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 bit.ly/4a5kH5x.

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 (honestchurch.org.uk), 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.

United Nations IE SOGI meeting

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI) conducted a formal country visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 24 April to 5 May 2023 to assess the human rights situation of LGBTIQ+ persons. 

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay was invited to a private, one to one meeting with Victor Madrigal-Borloz on 1st May 2023 in Edinburgh, to share his experiences and views on conversion practices and his recommendations to the Scottish and UK governments in relation to the protection of individual’s human rights.

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay said:

I was delighted to be offered this opportunity to meet with Victor Madrigal-Borloz and I very much valued the time that he took to explain his work in supporting the rights of all trans people globally. He took time to listen to my experience, opinions and recommendations. This was an incredibly supportive and productive meeting and as a queer trans man of faith, I knew my voice was being heard.

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay has also served on the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices.

Useful Links

Vigil: Transgender Day of Visibility – Friday 31st March 2023

Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist, Rachel Crandall from Michigan as a reaction to the lack of LGBTQI+ recognition of transgender people. It is observed on the 31 March every year.

Thankfully, transgender people are becoming more recognised as members of the LGBTQI+ community. This has been an important shift. The advent of Trans Pride events throughout the UK is a sign of the increasing visibility of the trans community.

This year, for the first time ‘Our Tribe’, the LGBTQI+ ministry at AUC that works in partnership with Metropolitan Community Church, decided to celebrate the day. So, last Friday we held a Vigil. We worked hard to invite as many people as possible – and it paid off, there were nearly 60 people who came to the event, including many trans young people.

We invited speakers from the cross-section of the trans community to tell us why trans visibility is important in the world today and to reflect on what inspired them about the trans community. Having visible role models and out trans people who can inspire is vital to enable people of all ages to recognise themselves and be able to come out. Solidarity in the trans community is important along with supporting one another. Listening to the speakers was very moving and hearing the lived experience of trans people and our allies was inspiring and encouraging.

We had the opportunity to take part several rituals:

  • We decorated hearts and stars to hang on light trees.
  • We dropped stones into a pool of water.
  • Rev Elder Maxwell Reay offered individual glitter and oil blessings.
  • We wrote our names on canvas, to mark our visibility.

All these rituals encouraged us to feel more visible as members of the trans community and as allies.

The Vigil ended with a prayer, written by Lewis.

A little goes a long way – a little love, a little hope, a little joy, and a little glitter!


A little goes along way!

Water, Oil, Glitter.

Anoint your heart saying: Blessed is my heart that can love and be loved unconditionally.

Anoint your body saying: Blessed is my body that travels each day with you.

Anoint your surroundings saying: Blessed is this space that it may be a safe haven for all

Anoint those who you love saying: Blessed are our connections.

Anoint your ministries and work for social justice saying: Blessed by the spirit through all that we do.

We are all anointed.

Water, oil, glitter

A little goes a long way.

Written by Maxwell Reay for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023

Prayer for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023

Liberating One, you know each one of us by our names.

Our gender identities are a gift from you, which we celebrate.

You called us out and have enabled us to live a true, whole life.

You made us and from our first moment

You knew who we are.

We know we are precious to You and that You care about our lives.

We know that there have been trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people throughout history.

Help us find these ancestors and learn from them.

Thank You for the trans people who are visible in our society.

Support us in our vulnerability.

Let us take Pride in our lives and in the lives of the trans and non-binary communities.

We thank you for the freedoms we have in Scotland, but we know there is still much to do.

Give us hope that we will see our efforts come to fruition.

We ask that the Gender Recognition Reform Bill will become Scottish law.

Give us strength to rebuff the transphobia that we experience all around us.

Give us courage to face the impact of transphobia in our daily lives.

We ask for safety for all trans and non-binary people.

For those who have been hurt or assaulted, we ask for healing of body and mind.

Bring us wholeness through Your Love.

For those who battle with discrimination and oppression, bring them endurance for the task ahead.

We have reflected and celebrated our lives and the life of the transgender community.

