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.

A SEASON OF PILGRIMAGE

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.

FROM WILDERNESS TO GARDEN

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.’

IGNATIAN SPIRITUALITY FOR LENT

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 david.townsend@augustine.org.uk, or the church office, if you are interested.

BOOK GROUP

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 david.townsend@augustine.org.uk, 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

HOW WE LIVE WITH THE LEGACIES OF SLAVERY

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.

APOLOGY

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.

REPARATIONS

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?

WHITE PRIVILEGE

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 deartomorrow.org and through social media, public talks, community events, and public art to inspire deep thinking and bold action on climate.

At deartomorrow.org 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. www.1000hoursoutside.com

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.

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.