God’s unshakable and unconditional agape love surrounds and fills all things; it is for us, and is longing to be released through us towards ourselves, others and all life on earth.

“agape love is an invitation to find hope and resilience even in the most difficult times”

In the same passage in 1 John 4, the writer also says: “Perfect love casts out fear.” I think choosing to focus and trust God’s agape love is an invitation to find hope and resilience even in the most difficult times, which help to overcome our deepest fear.

Junior Church Gathers

By Tamsin Kilgour (From Seeds June 2021)

Great excitement this month as, on 9th May, several Junior Church families gathered in AUC for the Sunday service. This was the first chance we’d had to all be together since Advent (albeit in socially distanced, face-masked family groups). The theme of that week’s reading was Love. Here’s a selection of our children’s creations.

During June we will continue to provide weekly activity sheets linked to the lectionary readings. As we move towards the school holidays we will be having some activities for families to do outside, as well as those at home.

AUC Celebrates Pride Virtually


Our Tribe will be celebrating Pride Season during our next session on Thursday 3rd June. The session will open at 7.20pm and start at 7.30pm. We’d love if you want to join us in painting your face or wearing bright colours.

We’ll hear from Revd Dr. Ana Ester, who is an ordained clergy of the Metropolitan Community Church of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is a member of the Global Interfaith Network Latin America and of the American Academy of Religion.


We are delighted to have Revd Elder Pat Bumgardner as our guest preacher on Sunday 20th June.

Pat is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, where she has served in multiple capacities for the past 40 years. She is the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Memorial Food Pantry and Sylvia’s Place, both housed at MCCNY. Named for the late civil rights leader and Mother of the Queer Rights Movement in the US, Sylvia Rivera’s Place serves as an emergency shelter and drop-in site dedicated to providing safe space and food for homeless LGBTQI youth.

Rev Elder Pat also serves as the Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute, coordinating and overseeing the global justice efforts of MCC. Her current focus involves not only local church efforts, but projects with activists in Kenya and Uganda, Romania and Russia, Honduras, Brazil, Jamaica, and Mexico.


All are very welcome at both Pride events. If you don’t usually receive emails with the details for services and Our Tribe please contact

Find out more about MCCNY at

If you would like to donate to the Global Justice Institute, visit donatenow.networkforgood. org/1435416

Friendship in the Midst of Division

David Townsend reviews ‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann  (From Seeds June 2021)

This is a quite extraordinary book. It’s both a novel and a real-life drama. It’s about two friends: Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin.

Rami is a Jewish Israeli and Bassam a Muslim Palestinian – men on opposite sides of the age-old conflict at the centre of this month’s Seeds.

But Rami and Bassam have several things in common: they’re both fathers; they have both lost young daughters (Rami’s daughter to a suicide bomber and Bassam’s to a rubber-coated bullet fired by a trigger-happy member of the Israeli Defence Force); and they are both members of the Parents’ Circle* – an organisation set up by the bereaved families of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Rami and Bassam have dedicated their lives to telling and retelling their stories to whoever will listen. They don’t hold back any punches; neither do other members of their families in describing their own experiences.

It’s a book that is at once both raw and beautiful. In writing it, Colum McCann doesn’t sugar-coat their lived experience. Indeed, he describes the day-to-day experience of Rami and Bassam both within their own communities, and as they engage in the realities of life in Israel, the West Bank and beyond.

It’s a book of both devastating loss and grief, and of hope. It’s stark and devoid of sentimentality, yet it depicts the friendship and fraternity that arises when two men, and their families, lay aside all that would separate them, and unite to tell their stories – stories that need to be heard, both by those in their divided communities, and by you and I living in peace and comfort some 2,500 miles from their homeland.

Like many of the Biblical writers,

Colum McCann has woven real life – the lived experience of Rami and Bassam – into the story he tells. But the central characters are real and the central events happened.

Today, the characters might bear different names but the events repeat themselves.

Peace building

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds June 2021)

As I write this (mid-May) the news from Israel & Palestine is not good. A powder keg of tension has been ignited and violence is breaking out all over the land.