We ask for peace that is unshakable and hope that will not burn out.

In the name of Wonder, Liberation and Wisdom bring us peace.


Written by Lewis Reay for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023.

Building the kin-dom of God in Utale

By Kathleen Ziffo (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Prior to studying for ordained ministry in the URC, the Revd William Young was worshipping and doing some pastoral work with AUC during our 2008 vacancy.

William (currently ministering in Washington DC) became friendly with Nigel Harper while getting printing work done at Nigel’s business, and discovered that Nigel had travelled extensively in Africa, where he had become very conscious of Leprosy still blighting people’s lives in Malawi.

Nigel had become friendly with Father Francis Kachere, whose mission worked with leprosy sufferers in Utale village. He wished to bring Fr. Kachere to Scotland to seek support, a visit which AUC eventually hosted.

Fr. Kachere spoke to our AUC members, and was taken to our Synod meeting where the young folk were so enthused that sufficient funds were raised to build a new Maize Mill back in Utale. This gave employment to people who were stigmatized and deprived of making their own living. ‘Our’ Doris was initially involved in supporting the work of the charity.

Nigel also contacted various civic organisations within Scotland, around the time the Scotland/Malawi Partnership was being founded, acquiring more funding to eventually expand the work in that area of Malawi and into neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Zambia.

Thus, the LUV+ Charity was formed. It stands for Love in Utale Village.

In 2009, Nigel persuaded William to run the London Marathon on behalf of LUV+. William says: ‘Nigel was like my manager/ coach, calling me frequently, making sure I was training and eating right. He made me feel like I was in training for the Olympics!’ ‘Again, the people of God came through as we raised money for the charity—the United Reformed Church, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and folks connected to LUV+ were all a source of inspiration and we surpassed our fundraising goal before running day.’

‘The day of the marathon, Elihud Kipchoge beat me by four hours! But Nigel met me at the finish line.’

Very sadly, Nigel, a man in middle-age but asthmatic from childhood, died last July following Covid hospitalisation and then a further chest illness.

William says: ‘From what was supposed to be a simple business transaction, Nigel and I built bridges. He was not devoutly religious, yet I always recall the encounters of Jesus with people of different culture but with whom he shared a mindset: “You are not far from the kin-dom of God.”’

‘Nigel was never far from the kin-dom. Rest in Power, good brother.’

Iona Calls

By Caro Penney (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Some, perhaps many, of you will have visited the inner Hebridean island of Iona. Especially if you were blessed with ‘good’ weather, you would doubtless have marvelled at the beauty of the shores, picked up a pebble or two, and perhaps have been lucky enough to hear the call of a corncrake.

Some of you may even have stayed in the Abbey as guests of the Iona Community, just as I did for the first time in summer 1984. After annual visits since – including one with a group from AUC in 1989 and another with Fiona a few years later – then becoming a Community Member 25 years ago. . . look where it’s taking me. . . back to the island! This time, for a four-year stint as Abbey Warden. Never did I imagine this, not even as I returned home last July after six weeks as a volunteer. What’s that about ‘God’s mysterious ways’?

Being warden is a real mix. It includes: responsibility for supporting staff and volunteers to maintain a vibrant and healthy community for all who live, work and visit the Abbey; ensuring the Abbey is a place of welcome, hospitality and challenge through the daily rhythm of worship, and creative, meaningful programmes; ensuring the work and concerns of the Iona Community are embedded within all the activities of the Abbey; leading by example, through the common life approach to work and worship, action and reflection; being part of the wider island community. Yes, it is a ‘demanding common task’ but, today, there’s a fantastic team of staff, most of whom I’ve worked and lived with, so we know each other well. That makes a huge difference as I start this new role, knowing too that there are challenges ahead, known and unknown.

Some of those challenges come from living on ‘an island off an island’: ferries delayed for 24 hours; power cuts which can last from a minute to several hours; dodgy WIFI; no doctor on the island. . . But what a privilege. Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, many of whom I know well.

