Return to Seasem

By Moira Holmes (From Seeds June – July 2024)

Readers may remember that I was blessed, in February/March 2023, to spend six weeks at St Elijah and St Enoch Monastery (Seasem) in New Zealand (Seeds, June-July 23).

On returning to Scotland, I found myself longing to go back, which I did last December, staying three months, as a postulant.

I was convinced that everything was in alignment for a future life there. Not long after I arrived, Prior Rob described how most monastics, in the beginning, often feel like they are in a coffin. I thought, That’s not me, I’m where I’m meant to be. After all, Jesus had already knocked on my bedroom door to welcome me! Slowly, however, the discernment process brought me to realise that my time in NZ was to be only for a season.

The photo is one of the cross-stitches I completed while there and it is a wonderful visual representation of my discernment process. The nature of the pattern made it impossible to hide. Any mistake had to be unpicked, and often in the unpicking the thread broke. However, by God’s grace I was able to pick up the pieces and move forward.

While there were many challenges, there was also much joy. This manifested gloriously one morning a couple of weeks before I left. I was sitting in contemplation at the start of Lauds, the sun beating down on me. I opened my eyes and noticed that my robe looked like millions of stars against a night sky. I was looking at God’s wonderful cosmic creation; clothed in the glory of Christ.

I now believe that I was called back to Seasem as a holding place to allow me to deepen my relationship with our Lord; to heed that knock on the door and open my heart to Jesus; to become better equipped for the challenges ahead; and to help me become the person God needs me to be. I trust that her great plan for me will continue to unfold, and I just need to keep saying ‘Yes!’

Hoping for hope

By Hanna Albrecht (From Seeds June – July 2024)

What are you hoping to gain by the end of this week?’ our instructor Colin asks us on the first day, and the silence lingers heavily in the room.

I don’t know how to answer. I’ve come here tired and exhausted.

In the last year, I’ve struggled with the lack of response the world is giving to the climate crisis. I’ve witnessed an increasing amount of hate poured out against people who are different, particularly the trans and nonbinary communities. I’ve seen the death toll in Palestine climb every day for months. I’ve wrestled with the fear that no matter how much I advocate for peace through justice, it will never be enough.

When I look around the room, I can see the same tiredness in the faces of the people around me – public health workers, diplomats, religious leaders, educators, all gathered here because they have gotten stuck, one way or another, in working for peaceful change.

‘I’m hoping for hope,’ I answer when it is finally my turn. We’ve gathered in a sunlit room at the edge of Northern Ireland, in a place that has dedicated itself to building peace and connection between people and fostering the hope that I am searching for so desperately.

For five days, we have come together in the Corrymeela Community to learn about ‘Dialogue for Peaceful Change’ (DPC), a mediation model focused on understanding the nature of conflict and facilitating mediative dialogue. We spend a day exploring our own attitudes towards conflict – a difficult one for me, as someone who loves to avoid it as much as possible!

I scribble furiously as we turn towards the neurobiological foundations of conflict on Day Two. What happens in our brains when we go into conflict with one another? How can we make sure that people stay open to being in relationship with one another, to empathise with one other?

For three days, we practise our mediation skills by working through difficult conflict scenarios from around the world. I am still tired because it’s tiring work, and the days are long. But I am no longer hopeless.

With every passing day, we grow closer as a community. When someone gets stuck, another person steps in to help out. We watch each other grow in confidence, admit our fears to one another during early morning walks along the coast, belly-laugh together during evening social times around the fireplace. And by the end of the week, it really does feel possible, sometimes, that conflicting parties can find common ground. That people can be courageous and empathetic despite pain and fear clawing at their hearts. That a new story can be told.

As part of the DPC model, we never mediate alone. That is what sticks with me more than anything else. We are not supposed to be doing this work by ourselves, we are part of a community. When I lose hope, someone else will be able to offer it to me with an outstretched hand. Which is also the way that we live out our faith, not in isolation from God and others, but in messy and authentic community, ready to tell new stories, waiting with an outstretched hand.