Years of frustration are being played out and people of all ages are dying. I wonder what the world would look like today if, back in the 1940s, we and other countries had welcomed – en masse – holocaust survivors with open arms and hearts?

I am reminded of a line in the Jesus’ Prayer we use each week “forgive us the hurts we absorb from one another”: the unchallenged legacies of fear and hurt we allow to continue to shape our thinking and acting; the legacy of protecting self-interest; the legacy of grief; the legacy of tyranny and oppression.

Unchallenged, they shape our perceptions and actions through which we continue to hurt others, ourselves, and the earth itself.

Changing our perceptions is at the heart of what Jesus and John called repentance – turning around. And repentance is often connected with forgiveness.

There has been a lot of energy throughout Christian history explaining how we can find forgiveness from God. I really do not think God has a problem with forgiveness, humans do.

And in forgiveness I do not mean the unhelpful idea of simply wiping out the past as if we cannot learn anything; forgiveness is the power to let go of the hold which past experiences and perceptions have on us without denying their reality, so we can make different choices in the present and future.

This is walking the way of peace which is a hard road for humanity everywhere but, as Jesus showed, which is the path of life for us all.

Did Jesus invent the ‘new normal’?

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds May 2021)

The theme of this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is ‘Normality?’.

The festival is running 3-23 May with a mainly online program, but also including a few live outdoor exhibitions (in Renfrewshire). You can find out more at

The theme was inspired by many lockdown conversations about ‘getting back to normal’ or ‘creating a new normal’. It raises questions about what we perceive as normal. And whether much of what was assumed in pre-lockdown as ‘normal’ was – for people who live with anxiety, illness or disability – often damaging to mental health. Is it possible to shape a new normal in our society that is inclusive and enabling for all?

The festival includes the dates of Mental Health Awareness Week Scotland, which is 10-16 May. This year the theme is ‘Nature and the Environment’, which has been shown to be a huge factor and tool for supporting our mental health throughout lockdown. (www. mental-health-awareness-week ) (See p.5.)

The experience of lockdown and losses brought about by the pandemic have certainly raised everyone’s awareness that our mental health requires as much attention and care as our physical health. This would not have been a new idea to Jesus, for all of his healing stories are about more than physical events; they involve people being restored to themselves and to their communities.

Was Jesus trying to shape a new normal in the world in which he lived, one that was inclusive and enabling for all?

I hope the opportunities to learn and connect this May through all these Mental Health events can inspire us to treasure and care for the gift of our mental health, and consider how we can shape a new normal world which creates space and support for all.

Open Doors, Helping Hands

From Seeds April 2021

Augustine supports Open Doors Meals at the Grassmarket Community Project (GCP) financially and through volunteers. Kathleen Ziffo has been a volunteer with them for 26 years. Katrina Tweedie asked Kathleen to tell her more.


Over 25 years ago, a small project for feeding homeless people one evening a week was started by ladies of Greyfriars Kirk Guild in their Kirk House in Candlemaker Row. Divinity Students living in the Grassmarket, and some veterinary students, also assisted. Twenty to thirty people would come and we brought in (and eventually made on the premises) soup, sausage rolls/sandwiches and home-baking.

Around that time, people in Augustine, Greyfriars and St Columba’s by-the-Castle looked at what the local churches could do together to help in the area. We carried out a joint parish visitation, knocking on peoples’ doors and asking what the community needed. We discovered that there were far more people living around the area in flats than we had imagined and that there were homeless people going hungry, and others in need of support.
Since then, it has developed hugely, first with the appointment of a field worker, and then with the establishment of the more ambitious Grassmarket Community Project, which also offers services such as skills development including weaving and woodworking.

GCP now serves a much wider group of people, addressing lack of opportunities, mental health issues and poverty, as well as homelessness. It is the Open Doors Meals part of GCP that our congregations supports.


I used to head up a cooking team but in the last three or so years GCP has employed a chef for their café (and cooking classes) and he now prepares two course meals for our members. Volunteers set up, heat the food, serve it, chat to members and then clean up.