Although I’m sorry not to be part of this year’s AUC group visiting Iona in the summer, I’m so looking forward to welcoming them! And over the next four years, I’d love to see more of you, whether you’re day visitors or staying elsewhere on the island, or Abbey guests.

For now, though, I give my huge thanks to you all – being part of the AUC community is another privilege in my life, not least this past year leading worship and covering for Fiona in the university’s multi-faith chaplaincy team. But, mostly, being with you. Thank you. The Iona Community’s ‘strap-line’ is ‘inspired by our faith we pursue justice and peace in community’. It could just as honestly be AUC’s!

Gathered and scattered, we go forward together:
Jesus calls us to leave the past – Jesus calls us to hope
Jesus calls us to travel lightly – Jesus calls us to faith
Jesus calls us to live fairly – Jesus calls us to justice
Jesus calls us to risky living – Jesus calls us to life

(anonymous: used in Iona Abbey service, Feb 2021)

Cleaning up our mess

By Laurence Wareing (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Recycling isn’t easy. It used to confuse my mum completely – though she was determined to ‘do it right’.

And my mother-in-law was so meticulous about the task, she put us to shame – but it took her a very long time to get everything precisely how she felt the bin men wanted it.

I guess I’ve been quite inconsistent about the whole thing. But then I saw some photos on the BBC website of a recycling plant – the kind that sorts around 25 tonnes of recycling per hour. It wasn’t the size of the place, and of the undertaking, that stopped me in my tracks. It was Phil Coombs’ photo of workers sorting rubbish on the conveyer belts.

It looks like an especially unpleasant job they are doing – but, clearly, it’s made worse because so much rubbish comes through that is unclean, might contaminate, or is sharp and dangerous. The protective gloves and sleeves being worn by the men and women speak volumes. So, I was grateful that Phil has given permission for us to share his photos in Seeds. Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words!

Alongside Phil’s photos, the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Helen Briggs, used a word that was new to me: ‘wishcycler’.

‘Ever paused with your hand over the recycling bin, wondering whether to drop in that cheese-splattered pizza box?’ she asks. Oh yes, I’m thinking! And don’t get me started on those barely visible numbered triangles that are meant to help my decision-making but don’t. ‘You could be a wishcycler’, suggests Helen, ‘ – keen to recycle more stuff and do your bit for the planet, but confused about the best way to go about it.’ In all honesty, that describes me to a tee.

Helen says: ‘Wishcycling . . . describes the well-intentioned, but often unfounded belief, that something is recyclable, even though it’s not.’ Moreover, while the packaging might say something is recyclable, that doesn’t mean my council will accept it. ‘One council’s recycling is another council’s general waste, so it’s important to always check your local rules.’ (Where? How? Help!)

Helen Briggs turned for help to waste reduction charity, Wrap. She wasn’t sure whether her plastic conditioner bottle could be recycled. She’s not alone. Many of us get it wrong with things like shampoo and conditioner bottles, cleaning and bleach bottles, foil and aerosols. But Wrap comes to our rescue: ‘If it’s plastic and bottle-shaped it can go in the recycling.’ Brilliant. Job done.

Ready meal packaging is trickier. Some recycling plants accept the plastic tubs, others don’t. Plastic film can’t be recycled, though. It must be peeled off and put in with the general rubbish. And any food (like that stringy cheese left in the pizza box) should be scraped off and removed.

It turns out that 88% of UK households regularly recycle. That’s good news. The not-so-good news is that 87% of UK households recycle one or more items that are not accepted in the kerbside recycling and 57% miss one or more items that could be recycled at the kerbside.

Food Waste Action Week is 6-12 March this year. Excitingly, there’s loads of background information on the Wrap website (wrap.org.uk). For more local information, www.mygov.scot/bins will point you to the right page on your council website – where you should find the do’s and don’ts of your local recycling. For more detailed information, try: wasteless.zerowastescotland.org.uk/

For the moment, I’m going to learn this graphic (below) by heart. I won’t get everything right, but I’m going to work at it, and in 2023 try to become a realistic recycler, not just a wishcycler.