With grateful thanks to the communities who made it possible for me to attend this training: The URC through the Discipleship Development Fund, AUC’s Our Tribe, and a dedicated Family Group of the Iona Community.

Money matters

From Seeds June – July 2024

A summary of AUC’s 2023 finances from the Centre, Property & Finance Church Life Ministry Team

The traffic lights are back, swing-o-meter style! Below is a consolidated comparison between 2023 and 2022.* The 2023 results are largely influenced by two factors: cost of living challenges and a return to pre-Covid level usage of the building, which is welcome but increases costs.

Booking and rental income

Booking and rental gross income was up by £17k (13.75%).

Offering income

This was about £6k (10%) down. We are very grateful for everyone’s contributions, whether financial or otherwise, and recognise these are challenging times.

Gift Aid (including the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme)

This was down by about £3k (19%), but this is misleading and mainly due to a very generous donation in 2022, without which the underlying position was broadly comparable.

Building repair costs

Costs were down by about £5k (15%). Augustine being an old building routinely provides maintenance challenges as was particularly the case in 2022.

Utility costs (electricity, gas, water and phone/BB)

Costs went up by about £1k (5%) (reflecting the improved usage of the building). We have been shielded from the worst of inflationary energy charges through a fixed term contract which is nearing an end. We are actively looking for (a) a competitively priced green energy replacement contract, and (b) ways to improve the energy efficiency of the building, and associated grants.

Building running costs

These are proving particularly challenging and went up by circa 16K (over 16%).


  • Swing: each segment of the chart represents a 10% change for better (green) or worse (amber/red).
  • *Indexation: To provide a like-for-like comparison, the 2022 figures have been adjusted by CPI.
  • Gift Aid declaration forms are available on the website:

Transgender Day of Visibility

By Lewis Reay and Carol Shepherd (From Seeds June – July 2024)

This year Transgender Day of Visibility fell on Easter Sunday. It always falls on 31 March but this year it seemed particularly fitting as Jesus was coming out of the tomb in resurrection.

Building on the successes of last year, this year we held an event to celebrate transgender joy, mark the first birthday of Resisting Transphobia in Edinburgh (RTiE), and listen to speakers from local transgender community and campaigning organisations.

RTiE is a community-based organisation which collaborates with progressive organisations, champions trans liberation, joy and a safer future for trans youth, and aims to foster unity within the transgender community and beyond. AUC provides meeting space for RTiE and several members of AUC regularly attend. Find out more about them at We had a diverse cross-section of around 70 people at the event. For some, this was their first time in our building. This provided a safe space to mark our collective achievements and find energy to continue in the action towards transgender liberation.

Vic Valentine from Scottish Trans spoke about their work, and the current climate of transphobia in Scotland and Edinburgh in particular. Kit from RTiE spoke about how the group came into being after anti-trans speaker Posie Parker held a rally in Glasgow in February 2023, and the realisation that counter-protestors needed support to keep themselves safe from far-right elements. This was in the context of the murder of Brianna Ghey on 11 February that year.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence spoke about their work as a group of radical drag nuns, who have been LGBTQ community activists since 1979. We had spoken word poetry from Amy-Jo Philip and Lewis Reay, with work written specially for this Transgender Day of Visibility, and Laurence Wareing played a selection of wonderful show tunes. Several local clergy were present, as was the Revd Lindsey Sanderson, Moderator of the Scotland Synod of the URC.

Ashley also made a wonderful rainbow cake to celebrate RTiE’s oneyear anniversary and a very excited Leslie Cunningham was invited to blow out the candles, making us all smile with a jig of joy in the sanctuary!

February also saw Our Tribe mark LGBT History Month with a Human Library organised by Maxwell. It proved a rich learning experience as we walked in the shoes of others and listened to stories of suffering and redemption. This was followed by a time of eating cakes and partaking in a rather challenging quiz run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. (So challenging that the winning team scored 5/20!)

The evening was given over to an Open Mic event compered by Carol (who also premiered her stand-up routine), and featuring Steve’s remarkable storytelling in highly expressive Scots Gaelic, Bill’s Ministry of Magic (especially the sock trick!), Christian’s vocal and guitar performance of well-loved numbers by Joan Osborne and Billy Eilish, and an impromptu rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by some assorted Sisters!