While the meals are eaten, others advise on benefits and other financial matters, hairdressers cut members’ hair, and vets help with pets. Folk might like to get more involved with other aspects of the volunteering work of GCP and can contact GCP direct.


There are people from our three local churches, from other churches, some with no church affiliation, students and people of all ages. Everyone mucks in together. We are all of us, volunteers and people being served, called “members”.

Della, Francis, Robert and I have been more recent helpers, as were the late Brian Teyhan and Zandra Russell; and among the earlier volunteers was the late Agnes Nisbet.


Once a month nowadays (prior to the pandemic).


I enjoy producing a meal for people, seeing people enjoying the food and socializing with the folk attending. Most people are very appreciative – so I like that – and I like being able to chat to people when we have time.
Most of the people who come in are pretty nice people. There’s such a variety of people too. . . foreigners with low incomes, occasionally a few asylum seekers, people with mental health issues or dependency problems, people who are socially excluded. Anyone is welcome to come for a free meal.


Team leaders are meant to be in first to set up tables, crockery and cutlery in the main hall, but if prior events are running late it can mean a real rush. And it can be quite strenuous moving furniture quickly from different parts of
the building!


Up to fifty meals produced one day a week over about 50/52 weeks cost around £2,400 in 2019; and so each of our three local church agreed to donate approximately £800 each.


Many people consider it a safe place to come. It provides opportunity for socialising, friendship and companionship to people who have difficulty accessing that.


Work has continued in whichever form is possible at the time, whether it’s delivering food to members of the community project and others, or giving out ‘take away’ meals. The day and time of the meal has changed; and the members helping and leading have changed quite a lot, too.


  • Online:
  • Phone: 0131 225 3626
  • Text 07860 021 262

Returning to the Building

From Seeds April 2021

Following the Scottish government’s recent announcement, Church Council has taken the decision to start streaming our worship services from the building once again from April 11th.

From May we hope to offer a monthly service, with limited numbers for folk to attend in person if they wish. We’ll be using the same booking system as before and we’ll advertise the link well in advance.

The number of in-building services will be reviewed each month in response to the Covid rates, the appetite for in-building worship, and the willingness of people to steward.

Hearing Wisdom’s voice

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds April 2021)

One of the passages we discussed in Contextual Bible Study last month was Proverbs 8, where wisdom is described as a woman.

She is standing by crossroads and public areas full of people making choices and decisions, calling on people (somewhat frustratedly) to listen to her. She reminds people that she is the way of justice and righteousness, and she is treasure worth more than gold. It is a wonderful passage and a striking image of Wisdom speaking out to us, if we choose to listen.

As the vaccines gradually begin to take effect in the UK, it seems that now is a good time to start thinking and planning for a time when schools, shops, cafes and even churches will be open again.

Before we rush back into old habits, there is a short time of grace to consider how we want things to be when they re-open. Are there things we have gained or learned during this pandemic that we do not want to forget or lose? What has Wisdom been saying to us through the past year that can steer us toward her paths of justice and righteousness for the present and future?

At Church Meeting on March 9th, we began asking these questions and have followed them up with letters and emails toward the end of March. The three key questions were:

  • What do you want to carry from 2020 into the future, which you would be sad to lose?
  • What do you want to reclaim from 2019, which you have missed through 2020?
  • What insights might the 2020 experience offer AUC about our calling and the future shape of our ministry and mission?

A next stage will be to re-visit the Shaping a Healthy Future Report produced for us in February 2020, in light of these responses. As with many adventures with God, this year has taken us to places we did not expect to be, but through it all God has been with us and Wisdom has been speaking to us.

Can we take time to listen carefully to her voice and allow her insight to shape our individual, congregational and societal life in our gradually unlocking world?

AUC Christmas Gifts

By Rev Fiona Bennett

Each Advent, Augustine United Church makes gifts to support a number of different projects. We hope this giving and support will continue this year, but perhaps in slightly different forms.

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