AUC also provided a safe space and place of quiet reflection for the queer community on 6 April, during a demonstration on The Mound against trans rights, held by radical feminist group Let Women Speak. A counter demonstration was organised by RTiE involving singing, dancing and music. Trans siblings and allies had the choice to attend the rally or be with us at AUC. It was pleasing to see a good number make use of the latter.

Following feedback from the queer community, AUC plans to host another Open Mic event, alongside further collaborations with RTiE and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, so watch this space!

Love, pray, vote

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds June – July 2024)

In April, I had the opportunity to share in URC AntiRacist training delivered by Professor Anthony Reddie, Professor of Black Theology at Oxford University.

Professor Reddie left me with many things to mull over, one of which is particularly significant entering into a general election: to remember that everyone is multi layered.

For those of us living in Scotland, this is about more than wearing many semmits (vests), it is about remembering that every human being has layers and layers of story, experience and identity which have shaped how we see and react to the world around us.

When you look at me you may see a short white woman, a minister, a follower of Jesus… but I am also a mum, a spouse, an Aberdonian and Edinburgher, a daughter, a friend, a human who struggles with choices and hope, and so much more. We are all so much more, and none of us have a perspective on life shaped in a vacuum. When we look at each other, especially when we find ourselves in sharp conflict or disagreement with another, it is important to stop and remember that this person or party is not an adversary to defeat, but multi layered human/s to connect with.

Jesus offers us many examples of this approach throughout his life. One of the starkest is the story of the woman he meets by the well in John 4. This story shows Jesus knowing and accepting the woman layer upon layer of who she was, and inviting her to see him and accept him layer upon layer of who he truly is.

In our current culture, polarising views and defining people in tribes seems to be a very common habit. Is that because people lack a sense of belonging? Or simply to aid marketing tools? Or to create forms of social control? Perhaps it is all or none of the above, but polarisation (creating goodies and baddies) is much more akin to how the pharisees worked than Jesus. With this in mind, the ecumenical Joint Public Issues Team ( has created great resources and podcasts to help us Love, Pray and Vote in the coming general election. They include a Conversation Guide to help us consider how to talk with people who hold different political views to ours.

The theologian NT Wright* reminds me why engaging with this general election in Love, Prayer and by Voting, is not an optional extra but a calling for followers of Jesus. ‘Left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entropy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them. And we are wrong. Our task in the present… is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.’

*N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (For more on how to Love, Pray Vote see pp.10-11.)

Words of Wisdom

From Seeds April – May 2024

Poems and short writings can stick in the mind. We tuck them into purses or the back of a book, pulling them out occasionally, smiling with recognition. Here are three such writings. Two have come from Molly Glen. First, a New Year message she received from a friend made through her niece’s marriage; second, a 17th century nun’s prayer, which Molly read at the Burns Lunch, and sometimes referred to as a prayer about growing old gracefully. Finally, Tony Chan has been reflecting on acts of kindness and the way they can be ‘good for the mind’.


May you always have enough happiness to keep you smiling enough trials to keep you strong enough success to keep you confident enough faith to keep you going and enough belief to know that each day is a gift moving forward into 2024.


Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for 10 improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint-some of them are so hard to live with-but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.


It’s nice and lovely to be kind, indeed it is a good trait and a rare find. Kindness soothes, is calm and gentle and good for the mind. It gives you a break from the monotony and from the grind. You can relax and rewind, indeed you will feel fine, as you tow the line. Because you did the right thing, of which generosity you did bring. To goodness grace and mercy you cling, as from your heart and same hymn book you sing. An angel has your protection and has you under their wing.

‘All reflecting God the Creator’

From Seeds April – May 2024

Members of AUC, including the Revd Fiona Bennett, were among faith leaders and representatives who took part in a day to discuss the Scottish Government’s new draft Bill and Proposals to end conversion practices in Scotland.

The Equality Network, a leading national LGBTI equality and campaign organisation in Scotland, brought together the participants, who also included LGBTQA+ survivors of conversion practices.

The purpose of the event was to facilitate a sensitive, productive and informed discussion about the legislation being proposed by the Scottish Government to end conversion practices. Together, the group considered the proposals and shared support for the community and for finally seeing an end to these practices in Scotland.

One participant in the day was a friend of AUC, the Revd Dr Alex Clare-Young, who is moderator of the Iona Community’s LGBTQ+ Common Concern Network. They said:

‘As a trans, queer survivor of conversion practices in Scotland and as an ordained minister it gives me hope for the futures of faith communities and of LGBTQ+ people to be a part of respectful, open and rigorous conversations that enable transformation and justice.’

Also present was the Revd Elder Cecilia Eggleston, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). During worship at AUC the day before, Cecilia had spoken warmly of the Scottish government’s approach, and expressed regret that the UK government in Westminster has put the issue ‘on the back burner’. Following the consultation, she said:

‘The proactive stance taken by the Scottish Government on conversion practices is supported by Metropolitan Community Churches. As a denomination, we have campaigned against such practices around the world and welcome Scotland’s commitment to making sure every LGBTQIA+ person is able to live as themselves, fully and without fear.’

‘Conversion practices do terrible harm to individuals on two levels. Firstly, they can cause profound trauma and distress to the person on the receiving end of the attempts to change who they are. Secondly, they often drive these individuals from faith communities that they love, where they have friends and family. The faith community also suffers, as they lose those who would otherwise stay and be active participants.’

‘It is encouraging to see increasing numbers of faith communities recognising the breadth of human sexuality and gender identity – all reflecting God the Creator.’

Cecilia’s words have since been echoed in a statement from the Church of Scotland, which has responded favourably to the proposed legislation and said its understanding has been ‘deepened by hearing the experiences of survivors of conversion practices’.

Dr Rebecca Crowther, the recently appointed CEO of Equality Network, chaired the event, which looked at key points relating to the legislation. These include a transinclusive ban on conversion practices, and the inclusion of ‘suppression’ in the definition of conversion practices. The group also discussed the need to ensure that ‘consent’ is not a defence, and that there is clear protection of freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression. They affirmed the need for a Bill that will protect all in the community from the harm that conversion practices cause.

Extremism – a redefinition?

By Rev Leslie Morrison (From Seeds April – May 2024)

The UK government’s recent decision to redefine ‘extremism’ was raised at Church Meeting on 12 March. Here, AUC member the Revd Leslie Morrison reflects what that decision could mean.

The Westminster government has redefined the word ‘extremism’. This is not a statutory change. In other words, the law will not change.

However, the government will now use the new definition in its dealings with organisations, particularly in financial matters and on issues with which they fundamentally disagree.

The new definition reads: ‘Extremism is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims (1) to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or (2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal democracy and democratic rights; or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2)”’.

Generally, Christians would not have a problem with the first part of the definition; the second part is, however, a different matter. It is sufficiently vague that when used by government it could inadvertently bring others within its scope.

On 22 February, the Trustees of The Interfaith Network announced that it was winding up the organisation following the withdrawal of funding from the Westminster government. One reason given for the closure was that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was a member organisation. The government will not have dialogue with the MCB, hence the principle reason for ending funding. This is very sad for many people of faith, not least those who work hard for a greater understanding of different faiths.

On 12 March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement asking the government to rethink its statement. They suggest that the redefinition will disproportionately affect Muslims in addition to threatening our freedom of speech, our rights to worship and freedoms to protest peacefully.

“This is very sad for many people of faith, not least those who work hard for a greater understanding”

There are many organisations to which Christians adhere, or are members. Amnesty International and Greenpeace are two with fairly large Christian memberships that come to mind. What do we do? Continue to support. Continue to protest. But above all, continue to pray that in whatever way, we will be led by God to a deeper understanding of what God wills for humankind in this fragile world in which we live.

For further discussion of the government’s definition and its implications, read the report of a briefing by faith leaders to the Religion Media Centre. Faith leaders agreed that the way to tackle religious hatred in society is through continuing dialogue and building relationships between people of different faiths. See

URC Youth tell good stories

From Seeds April – May 2024

There was a significant TLC* presence at this year’s URC Youth Assembly, held near Lichfield. The Revd Lindsey Sanderson, recently inducted as Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland, was also there and reports back. This January, five of us from the Synod headed to URC Youth Assembly 2024.

We had two young people from TLC Youth in Edinburgh, Matt Baines, the Synod Youth Ministry Development Worker, Alex Peden, supporting one of the young people, and myself, representing the URC Synod Moderators.

The weekend was a mix of keynote presentations, workshops, worship and business sessions built around the theme of ‘Story, story, story’. The Revd Dr Rosalind Selby helped us to think about being made in the image and likeness of God. She said all our key identity markers of gender, ethnicity etc. can be found in God. She suggested that being made in the image of God is about the role we play in relation to each other and that when we do this in God’s image we act out of loving kindness in these relationships.

The second keynote was offered by the current URC Moderator, the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, who of the URC Youth Moderator and consider whether this should be a paid post. encouraged everyone to think about the importance of our own story, which is unique to us but is also part of God’s story. She reminded us that our stories can inspire others but that we are also called to listen to, not just hear, others. Collectively our stories have power and are transformative.

“our stories can inspire others but we are also called to listen to, not just hear, others”

Different working groups reported to the Assembly and three resolutions were passed. The young people encouraged support for the Honest Church campaign (, which promotes ‘greater honesty about the true welcome that women and LGBTQ+ people in receive in church’. A second resolution asked the URC’s Mission Committee to promote churches and organisations which are working towards a just peace in Occupied Palestine and Israel; and finally, the Youth Executive was asked to look at the roles and responsibilities of the URC Youth Moderator and consider whether this should be a paid post.

One of the aspects of the weekend I enjoyed most was talking with two young Ukrainian women who came to the UK at the outbreak of the war. They have both found a welcome in URC congregations and it was good to hear something of their stories, their hopes and concerns for Ukraine, and to hear how they were adjusting to living and studying in the UK. One workshop I had been at focussed on changing the narrative about refugees and asylum seekers and it was good to hear these positive experiences in what is so often a very negative debate.

The weekend was enjoyed by everyone. Michael Smith was reelected as the Synod’s representative on the Youth Executive. We wish him and the whole Youth Executive well as they take forward the work of URC Youth.

*TLC – The Local Church, an ecumenical group that includes St Columba’s by the Castle and Greyfriars Kirk.

Fairtrade Refresher

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds April – May 2024)

The United Reformed Church’s National Synod of Scotland held an overnight meeting at Tulliallan in March. The gathering offered some very rich and thought-provoking opportunities, one of which was a refresher in the potential of fair trade.

The Scottish Fairtrade Forum shared with us its vision of growing a model of trade which is, and will contribute towards, shaping a more just, equitable and sustainable world. In over 70 countries across the world, there are currently over two million farmers and workers employed in Fairtrade certified producer organisations. These enable community businesses, which sustain schools, fund health care, and transform local societies.

When we look at the poverty and challenges in and for our world, with everincreasing divisions, at times a way forward can feel overwhelming and impossible. But the very real transformation and possibilities of buying fairly traded goods and supporting the Fairtrade movement are definitely not impossible or outwith everyday reach.

Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus showed us that the way of transforming our lives and world to realise God’s dream for us is not through a magic potion, single ideology or conquering hero, but through grace, persuasion and faith.

The Fairtrade model of working is not a quick fix to transform every challenge our world faces but is a solid and effective way of building sustainable, just and healthy community for all the life which makes up the earth. It shows a path to make some of God’s dream for the world possible, and is a light of Hope in darkness which we can all share in.

I was grateful for the opportunity at Synod meeting to be refreshed once again in the hope and possibility which Fairtrade enables us to be part of.

Fairtrade Fortnight

The next Fairtrade Fortnight will run from Monday 9 September to Sunday 22 September 2024.

This year will mark Fairtrade’s 30th birthday, so the organisation hopes to use the occasion to highlight how 30 years of working together has made the FAIRTRADE Mark a leader of life-changing impact for farmers and workers across the world.